Afterword on Strategy – Richard Hart Sinnreich

Synopsis:

In the afterword of his authoritative book on successful military strategies throughout history, Richard Hart Sinnreich synthesizes the most enduring lessons learned. He concludes the successful application of strategy to be most dependent on the identification of individual strategic genius, as well as what may be described as learning institutions – which are adaptive, and anticipatory of novel strategic thinking.

Excerpts:

“Not all strategic failures reflect overextension. They are equally likely – perhaps more likely – to reflect mistaken theories of success.

“Above all, strategic success is hostage to the willingness of political and military leaders to read and heed the evidence of the battlefield even at the price of jettisoning cherished assumptions.

“To be successful, long-term strategy requires both an accurate prompting diagnosis and the discipline to conform action to intention over time. Its greatest risk is target fixation – the failure to honor the evidence of the evolving environment when it begins to refute assumptions on which the strategy rested.

“Weak states, like weak armies, may prevail for a time over stronger but less clever adversaries. But unless cleverness can be translated into effective military power, a stronger contestant sooner or later will prevail absent a failure of political will.

“In the end, sustaining the nation’s determination to prevail is the crucial hallmark of any successful military strategy.

*All excerpts have been taken from Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press.

Leonard Wood and the American Occupation of Cuba – Lester D. Langley

Synopsis:

The grand design behind the American occupation of Cuba was to remake Cuban society into a cultural mirror image of the United States. White Progressive middle-class America was the model which arch Progressive Leonard Wood adopted for his system of governance. Ultimately, most of Wood’s reforms had a waning existence following his departure as centuries old Cuban culture reasserted itself. In his book on America’s early twentieth century armed interventions in the Caribbean, Lester Langley chronicles the political/military dynamics of the American occupation of Cuba.

Excerpts:

“When the vice-president of the provisional government, Domingo Mendez Capote, arrived in Washington in May 1898 to ascertain American policy, he learned that Cuban and Spanish conservatives were already pressing the Americans to remain after the Spanish surrender.

“The American military in Cuba was, by 1901, a skeletal force, its numbers drastically reduced since Wood became military governor in December 1899. Following the war, the Americans had paid off the Cuban rebels (at roughly seventy-five dollars per man) and created a Rural Guard, presumably apolitical, that undertook the task of policing the countryside and maintaining order in the towns.

“Preparation of Cuba for independence meant, of course, an educational system worthy of a young republic… The model curriculum, written by an officer on the governor’s staff, was patterned on the ‘Ohio Plan’ and emphasized preparation for citizenship and the acquisition of skills or the learning of a trade. Hispanic tradition was intentionally denigrated.

“Wood was convinced that filth explained Cuba’s epidemics of yellow fever, though an eccentric Cuban scientist (of Scottish ancestry), Dr. Carlos Findlay, argued correctly that the culprit was the mosquito. Wood’s vigorous sanitary campaign nonetheless probably helped to control another Cuban scourge, typhoid.

“When McKinley or Root or Wood spoke of Cuba, their comments were laced with references to its ‘special importance’ or ‘strategic position’ in the American geopolitical scheme. Cuba was vital and vulnerable – vulnerable to European machinations.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Banana Wars: United States Intervention in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, SR Books.

The Closing of the Muslim Mind – Robert R. Reilly

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Synopsis:

In his somewhat polemical book on early Islamic history Robert Reilly analyzes the dichotomous relationship between the Sunni theological schools of Mu’tazila and Ash’ari Islam. Mu’tazila held early primacy, and centered on rationalism as well as a sort of Monophysite understanding of the Godhead. By comparison, the Ash’arite school favored orthodoxy and dogmatism. Ultimately, Ash’arism triumphed, and historical counterfactuals abound relative to how Sunni Islam may have evolved had the Mu’tazila school prevailed.

