If policy is right, that is, if it succeeds in hitting the object, then it can only act with advantage on the War. If this influence of policy causes a divergence from the object, the cause is only to be looked for in a mistaken policy.It is only when policy promises itself a wrong effect from certain military means and measures, an effect opposed to their nature, that it can exercise a prejudicial effect on War by the course it prescribes. Just as a person in a language with which he is not conversant sometimes says what he does not intend, so policy, when intending right, may often order things which do not tally with its own views.This has happened times without end, and it shows that a certain knowledge of the nature of War is essential to the management of political intercourse.
Monday, February 27, 2012
When I wrote about austerity and how it will affect our definition of victory in conflict, I failed to make an important distinction related to this excellent post by Adam Elkus on R2P and the gap between policy and strategy/tactics. Contrary to how we've described our policy goals these past 10 years, I was trying to argue that our policy goals (ends) will be limited in the future and that winning (as Adam says: accomplishing your political object) can no longer be maximal statements of everything to everyone. Or even worse, interpreted in many ways to substantiate practically any military strategy imaginable. Clarity and focus should best describe our political objects in war since we seem unwilling to pay for much more than that. A change in how we perceive victory has to do with our ends, not in our ways. We are, in other words, going to take a much harder look at the first two questions of the Powell Doctrine before we intervene.
There are a few aspects of this that apply to R2P. First among these is the apparent lack of understanding of the military art and science by the policy proponents of R2P. Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent op-ed in the NY Times is a perfect case in point: she attempts to provide a military solution to end the violence that ostensibly uses minimalist objects. A "no-kill zone" sounds like a limited objective, but militarily it is not. Providing the Free Syrian Army with such materiel as "countersniper and anti-aircraft weapons" gives the impression that we'll give them a few tools and some advice and they can carry the fight. However, countersniper weapons are usually other snipers, tanks, artillery and airstrikes, according to U.S. military doctrine. These are weapons of offense, not defense. And they are weapons most effectively used by an intervening force, not a loose coalition of Syrian anti-regime forces. Also, please read Adam's discussion of stalemate and how it's not an end as well as Robert Caruso on the logistics of intervention and Spencer Ackerman on how Dr. Slaughter's plan could easily spin beyond our intended trajectory.
The point of all of this is that statements of ends cannot be "limited" if the ways and means required to affect them are not. Syria is a very good example that limited ends require ways and means that in reality create a new, maximal ends in order to achieve them. This is not to suggest that policy should be dictated by the military - such a path would be against our traditions, however often it actually happens - but policy should be informed by the military perspective to avoid a disconnect between policy and strategy. CvC himself hits on this point:
Right on, Carl. The problem we're facing is that much of the policy world is calling for action to end the violence against civilians in Syria, yet these individuals - while brilliant in many things - have such little understanding of the mechanisms of war that they are unwittingly calling for things which do not tally with their own views. This is a difficult topic as their calls for action come from an honest place: their own humanity. But a full understanding of the military implications of their policies may require more killing that already exists and will very likely naturally expand their intended ends. This also puts those who better understand the required military strategy in the position of allowing the continued killing of civilians by opposing action. Do not confuse this with inhumanity. It (generally) comes from the calculus that intervening (i.e., waging war) will create a great humanitarian calamity and that the risks/benefits equation for the United States doesn't add up to force change to the status quo.
The situation in Syria is tragic, but there is no limited-ends policy to abate it. The military strategy required to affect limited ends create new, broader ends that are likely unpalatable to a nation that has been at war for 10 consecutive years.