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

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 7th February 2011 (All posts by )

    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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    Posted in Reagan Centenary | 19 Comments »

    Afghanistan 2050: A Political Watershed

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 15th August 2010 (All posts by )

    . . . 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. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan 2050 | Comments Off on Afghanistan 2050: A Political Watershed

    Xenophon Roundtable: The Building of a Political Community

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 22nd September 2009 (All posts by )

    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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    Posted in Xenophon Roundtable | 14 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Concluding Remarks

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 19th March 2009 (All posts by )

    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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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 1 Comment »

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

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 16th March 2009 (All posts by )

    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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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 2 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 5, “Serious Risk”

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 12th March 2009 (All posts by )

    The condition for defeating an enemy presupposes great physical or moral superiority or else an extremely enterprising spirit, an inclination for serious risk.  When neither of these is present, the object of military activity can only be one of two kinds: seizing a small or larger piece of enemy territory, or holding one’s own until things take a better turn.  The latter is normally the aim of a defensive war. . .

    The possibility that a military objective can be modified is one we have treated hitherto as deriving only from domestic arguments [Book VI Ch 8], and we have considered the nature of the political aim only to the extent that it has or does not have an active content.  From the point of view of war itself, no other ingredient of policy is relevant at all.  Still, as we argued in the second chapter of Book I (purpose and means in war), the nature of the political aim, the scale of the demands put forward by either side, and the total political situation of one’s own side, are all factors that in practice must decisively influence the conduct of war.

    This post links this concept of “serious risk” with “surprise”, which is one of the keys to success in the tactical/operational attack, but then highlights the overall importance of the political purpose to which the military aim is subordinate.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 3 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B, The Concept of Cohesion

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 1st March 2009 (All posts by )

    There are many points one could make in connection with Book VIII of On War.  As I mentioned in my first post on this roundtable, Clausewitz deals with different types of theory in the book.  I have mentioned the general theory, Clausewitz’s art of Napoleonic warfare, and his theory of politics/political development.  This last type could be simply described as his concept of cohesion, since it is the different types of cohesion present which indicate the type of political community we are dealing with.  For this discussion I  rely on Chapter 3B of Book VIII particularly, in addition to his essay titled “Agitation”, as well as other parts of On War.

    This concept has received next to no treatment in Clausewitz literature, or in any treatment of On War, outside of a paper I posted last year on the DNI site.  The concept indicates the “cutting edge” nature of Clausewitz in strategic theory even today.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 1 Comment »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI, Ch 6, Balance of Power

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 24th February 2009 (All posts by )

    Clausewitz starts off this chapter with an extension of the range of resources that the defender has at his disposal, these in addition to those listed in Chapter 3 as being responsible for defensive strategic success.  This includes the militia (which exhibits distinct advantages and limitations as compared to the army; fortresses; the people (as in assisting the army operating on their own territory) which can be armed and become yet another source of power – the people in arms; and finally the defender’s allies.  In describing this last source of the defender’s power, Clausewitz provides his view of the balance of power in Europe:

    If we consider the community of states in Europe today, we do not find a systematically regulated balance of power and of spheres of influence, which does not exist and whose existence has often been justifiably denied; but we certainly do find major and minor interests of states and peoples interwoven in the most varied and changeable manner.  Each point of intersection binds and serves to balance one set of interests against the other.  The broad effect of all these fixed points is obviously to give a certain amount of cohesion to the whole.  Any change will necessarily weaken this cohesion to some degree.  The sum total of relations between states thus serves to maintain the stability of the whole rather than to promote change; at least, that tendency will generally be present.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable, Europe | 4 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI: Chapter 3

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 22nd February 2009 (All posts by )

    Given that there is a lot of material in Book VI worthy of comment, I’ll start with this chapter since it allows us to provide something of a recap of what we have read in On War so far.  On page 90 of his book, Clausewitz – Philosopher of War, Raymond Aron hesitatingly reduces a portion of the general theory to three conceptual pairs: moral/physical, means/end, and attack/defense.  The first refers to the essence of war itself – the clashing wills – which leads to the second pair.  The decision to go to war starts with the defense since the aggressor is more than happy to get what he wants by simply taking it (see Bk VI/Ch 5) .  Attack without resistance is not war, but something else as Clausewitz indicated in Bk I/Ch 1.  Means/ends can be further linked with two additional pairs: military aim/political purpose and strategy/tactics.  Taken together these conceptual pairs constitute the “intelligent” aspects of the general theory, that is leaving out chance, friction (in all its forms) and “objective” Politik.  So with the intelligent aspects, the aspects not responding to intelligence and the various operating principles we come once again to the whole of the general theory, with each concept only understandable in terms of the whole (that is in terms of the general theory).