Excerpts:

“In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads, along with their doctrine of predestination. The Abbasids had cause to embrace the Mu’tazilites, who succeeded to the Qadariyya position. The Mu’tazilites agreed with the Qadariyya that, without man’s freedom, God’s justice is unintelligible. To be held justly accountable for his acts, man must be free. The political implications of this position favored the Abbasid attempt to rein in the power of the ulema (Islamic jurisprudential scholars), whose monopoly on the interpretation of the Qur’an gave them great influence.

“The freedom to interpret revelation was based upon the Mu’tazilite teaching, shocking to the traditionalists, that the Qur’an was created in time. The standard orthodox belief was that the Qu’ran is uncreated and exists coeternally with Allah.

“The Mu’tazilites held that man’s freedom is a matter of God’s justice, as is reason’s ability to apprehend an objective moral order.

“How does reason lead man to the conclusion of God’s existence? It is through his observation of the ordered universe that man first comes to know that God exists, says ‘Abd al-Jabbar. As he sees that nothing in the world is its own cause, but is caused by something else, man arrives at the contingent nature of creation. From there, man reasons to the necessity of a Creator, an uncaused cause; otherwise one is caught in an infinite regress of contingent things, a logical impossibility. (This was a familiar argument from both Greek philosophy and Christian apologetics.) It is through the observation of nature – the ways in which the world seems to move according to certain laws – that man comes to know God. God’s laws are the laws of nature (tab’), which are also manifested in divine law, the shari’a.

“The Ash’arites were particularly offended by the Mu’tazilite claim that unaided reason could discern good and evil. They vehemently denied this, and said that the Mu’tazilites were undermining the need for scripture by saying all men had access to this knowledge. If this were so, what would be the need for the Qu’ran (even though the Mu’tazilites held that revelation was necessary for God to make His way clear to man)?

*All excerpts have been taken from The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, ISI Books.

Why Empire? – Douglas Porch

Synopsis:

Wars of Empire offers up historian Douglas Porch’s narrative and appraisal of the rise, zenith, as well as decline of the European colonial empires. The growth of the empires was often the outcome of individual devolution of command – owing to substantial geographic dispersion – or merchant adventurism. The empires were most commonly a significant financial burden for their home governments, and usually only offered international prestige as a product.

Excerpts:

“By demanding open markets free of government regulation or monopolistic restriction, traders like Jardine, Mattheson and Dent helped to transform the emerging imperial consciousness into an ideology that equated free trade with the spread of Western civilization and the rule of law. In this way, imperialism was a revival of the Roman concept of dominion as a moral and military ascendancy over inferior peoples.

“And while some individuals profited from colonial expansion, nations seldom did. In the last years of the nineteenth century the British Empire was a revenue drain. The French paid huge subsidies to garrison and develop their unproductive colonies which accounted for less than 10 per cent of French overseas trade by 1900… Colonies devoured metropolitan subsidies and generated large defence and administrative requirements, against a return of prestige and the distant promise of an economic pay-off.

“Benjamin Disraeli… attempted to elevate empire into a province of the national imagination and, in the process, transform the Tories into the party of empire, forging the link between empire and national greatness in the popular mind. Disraeli’s Crystal Palace speech of June 1872 offered the British electorate… a choice between the ‘Little England’ of the Liberals and an empire of liberty, truth and justice that would make Britain the envy of the world.

“The primary concerns of Continental powers were, by definition, European. Imperial conquest was an add-on, a leisure activity to be undertaken only when it did not jeopardize one’s fundamental interests at home. Any politician who thought about it for more than five minutes should have concluded that he would get little credit when imperial expansion succeeded, and all of the blame when an expedition encountered setbacks.

“Russian expansion was of an entirely different nature to that of other imperial nations. In the first place, it was continental not a maritime enterprise. It was a continuation of the defensive expansion of Muscovy, and such strategic concerns supplied the most coherent rationale… The most important support for Russian imperialism came from Pan-Slavism, but this was never a mass movement.

