Marked for some future blogs:
David Brooks at NYT:
"I repeat these personal facts because we have a tendency to see history as driven by deep historical forces. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it is driven by completely inexplicable individuals, who combine qualities you would think could never go together, who lead in ways that violate every rule of leadership, who are able to perpetrate enormous evils even though they themselves seem completely pathetic. Analysts spend their lives trying to anticipate future threats and understand underlying forces. But nobody could have possibly anticipated Bin Laden’s life and the giant effect it would have. The whole episode makes you despair about making predictions."
I would also recommend that you read Daniel Byman's article on a great-man centric theory of political science in concert with this.
Lucien Gauthier's response to my post:
Except for on the fact that emotions are not “policies, strategies, or tactics” is why taking up arms can exist as a profession, and why there is a difference between a mob and professionals-at-arms. As Adam mentions, conflict does not exist out of a primordial hate. Nor does it end because of a sudden emotional realization that there is some ‘better way’. There is a spectrum to conflict, the same hatred that can be felt for a mortal enemy is the same hate felt for the Shipmate who cut you off on 264 going into NOB. Both forms of hatred are dismissed through the same cognitive process as well — though the means through that process differ significantly. At one extreme only the acknowledgment of the emotion is necessary for it to quickly dissipate. On the other, is the application of violence by professionals. This is to say that despite the irrationality of emotion, there is a rational and deliberative process that ends conflict. That objectivity defines modern conflict resolution (note: There was VERY little that I interpreted happening to me objectively while I was downrange. Afterwards, in getting home, my objectivity returned to me). By looking at conflict objectively we have come to better understand the causes of conflict and have attempted to address our understanding of the causes through organizational constructs (NATO, UN, IMF, WTO — deliberative bodies) as well as methodical approaches (COIN, CT — tactics). But, in assuming the causes of conflict only as a function of emotion we remove any hope of conflict prevention. It is ironic that the sentiment expressed in the fake quote are actually an affirmation that violence and conflict are unavoidable and that humans are incapable of being disciplined enough to rise above their emotions.
I've bolded the parts of this that I think point to a better way forward.
Some (but not all) guerrilla and/or terrorist leaders subscribe to a doctrine that while that while they cannot use force to immediately destroy the forces of their opponent they can inflict a heavy enough cost over time to make their opponents capitulate. Others use attrition as a point of operational buildup for a conventional strategy of annihilation, like the PLA's Huai-Huai campaign that destroyed Nationalist strength in Northern China and set the stage for the KMT's flight to Taiwan. Sometimes, however, attrition is not an option for a guerrilla leader. George Washington was put in the problem of an army that could not fight the Redcoats head-on in a battle of annihilation but could not maintain itself long enough to win a war of attrition.
The main thrust of Daveed Gartenstein-Ross's new book suggests that AQ believes it can win a war of economic attrition and sees itself through the framework of a war of attrition. I haven't read the book so it will be interesting to see how Gartenstein-Ross develops this thesis.
Some things that I thought of in the interval between writing that post:
First, while hate is not strategic it can be tactically quite effective. Stathis Kalyvas's work on civil wars shows how local disputes can intersect with larger causes (the core-periphery model of civil wars) and local blood feuds (such as those of the Chechens) are not unimportant. Personal reasons (a relative killed by an errant bomb) can also coalesce with national-political ones. Ali a la Pointe in The Battle of Algiersfinds a way to connect his personal feelings of humiliation with the humiliation of his people. But in the larger sense all large-scale conflict is driven by a basic difference of policy. Both Native Americans and the people who would become Americans wanted the land. One succeeded through greater force of arms in taking the land. Hate and misunderstanding certainly motivated both sides and made it easier for them to dehumanize each other, but the core issue was the land and who eventually would have it. I will elaborate a bit more on this later when I discuss the Clausewitzian trinity.
