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Thursday, July 5, 2012

America Flunks Sun Tzu

US Army Colonel Gian Gentile, writing in The Jerusalem Post, says "American strategy in Afghanistan flunks Sun Tzu".  Sun Tzu being the author of the 2,500 year old text, The Art of War.  The lede:
American-style counterinsurgency does not work.  It has failed in Iraq and it is currently failing in Afghanistan.  In war, strategy should look to policy—which gives war its direction—and then apply the tools of war, like military tactics, to achieve policy aims in the most cost effective way in blood and treasure.
Getting to the heart of the issue, Colonel Gentile gives us the quick review:
IN AFGHANISTAN today, American strategy has flunked Sun Tzu. America’s core policy goal from the start of the war in 2001 up to the present—remembering that policy gives war its overall direction and purpose—is focused on disrupting, disabling and eventually defeating al-Qaida.  It is actually a quite limited core policy goal that makes infinite sense since it was al-Qaida that attacked America on 9/11.  But in order to achieve that core policy objective, American strategy has sought to use a maximalist operational method of counterinsurgency—armed nation-building—to achieve it.  It is like using a sledgehammer to drive a nail through a soft piece of pine wood when a carpenter’s hammer would do the trick.
So to outline it, we have:
  • Policy, leading
  • Strategy, leading
  • Tactics
There is an Operational level in there between Strategy and Tactics, but it doesn't illuminate anything in this discussion.

With that background, here is the heart of the issue:
There is the idea that emerges from the American Progressive Era during the first years of the 20th century that human reason carried out by experts empowered by governments can fix any problem that society confronts.  For example, back then Progressives thought that poverty could be tackled by experts in social engineering and human behavior who could tweak attitudes among the working classes.

There is also the idea that emerges after the American experience in World War II that never again in the future could the US supposedly “isolate” itself as it had in the 1930s from the rest of the world’s problems—thus resulting in the rise of Nazism.  Yet the US was never truly isolated from the rest of the world during the years between World War I and World War II.  Still, this line of thinking has resonated forcefully over the years because it assumes that American power, if applied correctly by smart people throughout the world is limitless.

This leads to the last causative factor in American history that has helped shape the current impulse to “change an entire society” in Afghanistan.  After World War II, throughout the Cold War and persisting through the 9/11 era is the rock solid assumption that whatever America does in the world is, by rule, morally righteous.  This hardened assumption of moral righteousness has combined with another rock solid assumption:  that American war of whatever kind works in foreign lands, that if the United States just gets the tactics of war correct and puts the right general in charge then anything can be accomplished with military force.
There you have the critique.

The question is, do we need a new Policy, a new Foreign Policy?

Regards  —  Cliff

8 comments:

kad barma said...

I've been of this opinion for over a decade. The ostensible military aim of the terrorists is to burden us with the weight of our own overreaction. They are clearly winning that war with ease. We beat the Soviets with such a strategy. It's ironic we can't see its efficacy now that its being used against us.

That we've gutted our own civil liberties in the process is the gravest injury we do to ourselves, and the terrorists' greatest triumph.

Jack Mitchell said...

It's a rather wordy condemnation of "American Exceptionalism," but the point is there.

The problem with Afghanistan, is not strategy, but that they have not truly embraced a fundamental tenet of American democracy: corruption is kept under the table.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Kad. Modern day terrorism has galvanized the entire might of what (at least in the beginning) was the greatest superpower in the history of the race. And that overwhelming might has failed profoundly to eliminate, dare I say even moderately disturb, the terrorist rhythm across the world. And, in our zeal for security, we have collectively surrendered a sizable portion of our personal freedoms. America - Loss, Terrorism - Win.

Corruption is not a tenet of American democracy. Rather, it is a by-product of our government centric society in which the "privileged" are not only allowed, but tacitly encouraged to make "secret deals." The government controls the rules of the game, and the players are sent in from the bench according to current necessity. The entire WS financial meltdown...the one we had....and the one we are about to have......was conceived, aided, and abetted by folks who controlled the government strings and the folks who did the deeds....all of them good friends and associates...likely members of the same country clubs...and assuredly members in the "elite" part of society. It knows no partisan bounds and is immune to politics du jour. All you have to do is examine Treasury, The Fed, and other quasi government institutions ostensibly set up to "protect" our economic and financial well being...but in fact, to establish and operate one of the most byzantine monetary manipulation schemes in history. The Mafia is no doubt jealous that they didn't think of it first....wait....maybe they did......

In November, millions of "exceptional" Americans will drink their glass of KoolAid and head for the polls.....with only one thing guiding their hand over the ballot...."What's in it for me?"

In the end, they will get what they voted for......and they will not like it.....but it will always be someone else's fault.

This system is what made America great....and is what will make America an historical artifact.

Jack Mitchell said...

This whole notion that "America, as we know it, is dead" really gets under my skin.

First, I have to wonder if you may have EVER fully grasped WHAT America ever was!

Second, it reeks of quitting, which is truly "un-American," if there is even such a thing.

I can suffer atheists. I can suffer communists. I can suffer terrorists. The sacred documents of our Founders give us tools to accomodate, in varying degrees, the full spectrum of humanity that sets foot upon our shores.

What America can't tolerate is ostriches that bury their heads in the lies they grew up with and festered over the years.

Fight! Even if it is for some erroneous, fabricated reality. America is forged in the cauldron of rational debate. Sometimes there is blood. We will endure.

Quitting drains the life blood. Quitting will cause us to wither.

Anonymous said...

Assuming of course that your scathing commentary was directed at me, based of course on your somewhat skewed interpretation of my meaning, I respond.

First, your estimate of what I have ever grasped about what America ever was is a self edifying assessment that has no basis in fact or in any sort of logic. I assure you, I am an ardent student of history, particularly of America, and it is through the lens of that history that I form my OPINIONS about what is coming. Your cynicism as voiced in numerous responses to my commentaries is no less odorous than my predictions or pronouncements. Typically however, what you utter is gospel while what others who happen to take a different tack have to say is without validity or value.

QUIT??? Not on your life bucko!! I'll quit when some government commissar presides over the disposal of my lifeless, but well spent body. You talk of freedom? Well...so do I and believe me, I, along with millions of others will insist on and continually push for...the freedoms that we cherish and envision. I think the New Englanders said it best in the pre-Revolutionary War days..."Don't tread on me." I would strongly submit that liberalism and progressivism in America would be well advised to head that warning.

We will however, always give the ballot box a chance.

BTW..."rational debate" is by its very definition the process by which opposing views are both accepted as valid premises, and then discussed. You seem to miss that in your dismissals of opposing viewpoints.

Jack Mitchell said...

It's because I'm not after you. I'm after them.

C R Krieger said...

I interrupted Guy Lombardo and "Anniversary Song" for that?

I will get back to you.

Regards  —  Cliff

C R Krieger said...

I like the idea of "American Exceptionalism".  But that "Exceptionalism" isn't about doing "nation building" in Afghanistan or Iraq.  It is about the openness of our political discussion.  Unlike, for example, Germany, where the People and the Government are sufficiently distrustful of the People that they ban "Mein Kampf".  We are more like "Publish and be damned", which I take to mean God will sort you out.

Yes, the guy in the Ice Cream video was spot on.  I am not focused on Jack and Neal, who are up close.  I am focused on those further away.  But, I love the dialogue between Neal and Jack—"Keep Up The Fire".

Regads  —  Cliff