Others’ Shoes

[I first posted this at my home blog, Phronesisaical. It’s a response to Lexington Green’s now famous Glenn Beck post. I’m reposting it here at Lex’s request. And forgive me if I seem slow to respond to comments; mine are frequently rejected by this system.]

Perhaps I’m taking on too much at once. I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and reading some Russian history to get a feeling for before the Revolution. I’m re-reading Daniel Martin to get a better feeling for what La Vida Es Sueño is about. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum today sent me an invitation to visualize O’Keeffe’s creative process.

And I’d really, really like to understand what is going on with the admirers of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the Tea Partiers.

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Afghanistan 2050: The Game-Changer

The Afghanistan War, 2001 – 2011
The Pakistan floods of August 2010 were the turning point. Very quietly, South Africa’s Ambassador Abdul S. Minty detached himself from an International Atomic Energy Agency delegation visiting Israel to deliver a letter from Nelson Mandela to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Appendix XIX; reproduced at the end of this post). The letter urged Netanyahu to lead an effort to bring aid to Pakistan. The stated purpose was to improve Israel’s image in the world and its relations with Turkey in particular, but Mandela’s intention also was to distract Netanyahu and Israel more generally from its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program.

Pakistan, as a central player in the Afghan war, was focused largely on its perceived enemy, India, in the same way that Israel was focused on Iran. India focused on China and Pakistan, and Iran on Israel. At the time of the floods, India and Iran were developing an allliance relative to Afghanistan which would have made Pakistan feel boxed in.

It might have been expected that Afghanistan’s immediate neighbors, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan would have led the way to a settlement. But these two-party grudge matches, state weakness, and rivalries of the various parties with the United States made it difficult to forge the multilateral relations that would prove necessary for peace. The Mandela letter changed that.

Netanyahu began talks immediately with Turkey and Russia to provide aid to Pakistan. Within a week, the first shipments and military helicopters began to arrive. Meanwhile, the United States was diverting some of its military equipment from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Netanyahu then took a risk and sent Tzipi Livni as a special envoy to China and India. China was already providing aid to Pakistan, but Livni’s purpose was to prepare China’s leaders for India’s entry into the aid program. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States volunteered their help. India brought Iran into the relief effort.

Pakistan’s government, preoccupied with the floods, severed relations with the Taliban. After the emergency had been dealt with and the situation in Pakistan stabilized, the helpers realized that their former enemies could be worked with. The United States and Russia immediately called a conference of the neighbors, plus Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, which resulted in the Treaty of Isfahan in late 2011, ending the hostilities in Afghanistan and assigning Iran, Pakistan, and India major roles in stabilizing the country. Continuing talks resulted in a settlement between Pakistan and India on Jammu and Kashmir.


The Treaty of Ashkabat, which makes southwestern Asia into a nuclear-weapons-free zone, is expected to come into force in 2054. Israel is already converting its complex at Dimona to an IAEA fuel production center. Iran has sent its fissionable materials to the IAEA’s Angarsk nuclear fuel production complex. Both internationally-run complexes will convert the materials to fuel for reactors in the region. Negotiations are beginning on a Southwest Asia free-trade zone; Dubai is leading the first round.

from Southwest Asia’s Remarkable Century, 1940-2050; Svetlana M. Alekseeva, Lev D. Cohen, Courtney R. Manning, and Bashir R. Asad, Chapter 26.

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Clausewitz, “On War,” Returning To That Business About the Continuation of Policy

Clausewitz says

war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.

He also says that this is the central point of On War. But what does he mean by it? Is it a precept? An observation? A recommendation for a successful war?

In Clausewitz’s time, the objective was usually control of territory, incorporating it into one’s own country or to be used as a bargaining chip. That object is not unknown today, but perceptions play a part that was inconceivable in Clausewitz’s time.

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Clausewitz, “On War,” How To Read the Book

On War is two centuries old, its author admitting that it is unfinished. It is a difficult book to read. Some sections are long and detailed, others are concise summaries, and yet others have the look of notes to be expanded.