Second, I think M.L.R. Smith's article on strategic theory in E-IR is really, really good as a summary of neo-orthodox thought, with this point beautifully made (much better than I can with sleep deprivation):
It is sometimes said that strategic theorists assume rationality on the part of those whom they study because they cannot assume anything else.To pass judgment on whether anyone is rational or irrational in political life is to assume that one exists in Olympian detachment with a unique insight into what constitutes supreme powers of reasoning (a self-evidently delusional position). The assumption of rationality, however, does not suppose that the actor is functioning with perfect efficiency or ‘that all rational decisions are right ones, merely that an actor’s decisions are made after careful cost–benefit calculation and the means chosen seem optimal to accomplish the desired end.
I am very tired, and have gotten very little sleep lately. Part of that was due to last night, which was one of the more joyful and hopeful moments I have seen in years, even if I didn't go outside like everyone else. I have longer thoughts coming in the Huffington Post (just finished filing new blog), but I want to say something about the fake quote circulating on Facebook:
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
While the sentiments might seem superficially reasonable, a closer reading betrays a misunderstanding of human conflict--violent or nonviolent.
War doesn't happen because of some kind of pure and abstract hatred. This quote conjures up the stereotypical image, spread by Balkan Ghosts and other books, of two tribes with "ancient hatreds" that control their minds. While primal violence and enmity is important, but to see conflict through the prism of "hate"--sustained by hate and somehow eroded by an equally vague "love" is simply bizarre. War is fundamentally about politics. Conflicts are fought for political objectives, even if those objectives might seem irrational to anyone except the one who sets them.
Adolf Hitler may have hated Jews and practically anyone who wasn't Adolf Hitler, but he has a very specific (if insane) political vision that was internally consistent and a set of political-military tactics to achieve it. Of course this "vision" was genocidal, paranoid, and utterly repugnant, but if he was driven solely by abstract hate he would have remained a failed artist of no consequence rather than a mass murderer whose quest to depopulate every town from the Polish border to Siberia was backed by the murderous organs of a totalitarian great power state. This is "rationality"--even if it is a kind that we find difficult to accept. Quite similarly, Osama Bin Laden had an internally consistent (but clock cuckoo) political vision and he also used brutal violence to try to achieve it.
If we accept Clausewitz's claim that war is "politics by other means," we have to also accept that there are no "irrational" conflicts. Perhaps the actors involved have miscalculated the relative efficacy of violence, as the Palestinians did when their return to violence in 2000 led to the IDF's stage-by-stage demolition of the Palestinian Authority. But to imply that actors are simply driven by positive or negative emotions is to insult their intelligence and autonomy.
Conflict exists on a spectrum of complete nonviolence to nuclear warfare. It's a basic fact of human existence, and how actors choose to achieve their gains is often situationally dependent. We all have goals, and often times they conflict with those of other people. Political realists from Machiavelli to Pareto share an assumption that politics is at heart a form of power over people--hence we often turn to politics to increase privileges, right perceived injustices, capture scarce resources, or spread our own systems of belief. Since politics determines the distribution of power, it is a basic part of our lives no matter whether we religiously watch C-SPAN or indulge the apathy that heavy does of American domestic politics often seems to cultivate.
So to return to the quote, whether or not you meet hatred with hatred or hatred with love really matters little because such terms are really too general to meaningfully describe the political reasons why people conflict. Sometimes those political visions are flexible and can be modified to fit reality if actors judge that the price of continued violence is too high, or actors can realize that their goals are best met through cooperation rather than conflict. F.W. De Klerk and the South Africans, in the end, judged that they could not maintain apartheid in perpetuity and the political vision outlined by Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress was acceptable to them. In short, you use the method most appropriate for your policy and most acceptable to your own system of morality.
It is no wonder that Martin Luther King Jr. never uttered such words, as he was probably the only major strategic and operational leader of non-violent struggle who truly understood strategy. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. simply didn't wake up and decide that he wanted to eradicate prejudice. He realized that an entrenched Southern oligarchy was using an interlocking system of legal prejudice, extralegal violence and intimidation, and paramilitary power to maintain a system of privilege built on the backs of African-Americans. Realizing that this system was the enemy's "center of gravity," the common spirit that bound it all together, King Jr. elected to challenge it not with love and flowers--but nonviolent action carefully designed to accomplish his policy. Like Mandela, King Jr. (with a little unintentional help from the more militant Malcolm X and plenty of help from the at times adversarial Lyndon Baines Johnson) demonstrated to elites that the system could not be maintained and forced them to reach an accommodation.
