Wherein Lex takes issue with Seydlitz89

Our Roundtable colleague Seydlitz89 has a post up which discusses the recent Glen Beck posts, and also my Afghanistan Roundtable wrap-up post.

His post is here.

I have several problems with his post. I tried to post a few responses as a comment, but it did not work for some reason. If you are interested in this sort of inter-blog argument, please read his post, and see my responses, below the fold.

Some, non-comprehensive, responses to your post:

1. I expressly distinguished between politics and war in my first post, and expressly stated I was making an analogy between something Boyd said about war and what I believe I was observing in the political realm. Analogies from war to politics are always imperfect, but that is no reason not to use them. War is killing. Politics, in the USA, thank God, is not killing. I was clear about this in the post but you seem not to understand it. Nonetheless, it would have been more accurate to use the word “opponent” rather than “enemy.” That would have been clearer, perhaps, but the whole thrust of the post was about politics and there is no real reason for anyone to be confused who does not want to be.

2. My statement that the Taliban are evil needs no apology. An organized group that has murdered hundreds of thousands of people, that throws acid in girls’ faces for trying to learn to read and otherwise commits atrocities as a matter of course can only accurately be described as evil. Fighting them is just, and fighting means killing, wounding or capturing. Should our soldiers leave Afghanistan believing they fought on the wrong side? No. They should not. That is what I meant, and that is what I said. Most wars lack this level of certainty. The Kaiser’s soldiers, for example, were not serving a cause of unmitigated evil. The Taliban are unusual in that regard. There is little ambiguity about their evil or the evil consequences of their rule. Whether we have the means to defeat the Taliban at tolerable cost is a separate question, a political and practical one rather than a moral one. I also made this distinction.

3. You also misrepresented what I said by inserting the world “all.” It would never have been practical to kill all the Taliban. I did not say “all” because I did not mean “all.” If they were soundly defeated, which would entail killing a lot of them, the rest might be compelled to surrender, or otherwise be preventing from imposing a reign of terror on the country.

4. My reference to the Insurgency is to the obvious and growing mass political movement, which the Tea Party is part of, and which Beck’s followers are apparently part of. I specifically said that I know very little about Mr. Beck and that I have never even seen his TV show, except for short clips. I did not see anything to object to in the very little I have seen from him. He seems to be mobilizing a large faction, which may in turn become politically engaged. Other factions include libertarians who are not comfortable with the religious aspect of Mr. Beck’s message. I certainly did not say or suggest that he would be “presumed” to lead this Insurgency. I am in no position to presume anything about him. The one thing I know about him, based on a few TV news reports, is that the news media did not understand what he was trying to do. This is shows that hte news media is stupid, not that I am an expert on Mr. Beck. More generally as this mass movement takes on political form we will see political leaders emerge. The movement from pundit to elected political office is very rare. I don’t have any reason to think Mr. Beck will do it, or try to do it. But who knows. These are interesting times. All kinds of surprising things will happen.

5. All political views presume a moral and philosophical foundation. As I specifically mentioned, most politics, day to day politics, does not significantly implicate these deep foundations. Politics in periods of major change or major problems do force people to go their moral and philosophical roots and decide what kind of country they want, what direction they want major changes to go. We are apparently moving into such a political era. Count on all points of the political spectrum becoming increasingly self-aware and mobilized. The existing institutional framework is failing us, it is bankrupt. That can’t go on, so it won’t go on. If you are in a political struggle that implicates basic values, then you must claim moral superiority. The people who run the country now, in both parties, have long presumed their own moral and intellectual superiority. Having led the country to an economic crisis, they are for some reason shocked to find that millions of their fellow citizens disagree with that presumption. Major political reform movements are not undertaken or pushed to success by people who are in a constant state of moral dithering. The Progressives of a century ago saw social problems and set out to solve them, against all kinds of opposition. They believed in their cause, they thrashed out what they should do in terms of policy, and then they won elections. We are seeing a similar broadly based movement come into being.

6. I am not a Boydean. I read three books about him. I found them interesting. I am not an expert on Boyd. It would be a serious mistake to generalize from anything I have written to what some community of Boydeans may think. I can’t speak for anyone else’s views about Boyd, particularly where many people are genuine experts on his life and thought, and I am not.

7. One the commenters referred to “Greenites” while noting that this is a “trashbag term” for those who “share my opinions.” This is the first time I have ever heard of a Greenite. I don’t think there is such a thing. But if there is, welcome to my trashbag! (Sing that to the tune of Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare.)

29 thoughts on “Wherein Lex takes issue with Seydlitz89”

  1. The existing institutional framework is failing us, it is bankrupt.

    Aren’t you saying a bit more than you mean here Lex? I read you enough, I think. I don’t think you advocate closing the doors and starting afresh. (The institutional framework won’t allow it and would attempt to stop it if they can. Think of the 1860s rebellion.)