*All excerpts have been taken from Wars of Empire, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Nations in Arms – Daniel Moran

Synopsis:

Daniel Moran traverses the geostrategic landscape of the twentieth century Cold War era by keenly analyzing the Soviet policy of enabling wars of national liberation across the globe. Moran examines all of the major conflicts on every continent, and pieces together the root causes, political spectrum, as well as the tactical methodologies employed. Considering the scope of the narrative involved the book successfully blends brevity with wisdom.

Excerpts:

“Like ‘People’s Republic’, ‘National Liberation’ is a revolutionary slogan, designed to conceal sordid truths. It served to hurl back into the face of the oppressor the idea of the nation, which Europe invented, and the ideal of liberty, which the West cherishes above all others in politics, while deflecting attention from the methods and interests of the liberators themselves.

“Free societies have proved to be among the least common outcome of wars of national liberation; while such conflicts remain among the most worrisome in the eyes of professional soldiers called upon to fight them.

“The first theorist to note the historical preponderance of limited war, Carl von Clausewitz, did so at a time when most experts were convinced that the all-in conflagration of the Napoleonic era represented the perfection of earlier forms of fighting, from which there was no going back. Clausewitz, on the other hand, thought that wars fought to achieve the total defeat of an enemy would always be rare, for reasons arising from war’s character as a political instrument, and from the ‘friction’ that attended its use. War for limited objectives – a province, a concession, an apology, prestige – was the norm, and any strategic posture that failed to take this into account was likely to be discredited in the long run.

“The persistent complaint that Western armies since 1945 have fought for poorly defined goals is misleading if it is taken to mean that military and political objectives should automatically cohere, or that conditions in which they do not are always fraught with disaster. It is rather the case that war and politics, having briefly learned to speak something like the same language in the course of an all-encompassing global conflict, thereafter ceased to do so once the political stakes had shrunk to more normal proportions.

“Wars of national liberation are frequently represented as episodes of spontaneous combustion produced by pervasive misery and injustice: war as the product of revolution. Yet the opposite dynamic is equally apparent: revolution as a product of war, waged by a committed vanguard whose outlook does not command widespread support at the start, and who may obtain only grudging acquiescence even at the end… The line between political action and banditry, as Mao might have said, is one that mere persistence cannot erase.

*All excerpts have been taken from Wars of National Liberation, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.

Flashpoint: Taiwan – Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro

Synopsis:

The relationship between China and the United States in the 1980s as well as early 1990s spawned an internationalist strategic idealism in America toward China. However, in 1996 the United States was mugged by reality when the Taiwan Strait Crisis happened. The crisis acted as a prime mover for a return to realism in American foreign policy concerning its relationship with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – which has been further hastened in the last decade by the actions of Xi Jinping. This trend was still nascent in 1997 when the book The Coming Conflict with China was published, which dug into contemporary as well as historical points of friction between America and the CCP.

Excerpts:

“In his memoirs Kissinger reports that Secretary of State William Rogers objected to the Taiwan sentences on the grounds that they were an inaccurate description of the objective world. Not all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait believe that Taiwan is a part of China, Rogers maintained.

“While the other Chinese provinces, including disputed regions traditionally controlled by China, have been within the Chinese realm for thousands of years, Taiwan did not become a part of the national territory until the seventeenth century. Until then the island had been considered a wild place of impenetrable mountains and a malarial coastline inhabited by unfriendly aborigines with whom the Chinese had little or no contact. Indeed, the first outsiders to settle in Taiwan were not Mainland Chinese but Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch traders and explorers who first established forts there in the 1620s, the entire island becoming a Dutch possession around the middle of the century.

“The greatest danger in this sense stems from the evolution of Taiwan itself. At the time that China embarked on its March 1996 exercise in intimidation, a few pundits identified the real issue as not so much Taiwanese independence but Taiwanese democracy. Genuine popular sovereignty on Taiwan threatened to undermine the authority of the dictatorship in Beijing.

