Wednesday, March 08, 2006

As I mentioned yesterday, Michael J. Mazaar's article in Policy Review is worth a serious review, particularly the introduction of his concept of Psychopolitik. Other pundits and bloggers have been commenting as well. For example:

Austin Bay:

"...Democracy and the rule of law are ideas –non-utopian ideas– that in substance and form address the issues of opportunity and effective governance. Given the world trends Mazaar describes, dictatorships are ultimately ineffective governance. As for psychopolitik: The “anarchist movement” in the 19th century also involved alienation, identity, and belonging issues. Wars of Identity are not a new phenomenon, either. Tribal identity is a powerful force.

...Mazarr claims the “state is back.” I think Mazarr believes –as I do– that news of its demise was more than premature. This is an argument I’ve made — “complete” states exhibit remarkable strength and resiliency; democratic states in particular exhibit extraordinary flexibility. Ths runs counter to much of the Conventional Wisdom among the “strategic gurus.” Why? Fear and catastrophe sell. I argue that one of the weaknesses in the Westphalian system is that the system has never really existed as a complete system. “Gap states” aren’t new– gaps aren’t new. (”Here be dragons.”) Tribes with flags have UN seats– and are one of the UN’s greatest weaknesses. Fake states aren’t new– consider the Congo. It’s a mark on a map. Mazarr notes that Westphalian rules, however, are increasingly accepted, though notions of what creates legitimacy have changed, to include “no genocide.” That’s why the UN is about to “invade” Sudan’s Darfur region (and based on recent statements by Sudanese leaders there’s a chance the looming UN assumption of Darfur peacekeeping mission may not be as figurative an invasion as my quotation marks around “invade” suggest). The US is not simply arguing that the nation state stands between 21st century order and 21st century anarchy; the US now argues that the quality of the nation state matters. Well, it always has, to a degree. In my own view failed states will either disintegrate (and then re-organize) or they will assimilate"


"The psychopolitik view is all about balancing all those issues and trying to move the whole in a desirable direction -- a necessarily messy, difficult and unpredictable business. We were also stuck already with many of those dilemmas ever since 1991. In psychopolitik, there isn't a lot new. The "Neocon agenda" (somewhat as the caricature has it) also took a psychological, "root causes" approach -- it just came up with different conclusions as to action. What was Mazarr's prescription for a way forward in the mid '90's? We don't know because it is by no means obvious from his essay what his choices would have been, other than a root cause, "peace, love, cash give-aways" approach. We've heard that before, though this essay would seem to argue that, "no, this time there's a lot of thought behind it," it strikes me that the end resulting prescription would be pretty well the same, though unlike most who promulgate that view, Mazarr at least has a somewhat more realistic view that the "soft approach" is not always enough."

I had a number of impressions from reading Mazarr:

First, in his review of strategic schools of thought, Mazarr's harsh critique of Network-centric Warfare probably far exceeds the claims that Admiral Cebrowski made for it - NCW simply is not and never was a grand strategy( though I will grant that Pentagon proponents of this school have been infuriatingly myopic and excessive in their desperation to corner the last DoD billion for high tech platforms) it does little to inform statesmen as opposed to operational planners and unit commanders. In fact, I'd add as an aside that Cebrowski's ideas had wide -ranging, horizontal implications beyond warfare that have yet to be adequately pursued by theorists, economists and other scholars.

Secondly, Mazarr's review of 4GW theory is at times, quite strained in his effort to put distance between his ideas and those of Martin van Creveld and William Lind. Mazarr, like Victor Davis Hanson, argues for the immutable and unchanging nature of war yet he echoes a number of the arguments of the 4GW school even as he rejects the "Decline of the State" thesis. "Psychopolitik" itself is profoundly Boydian, whether Mazarr realizes it or not he is discussing Colonel John Boyd's Moral level of warfare with perhaps an unconscious homage to Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Third, Mazarr's interpretation of war as a mere aspect of "conflict" is spot on in the vein of Sun Tzu and his acceptance of the blurring between warfare and more generalized conflict ( something certainly articulated by 4GW thinkers) is also in agreement with Unrestricted Warfare by PLA military theorists Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui.

Fourth, "Psychopolitik" is a term with some utility despite being an ugly neologism. A practical problem with the Boydian/4GW use of " Moral" as a term is that it invites those who are unwilling to comprehend the context for reasons of policy preference are free to inject irrelevant arguments based on other contexts of the word " moral". For those audiences who are not versed in Boyd's ideas, "psychopolitik" at least directs their attention toward mass psychology, perception, legitimacy and the like without inviting quotations from Saint Augustine in response.

Fifth, "Psychopolitik" leads Mazarr, correctly in my view, to grope toward what John Boyd considered "constructive" - a grand strategy to establish shared values, a theme for vitality and growth.

"Attend to identity. The top strategic priority is providing avenues to identity formation — opportunities for people to escape stagnation and despair and to strive toward secure identities. This principle has obvious economic, political and social components "

Yes ! As Dr. Barnett likes to say, " war in the context of everything else".
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