Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I recently learned that David Kaiser, a professor at the Naval War College and a person with whom I have often sparred on H-Diplo ,has a blog, History Unfolding.

Dr. Kaiser is the author of American Tragedy, a history of the Vietnam War as well as other works on diplomatic, economic and social history. I am frequently, though hardly always, in general disagreement with Dr. Kaiser but I seldom fail to read his posts and suspect that you may enjoy them as well. He's a fine writer, which is rare enough in academia, and argues his points well.

As an introduction to the world according to Kaiser, here is "Gambling on War", where the arguments regarding von Clausewitz and defensive strategy will resonate with the followers of the 4GW school. An excerpt:

"Clausewitz’s classic On War is long and difficult, and it truly requires many years of study to assimilate, but the reader gradually realizes that certain fundamental principles, as well as a few specific questions, pervade it. Many people know his concept of “friction” and the “fog of war,” which makes battles so devilishly hard to understand and requires extraordinary qualities of mind and spirit for generals on the scene to unravel. This is an insight that has survived modern technology, as the repeated attempts to kill Saddam Hussein with air strikes—none of which, we now know, actually aimed at one of his many real hiding places—recently proved. A battle is like a football game, and just as difficult to predict. Generations of military historians—most notably those unhappy partisans of the Confederate States of America—have tried to stand this principle on its head by rewriting the outcome of every critical battle of the civil war to show how it could (or should) have turned out differently.

...To wise leaders, the inescapable uncertainty of war should militate against embarking upon it unless it is absolutely necessary—which neither Vietnam nor Iraq in 2003 was. Reinforcing this point, Clausewitz also argued repeatedly that defense was the stronger form of warfare, both tactically (since the defender need not move and fire at the same time), and strategically, since the attacked party was more likely to secure the help of allies who recognized a common interest in the survival of sovereign states. The United States implicitly recognized that principle after defeating Axis aggression in the Second World War and wrote it into the UN Charter, which authorized war only in self-defense. It enjoyed considerable allied assistance in the Korean War—another clear case of enemy aggression. But Vietnam never seemed like such a clear-cut case of aggression because South Vietnam was always so fragile, and most of the world rejected the “preventive war” argument over Iraq—in large part because other nations understood that the idea of national sovereignty simply cannot be reconciled with the concept of preventive war. By going on the offense, the United States forfeited a huge strategic advantage. It should not be too late to regain it, but the genie is out of the bottle in Iraq, and more damage, apparently, will be done."

Shades of William Lind.

Thank you for pointing me to Dr. Kaiser's blog. I'll make sure I check it out regularly. Any reference to Clausewitz is like a trigger for me to respond. Clausewitz can be difficult, I started studying Clausewitz about a year and a half ago while I was deployed to Southwest Asia and had nothing better to do in my "off" time. I know, I am a geek.

From my experience in different theaters, Clausewitz is right on when it comes to the concept of friction and the fog of war. You plan and plan and hope for the best, but there will always be unpredictable factors that you'll just have to deal with as the situation progresses. To use a sports analogy, "that's why they play the games". What looks good on paper (or on Powerpoint slides), might turn disastrous when it comes in contact with the real world. War in reality differs from war in the abstract. The enemy always has a vote. To quote Clausewitz: "The difficulty of accurate recognition constitutes one of the most serious sources of friction in war, by making things appear entirely different from what one had expected."

I could go on, especially on the air stikes against Saddam, but I am already taking too much space on your blog, all I will say is airpower is only as good as your intel.

While defense might be the stronger form of warfare, it cannot in and of itself enable one to triumph over the enemy. To quote Clausewitz again: "If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object."

You culminate your defense when you transition to the attack. I am sure Col Boyd would agree.

I apologize for clogging up your blog, Mark.

Take care,

On the subject of Lindness, some very Lindoid comments from Max von Creveld. National Review's interested.
Hi Sonny,

Please feel free to comment here at length if you feel it to be necessary to your argument. The perspective of active duty personnel (or of veterans) is most welcome here. If you haven't joined yet, you might also want to check out The Small Wars Council - it is right up your alley.

As long as you are here, let me throw a question at you: For target purposes how timely is IMINT info in terms of getting it into the hands of planners and pilots these days ? Is the IC and the USAF and the Navy aviation on the same page ?

Hey Dan,

Checked out your link. Somebody should tell the NRO guys that van Creveld isn't a political radical. Nor is he " obscure" being up there in the same league as John Keegan for military history.
Mark, Dan,

"Lindness", "Lindoid", what about "Lindian"? Not a prestigious as "Boydian", but hey! I came up with it. "Lindian" might be a concept related to cutting and running and constantly whining (with classical historical references) about how we are losing in Iraq. The Lind cycle might look like a continuous process of gripes and moans while beating the 4GW horse to death. Dan from tdaxp can probably come up with a graphic. BTW, why is Lind's "Maneuver Warfare Handbook" selling for 43 bucks on Amazon.com? Must be because is a rare, out-of-print book. At 43 dollars, and 133 pages I expect that thing to tell me right off the bat how to win in Iraq and how to make money in the stock market. From the preview, I see references to Leuctra, Cannae, and Vicksburg. Great. I'll stick with Victor Davis Hanson and Shelby Foote for now.

Somehow, van Creveld became an "obscure", "political radical" character. Although he is very far from obscure, Keegan's books are far more readily available in bookstores. At least in the area where I live. Maybe that's what they mean by "obscure": You actually have to look for his books on Amazon or your local library. Somehow, Begala and Carville found out about him. I wonder how that will affect sales for van Creveld's books. Maybe they can republish "Transformation of War" in a special "Impeach Bush" edition and have Begala, Carville and (why not?) Lind write the new introduction or something. Van Creveld can write a new, updated chapter on Iraq right after the "Why War Will Be Fought" chapter.

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