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Old 01-09-2014   #1
davidbfpo
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Default The understanding and meaning of strategy has got lost

A critique of the contemporary Anglo-US approach to conflict by Oxford University's Professor Hew Strachan, in a new book 'The Direction of War' and a short press story:
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The understanding and meaning of strategy has got lost, confused or become stripped of meaning..Without strategic thought (or clear understanding of strategy) our execution of war aims is inevitably bungled – we didn’t know what to do or how we wanted to do it in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An anonymous 'senior officer' commented:
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We as soldiers have a responsibility to ensure the options and advice we give are good and sensible material to make decisions from. On the statesman side, over the last 10 years, I don’t think they have been terribly clever about trying to understand the art of the possible. Too much has been taken for granted and not enough time taken to understand the nature of the problems we are throwing the forces into.
Link:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ukne...y-adviser.html

Who is the author? From the press story:
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Sir Hew, Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford, has advised the Coalition on its treatment of the Armed Forces. He currently sits on the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, and advises the UK Defence Academy, which trains senior officers.
His official bio:http://www.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/people.php?personid=67

My own view is that the British government, under all parties, has one overwhelming strategic objective - to follow the USA when and where it can. Or as one scathing critic put as the First Gulf War began "We are America's Ghurkha". All else follows from that decision.

Invariably reference is made to the 'Special Relationship' between the UK and the USA, established with difficulty in WW2 and maintained since then. As others have written the USA has many such relationships with allies, what remains special (shared with the 'Five Eyes') is the close relationship between their intelligence agencies and their military.
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Old 01-09-2014   #2
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Default Update

The book is available for pre-publication purchase; a couple of short reviews too, Petraeus & Richards, and don't forget there is a Small Wars Amazon purchase button at: http://smallwarsjournal.com/content/support

Link to Amazon.com:http://www.amazon.com/The-Direction-.../dp/1107047854

Link to Amazon.co.uk: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Directio.../dp/B00GA22YFQ
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Old 01-09-2014   #3
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From a "lurker":
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Sir Hew does not lack bravery - 'head above parapet', or what?
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Old 01-16-2014   #4
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Default Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world.

The Daily Beast has now interviewed Sir Hew Strachan, with some pithy comment here citing the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11:
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If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards, Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this. Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world. Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world...
On what the professional should do. Part of the problem, Strachan contends, is that politicians are unduly worried about allowing military leaders to give frank and open advice. He criticized the way General Stanley McCrystal was forced to resign after making unflattering remarks about his political bosses in Washington:
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The concern about the military speaking out shows a lack of democratic and political maturity. We’re not facing the danger of a military coup. The professional experts, who deal with war all the time, should be able to express their views all the time, openly and coherently, just as you would expect a doctor or a teacher to express their views coherently about how you run medical policy or teaching policy...
Link:http://www.thedailybeast.com/article...the-world.html

Hat tip to Professor John Schindler, of NWC and a blogsite. His comment via Twitter:
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FYI Sir Hew Strachan is the most eminent military historian in the Anglosphere; these comments are devastating.
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Old 01-16-2014   #5
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Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
The Daily Beast has now interviewed Sir Hew Strachan, with some pithy comment here citing the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11:

On what the professional should do. Part of the problem, Strachan contends, is that politicians are unduly worried about allowing military leaders to give frank and open advice. He criticized the way General Stanley McCrystal was forced to resign after making unflattering remarks about his political bosses in Washington:

Link:http://www.thedailybeast.com/article...the-world.html

Hat tip to Professor John Schindler, of NWC and a blogsite. His comment via Twitter:
This sums it nicely, Bush was astrategic and Obama is lost. The point about politicians not listening to military leaders is a point I have trying to make with Carl on another post. GEN Shinseki told Rumsfeld and others what size force it would take to stabilize Iraq was laughed at. An Army General that took the study of war seriously (not all do) and was a selfless servant was laughed at by an idiot SECDEF because his sound advice for winning didn't conform to the popular political hubris at the time.
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Old 01-17-2014   #6
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Much of what has violently challenged us in the past couple of decades is not truly "war," so while certainly US leadership has been strategically confused in terms of what it has tried to do and how it has tried to do it, I would add that Sir Hew is equally confused in his assessment.