    In reading Chapter 3, which is quite short, we see that Clausewitz mentions all three of the initial conceptual pairs that Aron mentions and expands our understanding of the whole in some significant ways.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 7 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book V: General Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 19th February 2009 (All posts by )

    At first glance, from a general theory perspective, Book V doesn’t offer much, focusing as it does overwhelmingly on the tactical, that is the level of warfare most open to change, most influenced by the epoch in question.  Still there are various points which from a general theory perspective are worth noting.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 2 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book IV (and VI): Contingency

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 15th February 2009 (All posts by )

    Even the ultimate aim of comtemporary warfare, the political object, cannot always be seen as a single issue.  Even if it were, action is subject to such a multitude of conditions and considerations that the aim can no longer be achieved by a single tremendous act of war.  Rather it must be reached by a large number of more or less important actions, all combined into one whole.  Each of these separate actions has a specific purpose relating to the whole.

    Chapter 3

    Here we are looking at the political object and its supporting military aim as being close together.  The applicability of the military instrument is something of a sliding scale which increases the more the political purpose and the military aim are the same.  This tracks along very well with the ideal type of absolute war.  At the same time this sequence of actions/decisions is very much tied to the specifics of the political purpose and how the phenomenon of war acts upon/changes/develops it.   So we have a very basic concept of contingency here, that being a sequence of purpose-driven actions/decisions being made over time and being influenced in turn by a complex ever evolving environment.

    The concept of contingency as connected to the general theory does not end there however, and by referring to affinitive Weberian concepts can be even expanded upon.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 9 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz: Book IV, Some Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 8th February 2009 (All posts by )

    The emphasis for Book IV is the tactical, that is for Clausewitz, “the engagement”.  What separates war from other types of social activity is fighting, that is in this context organized violence in the pursuit of a political purpose.  So while the emphasis is the tactical, the whole must always be considered since tactical victory is the means of strategy.

    Clausewitz’s emphasis here is on the pure concept, the principle of destruction, which is the prime tactical mission.  One need only remember the stated mission of the Marine Corps as learned by this writer as a volunteer in the mid 1970s, that being, “to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel their assault by fire and close combat”. The means of tactics is the destruction of the enemy.  The end is military victory.

    So Clausewitz isn’t saying anything particularly new or insightful here.  Rather he is attempting to argue against those of his contemporaries who saw maneuver as an end in itself with the intention of establishing “base lines” or seizing “key ground” which it was thought would preclude the necessity of a bloody decision, make war a thoroughly civilized affair among a closed community of princes who respected each other and saw it as their common interest in maintaining the status quo resulting in wars of low tension and little movement to borrow the terms from Book III, Chapter 18.  However there was no guarantee that future wars would return to the form of the 18th Century.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

    Carl von Clausewitz, Book III, General Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 2nd February 2009 (All posts by )

    Strategy is a very misunderstood concept. Over the last eight years the United States has implemented a number of various strategies which were more the nature of public relations campaigns, attempts to give the impression of government design on what have been commonly seen as disorganized chaos following mismanaged policy adventures. Too often it seems that „strategy“ is used interchangeably with „intentions“, in order to give the impression that by calling one’s stated intentions a „strategy“ it magically increases the likelihood of success.

    Reading Clausewitz’s On War during what has been arguably a nadir of strategic thought’s influence on US policy formulation could be seen as depressing. At the same time our current situation is comprehensible in Clausewitzian terms. As Americans (addressing the American contributors to this roundtable) it may be particularly difficult for us to understand (let alone face) the dysfunctions of our own domestic political system (dysfunctional policy sharing the character of those who have implemented and supported it) along with the assumptions of our own strategic culture.

    Clausewitz offers a different perspective and a theory-based methodology – in effect a conceptual yardstick – with which to look at our own situation and compare it to other situations at present or in the past. There are no guarantees that this will lead to better policy however, or to more practical and farsighted statesmen, even the best strategic theory could not save Prussia which no longer exists as a political entity.

    So, a bit of an introduction as to the importance of strategic theory but also its obvious limitations. Another obvious limitation is lack of understanding. Book III offers a good point of departure for a quick review of what Clausewitz is up to here.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 4 Comments »

    Clausewitz, On War, Book 2, Concluding Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 27th January 2009 (All posts by )

    Time constraints as usual are not allowing me to participate like I would wish to in this fascinating discussion.