  2. Thanks Lex. This is the first time my moniker has come up on a post title so . . . it’s seydlitz89, not Seydlitz99. Think of fall of the Berlin Wall since I was there.

    I´ll take your points one by one.

    1. I understood what you were doing, but following many of the comments your readers didn’t. You had to constantly remind them that they were not in fact “at war”. In the end, at least on Cheryl’s thread you gave up. In my post I pointed out the problem of using strategic theory for political analysis:

    Finally, strategic theory, especially of the Boydian type, is not very applicable to current domestic political analysis for several reasons. First, strategic theory concerns the use of power with the possible use of violence/coercion. The Western idea of representative government deals, not with potential violence, but with workable political solutions, that is compromise and consensus. Even if you don’t mean “enemy” when you say “enemy” it still comes out the same way. Second, the assumption of moral authority is dubious especially in terms of politics. One side is painted black while the other paints itself white, whereas the reality is all gray. Of course this level of hostility on both sides could reflect the actual situation within the political community – in which we are dealing with more the nature of a war than of a political disagreement. In that case we perhaps need a clear strategic view now more than ever . . .

    It is this second point which I find very interesting. I would also say that it pretty much forms your analysis and also perhaps your selection of terms. You carried the war analogy too far in your initial post and then had to compensate, but the “moral authority” you assumed from Boyd continued operating.

  3. 2 & 3. I don’t expect you to apologize. For this post I’m not really interested in Glenn Beck, or US politics or the Afghan War, rather only in the application of strategic theory. I think this probably my offending paragraph in your eyes:

    So, once again, this moral dimension, this moral element “of Boyd’s continuum of war”, described here as “clarity” and obviously an objective fact since for our side it is morally right to kill (even all) the enemy, who are evil. Just as in US politics the insurgency – under the supposed leadership of Glenn Beck – operates with the same moral advantage against the Big-Unit “enemy”. Where exactly does this concept originate? Is it the thought of John Boyd or something closer to a religious belief?

    Concerning the Taliban, you posted: “Destroying them forever may be beyond our power. But it would be worth doing if it could be done at tolerable cost.” That sounds pretty close to “even all” to me, but then I was just summarizing what you yourself had said. This under the heading of “Moral Clarity” and followed by your mention of the “moral dimension” which you said that no one else on the Roundtable had brought up but you.

  4. 4. You take issue with my offending paragraph again here in that “I certainly did not say or suggest that he would be “presumed” to lead this insurgency.”

    In your “penetrating analysis” of Beck’s rally “Using Boyd’s continuum for war: Material, Intellectual, Moral” you wrote the following concerning Beck:
    “Beck sees correctly that the Conservative movement had only limited success . . .”
    “Beck is building solidarity and cultural confidence in America . . .”
    “Beck is creating positive themes of unity and patriotism and freedom and independence . . .”
    “Beck is unabashed that God can be invoked in public places by citizens . . .”
    “Beck is attacking the enemy at the foundations of their power . . .”

    There’s more of course, even more lauding of Beck’s feats, but do you see how your readers could have thought that Beck was in fact the one who you thought was leading the insurgency . . . I even cut you some slack on this one by writing “supposed”.

  5. Lex, You have nailed him with accurate and very sharp precision. It is a joy to read. I can only add “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin (Pro 10:19)”. I could not help but be struck by the multiplicity of words used in the Seydlitz99 post.

    How sad that he hides his ideas behind unreasonable reason. Keep up the good work. (But, remember too to keep your eyes on what will be important in your life 50 years from now — I hope you are able to juggle both your family and your writing.)

    Lex, regarding the “Greenites” term the left has started to fling at you. If you continue the good work, they will become worse. They don’t understand that the right thinks for themselves and cheers for people who say what we think. Liberal liars are taught to lie in the Liarable Arts Universities and become disoriented about where ideas originate. Ideas only come from two sources: the God of All Truth or the Father of All Lies.

    When Jesus said, “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” When one believes the truth (about any issue) he will speak the truth he believes, when one believes the lie (about any issue) he will speak the lie he believes. Every time we speak we are revealing not only what we believe, but also whether or not we serve the God of All Truth or the Father of All Lies.

  6. 5.

    “If you are in a political struggle that implicates basic values, then you must claim moral superiority. The people who run the country now, in both parties, have long presumed their own moral and intellectual superiority.”

    I don’t see political struggle as one of implicated basic values, it has to do with interests. I don’t expect or want the state or political community administrative apparatus to enforce values, or morality and would rather they keep their nose out of it. State power is a blunt instrument and maintaining the monopoly of violence with its borders and maintaining the law to the best of its ability is all I expect.

    Any moral or intellectual superiority would refer to a wide range of individuals based on merit and actions, not on a class due to their status. Any such presumptions I would find ludicrous.

  7. Getting Real:

    “… .regarding the “Greenites” term the left has started to fling at you..”


    One comment, one site, by a person who did not seem to be “Left” at all.

