I’m a bit late to commenting on Zenpundit‘s new piece, but it brings to mind Clausewitz’s distinction between absolute war (to which there is theoretically no limit) and war as experienced–which has material, moral, and political limitations.
I would argue (as I am going to somewhat tangentially in an upcoming piece) that we have been in an era of limited wars since 1945–and that the total wars for which some elements of doctrine and certainly public rhetoric about conflict is framed are much less common than necessarily assumed.
This is something that Sven Ortmann touched on in my favorite of his often insightful writings:
“I was recently reading a discussion about Clausewitz and modern war (in English) when I suddenly understood most of the participant’s apparent problems with modern war theory: They were not so much influenced by von Clausewitz as by Luddendorf and Cato. They were doing something that’s very typical of post-’43 U.S. Americans and pre-about 200 AD Romans: They talked about enemy surrender, and meant unconditional surrender. Some were also unable to understand potential own defeat as something different than surrender (a blurring that seems to be quite popular among right wing U.S. Americans). There was no humility in their thinking about strategic objectives. Instead, there was a desire (that long since became self-evident in many minds) that military victory needs to eradicate a threat forever.”
Why I think Kilcullen rather than Galula is going to be the future of COIN is that his “Kilcullen Doctrine” is grasped around the indirect approach. Married to a prudent grand strategy his circumscribed COIN idea fits well with the stripped down times we are likely to live in.