Bin Laden was never looking for an accommodation or a compromise. Like Lenin and Robspierre before him, he was looking to overthrow the ancien regime and put everyone associated with it to the guillotine. His fanaticism and willingness to hurt innocents knew no bounds, and we can only guess at what horrors might have ensued if he actually succeeded in his mad quest to impose his own political order on the Middle East. So in the end a Navy SEAL addressed the "root cause" of Bin Laden's grievances by putting a bullet through his temple.
The longer we go on believing in the message of this quote, that only love can vanquish evil, the longer we set ourselves up for tragedy. Love did not stop the Japanese rampage through China, love did not end slavery in the American South, and love did not stop Napoleon's attempt to dominate Europe.
This is not to say that love is weak---love is one of the most powerful things imaginable, and anyone who has experienced it or has had the pleasure of giving it to others understands that. Hate is, at least for me, the most draining thing imaginable and something I try to avoid at all costs.
But neither love or hate are policies, strategies, or tactics. They're only emotions and ideal categories. They are not instrumental devices that we use to get what we want. So let's stop pretending that they are causal forces, that somehow rejoicing in the end of a mass murderer is going to conjure up more hate which in turn leads to more conflict.
Update: Thanks all for the RTs. I did make an error when I said that King never said all of the words described--as some sleuthing has discovered, only the first sentence was made up. The larger point about King's use of strategy reflects the record--even if it is not really a part of how he is seen in popular history.
New one at RTJ. Fans of military history counterfactuals are in for a treat.
Not surprisingly, the challenges of setting up a no-fly zone are a bit deeper than most would think:
"Enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would first require bombing the north African nation's air defense systems, top US commander General James Mattis warned on Tuesday. A no-fly zone would require removing "the air defense capability first," Mattis, the head of Central Command, told a Senate hearing. ...Although [Qaddafi's] military is badly outgunned by US and NATO aircraft, the regime has dozens of surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down allied warplanes."
The issue is not really Libyan air defense networks--it seems that they are mostly obsolete , never entirely worked 20 years ago during Operation El Dorado Canyon, and increasingly falling into the hands of the opposition. Rather, the issue is that setting up a no-fly zone involves more than simply intercepting planes. It is a military operation against the remnants of the Libyan government designed to support the ground operations of the various factions arrayed against Qaddafi. And embarking on it may lead to other political and military commitments down the line--just look at the decade-long interregnum between the two Gulf Wars and the Northern Iraq no-fly zone. Even if the Libyan government is on its last legs, that might not be the end of the conflict.
Regional analysts warn that Qaddafi's total centralization of power has created a vacuum that will make the conflict's aftermath totally different from what went on in Egypt and Tunisia:
If Qaddafi’s demise only entailed the dissolution of his regime, it would be tempting to declare good riddance and hail the good fortune of the Libyan people in freeing themselves of the old regime in one blow, without having to deal with its remnants, as Tunisians and Egyptians are struggling to do. Unfortunately for Libya, the fall of the House of Qaddafi will not only put an end to his regime, but risks causing the collapse of the Libyan state. Qaddafi’s long reign did nothing to forge institutions that can ensure the continuity of the state beyond regime change. There is no well-organized bureaucracy to ensure administrative continuity. The military and security forces—the institutions of last recourse in weak states—were deliberately fragmented by Qaddafi into militias and special brigades led by his sons and counterbalanced by a large praetorian guard and various paramilitary groups.
It is understandable that the idea of a no-fly zone appeals to humanitarians because it represents a middle ground between a large-scale military intervention and what many largely see as toothless economic and diplomatic action. One of the more useful pieces of the Libya debate for analysis is the light in shines on the issue of gradations of force short of general war--and their role in post-Cold War international politics. Humanitarians share with civilian policy analysts in general a faith in what Micah Zenko calls "discrete military operations" (DMOs).