  8. 6. As to not being a Boydian, have you not co-authored a book on Osinga/Boyd? I read your posts on that roundtable, you seemed to me to know what you were talking about. You mentioned this “moral dimension” again in your Afghan wrap up. Also you labeled your analysis of Beck using Boyd’s “continuum for war”. Beck mentioned your post and Boyd on his show and I don’t think you downplayed your understanding of Boyd then . . . so why now? I find your view very consistent and does it require an “expert” to do that? Probably not, rather one who has understood the basic concepts and patterns as you seemingly have.

    My conclusion once again:

    My conclusion in regards to Lexington Green’s posts? I think he is following closely a Boydian perspective in all three posts that I quoted. The assumption of a objective or clarified moral element – assumed moral authority – is in line with Boyd as I understand Osinga to present him. The problem is much deeper in that Boyd’s approach is not what Clausewitzians understand as strategic theory, which is actually the same definition that Osinga uses (pp 13-14). Boyd’s moral assumptions belong to the realm of faith, not strategic theory. My intention here is simply to point that out.

  9. Seydlitz:

    1. Moral clarity in opposing the Taliban is due to the nature of the Taliban, which I hear about from many sources, including people who are over there. It does not derive from my thinking, limited as it is, about John Boyd. Reakity is not all gray Murdering girls for trying to learn how to read is evil, it is not subtle, nuanced, complex or a chiaroscuro of greyish tints. Telling soldiers to kill and to die or be maimed means telling why they should do so. When the enemy they are fighting is evil, you have a much better case for asking them to make those sacrifices. I fear that after the Afghanistan venture fails, our soldiers will be despised for having fought there. The American public loves a winner and hates a loser. I am saying right now that they were on the right side of the conflict. As to the word “all” — however many Taliban there are, yes, if our soldier could kill, maim, capture or drive off all of them, until the survivors surrendered and were eliminated as a threat, yes, I’d support that — if we could do it at tolerable cost. I don’t think we can. The people of Afghanistan are going to suffer for it.

    2. I did not define what I meant by the Insurgency. That is something I made up as I was going along. In fact, I am going to write about it more. As I see it, it is much bigger than the faction that Glenn Beck seems to be building. His feats are remarkable. The hatred and fear he inspires in his political enemies shows as much. As I said, having watched about 18 minutes total of his presentation, I liked what I saw. I really don’t like to watch television. But I have no problem “lauding” the little I saw.

    3. The war analogy did confuse people. It is an analogy. A lot of people cannot seem to grasp that. We apply sports and business analogies to politics, and war analogies to sports and business. The readership for that post was much, much larger than I had any reason to expect, and there were many people who were not familiar with this blog or my writing. I attempted, to the point of tedium, to clear up their confusion. You however are a sophisticated reader who should know better. That said, I may have to write in crayon in the future so that no one gets confused by metaphor, irony, metonymy, analogy or whatever other rhetorical trope I may want to use.

    4. Anyone who seriously engages in a difficult undertaking has a belief in the rightness of what they are doing. For many years now the so-called liberals or progressives have successfully cabined off the media and academia and the entertainment industry and monopolized the public presentation of what is good and decent and true for their own policies and philosophies. This is unearned, unmerited and wrong. Their policies and philosophies are bad for the country. To oppose them people need to not only organize politically, or engage in political argument, but believe in what they are doing and be willing to make an effort. Beck is one of many people who is waging this political struggle, and he seems to be consciously doing it on the cultural and motivational level. There is a long history of this sort of thing, but not lately, and not coming from the political right.

    You seem to object to the idea that people who are engaging in a struggle would actually believe in the merit of their position, that they would have confidence in themselves and their views, and have a desire to defeat their political opponents. Or, maybe you only confidence and self-assertion on the part of people are more or less thinking the same way politically as I do, or Glenn Beck does, or other people on the political right. To that I can only respond: Get used to it. People who used to stay home and take what was handed to them are not going to do that anymore.

    You can go last if you want. I am done with this one.

  10. Tyouth, multi-trillion dollar budget deficits, started under Bush and got worse under Obama, gigantic unfunded public employee pension obligations, Social Security and Medicare and the new Obamacare all costing huge sums beyond what can be paid for. Meanwhile, much of what we pay the government to do, or expect it to do, is being done badly or not at all.

    I meant it about bankruptcy.

    The way we do business now cannot be sustained.

    We can either wind up the existing obligations in a systematic way, or we can kick the can down the road until one of several possible disasters overtakes us.

    I prefer not to be an alarmist, but things are very bad.

  11. From what you have heard and what you have read you condemn the Taliban to outer darkness as the evil ones. You believe that you and yours are the good ones.

    Classic. But not even close to any reality that exists on this earth. Dream on but you are at the door of real evil. I would advise caution.

  12. Lex-

    1. You wish to rationalize wars against evil, but such wars are in terms of strategic theory absurd since there will never be an end to evil, thus the military means can support no rational policy objective. Telling soldiers that they are to kill and maim because the enemy has it coming? Read the responses on MilPub in response to that from veterans . . . I too as a veteran reject it.