    Just a few comments, a bit disjointed perhaps, but here goes:

    First, the “tactical nature” of victory.  Fighting is the means for tactics and military victory is the end, whereas military victory is the means for strategy whose end is the return to peace with the political purpose attained  (Book 2, ch 2).   Of course either side could forestall peace for whatever reason, seeing the continuation of (relatively low-level) hostilities as more advantageous than concluding peace.  This brings up potentially other problems as referred to in Section 3, Ch 1, Book 1.  In any case, a four-star general who says that he didn’t plan for “Phase IV” operations should be busted to private and expected to clean latrines for the duration.  You would only have to do this once, and the effect on strategic thought and its interaction with planning would be only beneficial.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 2 Comments »

    Clausewitz, On War, Book 2: Chapter 1 Comments

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 23rd January 2009 (All posts by )

    The probing of the theorist of the moral pretension of the national interest puts him in an awkard position by making him suspect of being indifferent to all truth and morality.  This is why there are so many ideologies and so few theories.

    Hans Joachim Morgenthau, 1962

    The first chapter of Book 2 has some interesting points which lead to a fuller understanding of Clausewitz’s intent and the various falacies that he sees associated with theory.  I will comment on four points, but this is not meant to indicate that there are not others present in this chapter. 

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 2 Comments »

    Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: Closing Comments and Section 28

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 18th January 2009 (All posts by )

    At this point in what has been a fascinating round table, I think it useful to consider the comment that Sir Michael Howard made during the Clausewitz Conference of 2005, that being that “Clausewitz is a Rorschach Test”, meaning that readers tend to see in him what ever they are looking for. Translations indicate this as well, with the various English translations of On War reflecting what were the dominate strategic emphasis or concern at the time of translation.

    There is nothing especially surprising about this, more the nature of human inquiry. How On War is approached will depend very much on the specific epoch, concerns and culture of the reader. Still there are three points which must be considered in reading On War imo since they do relate to the nature of the work.

    First, a knowledge of Napoleonic warfare, and Prussian history and culture is very useful, including the concept of Bildung, for which there is no direct English translation. Consider it self-education and development. For instance On War is expected to contribute to the Bildung of a military commander, allow him a theory in which to develop his sense of judgment in which to make tactical, or rather strategic command decisions.

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 3 Comments »

    Clausewitz, On War, Book 1: Dialectic, but which dialectic?

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 14th January 2009 (All posts by )

    That Clausewitz used a dialectical approach is well known.  Less known is that there are serious questions as to which dialectic(s) Clausewitz was in fact employing.  The best known form of the dialectic is perhaps that of Plato, simple question and answer going back and forth between two sides which may not agree but who both wish to arrive at a clearer understanding of the topic under discussion.  Absolute truth may not be attainable, but a better understanding can be arrived at through two minds working through the dialectic of point and counter-point.

    This is the most common form of dialectic, and one finds it often in On War, Clausewitz attempting so to speak to bring us into dialogue, invite us to consider his sometimes radical statements, get us to think about the complex subject he is discussing.

    It may surprise some to hear me say that the dialectic that Clausewitz uses the most in his general theory is that of the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher . . .

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 11 Comments »

    Clausewitz, On War, Book 1 – My introduction, and comments on Chapter 1

    Posted by seydlitz89 on 11th January 2009 (All posts by )

    Knowing how to start one’s own contribution to this very worthwhile discussion is difficult. Beginning that discussion with Book 1 Chapter 1 of Clausewitz’s On War adds to a very difficult situation indeed. One could write a book about this first chapter and in fact people have.

    Consider that I am a Clausewitzian strategic theorist, this being a simple label of identification, not intended to be any sort of indication of special expertise. I would rather let my words speak for themselves. To start I would point out that Clausewitz deals with different types of theory in On War. The specific branch of theory I refer to here is “strategic theory”, defined as that kind of social theory concerned with the exercise of power – including potentially the use of organized force – to achieve the goals of one political community in conflict with others.

    In my view it is in Book 1, Chapter 1 where the general theory is most clearly explained, although elements of it are scattered throughout the work, especially in Books 6 and 8. So what is the general theory and how does it differ from the other two types of Clausewitzian strategic theory I’ve mentioned?

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    Posted in Clausewitz Roundtable | 2 Comments »