Ronald Reagan Roundtable: Reagan and the End of the Cold War

Ronald Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches in Berlin in June 1987, the famous one where he invited the Soviet leader of the time to “tear down this wall”. I was in the audience of that speech, about five rows back, and close enough to see the man very clearly. I had voted for Ronald Reagan in both 1980 and 1984 and had been present at his first inaugural in Washington DC. Count me as a true believer. At the time in Berlin we thought it a rather significant speech and he was after all not only addressing Berlin, but the whole world. There were indications that big changes were in the works, but no one could have guessed how momentous those changes would in fact be.

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Afghanistan 2050: A Political Watershed

. . . Thus ends our discussion of the military aspects of the Afghan campaign. The political roots of the campaign and how they developed – everyone obviously has their own individual story as to how their own family was affected by the momentous events this war helped to set in motion – are not so easily discernible today. President Bush’s decision to invade the country and overthrow the Taliban government in 2001 seemed a logical response to the events of 11 September, but was in reality predetermined by decades of ideological and political confusion which only came to its inevitable end with the withdrawal of Successor States forces in 2018. In effect American policy makers fancied themselves metaphysicians capable of driving human historical events/the development of political cultures through the use of military power. While the tendency among Bush Studies academics is to argue that Bush represents a unique model followed by his three successors, this puts too much influence on the man and not the times, nor the history which made those times what they were. It is difficult to imagine today, but in the waning years of the US Empire three great tendencies came together and imploded pretty much simultaneously. The first was the notion that the US, alone among the political communities of the world, possessed a special mission from God to influence and change the world; we can refer to this as the “shining city on the hill” delusion. The second was the “liberal”/Enlightenment view of the US as a new start, the perfect humanist society which would reform the corruption of the past; refer to this as the Founding Fathers’ assumption.

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Xenophon Roundtable: The Building of a Political Community

I had never read Xenophon before and while a great fan of Thucydides, had never spent much time reading ancient Greek – as opposed to Byzantine – history.  This was a challenge for me and while I can’t offer much original on Xenophon and his times, I can perhaps take a look at Xenophon’s view of politics in Clausewitzian terms.  Consider this my own limited contribution to the round table discussion.

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Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Concluding Remarks

This is possibly the most difficult post yet.  How to make a fitting conclusion to this very exceptional work, a work that influences not only military historians, but strategic theorists, military officers, those involved in the training of strategic theorists and military officers . . .  It would be difficult to come up with a book going on 200 years old which retains more influence today than it did 20 years after it was published, that continues to open up new vistas of thought, in this the most complex of all human interactions, that being war.

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Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VII, Chapters 5 and 22, The Culminating Point of the Attack/Victory and the Uses of Strategic Theory

There are strategic attacks which have led directly to peace, but these are the minority.  Most of them only lead up the point where their remaining strength is just enough to maintain a defense and wait for peace.  Beyond that point the scale turns and the reaction follows with a force that is usually much stronger than that of the original attack.  Since the object of the attack is possession of the enemy’s territory, it follows that the advance will continue until the attacker’s superiority is exhausted; it is this that drives the offensive on towards its goal and can easily drive it further.  If we remember how many factors contribute to an equation of forces, we will understand how difficult it is in some cases to determine which side has the upper hand.  Often it is entirely a matter of the imagination.

Chapter 5

It is not possible in every war for the victor to overthrow his enemy completely.  Often even victory has a culminating point.  this has been ampy demonstrated bz experience.  Because the matter is particularly important in military theory and forms the keystone for most plans of campaign, and because its surface is distorted by apparent  contradictions, like the dazzling effect of brilliant colors, we shall examine it more closely and seek out its inner logic.

Victory normally results from the superiority of one side; from a greater aggregate of physical and psychological strength.  This superiority is certainly augmented by the victory, otherwise it would not be so coveted or command so high a price.  That is an automatic consequence of victory itself.  Its effects exert a similar influence, but only up to a point.  That point may be reached quickly – at times so quickly that the total consequences of a victorious battle may not be limited to an increase in psychological superiority alone.

Chapter 22

This concept of the “culminating point” was later developed by Aleksandre Svechin in his Strategy which is imo the best development of the theory behind operational art we have.  As to the actual use of the concept it has much to do with whether the military aim is following a strategy of destruction or one of attrition.  The example of the Korean War (1950-53) offers an interesting subject of analysis in this regard.

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