Sunday, April 1, 2012

Strike 1: more on ends and ways in limited wars

I wrote a post (Ends as wasting assets) and it appears to have been a swing and a miss. Not only did Gulliver not understand it, I've had some other feedback along the same lines. Which leads me to believe I really missed something. Please do not consider this a comprehensive explanation of my previous post - that will come later this week when my paid work is caught up - but I did want to hit a two things from Gulliver's post.

First, it seems that Gully's primary confusion with my post is my linking process-driven operations (such as in Afghanistan) with policy-makers who care more about (as Gulliver said) "doing right-looking things than right-ending things, because campaign plans and operational concepts aren't the purview of those politicians."  I don't doubt that he's confused. This was the biggest logical leap of my post. One of those leaps that seemed clear in my head, but that particular intra-cranial clarity was a singularity.  I think my point of view posits that policy-makers don't "care more" about right-looking than right-ending things. The causality in this situation stems from the fact that for the political and policy-making class (which includes high-level decision-makers in U.S. Government agencies who are not General or Flag Officers, including within the Department of Defense, and sometimes including these GOFOs) looking and ending are the same thing in their process-oriented world view. It isn't that they don't care how things end, it's that they believe that if they do the right process it will end correctly. This is a nuanced, yet important, distinction from what Gulliver stated. And this, I believe, is a fundamental aspect of process-driven policies - ends are subservient to the process. It gets a bit tedious to think about this way, but process-driven is ways-driven, giving primacy to one branch of the strategic calculus over the other. Including ends, which while not necessarily primary at least helps decides ways and means.

The second point I'll address now is with regard to the CvC quote I used that surprised Gulliver. I'll avoid his dependence upon the "somewhat more fluent Paret/Howard version" which although true is somewhat blasphemous for CvC constructionists such as myself who prefer the Graham to better understand what strategy wonks of yore had worked with. But before we get into a supranerdy debate on translations of classic texts, let's get on with it. Gulliver is right that the quote I used was meant to set the conditions by which absolute war can come to fruition. CvC does note that the nature of war re-shapes the character of of the political contest. Gulliver points out that "in limited war, our actions are conceived as violent but discrete and purposive acts of policy, while as war moves toward its absolute form our actions are increasingly divorced from discrete political objectives short of the destruction of our enemy."

But this is the whole point of my last post. Limited war does not necessarily attempt to achieve discrete and purposive acts of policy, although that is the ideal. In the wake of the industrial wars of the 20th Century, those events that would push any war, intended as limited but that does not swiftly achieve its purposive objectives, towards its absolute form no longer push in that direction for Western nations.  Modern liberal thought (in the global sense of the rights of the individual above the state, not American domestic political thought) negates the ability of Western nations to wage absolute war because of its human toll. So what happens when decision points occur that in the past would have led to absolute forms of war when limited war fails to achieve its limited ends in a limited time frame?

My postulate is that process has usurped absolute war in such circumstances. Policy and politics can no longer decide to eradicate peoples or their armies in entirety in limited wars (destroyed armies are a bitch to rebuild), so when limited ends can't be met something must replace the nature of escalation to absolutism. I believe this is process - with the assumption that modern liberal thought dictates that many in the policy world would believe that process trumps violence in achieving ends. If it didn't, if we didn't appeal to the rational minds of individuals, the probability to return to industrial warfare would increase. The violence of which would not be proportional to the limited ends of interests, vice security.

So yes, my exegesis of Clausewitz veers somewhat from what he intended (and yes, that counters my constructionist critique of Gulliver's use of the Paret/Howard translation - so shut up and I don't want to hear it because it was a joke), but I think that logically it makes sense given the improbability of absolute war - especially for conflicts begun for limited ends.

I hope this clarifies my previous post - at least somewhat. Again, I hope to tackle the confusion more in depth later this week. Until then, this will have to do. But isn't Clausewitz fun???

2 comments:

  1. Jason — By the time I finished the very long process of thinking about and writing my post, I felt like I'd come to a reasonably solid idea of what you were getting at, and I'd also concluded that we basically agreed. So don't protest too much!

    I think much of the ambiguity in the post comes from what exactly you mean by "process" in this context. (That's where I went off on the whole "right-looking vs. right-ending" tangent.)

    The causality in this situation stems from the fact that for the political and policy-making class... looking and ending are the same thing in their process-oriented world view.

    I'm with you here...

    It isn't that they don't care how things end, it's that they believe that if they do the right process it will end correctly.

    ...but then I think you lost me again.

    I do agree that "right-looking" and "right-ending" things are not so clearly delineated from one another when it comes to the decision calculus and incentive structure of our elected leadership, and even that this extends to military senior leaders. That's part of the point that I tried to make in referencing the Caverley paper: in a democracy, a political leader's priority is to make his bosses – the electorate – happy, not to "win wars." And so the actions he takes are likely to bias in the direction of voter preferences rather than effective policy—in other words, "right-ending" for an elected official is "that which gets me elected," not "that which is most strategically efficacious." That might be overstatement or oversimplification, but that's the gist.

    I'm not quite sure I do agree with the second excerpt of yours I've quoted above, if only because there are instances (including those that Caverley discusses w/r/t Vietnam) when policymakers have made decisions that they explicitly recognize will have suboptimal military/policy outcomes in order to satisfy other political pressures. It's sometimes not a matter of good process producing strategic success, but of strategic success failing to trump other political priorities.

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  2. As to the second point:

    In the wake of the industrial wars of the 20th Century, those events that would push any war, intended as limited but that does not swiftly achieve its purposive objectives, towards its absolute form no longer push in that direction for Western nations. Modern liberal thought (in the global sense of the rights of the individual above the state, not American domestic political thought) negates the ability of Western nations to wage absolute war because of its human toll.

    I basically agree with this, in the sense that the political culture of the modern West seems to have largely insulated those populations from descent into "primordial violence, hatred and enmity" outside of exceptional circumstances. (This is a MASSIVE generalization that is far from universally true, but I think it's a fair general conclusion.) I don't think this development exactly "negates the ability of Western nations to wage absolute war" so much as it demands that Western governments frame the wars for which they seek popular support in sufficiently apocalyptic, survivalist terms—OR that they simply recognize that their limited objectives will only sustain limited costs, another reality that Clausewitz understood and remarked upon when he wrote that "if war is part of policy, policy will determine its character. As policy becomes more ambitious and vigorous, so will war." The corrolary, of course, is that as policy becomes more limited and discrete, so too will war.

    The great failure of industrial-age war (and here people are typically talking about WWI specifically; I'm no different) is that the states involved allowed war to shape the character of policy rather than the other way around. If you postulate that "process" can replace or has replaced war's escalatory logic (and the attendant risk that this pressure will subsume policy's rational basis), then I guess I still need to have a better idea of what you mean by "process."

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