“A new hope for our children in the 21st century”

Tomorrow afternoon (Monday, February 7th, 2011), the first Monday in February, President Obama will deliver his Fiscal Year 2012 Presidential Budget to the Congress. This is the opening act of our annual budgetary tango, with copious debate over the coming months of the necessary trades between programs.

On March 23rd, 1983, a few weeks after President Reagan presented his Fiscal 1984 budget to Congress, he gave his famous “Star Wars Speech” to a national televised audience. Although “Star Wars” was the derisive name opponents used to mock the fantastic nature of the President’s vision, President Reagan’s speech was singularly focused on restoring American military strength and credibility — and to “… pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the [nuclear] weapons themselves.”

Ironically, unlike President Kennedy’s 1962 speech at Rice University that was fully focused on the seemingly-impossible challenge of putting a man on the moon (and Rice defeating Texas in football), Reagan’s “… call [to] the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents … to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete” warranted only a couple of sentences in an otherwise lengthy speech.

Rather, this speech was part of “…a careful, long-term plan to make America strong again after too many years of neglect and mistakes,” and (when coupled with President Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando just two weeks prior) was a deliberate escalation of Cold War rhetoric.

President Reagan was rightfully concerned that the defense budget had been “trimmed to the limits of safety” by Congress. This decay of U.S. armed forces led Reagan “…to improve the basic readiness and staying power of our conventional forces, so they could meet – and therefore help deter – a crisis.” But his confidence in the logic of deterrence had limits. The Star Wars Speech presented to the world Reagan’s realization that deterrence based solely on commensurate offensive capabilities was fallacious.

“Over the course of these discussions, I have become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations and human beings by threatening their existence…. Wouldn’t it be better to save lives than to avenge them? Are we not capable of demonstrating our peaceful intentions by applying all our abilities and our ingenuity to achieving a truly lasting stability? I think we are – indeed, we must!”

The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO, precursor to today’s Missile Defense Agency) was founded the following year, 1984. Reagan realized the complexity of the task, noting in his speech that it “… may not be accomplished before the end of this century.” Yet the U.S. Army PATRIOT terminal defense system performed admirably in early 1991 during DESERT STORM, and today’s U.S. Navy Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) has been used to destroy a failing satellite (Operation BURNT FROST, February 2008) as well as form the future foundation of land-based European missile defense and our nation’s “Phased Adaptive Approach”.

The magnitude of the technical challenge caused many to blanche in 1983, and to ridicule the President. Yet today’s successes would never have been possible if President Reagan had not had the faith to “… [launch] an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history.”

For that, we have “… a new hope for our children in the 21st century.”

Crossposted to Wizards of Oz

Afghanistan 2050: Kaleidoscope of History

Chotor asty, in the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This letter is from Akram Khan, a slave of Allah. Peace be upon him who follows the right path. As we approach the 131st celebration of Afghan Independence Day, in this year 1472 AH, we must pause to celebrate the resilience of the Pashtunwali.

Blessings to Allah for this year’s bountiful poppy harvest – the richest Orūzgān has ever seen, rivaling Helmand’s harvest this year. With Chinese demand for opium ever increasing due to their new-found opulence, we are thankful that Allah has smiled upon our fields and our labors.

While chaos and economic collapse continues to engulf the Indian subcontinent (moreso from the Chinese damming of the headwaters of the Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers in their insatiable thirst for energy than from any direct external conflict), our lives west of the Hindu Kush remain stoic and tranquil.

It is ironic that the colonial powers of the west thought they could tame Afghanistan. The first memories of my youth were of my brave brothers and uncles taking arms against the Soviet tanks that sought to prop up the urban elites of Babrak Karmal and his fellow kleptocrats. And as a young man, I watched the ignorant Taliban Kandaharis try to impose their misguided interpretation of Shari’a on our peoples – only to be quickly ousted by the Americans and their corrupt puppet Hamid Karzai. And in my middle age I witnessed the ebb and flow of various outsiders – from Europeans to Pakistanis to Chinese – try to impose their centralized governances on us. At least until the development of sub-Saharan Africa gave them all a new sandbox to attempt to shape in their own image, leaving us to our own “archaic” ways….

Where they all were wrong is their failure to grasp the most basic tenets of tribalism. The western politicians universally declare their fealty to “family values”, yet they have no true conception of what that means. Despite the hardships of Afghanistan, we are free from want and have a simple, secure lifestyle. Our open, egalitarian and classless society is inherently cooperative – something we see far too little of in so-called “progressive” societies around the globe that depend upon (and unduly reward) the individual above the collective.

Though fatigued by decades of conflict, we welcome the recent tranquility afforded our peoples by the Great Powers’ distractions in Africa. Our celebration of Afghan independence is a celebration of our own modest freedoms – freedom to till the harsh rocky soil, freedom to support our clan with our own labors, freedom to remain apart from a world gone mad. And we humbly return to what we have always done: pray, eat, sleep and love.

In the name of Allah the most Sincere, may peace be upon you and your family.

[Cross-posted to Wizards of Oz]


Clausewitz, On War, Coda: A Strategist for All Seasons

If Sun Tzu is the Tao of War, then Carl von Clausewitz is its Te. Where Sun Tzu gave birth to generalship and strategy, Clausewitz gave military strategy shape and power. Where Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is Zen-like in its brevity, Clausewitz’s On War is profound in both its breadth and its depth – elucidating a far deeper understanding of the nuance of “genius” and strategy.