    2. Is it the “hatred and fear” that Beck inspires, or rather the hatred and fear that he uses? Since you haven’t had much exposure to Glenn Beck, why not google his name along with “social justice” and see what you find? Funny, how I learned as a child in the Catholic Church that that was what Christianity was about, on this earth at least.

    3. Strategic theory or Boydian theory doesn’t work well with political analysis, unless a community is approaching civil war.

    4. You’re in a different world here, your view to me is radical. My view is pretty close to that of Andrew Bacevich in “Washington Rules” and William Pfaff in “The Irony of Manifest Destiny”. Both are Conservatives as am I.

  13. OK, the gears are still not meshing. One more go around.

    1. I do not say we should make war against evil. You are getting this backward. We should make war when it is necessary for the security of the United States, and for no other reason. I do not want the USA to go around the world righting wrongs at gunpoint. You are absolutely right, there is too much evil and most of it is not amenable to being fixed by bullets. We don’t disagree. Now, what about the Taliban. The Taliban are evil. So, our people cannot be morally criticized for fighting them. That is my point. They killed 400,000 people in the ten years they ran Afghanistan. This is only part of the consideration regarding when we should go to war. It is part of the calculus, but far from the entirety of the calculus. However, as a Clausewitzian, do you really think that the people could be mobilized for a war against an enemy that we all agreed were morally decent people who simply had some material interest different from ours? What democracy could fight a significant war on such an icy and materialistic basis? The cabinet wars of the 18th century could be fought on that basis. We can’t and it is a good thing we can’t. You are either misunderstanding me (I don’t advocate crusades against evil abroad) or saying something I don’t think you believe (the moral character of a current or potential opponent is strategically irrelevant). My concern is with the wellbeing of our troops, and how they are going to be treated in the years after they come home.

    2. Social justice is a weasel word, a fraud, a lie, when it is in the hands of politicians. It is usually an excuse to raise taxes so the well-connected get money and access to power, and leaves the poor in the usual squalor. In Chicago, the skyline until recently was marred by those monuments to social justice, the Robert Taylor homes, where generations of people’s lives were destroyed while in the care of the benevolent state. The best thing for poor people is public order, safe neighborhoods, and a thriving private economy so they can get jobs, make money and stop being poor people. Christianity is about eternal salvation, What public policies should be adopted are a matter of prudence and the conditions of the place and time. As a Catholic I agree that this requires good works. The best thing for that is low taxes and lots of money in the pockets of people to take care of others as well as their own families. We will have to disagree on the facts, I suppose, but at least we have touched ground, and identified a genuine point of disagreement.

    3. I made an analogy to Boyd. An analogy. I did not apply Boydian analysis. I made an analogy to Boydian analysis. Boyd is talking about war. I was talking about politics. I don’t agree that the analogy only applies to a country that is close to civil war. Major changes in the political character of the country occur when people are mobilized to make a change. This has happened repeatedly in American history. In 1900 much of what the New Deal did in 1932-38, both legislatively and in the Courts was unthinkable. The public changed its mind. The incumbents who benefitted from the prior set of arrangements lost. There was no civil war. In 1936 few would have predicted that Jim Crow would be legally defeated in thirty years. There are several other examples in American history. Political movements need tactics, theory and motivation. The current political mass movement is in an early stagehas not fully developed in any of the three areas.

    4. We disagree about what world I am in. Bacevich I have read and liked. He wisely opposed the Iraq war as I recall, which I mistakenly supported. Pfaff I have not read. Glancing at his page, I agree with the general idea that trying to compel the world to be like America is a bad idea.

  14. Strategic theory that deals only with “rational policy objectives” is useless. Strategic theory or, per CvC’s own ambition, a general theory of war, must be able to describe strategic failure as well as strategic success. Strategic prescription would be nice too but, using seydlitz89’s useful division, that’s more a matter of strategic doctrine than strategic theory.

    Rational policy, inasmuch as such a creature exists, is only one element of the Remarkable Trinity. Primordial passions, hatred, enmity, the “blind natural force” is the irrational element (at least in explicit human thought and perhaps not in tacit evolved thought). Chance and the scope it gives to human creativity is the arational element. A strategic theory that fails to account for the full Remarkable Trinity, especially if it claims to be Clausewitzian, is a failure.

    It is more accurate to see war itself as a continuation of politics rather than policy since politics too is a sort of remarkable trinity involving irrational passion, arational chance, and rational “policy”. Policy, especially “rational” policy, is only one part of politics.

    I don’t know if strategic theory can deal with the problem of evil. Evil could manifest itself in any element of the Remarkable Trinity. Evil could manifest itself as rationality, arationality, or irrationality or any combination thereof. Evil itself can’t be quantified by theory but the impact of the perception that the enemy is or is not evil is something that is more concrete and may be dealt with by theory.

