Clausewitz’s Split Personality

An interesting tidbit from Joseph Fouche, with an accompanying Zoolander-esque graphic:

Unfortunately for Bismarck there was two Clausewitzes roaming about the battlefield. Following Beatrice Heuser’s formulation from Reading Clausewitz, there is Realist Carl and and Idealist Carl. Realist Carl believed that war could be limited by the scope of limited political goals to something modest like seizing a piece of enemy territory as a bargaining chip in bantering for peace. Idealist Carl was transfixed by the example of Buonaparte, the so-called “god of war”, and believed that war could be reduced to winning a decisive battle and occupying the enemy capital. Bismarck, though he may not have realized it, was a disciple of Realist Carl. Molkte, a student of the flesh and blood Clausewitz, was a disciple of Idealist Carl. Realist Otto’s earlier string of successfully realized limited goals had opened the path to Idealist Helmuth’s unlimited desires to occupy Paris as the only fitting dénouement for his victories in two decisive battles. Molke’s system of expedients, drawing on chance and probability, had overwhelmed Bismarck’s system based on pure reason.

One of the things that has always transfixed me when reading about Napoleon and his campaigns has been the degree to which he was the singular engine of what was for a little while an unstoppable system of operations. Of course, Napoleon was more of a synthesizer than innovator, he cleverly manipulated the trends of his time. The basics of the distributed corps system and the age of nationalism were already beginning to put in place by the time he began his major campaigns. He also benefited from strong subordinates. But given the extreme centralization of his command and control system, he was the single driving force that breathed life into the Imperial war machine.

But it was the last time (for now) that force of personality and operational excellence alone could be such a strong driver. And Napoleon was arguably exceptional in his ability to aggregate the diverse sensory inputs together into a seamless whole. Clausewitz’s “split personality” is a reflection of the hold that the “God of War” had over 19th century Europe and the way that everyone struggled to produce carbon copies of his technique. It’s this “heroic” view of war that so appalled Basil Liddell-Hart and other critics of Clausewitz. Of course, Liddell-Hart and others had a simplified view of Clausewitz’s work (and its complexity) as well as the militarism and toxic ideologies that led political-military leaders to twist Clausewitz’s ideas to fit their own designs.

One thing that I’ve always wondered is whether or not it’s possible for another Napoleon to emerge with a similar power and mechanism. Most generals (and their publicists) since then have seen themselves in this manner, but the truth is that conflict since the 19th century has fiercely punished the battle of annihilation that Napoleon utilized so effectively–with a brief interlude in 1940 and 1991. The major insight of Svechin and others was that attrition would be the dominant mode of war for a long time. If 1905-1945 locked in attrition, nuclear weapons finally limited the scale of conventional conflict. Will that ever change? And if so, what might be the consequences for peace?

The Ice In My Teeth Keeps the Cristal Cold

Alex Olesker, who in addition to being a top-notch national security blogger also makes the best yerba mate tea in the whole of DC, has started blogging at–covering the topic of the Navy’s efforts to modernize its C4IRS hardware to run with off-the-shelf platforms.

Olesker’s also been busy at i-Con with a new series on the IRA and its legacy of terror. People often forget just how vicious and effective the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) was when thinking of al-Qaeda and its present challenges.

Of course, on a less serious note, Alex also has a post on “Biggie Smalls, Counterterrorism Guru.” Yes, you read that right.

“The Jomini of Non-Violence”

I’ve never been a fan of Jomini, but after reading his works as well as the historical context behind them I have to cut him some slack. Check out this comment thread at SWJ about Gene Sharp’s theories. A great comment by Barry Zellen about Jomini’s legacy:

Jomini hoped, and thus sought to extract lessons from the Napoleonic experience, to reduce war’s extremes, hoping for an efficiency of ends and means. His legacy, from advising Ney and later the Tsar, his participation at the Congress of Vienna, his prolific pen, and his long commitment to PME, shows a lifelong dedication to learning from military history, and to deriving practicable lessons from the past for tomorrow’s conflicts – something Sharp has likewise dedicated himself to.
While generals on both sides of our Civil War made blunders, and were both schooled in Jomini’s works, their bloody battles were no more Jomini’s fault than were WWI’s killing fields caused by Clausewitz, as Liddell Hart believed. Both theorists had their strengths, and despite their differing styles, both shared a desire to leverage knowledge to increase war’s efficiency and to decrease its destructiveness.

“The Right Side of History”

Wholeheartedly recommend this Slouching Towards Columbia post on the idea of historical teleology.

We must ask what the point even is of being on “the right side of history.” There are different forms of this argument, but all of them are inherently problematic. Inherently, they are teleological, and give history a moral or rational predetermined course. In most cases, these arguments bestow our preferences with inevitability (perhaps with the exception of disillusioned environmentalists such as James Lovelock). We direct these arguments at our leaders and others in positions of power, to compel them to stand with us, on that “right side” which will inexorably wipe out our opponents.