While war is violence and war is politics, not all violence is war nor is all politics war either.

Conditions put in place for implamenting a containment strategy for the pre-globalized era of the Cold War certainly were not somehow conditions designed to extend indefinitely into a rapidly evolving world.

Most of the conflict we deal with today is a function of populations (many held artificially static by a wide range of factors) are now released and evolving in their expectations of governance far faster than the systems of governance perceived to be affecting them are either able or willing to evolve along with them. The result is friction and conflict.

Domestic policies lag and the result (when inadequate legal, certain and trusted mechanisms for change exist) is illegal politics - better known as revolutionary insurgency. This may manifest violently or through more peaceful, but equally illegal, tactics.

When foreign policies lag the result is not unlike what occurs during a physical foreign occupation. A de facto "occupation by policy" that generates a very similar resistance insurgency energy that enables organizations such as AQ to rise to the degree of influence they hold these past several years and results in acts of protest and transnational terrorism.

This is not great mystery, but neither is much of it "war."

Governments, being made up of politicians, do not take responsibility for their short comings, but rather blame them on those who dare to challenge them. So we attack the symptoms, and largely leave the true causes of this negative energy unaddressed. Too often our efforts to attack the symptoms make the problems worse...
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Old 01-17-2014   #7
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Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
The Daily Beast has now interviewed Sir Hew Strachan, with some pithy comment here citing the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11:
I will have to disagree with Sir Hew on … pretty much everything. First, his comments would lead one to believe that the ONLY way a politician can effect foreign policy is though war. There are no other instruments of national power. I will take that a step further, he gives the impression that any use of military capabilities less than war are inept: that deterrence through the threat of force is not the appropriate way to use the military. Second, he seems to be under the impression that national sovereignty is a passé concept the Anglo-American Alliance is the world’s police force. What exactly was he expecting us to do in Syria? Backing away from intervention in a conflict with multiple players none of whom have interests aligned with ours seems to me to be prudent, not clueless. Third, he believes that all military decisions in a democracy should be made in public. I doubt very highly that the press was invited to Churchill’s daily briefings or that polls were held on his policies. All in all, I get the impression that he is a bitter man who misses the days of the Bush-Blair confederacy – the endless war on “evil” that made the military strategists an indispensible asset.
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Old 01-17-2014   #8
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As for the relationship between President’s and the military, that is a subject that seems to rely mostly on the nature of the politician and the military leaders. Lincoln fired Generals until he found one he felt could fight and win. Truman fired a General because he thought that General wanted to fight and win at costs greater than Truman thought the world should bear. Bush fired Generals until he found one he felt would fight on his terms. Obama hasn’t really fired any Generals – they seem to have engineered their own demise – but Gate’s book would indicate that he does not fully trust them: that they wanted to fight beyond the point of deminishing returns. Who was right and who was wrong is a matter of speculation, but no one seems to be seriously arguing that the military should have free reign when it comes to executing war. If you believe that war is an instrument of policy, then the policy makers should decide the nature of the war.

And so we come to the problem of politicians not understanding “the art of the possible”. I would agree. But I don’t think the military understands it any better. What was militarily “possible” in Iraq and Afghanistan was accomplished. We then ran up against was a problem in the nature of the relationship between the military and their civilian masters. The civilians wanted us to fix the problem they created and the military is not in a position to say no. We say “no”, we get fired or must resign. The nature of civil-military relations gives the military commander no other options. Sure, they can always find a friendly Congressman to “force” them to testify that what the President wants is a bad idea, but that is still a political solution. Add to that the fact that you will always be able to find a General eager to get into the fight – even if they don’t understand what is “possible” any better than the politician – and the result is the military taking on missions they are unsuited for and cannot possibly accomplish. I have no solution to this problem.
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