Many of Clausewitz’s ideas endure to this day: “center of gravity”, “culminating points”, etc. What is more striking is that his best ideas are also applicable – perhaps even more applicable – in the realm of “soft” power. While the attritionist in Clausewitz would not have approved of the logic of “The Surge”, he most certainly would understand its political (vice military) imperative.

I first encountered Clausewitz in 1992 as a young scientist at the Navy’s “Naval Ocean System Center”, while enrolled in the U.S. Naval War College’s Non-Resident Seminar program at the 32nd Street Naval Station. RADM(ret) Jack Shaw was my professor for “Joint Maritime Operations”, and led us on a “deep dive” into On War.

But I did not appreciate Clausewitz then as much as I do today, thanks to the courtesy of Lexington Green and the ChicagoBoyz – as well as the enormously insightful writings from my colleagues in this Roundtable. I can say unequivocally that this has been an intellectual adventure of the highest regard, and I am humbled to have been invited to be a passenger. I hope you, too, have enjoyed the ride.

Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII: Closing the Circle

Carl von Clausewitz concludes his magnum opus with a return to the beginning – but from a far larger perspective. While he began Book I asserting that “[w]ar is nothing but a duel on a larger scale,” he begins Book VIII (“War Plans”) by “… deal[ing] with the problem of war as a whole… cover[ing] its dominant, its most important aspect: pure strategy … the central point on which all other threads converge.”

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Clausewitz, On War, Book VII: The Attack, the Whole Attack, and Nothing but the Attack

In Book VII, Clausewitz returns to his dialectical logic in framing the nature of “The Attack” by contrasting it with the previous book, “Defense”. He begins Book VII by discriminating between defense (whose strengths “…may not be insurmountable, [but] the cost of surmounting them may be disproportionate.”) and offense.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book VI: The Best Defense is a Good Offense

The most ambitious of all eight books in On War, Book VI is more than triple the length of the other books – equally any three of them in sheer volume. In this book, entitled simply “Defense”, Clausewitz offers practical lessons for the 19th century warfighter: operations on a flank (with diagrams), defensive mountain warfare, entrenched positions, and – prescient of France’s Maginot Line of the early 20th century – the importance of a network of interlaced cordons to a nation’s security.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book V: Jointness à la Carl

Book V, entitled “Military Forces”, is a prescriptive summary of the “… conditions necessary to military action,” the maintenance and leadership of the three military branches contemporary to Clausewitz’s day: Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Many of Clausewitz’s edicts could just as easily apply to Ground, Air and Naval forces in our modern age.

Throughout Book V, Clausewitz makes note of the evolution of conflict from barely a century prior: the interrelated nature of distinct “Theaters of Operation” to a politically-driven war effort, the diminished need for “… long fixed periods in winter quarters” that would halt an operational tempo for months, and how (when combating forces are nearly equal in strength) the most creative and innovative commander will triumph.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book IV: Attrition Writ Large

In his fourth book of On War, Clausewitz “ … now turn[s] to the essential military activity, fighting.” Following the same logical construct as Books I and II, where he first defines something then elaborates on its nature, Clausewitz gives us a description of “the nature of battle today” before providing general truisms of “the engagement”.

It is in Book IV that we see how dated some portions of On War have become. For instance, when describing “the nature of battle ‘today’” (i.e., in the early 19th century, shortly after the Congress of Vienna concluded the Napoleonic Wars), Clausewitz opines that “[d]arkness brings it to a halt: no one can see, and no one cares to trust himself to chance.”

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Clausewitz, On War, Book III: The Substance of Strategy

After laying the definitional framework of war in Books I and II, Clausewitz now drills deep into the practice of strategy. His admonishments in Book III resonate today, and in fact are echoed by nearly every business management book on shelves today: to wit, “The strategist must go on campaign himself” (i.e., to allow adaptation to emerging conditions on a chaotic battlefield).

Careful to distinguish between strategy and tactics, Clausewitz underscores the temptation to deal with the present – the “thousands of diversions” that can throw the execution of a well-formulated plan off course. His assertion that “… it takes more strength of will to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics” is particularly apt, especially since the tactician can observe “at least half the problem” empirically, while the strategist has to guess and presume.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book II: Inducing a General Theory of War

In 1916, Albert Einstein published the General Theory of Relativity. As its name implies, the “general” theory was a broader – ostensibly more strategic – application of his Special Theory of Relativity from 1905. After starting with the descriptive, Einstein then broadened his perspective to induce a general theory that could be used to describe the nature of all universal forces.

Carl von Clausewitz followed this same path nearly a century earlier, first formulating his “Special Theory of War” in Book I – a descriptive text that defined “what” war is – before inducing a “General Theory” of how war applies across time and space.

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Clausewitz, On War, Book I: Art with Science

No single writer has had more influence on the professional militaries of our age than Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz – nor has any writer been so often quoted while so rarely read.

The grandson of a Lutheran pastor and son of a minor functionary in the Prussian revenue service, Clausewitz enlisted in the Prussian army at the age of 12. Captured by Napoleon’s forces after the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, he later left the Prussian army (largely in opposition to the enforced alliance with Napoleon) and served in the Russian army during Napoleon’s Russian campaign. His personal experiences from the battlefields – as an opponent of Napoleon – helped Clausewitz distill the Corsican’s genius into theory.

What is most significant about his magnum opus, On War, is that this volume of eight books was never finished – yet its influence runs deep in the intermediate service schools and war colleges of most developed nations’ militaries. Only Book I was considered truly complete by Clausewitz before his death in 1831 at the age of 51.

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