    Lex is innocent of extending war into politics. Others, such as myself or members of the 5GW school, are far more willing to apply war to phenomena others would call politics. Lex has always been critical of this extension of the term “war” onto politicking.

  15. Lex,

    “I meant it about bankruptcy.
    The way we do business now cannot be sustained.
    We can either wind up the existing obligations in a systematic way, or we can kick the can down the road until one of several possible disasters overtakes us.
    I prefer not to be an alarmist, but things are very bad.”

    I find it almost shocking how little of the real financial situation of states and cities are making into the public debate. To use Illinois as an example; it is almost $5billion in arrears in bills to different businesses and state agencies. Banks are starting to refuse to give lines of credit to organizations that do business with the state and next year the state owes its (woefully underfunded) pension system a $10 billion dollar payment. To top it off at least once during last winter the state was down to $1million in operating capital. It might take just one really bad snow storm or some other grey swan to wipe out the state cause it to start missing payrolls or shut down completely.

    Yet, it’s in the middle of an election for governor and the financial situation is a sideline. Perhaps the R candidate thinks he’s going to roll right in easily so he doesn’t over emphasize it, lest entitlement stakeholders show up en mass in Nov, but I fear that he’s just one more member of the system that’s going to try and kick the can down the road.

    So, I’d agree alarmist talk is in order.

  16. Joseph-

    I was hoping you’d show up.

    “Strategic theory that deals only with “rational policy objectives” is useless.”

    In terms of the whole phenomenon of war, agree, but that’s not entirely what we are talking about here. We’re also talking about war planning, what should happen before the war even begins. The rational policy objectives fitting the military instrument is one of the “truisms” that we take from strategic theory, but use for future planning. In the case of Afghanistan, would you argue that the establishment of a democratic and stable Afghan state is a rational policy objective achievable through military means? On the other hand I would argue and I think you may agree that it is US domestic politics that keeps us in Afghanistan, not policy goals. Here is where strategic theory kicks in retrospectively.

    I don’t think strategic theory can deal with evil. Carl Schmitt would argue this is actually strategic confusion, hopelessly mixing the political sphere with the moral one, but useful for perhaps propaganda purposes to inflame your popular support. But what happens when you eventually have to negotiate with this evil as we inevitably will? Afghanistan is for us a limited, expeditionary war – following Corbett – and we will need to organize our departure either directly or indirectly with people who refer to themselves as “the Taliban”.

    “Evil itself can’t be quantified by theory but the impact of the perception that the enemy is or is not evil is something that is more concrete and may be dealt with by theory.”

    How is this perception impacted? By propaganda, by the firing up of passions in the people to support the war, no matter what? Also allowing the military to run the propaganda, to officially lie to the people? You are opening theory to a pandora’s box if you go this way, as I suspect Boyd already has with his moral authority operating at the strategic level . . . It’s basic imo, the existence of Evil on the one side assumes the existence of Holiness (not just Good!) on the other, but war and the larger sphere of politics is about interests . . .

    Just a side question: What is 4GW politics? or 5GW politics for that matter? How do you explain those terms so a Clausewitzian could understand?

  17. Hi Lex-

    1. “However, as a Clausewitzian, do you really think that the people could be mobilized for a war against an enemy that we all agreed were morally decent people who simply had some material interest different from ours? What democracy could fight a significant war on such an icy and materialistic basis?”

    Political communities would be hard-pressed to fight such wars, which is why the enemy IS vilified through propaganda. Look at the US in WWI. One element of my analysis is that Osinga completely misread what Fuller was talking about in regards to the moral at the level of strategy. Fuller saw the moral mobilization/manipulation at the strategic level as something negative, something which would make wars necessarily more violent and confusing, not less following Osinga’s tactical argument. You talk of “moral clarity”. OK, your own second hand moral clarity but not one that exists objectively or that we share. It smacks of war jingoing to me, of the countless lies told to the young to get them to fight, kill, maim, die . . . Was overthrowing the Taliban government “moral” in response to 9/11?, or would overthrowing the Saudi Arabian government have been “more moral”? Interests, dictated action on the one hand, and inaction on the other. As to our returning troops, they are going to be largely forgotten – the Washington Rules have other priorities – and how exactly does maintaining this “moral sanction for killing” “support” them?

  18. 2. “Social justice is a weasel word, a fraud, a lie, when it is in the hands of politicians.”

    I don’t have a problem with that. But Beck was talking about churches back in March, and telling his listeners to leave their churches if they were involved in “social justice”. He was widely condemned and then quickly backtracked relabeling the object of his attack “Rev. Wright churches”, and accusing them of mixing up “politics” and “religion” which he himself does all the time. It was a sorry spectacle and showed me all I needed to know about Mr. Beck. I was actually surprised by your enthusiasm.

  19. 3. “I made an analogy to Boyd. An analogy. I did not apply Boydian analysis. I made an analogy to Boydian analysis.”

    I think you did both, but let’s look at the post in question:

    Using Boyd’s continuum for war: Material, Intellectual, Moral.

