Strategies are like sausages…Kings Coll War Blog

Strategies are like sausages…

Posted: 06 Oct 2009 08:46 AM PDT

…perhaps it is better not to know how they are made.

But, perhaps we can harden our stomachs to the task just this once. In doing so, it is helpful to remember that, as Hew Strachan puts it

Strategy is designed to make war useable by the state, so that it can, if need be, use force to fulfill its political objectives.

Put another way, if war is a tool of state, strategy is the refinement of that tool to a specific purpose. This falls in line with the standard Clausewitzian thinking that views war as a means to achieve some political end. All ist klar.

Enter the Obama administrations recently announced ‘review’ of their Afghanistan strategy. As Secretary Clinton has made clear:

“What we’re going through in asking ourselves, ‘Okay, we know what the goal is, is what we’re going most likely to achieve that goal, is what a very decisive and intelligent commander-in-chief would do,” Clinton said. “So we’re going to come up with the best approach, but the goal remains the same.”

(NB: grammar lessons are free on the internet, if anyone—not mentioning any names—needs a little brushing up…)

For his part, Secretary Gates believes

a re-evaluation is particularly appropriate because security has deteriorated more than expected in Afghanistan.

He adds that

The notion of being willing to pause, reassess basic assumptions, reassess the analysis and then make those decisions, seems to me, given the importance of these decisions, which I’ve said are probably among the most important he will make in his entire presidency, seems entirely appropriate.

Where does this leave the military? If the ‘goals remain the same’ (and they are, in my opinion, vague and perhaps a wee bit over ambitious), what is the best strategy to achieve them? The military (and others) may wish that they have the final say on strategy, once the politicians have set the goals, but that is fantasy and nearly always and everywhere has been nothing more than a glimmer in the eye of an over-confident general, like Douglas MacArthur. In contemporary circumstances, politicians will decide both goal and strategy, leaving implementation and accountability for results to those in uniform.

And so, General McChrystal finds himself out of favour with the White House for what is characterised as interference in the business of the politicians.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding amongst the military (and others) about the division of labour suggested between generals and politicians. While the political part of war is clearly demarcated as the reserve of the civilian authority, there is no equal and opposite prohibition from political ‘interference’ in military affairs. Clausewitz reminds us in Book One of On War that

Policy therefore is interwoven with the whole action of war, and must exercise a continuous influence upon it as far as the nature of the forces exploding in it will permit.

As the Prussian noted himself in 1827 in a letter to a colleague

[while] this point of view is almost self-evident [it is obvious that] it has not yet been fully accepted, as shown by the fact that people still like to separate the purely military elements of a major strategic plan from its political aspects, and treat the latter as if they were somehow extraneous.

Finally in Book 8, Clausewitz warns that those who do not approve of a particular policy should not complain about

harmful political influence on the management of war…Their quarrel should be with the policy itself, not with its influence.

In the American setting, but increasingly in the UK and elsewhere, it is fashionable for generals to ignore this admonition. Clearly, this tendancy does not come from Clausewitz, but perhaps it comes from superficial reading of the works of another icon in the canon of strategic studies, Samuel Huntington. As Eliot Cohen summarizes, the officer corps should enjoy

its autonomy within a clearly defined military sphere.

This seems, at once, convenient and logical. But Huntington himself points out that this is not role of the professional military officer. Rather

he [the officer] can only explain to his client [the politician] his needs in this area, advise him as to how to meet these needs, and then, when the client has made his decisions, aid him in implementing them.

So, there we are. Left to pick out the proper way in which policy might be interwoven into war and the most appropriate way a general might advise his client. An awful lot hangs in the balance, in the interpretation of these now nearly sacred texts: political face, generals’ careers…and the lives of soldiers and civilians in theatres of war like Afghanistan.

Then again, no one said sausages were easy.
Alsacien said:
Its actually laws not strategies - it is a quote from Bismarck IRRC.....
I know-I think our Kings College friends were exercising their wide academic license to adjust such things to suit their point.
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