“Once Taiwan has been reabsorbed into the Mainland, the major cause of Sino-American friction will have been removed. The solution of China’s Taiwan problem in this sense would be the solution of America’s China problem. But if China were to embark on a military offensive against Taiwan, the United States would have little choice except to intervene and to put American forces at risk. Like it or not, Americans are already engaged in the battle, committed to a peaceful solution – that is, a solution agreed to by the people of Taiwan.

“Without an American commitment to intervene in a Taiwan-China conflict, there would be very little standing in the way of Chinese domination of all of East Asia, and this fact is well understood from Australia to Tokyo. The form of an American intervention could vary depending on Taiwan’s specific need and the ferocity of China’s assault. But whatever form the American involvement took, any war on the Taiwan Strait would be the beginning of a new stage of conflict between China and the United States, a move from strategic posturing across the Pacific to a war that will profit absolutely nobody.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Coming Conflict with China, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

The Points Which the General Must Consider – Maurice Tiberius

Synopsis:

The Byzantines were the strategic culture par excellence of Western civilization for much of their more than thousand year history. The Strategikon was written during the reign of the Emperor Mauricius as a military and diplomatic guidebook for the Byzantine high command. It is a combined arms treatise which synthesizes components of cultural anthropology, psychological operations, tactical dispositions, human intelligence collection, military maxims, reconnaissance techniques, and lessons learned from the era of the Later Roman Empire. The Strategikon – when it was followed – acted as a combat multiplier for the often outnumbered Byzantine military, and even when defeated their opponents usually only won after a close-run contest.

Excerpts:

“For it is not true, as some inexperienced people believe, that wars are decided by courage and numbers of troops, but – along with God’s favor – by tactics and generalship, and our concern should be with these rather than wasting our time in mobilizing large numbers of men. The former provide security and advantage to men who know how to use them well, whereas the other brings trouble and financial ruin.

“Warfare is like hunting. Wild animals are taken by scouting, by nets, by lying in wait, by stalking, by circling around, and by other such stratagems rather than by sheer force. In waging war we should proceed in the same way, whether the enemy be many or few.

“Before any fighting the first and the safest thing to do is to choose a few experienced and lightly armed soldiers and have them very secretly carry out attacks against some detachments of the enemy. If they succeed in killing or capturing some of them, then most of our soldiers will take this as evidence of our own superiority. They will get over their nervousness, their morale will pick up, and they will gradually become used to fighting against them.

“Unless it is absolutely necessary, for a few days after a defeat in battle no attempt should be made to line up again and resume the offensive. It is better to rely on stratagems, deception, carefully timed surprise moves, and the so-called fighting while fleeing, until the troops come to forget their discouragement, and their morale picks up once more.

“There can be no rest until the enemy is completely destroyed. If they seek refuge behind fortifications, apply pressure by direct force or by preventing them from getting more supplies for men and horses until they are annihilated or else agree to a treaty to our advantage. One should not slacken after driving them back just a short distance, nor, after so much hard work and the dangers of war, should one jeopardize the success of the whole campaign because of lack of persistence. In war, as in hunting, a near-miss is still a complete miss.

*All excerpts have been taken from Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rhodesia: Tactical Success, Operational, Strategic, and Political Failure – Peter A. Kiss

Synopsis:

The Rhodesian Bush War was a multi-phase civil war which lasted nearly two decades, and climaxed with the birth of the modern state of Zimbabwe. The complexion of the warfare was a nationalist insurgency, which the Rhodesian military was initially prepared for. However, major operational as well as tactical successes for Rhodesia in the 1960s bred strategic complacency among the political elite, and the military high command. By the mid 1970s the nationalist guerrilla forces opposing Rhodesia had a large footprint within the state, and the Rhodesian military had effectively lost control over the eastern border region. In 1980 the Rhodesian political and military elite finally capitulated, and the Marxist–Leninist Robert Mugabe became the elected sovereign of Zimbabwe.