    Analogously for political change: Elections, Institutions, Culture.

    That’s the analogy, clearly labeled, but you didn’t stop there . . .

    Change the foundation, and the rest will flow from that. Defeat the enemy on that plane, and any merely tactical defeat will always be reversible. He is nuking out the foundations of the opposition’s moral preeminence, the very thing I proposed in this post.

    You then link to this post where you wrote:

    John Boyd said that war is waged on the material, intellectual and moral plane, and the moral plane is the the most important.

    Winning elections would be the material plane, winning arguments among people who read about and care about policy would be the intellectual plane, but getting people to be proud of the American way of life, and making its enemies embarrassed and ashamed to hold their views and to come to despise and mock their own signs and symbols of class solidarity, that would be bringing the conflict to a victorious conclusion on the moral plane.

    We want to do all three. And they are interactive and feed back on each other.

    There’s more than an analogy here and you correctly described it as an analysis . . . influenced by your understanding of Boyd whose level of moral warfare you use accurately imo.

  20. War is about killing and politics is about changing who has political power by peaceful means.

    The process I am describing is political and intellectual and cultural change, not war or civil war.

    I see several definitions of analogy. This one reflects the way I am using the word: “resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike.”

    The processes are analogous, but the very, very important difference is violence — in this the processes are “unlike”.

    So, no, you are wrong that the comparison was “more than an analogy.”

    This is becoming tedious.

    Let’s step back and see what is going on here. You have accused me of encouraging people to engage in political violence, which I did not do. I have now repeatedly clarified this error for you. Yet you are being very persistent in repeating this false and misleading statement.

    So, one last time: Politics, not war; elections, not violence; changing people minds, not busting their heads.

  21. Lex-

    “You have accused me of encouraging people to engage in political violence, which I did not do. I have now repeatedly clarified this error for you. Yet you are being very persistent in repeating this false and misleading statement.”

    I have done nothing of the sort. Where have I made such a statement? Where have I repeated said statement?

  22. @seydlitz89:

    The bulk of my thoughts on your comment are here:


    In response to this question:

    seydlitz89: Just a side question: What is 4GW politics? or 5GW politics for that matter? How do you explain those terms so a Clausewitzian could understand?

    I’m not sure what 4GW politics is. Martin van Creveld seems to have banished politics from 4GW along with Clausewitz. I don’t advocate 4GW since it seems to be conceptually useless and built on an erroneous interpretation of Clausewitz. You might appreciate two of my posts on Clausewitz and Creveld:

    Red in Tooth and Clausewitz


    The Savage Clausewitz


    Most thinking on politics in respect to 5GW is utter drivel like this:


    In its current iteration, 5GW is more toy than tool. There are some things about it I find interesting so I contributed a Clausewitzian analysis of 5GW to the recent Handbook of 5GW under the pseudonym of Juan Antonio Samaranch. If it was something you wanted to read, I could probably get you a review copy. Most of it you would probably find less than impressive from a Clausewitzian perspective but Mark Safranski and Adam Elkus, among others, contributed some interesting essays. It’s unfortunate Lex was unable to contribute since he violently opposes 5GW.

  23. You repeatedly insisted that the analogy to Boyd’s framework to politics was not an analogy.

    You referred to my use of the word enemy as evidence that I was not making an analogy.

    I repeatedly said I was.

    If it is not an analogy it is the same thing, it is a comparison of like-to-like.

    War is killing and violence. That is what makes it war and not some other activity.

    The implication of your repeated insistence on this point is that I am advocating civil war, violence instead of political action.

    This false, misleading and defamatory.

    It is obviously not what I said, and when I pointed that out to you, you continued to insist otherwise.

    You are a very smart guy. I respect your knowledge of Clausewitz. I enjoy your participation in our discussions.

    I presume that you understand plain English, both reading what others write, and understanding the implication of what you write.

    I am puzzled by your conduct.

  24. Hi Lex-

    “I presume that you understand plain English, both reading what others write, and understanding the implication of what you write.
    I am puzzled by your conduct.”

    You shouldn’t be, since I’ve told you repeatedly . . . I’m only talking strategic theory. Whatever mention of politics or Beck or Afghanistan I have made have been secondary responses to points you have made.

    My original post laid out an argument about a strategic theory concept, or more accurately a doctrinal concept that I indentified you were using in a series of posts. The doctrinal concept has to do with what I identify as a Boydian concept linked but not limited to “moral authority”. I brought out the origin of the concept in Fuller and the mature concept as defined and described by Osinga. My conclusion was that you were accurately using the concept as it has been developed. My bad.

    I also pointed out the limitations of using a strategic theory or a strategic doctrinal approach to politics, which explained much of your experience on not only your Beck threads, but especially the confusion on Cheryl’s thread. I didn’t say you couldn’t do so or that doing so meant that you were advocating civil war, both of which are absurd. What I did say repeatedly is that strategic theory would be especially applicable if a political community were in or approaching civil war, once again the more applicable application of strategic theory which is imo obvious, but hardly an invitation to civil war, or a charge of advocating same . . . no more than the existance or discussion of nuclear strategy is an invitation or advocation of nuclear war.