Being two centuries old, On War treats the war of the early eighteenth century and the technologies then in use. We’ve come a long way since then: no more carefully formed-up marches into cannon fire. No more elaborate uniforms for battle. We can see through the dark of night and launch missiles that find their targets largely on their own.

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Clausewitz, On War: Book 3: Boldness

Chapter 6 of Book 3 is one of Clausewitz’s gems. He strikes that middle ground that he so often aims for and frequently misses, balancing the rational and nonrational, outlining the pitfalls and long reach of this quality.

My interest in Clausewitz goes beyond the military applications of his thought. My first substantive introduction to him was by a mentor who was partial to military thought (Sun Tzu as well) as a model for organizational strategy.

I’ve never suffered from a deficiency of boldness, but that is a mixed blessing for a woman; was more than is. I recall springing up a flight of stairs in a college dormitory not my own, whistling. I was feeling good. “Women who whistle, and hens that crow,” came the word from a suddenly appearing housemother. (Yes, it was that long ago!) My boldness extended a poisonous look.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book 2: Clausewitz’s Science

After the apparent clarity of Book 1, we find something of a muddle in Book 2. Clausewitz warned us of this. In his unfinished note, probably of 1830, he says that the first chapter of Book 1 is the only part of the book he regards as finished. The first six books, he says in an earlier note, are a “rather formless mass.”

He says quite a bit, but not enough, about how he planned to revise the book and how he wrote it. I recognize in these comments and in the shape of On War many undesirable characteristics of my early drafts. I sit at a keyboard, however, able to highlight and delete, rewrite and move sentences and paragraphs with a few keystrokes. I see a printed version in which my eyes can easily take in the contradictions within a paragraph. Clausewitz used a quill pen, or, if he was really up to date, a metal-nibbed dip pen. In any case, simply getting the words on paper required much more physical effort than I am expending, with more distractions. More friction towards getting ideas properly expressed within the written words, he might have said.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: Clausewitz and Herman Kahn

Herman Kahn consciously followed Clausewitz’s lead in choosing the title On Thermonuclear War.

However, whereas Clausewitz was trying to develop a general theory of war from his and others’ experiences, Kahn was trying to develop a theory of a war of a kind that had never been fought.

In Chapter 8 of Book 1, Clausewitz telescopes war down to “a single short blow” to show that this is not possible. Nuclear war moves closer to this idealization. Kahn’s analysis is that even a nuclear war does not consist of a single short blow. There can be warnings and exchanges.

Kahn was analyzing the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. There was 30 minutes warning of a strike by one on the other. Kahn died before India and Pakistan achieved approximate nuclear parity in 1998. Their warning times come much closer to Clausewitz’s “single short blow.”

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Clausewitz, On War, Introductory Material: Cordesman Asks the Question

After that first post, I had in mind to apply “war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means” to what Israel is doing in Gaza. But Anthony Cordesman beat me to it. Looks like he’s studied Clausewitz.

This raises a question that every Israeli and its supporters now needs to ask. What is the strategic purpose behind the present fighting? After two weeks of combat Olmert, Livni, and Barak have still not said a word that indicates that Israel will gain strategic or grand strategic benefits, or tactical benefits much larger than the gains it made from selectively striking key Hamas facilities early in the war. In fact, their silence raises haunting questions about whether they will repeat the same massive failures made by Israel’s top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006. Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel’s actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?

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Clausewitz, On War, Introductory Matter: The Continuation of Policy

I heard the name Carl von Clausewitz many times during my education and career, but I only started to look into his writings a few years ago. The impetus for that was hearing “War is the continuation of policy by other means” and its variants a few too many times in a few too many contexts. I thought I had a use for it myself in something I was writing, but I wanted to find out what Clausewitz meant by it before I used it.

The poles of meaning attributed to that simple sentence seemed to be, on the one hand,

Politicians might do damn near anything. Make flamethrowers available in the US Congress, and they’ll probably use them.

And on the other,

War is a means to attaining a politically-defined result.

What I wanted to say was closer to the second. I found a compendium of quotes from his work in the Web, with some commentary attached was pleased to find that I was in line with Clausewitz’s meaning, at least as far as I could tell from that limited selection of quotes.

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