Indeed, the concept of a “right side of history” in itself directs us towards policy decisions that are fundamentally ill-advised. It makes us believe in a linear concept of history in which outcomes are fundamentally pre-ordained. I’ve always thought that counterfactual history can be of great use to policymakers and analysts. Within realistic parameters of course–“what if black ninjas were present at Gettysburg” is of no use to anyone. But thinking about the way outcomes are fundamentally contingent can be a good source of insight, whether in analysis of military developments or revolutions.

This will also allow me to pimp this thoroughly awesome book again. Best thing on revolutions that Gene Sharp hasn’t written.

Criminal Insurgency: What’s In a Word?

I’ve been rather feverishly working on a new collaboration with John P. Sullivan that should be out soon, but I want to pause a bit to examine Mexico. I got a review copy of Narcos over the Border and will be very enthusiastic about taking a look when I have some more free time.

Robert Bunker, the volume’s editor, has been very busy in writing about the analytical problem Mexico poses for insurgency analysts:

In Bunker’s taxonomy, gang studies, the specialty of some criminologists and law enforcement practitioners, is one way to analyze events in Mexico. Students of gang operations analyze how gangs capture control of neighborhoods, prison populations, and local drug markets. Next is organized crime studies, also the purview of criminologists and law enforcement practitioners, but a level of criminal activity that would imply more organizational sophistication and broader territoriality than that implied by gang studies. A third classification is terrorism studies, a focus of academics and government officials at the national and international levels. Under a terrorism model, cartels in Mexico would use terror to compel compliance from rival gangs, government officials, and non-combatants. Insurgency studies are the fourth paradigm, currently an interest of academics and military planners. Under this model, cartels could ultimately form shadow governments either in parallel or inside the legitimate government. Finally, there are future warfare studies, a province of academics which hypothesizes the creation of new transnational organizational structures that could both combine and supplant governments, security forces, criminal organizations, and corporate interests.

The problem, as Bunker argues, is that elements of all these arguably present in Mexico and the surroundings conflicts in the region related to the cartel violence. The Mexican government, however, only is interested in the first two images: organized crime and gang studies. Moreover, analysts interested in the Maoist security paradigm are also not interested in thinking about insurgents struggling for political power without an explicit, modernist ideological motivation.

The idea of criminal insurgency, as developed by Steven Metz and others, fills something of a gap in the literature but is in itself incomplete and in need of greater research and analysis. But for now, it does give us a better look at what is going on in Mexico and other places. The risk, however, is that it might lock in certain policy responses that might not be helpful. One of Metz’s strongest points, as observed in many of his monographs and essays, is that not all irregular problems really demand a American response, and those that do should be judged by the criterion of national interest and feasibility. It’s not inconceivable that a triggering incident of some sort down the road might lock in an American response that would only worsen the situation. I am not visualizing a redux of the Pancho Villa expedition, which would not be tolerated by any actor in the hemisphere. But there are many other ways to make an already bad situation worse.

In a way, the conceptual overlap between the gang and organized crime dimension and that of policy might be a boon, as police and law enforcement experience with large criminal organizations provides a baseline for developing doctrine, even though cartels are more “social bandits” than anything else.

Real Networking

Stanley McChrystal on networks:

“Like all too many military forces in history, we initially saw our enemy as we viewed ourselves. In a small base outside Baghdad, we started to diagram AQI on white dry-erase boards. Composed largely of foreign mujahideen and with an overall allegiance to Osama bin Laden but controlled inside Iraq by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, AQI was responsible for an extremely violent campaign of attacks on coalition forces, the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Shiites. Its stated aim was to splinter the new Iraq and ultimately establish an Islamic caliphate. By habit, we started mapping the organization in a traditional military structure, with tiers and rows. At the top was Zarqawi, below him a cascade of lieutenants and foot soldiers. But the closer we looked, the more the model didn’t hold. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s lieutenants did not wait for memos from their superiors, much less orders from bin Laden. Decisions were not centralized, but were made quickly and communicated laterally across the organization. Zarqawi’s fighters were adapted to the areas they haunted, like Fallujah and Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province, and yet through modern technology were closely linked to the rest of the province and country. Money, propaganda, and information flowed at alarming rates, allowing for powerful, nimble coordination. We would watch their tactics change (from rocket attacks to suicide bombings, for example) nearly simultaneously in disparate cities. It was a deadly choreography achieved with a constantly changing, often unrecognizable structure.”

This is ultimately the heart of what John Robb, John Arquilla, and others have been writing about for some time. It’s often striking how militaries in the 1990s struggled to become network-centric, but other organizations achieved it at a fraction of the cost. Of course, networking did not bring AQI and others strategic success. It only was perhaps effective on the tactical and operational level.

This perhaps points at the problem with networking in military operations. With the exception of John Arquilla’s recent monograph (not available online, see Naval Postgraduate School for a copy) on what a netwar against al-Qaeda would look like, the writing about networking and military operations is overwhelmingly tactical and operational. Thus the risk is that would-be netwarriors get trapped in tactics and operations while neglecting the strategic whole.

There is a similarly here between Shimon Naveh and other writers’ discussion of “blitzkrieg” (I hesitate to use that term because of its ahistorical nature–the Germans never called it that) as a tactical system that provided a basis for operational imagination but was overwhelmingly focused on the smallest of levels.