    Look at my original post. Does it come across as political to you? Does it come across as a personal attack? Is not the whole first section concerned with strategic theory concepts? Obviously laying out what is going to be a strategic theory argument? Now look at your post. Which one is “imflamatory and misleading”? What about your whole tone now?

    If you are going to use strategic theory or in this case doctrinal theory terms, then you should accept some comment along those lines. Ideas have power and how they are used is important, at least theoretically . . . which is my whole point.

    Enough said.

  25. Joseph-

    Thanks for the post. I noticed that your comments were very much in the same spirit as mine. Could you open the comments, or would you rather I published something on my blog? Very interesting points brought up! I think a discussion would be fruitful.

    Thanks as well for the the 4 & 5GW stuff. I’ve recently heard the idea of 4GW politics bandied about and thought you might have a line on it . . .

  26. @seydlitz89

    I disabled comments on CoPS at the same time I withdrew from bi-directional tweeting as part of a digital disengagement policy. In effect I moved CoPS’s comment section here.

    I prefer exchanging blog posts. It helps reduce the personal spontaneity that so blights the Web. Or we can continue the discussion on this post since the center of excitement has moved on.

  27. Joseph-

    Let’s use this thread since I think my blogpartners want a break from strategic theory . . .

    I’ve been thinking about this comment you made:

    “I’m not even sure I believe there is such a thing as policy, rational or otherwise. I’m leery, as are others, of Howard and Paret’s use of policy for Politik in their translation of On War. It is far more constructive to talk of Politik as politics. . .”

    I’m thinking about my response which will go into the whole string of concepts that stems from “Politik”. The letter you quote to Major von Roeder seems to speak of three . . . I’ll be leaning a bit on Echevarria here and will use the First Gulf War as an example . . . busy week, but looking forward to the weekend.

  28. So, finally got a little time and can comment on Clausewitz and the meanings of “Politik”.

    But first let me mention something important that Joseph has brought up. Translation is a tricky art: getting the original meaning without getting too much of the translator’s mark on the translation of the original. At the Clausewitz conference in 2005, which I attended, Michael Howard admitted that he and Peter Paret were not as consistent with the terminology as they should have been. This also reflects the un-even nature of On War having been written while Clausewitz’s views were maturing. Some parts reflect the more mature theorist, whereas others reflect the more passionate (and younger) officer.

    What to do? How do these considerations fit in the larger scheme of things? I’ve worked as a translator of German into English. German is my second language, although it has gotten a bit rusty since leaving Germany for Portugal. If I have a doubt as to meaning in On War I compare it to the original German version Vom Kriege. Understandably not everyone interested in Clausewitz’s thought is able to do this. So, the next best thing is context. What is the context of the discussion, what is CvC talking about and how does the term fit within the larger discussion? That usually clears up the problem to some degree.

    I would add that in dealing with Clausewitzian strategic theory and its application to war planning, one recall the point that Joseph brought up, that is the concept or term in question is part of a much larger and complex “system” of interlocking concepts (as politics is but one of the remarkable trinity). Understanding the term in this context provides a good bit of clarity, which may help understanding how the term is being used in that particular instance.

    It’s also interesting to consider, that Dr. Jan Willem Honig, who had taught German military officers Clausewitz, told us at that same Clausewitz conference that he preferred to us the English translation of On War due to changes in the German language since the 1830s.

  29. So now to the matter at hand: My discussion of Clausewitz’s concept of “Politik” specifically dealing with the distinctions between “war planning” and “strategic theory”.

    Joseph Fouche’s comprehensive post brings up many interesting questions in this regard:


    This response is an initial attempt to answer some of these questions from a Clausewitzian perspective. A discussion of the basic concept of “Politik” for Clausewitz would be quite complex and would require consideration of the entire general theory as well as strategic theory principles used in traditional (Clausewitzian) war planning. “Politik” itself has at least three different meanings following Echevarria (“Clausewitz and Contemporary War”, Ch 4) – “policy”, “politics”, and “political determinism”. Echevarria’s position, and I agree with much of it, is that due perhaps to the experience of the Cold War and our political inclinations, we

    . . . transform what Clausewitz saw as a statement of fact, a description of a historically verifiable relationship, into a normative doctrine as to the way the relationship ought to function. Second, they confuse policy with politics. Today we tend to see the former as the decision to protect or promote our interests and usually to do so in certain ways; we see the latter as the relations and conventions that develop among states (and non-states) as they pursue their interests. Policy is often at odds with politics, as Clausewitz pointed out, and policy’s failure to appreciate the power of political circumstances when waging war has often led to failure. Finally the above views overlooked the political determinism that crept into Clausewitz’s thinking as he worked out the relationship between war and policy in Book VIII, and its significance for his overall theory of war.