Excerpts:

“Neither was Rhodesia strong enough to suppress the insurgency within the country and force the frontline states to curtail their support to the nationalist movements; it had no choice but to accept a protracted war. The government was constantly seeking reconciliation and a political solution (on its own terms), but neither the frontline states nor the nationalist movements were in a hurry; they felt that the ‘spirit of the age’ was on their side. Their calculation was correct: they managed to reduce Rhodesia’s initial advantages, survived the overwhelming tactical superiority of its security forces, prevented the international recognition of the majority-rule government that came about as a result of an internal settlement, and in 1980 won a complete victory.

“The commander, Combined Operations was first among equals – he had no command authority over either the commanders of the service branches or the chief of intelligence. Thus, instead of wielding a single military instrument consisting of highly specialized but closely integrated and mutually supporting services, the minister of Combined Operations (who had limited military experience) had to oversee and herd in one direction four separate organizations that competed with, and inevitably often hindered, one another.

“There were some effective and convincing radio programs and films, but communication directed toward the Africans was generally unsuccessful. The government effort to win over the undecided Africans by offering an alternative future was only half-hearted. This was a serious failure because the alternative future did exist.

“The Rhodesian authorities were not unprepared for the nationalist insurgency. Rhodesian forces had participated in the British Empire’s counterinsurgency operations… During the Malaya Emergency Rhodesian volunteers had formed one squadron of the Special Air Service (SAS), and between 1956 and 1958 an infantry battalion had also served in Malaya. In Kenya, Rhodesian officers had studied the causes of the Mau Mau rebellion, the tactics of the rebels and the security forces, and the measures applied in suppressing the insurgency.

“The forces available were simply too small to cover the huge border regions. Preventing the infiltration of small units is similar to looking for a needle in a haystack. In Rhodesia the force available to search was too small, the haystack was too big, and the needles were too small and too many.

*All excerpts have been taken from Winning Wars Amongst the People: Case Studies in Asymmetric Conflict, University of Nebraska Press.

The Collapse of Generalship in the 1960s – Thomas E. Ricks

Synopsis:

The American institutional paradigm of strategic mediocrity at the highest levels of command became most recognized during the Vietnam War. Journalist Thomas E. Ricks believes the strategic incapacity is rooted in careerism, bureaucratization, byzantine promotion practices, institutional arrogance, and negligence at finding fault within the high command. According to Ricks, post-Vietnam American generalship has fared no better, because the military – particularly the Army – has focused on perfecting operational rather than strategic command.

Excerpts:

“A popular myth, persisting even in today’s military, is that senior civilians were too involved in the handling of the war. In fact, the problem was not that civilians participated too much in decision making but that the senior military leaders participated too little. President Johnson, Maxwell Taylor, and Robert McNamara treated the Joint Chiefs of Staff not as military advisers but as a political impediment, a hurdle to be overcome, through deception if necessary. They wanted to keep the Chiefs on board with policy without keeping them involved in making it or even necessarily informed about it.

“Unlike FDR, Johnson never really explained his war to the nation. ‘At no time that I was aware,’ wrote Joseph Alsop, who became almost the last ‘hawk’ among prominent journalists, ‘did President Johnson or his advisers seek to prepare the American people for the grim consequences of a protracted military battle, nor did they adequately explain to the public the reasons for the fight.’ Neither the president nor the Joint Chiefs of Staff did their duty during the Vietnam War.

“Pentagon analyst Thomas Thayer recalled being told by the French defense attaché in Saigon – a veteran of fighting in Vietnam who was chosen for the diplomatic post because of his excellent English – that during the first eighteen months of his assignment, only one American had visited him to inquire about the lessons the French might have to share. Even more strikingly, when Army Special Forces troops under a CIA program began training villagers to defend themselves, the program worked, with armed locals posting ‘a record of almost unbroken success’ against the Viet Cong… Maxwell Taylor, by then the American ambassador, directed the CIA to turn the program over to the U.S. military, resulting in a major drop in the effectiveness of the mission.