DMOs are attractive because they seemingly imply little long-term commitment, and rely on technological or purely military advantages that would appear to be devastatingly effective against grossly underpowered foes. Perhaps the classic example of this is the scene in Iron Man in which the title character blows away a dozen marauding Afghan militants without harming a single innocent, like a high-tech version of Dirty Harry.
Moral shame is often an effective tool for gaining support for DMOs. If the United States military is so vastly superior to the rest, humanitarians claim, why can't it use a tiny fraction of its force to wipe out a pack of Sudanese janjaweed or Qaddafi militiamen? Especially when juxtaposed with media images of large-scale suffering, calls for DMOs can motivate policymakers to make rash decisions about the use of force.
The problem with DMOs, as Zenko catalogs in his book on the subject, is that the use of military force--period--is much more complex than most people imagine. Technical matters of logistics and tactics often have larger political implications. Even the technical requirements tend to be routinely under-estimated by advocates of DMOs. Moreover, DMOs tend to have an extremely mixed track record of achieving both political and military objectives.
Ultimately, technical excellence cannot substitute for sound policy and strategy. And DMOs tend to be utilized as exactly that--a substitute for a sound policy because policymakers are reluctant to get militarily involved but feel a pressure to "do something."
Thus, formulating sound policy based on national interest, morality, and practicality is of greater concern at present than hastily establishing a no-fly zone simply to react to events.
An interesting tidbit from Joseph Fouche, with an accompanying Zoolander-esque graphic:
Unfortunately for Bismarck there was two Clausewitzes roaming about the battlefield. Following Beatrice Heuser’s formulation from Reading Clausewitz, there is Realist Carl and and Idealist Carl. Realist Carl believed that war could be limited by the scope of limited political goals to something modest like seizing a piece of enemy territory as a bargaining chip in bantering for peace. Idealist Carl was transfixed by the example of Buonaparte, the so-called “god of war”, and believed that war could be reduced to winning a decisive battle and occupying the enemy capital. Bismarck, though he may not have realized it, was a disciple of Realist Carl. Molkte, a student of the flesh and blood Clausewitz, was a disciple of Idealist Carl. Realist Otto’s earlier string of successfully realized limited goals had opened the path to Idealist Helmuth’s unlimited desires to occupy Paris as the only fitting dénouement for his victories in two decisive battles. Molke’s system of expedients, drawing on chance and probability, had overwhelmed Bismarck’s system based on pure reason.
One of the things that has always transfixed me when reading about Napoleon and his campaigns has been the degree to which he was the singular engine of what was for a little while an unstoppable system of operations. Of course, Napoleon was more of a synthesizer than innovator, he cleverly manipulated the trends of his time. The basics of the distributed corps system and the age of nationalism were already beginning to put in place by the time he began his major campaigns. He also benefited from strong subordinates. But given the extreme centralization of his command and control system, he was the single driving force that breathed life into the Imperial war machine.
But it was the last time (for now) that force of personality and operational excellence alone could be such a strong driver. And Napoleon was arguably exceptional in his ability to aggregate the diverse sensory inputs together into a seamless whole. Clausewitz's "split personality" is a reflection of the hold that the "God of War" had over 19th century Europe and the way that everyone struggled to produce carbon copies of his technique. It's this "heroic" view of war that so appalled Basil Liddell-Hart and other critics of Clausewitz. Of course, Liddell-Hart and others had a simplified view of Clausewitz's work (and its complexity) as well as the militarism and toxic ideologies that led political-military leaders to twist Clausewitz's ideas to fit their own designs.
One thing that I've always wondered is whether or not it's possible for another Napoleon to emerge with a similar power and mechanism. Most generals (and their publicists) since then have seen themselves in this manner, but the truth is that conflict since the 19th century has fiercely punished the battle of annihilation that Napoleon utilized so effectively--with a brief interlude in 1940 and 1991. The major insight of Svechin and others was that attrition would be the dominant mode of war for a long time. If 1905-1945 locked in attrition, nuclear weapons finally limited the scale of conventional conflict. Will that ever change? And if so, what might be the consequences for peace?