    Book VIII of course is that dealing with war plans/planning. “Policy” is to strategy what military aim is to operations or tactics. It is the “rational” and subordinate element to the remarkable trinity which is the capstone to the general theory of war. Providing the basic “model” of the general theory with a rational element is important, since how else would the instrumental nature of war come in? Also given the complex interaction between the rational and subordinate element and the elements of passion and chance (the other two elements of the remarkable trinity) it is easy to see that the interaction with the opposing side could easily change so that the initial instrumental rationality loses that quality, especially given the “tendencies towards extremes”.

    You may have noticed that I use Max Weber’s social action theory terminology here. Weber is very applicable to Clausewitz and to me perhaps the best way to understand the distinction between “policy” and politics” is in terms of “instrumental rationality” and “value rationality”, although Colin Gray’s (I think) distinction between “subjective” and focused policy and “objective” and historical politics is also useful. Taken another way, “policy” is your reason for going to war (which could be a negative purpose, denying the attacker his purpose, or a “positive” purpose, seizing what you as the political leadership wish from the opponent. “Politics” would include the political relationship that predated the conflict, the political conditions existing during it and the resulting power relationships after the conflict is over. “Political determinism” for Echevarria is the tendency in Clausewitz for politics to “determine how we think and act”. I disagree and think this third element is basic to Clausewitz’s theory of politics/political development which is covered in my paper on Clausewitz and cohesion that Joseph linked to at the Clausewitz.com website.

    I’ve touched on the three definitions we have for “Politik” and communicated something as to the distinctions between the three distinct concepts. Let’s now narrow it down to two, “policy” as in war planning and “politics” as in domestic political “reality”. In the Clausewitz letter that Joseph provided in his post we have mention of both:

    How then is it possible to plan a campaign, whether for one theater of war or several, without indicating the political condition of the belligerents, and the politics of their relationship to each other?


    The political purpose and the means available to achieve it give rise to the military objective. This ultimate goal of the entire belligerent act, or of the particular campaign if the two are identical, is therefore the first and most important issue that the strategist must address, for the main lines of the strategic plan run toward this, goal, or at least are guided by it.

    So politics gives rise to the conditions that lead to war (where war develops like an embryo in an egg as Clausewitz mentions in On War) but is separate from the political purpose which subordinates the military instrument to its goals. In war planning, policy obviously has a normative function, what should happen, but Echevarria reminds us that this principle taken from strategic theory still retains its descriptive nature describing the actual relationship between the strategic and the operational/tactical.

    With that in mind we have Clausewitz’s warning in regards to war planning:

    As soon as we concede that logically some wars may not call for extreme goals, the utter destruction of the enemy, we must expand the art of war to include all gradations of military means by which policy can be advanced. War in its relation to policy has above all the obligation and the right to prevent policy from making demands that are contrary to the nature of war, to save it from misusing the military instrument from a failure to understand what it can and cannot do.

    So policy determines not only the military aim, but the degree of force/coercion (destruction and punishment for CvC) to be used. Thomas Schelling developed this whole range/play of coercion wonderfully in his “Arms and Influence” which fits well within a larger Clausewitzian general theory context imo.

    To me this warning has two distinct elements. First, the domestic politics could be so confused and unfocused as to make policy as subordinating element for the interaction of war impossible. Wars could be fought, but the policy would be irrational and based on essentially delusions. This is basically Andrew Bacevich’s argument in “Washington Rules”, “politics” making the formation of “policy” impossible.

    Second, and here Clausewitz’s views on intelligence activities are enlightening, proper planning and linking of the political purpose or policy with the appropriate military aim requires accurate intelligence. Usually we think of Clausewitz’s view of intelligence as being dismissive, and with reason, but he is speaking more of what is known in the trade as “intelligence information”, various pieces of information that come to the attention of the commander in the field which many times are confused, limited, misleading and often outright false. Here in regards to war planning we have the opposite view and regarding a different product. Accurate intelligence and analysis is necessary to understand the politics leading up to the war and thus form the policy necessary. The military planner has not only the responsibility to be clear as to the limits of how the instrument can achieve policy goals, but also not wishfully overestimating the capabilities of the instrument or seeing them only in terms of destruction.

    An instrument if lost in a fight can be used against its former owner to the opposite of the originally intended effect.

    The next step is to compare what I’ve written here with an actual war. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the war I would use as an example is the first Gulf War of 1990-91. From a Clausewitzian perspective it was almost a “perfect war”. This is related to the fact that Clausewitz’s influence on US military education and war planning was at its height. We had a good understanding of the initial political conditions of the various states in question and planned our policy accordingly. The political purpose was linked closely with the military aim and that aim was instrumental to the war’s purpose. It was a limited war due to the political conditions of the area and was concluded successfully at a limited cost in proportion to the political purpose. Whatever mistakes that followed were policy failures not necessarily linked to the war itself, more the nature of missed opportunities . . .

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