“Firing senior officers would have been seen as a confession of failure. Furthermore, in a hazy war with a muddled strategy, what constituted success was less clear, so rewarding it and punishing failure became even more difficult. The result was that by the arrival of the Vietnam War, firing a general officer amounted to an act of dissent, a public questioning of the way the Army worked, because it involved someone who had risen through a demanding process over two decades. To say that he was not fit for a position was tantamount to a rejection of the process that had produced him. So where relief was once a sign that the system was working as expected – rewarding success and punishing failure – it had become seen inside the Army as a hostile critique of the system.

“The relatively new technology of the helicopter might have enabled generals to try to escape their roles. Instead of trying to improve strategy, generals and colonels climbed into aircraft and became what one general called ‘squad leaders in the sky.’ They found themselves in a situation where the fundamental task of a general – to understand the nature of the fight and adjust his force to it – may have been all but undoable. When strategy becomes inexplicable, the natural tendency is to retreat into tactics.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, Penguin Group LLC.

The Vietnam Syndrome – Richard Nixon

Synopsis:

The Real War presents Richard Nixon’s strategic philosophy for the Cold War. His chapter ‘The Vietnam Syndrome’ keenly describes the cerebral influence the Vietnam War had on America, and its allies. The chapter also offers Nixon’s perspective on how the Vietnam War was directed before he became president, as well as presenting his own objectives for the war while he was president.

Excerpts:

“If South Vietnam had only had to contend with invasion and infiltration from the North across the forty-mile-long DMZ, it could have done so without the assistance of American forces… But Hanoi was able to use sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia as staging grounds for its assault on South Vietnam. In addition to making hit-and-run tactics possible, these lengthened the border the South had to defend from 40 to 640 miles, not counting indentations.

“Diem’s fall was followed by political instability and chaos in South Vietnam, and the event had repercussions all over Asia as well. President Ayub Khan of Pakistan told me a few months later, ‘Diem’s murder meant three things to many Asian leaders: that it is dangerous to be a friend of the United States; that it pays to be neutral; and that sometimes it helps to be an enemy.

“We tried to wage a conventional war against an enemy who was fighting an unconventional war. We tried to mold the South Vietnamese Army into a large-scale conventional force while the principal threat was still from guerrilla forces, which called for the sort of smaller-unit, local-force response that had proved so successful in Malaya. American military policy-makers tended to downplay the subtler political and psychological aspects of guerrilla war, trying instead to win by throwing massive quantities of men and arms at the objective. And then, the impact even of this was diluted by increasing American pressure gradually rather than suddenly, thus giving the enemy time to adapt.

“At the heart of the Nixon Doctrine is the premise that countries threatened by communist aggression must take the primary responsibility for their own defense. This does not mean that U.S. forces have no military role; what it does mean is that threatened countries have to be willing to bear the primary burden of supplying the manpower.

“After their decisive defeat on the ground by South Vietnamese forces in the spring offensive and the destruction of their war-making capabilities by the December bombing, the North Vietnamese knew that militarily they were up against almost impossible odds. As the South Vietnamese economy continued to prosper far more than that of the North, Hanoi’s communist ideology had less and less appeal. Thieu’s Land to the Tiller program, for example, had reduced tenancy from 60 to 7 percent by 1973, a truly revolutionary development that undercut the communists’ argument that the government allied itself with the rich and oppressed the people. Also, the North Vietnamese knew that both the Soviets and the Chinese had a stake in their new relationship with us and might not be willing to endanger that relationship by providing military supplies in excess of those allowed by the Paris peace agreement of January 1973.

*All excerpts have been taken from The Real War, Warner Books Inc.