A Short Tutorial on the Moral Essence
of Grand Strategy
September 11, 2003
Discussion Threads - Comment #s: 490
and referenced comments.
[Ref.1] Richard Bernstein,
"Foreign Views Of U.S. Darken Since Sept. 11," New York Times, September
11, 2003, Pg. 1
On the second anniversary of 9/11, the world-wide outpouring
sympathy and empathy for the United States is a distant memory. It has been
displaced by a widespread suspicion that there are hidden motives powering
our pre-emptive, go-it-alone militarized grand strategy. The attached report
in the New York Times [Ref 1] is yet another
report about this widespread nature nature of our grand strategic crisis.
I urge you to study [Ref 1] carefully before proceeding
with this Comment.
Worldwide popular suspicion about our nation's real motives
in the so-called war on terror is translating into a loss of moral authority.
This is creating a yawning grand strategic vulnerability for the United States.
It is a vulnerability that can be levered militarily against us by our 4GW
adversaries, if they understand how the moral dimension of conflict can be
used to overwhelm the mental and physical dimensions of conflict, a contingent
condition which is, I fear, quite likely.
But what do I mean by moral authority?
Loss of moral authority on a personal level occurs when
one fails to abide by or conform to the codes of conduct or standards of behavior
he professes and others expect him to uphold.
If a person fails this test and others are hurt by the
destructive consequences of that failure, those damaged souls may forgive,
but they will NEVER forget. On a personal level, therefore, a little contemplation
about our everyday condition reveals that a loss of moral authority is a self-inflicted
wound that can be permanent, and that condition can convey a permanent competitive
advantage to one's adversaries. The other thing to remember is that one's
adversaries do not morally isolate the individual, like a judo artist or Sun
Tzu, they lever the individual's actions against himself. Thus the "weak"
can beat the "strong" if one thinks (incorrectly) that conflict is only a
The same considerations apply to nations, as Imperial
Germany learned the hard way in 1914, when it invaded tiny neutral Belgium,
and thereby militarized its grand strategy by failing to abide by the standards
of behavior other nations expected it to uphold. That Germany never recovered
from the moral damage caused by this violation illustrates the power of the
moral dimension in Grand Strategy. As I have argued earlier, the United States
is creating the same kind of self-inflicted wound by repeating Imperial Germany's
mistake of militarizing its grand strategy.
What follows is a short tutorial on grand strategy. It
explains the moral essence of the American strategist Col John Boyd's theories.
It is written by one of Boyd's closest friends and protégés, a person who
has studied Boyd's work more intensely than anyone I know, the webmaster of
Defense and the National Interest, Dr. Chet Richards (Col USAFR Ret). I urge
you to read this important essay carefully after you have read [Ref
Dr. Chet Richards
Editor, Defense and the National Interest
Military-that is, destructive-activities have the
potential to provoke a backlash in public opinion (on both sides) and
among allies and the uncommitted. Nightly newscasts of civilian casualties
in Vietnam, for example, helped fuel public demands to end the war,
as did reports of carnage along the "Highway of Death" out of Kuwait
during the last days of the First Gulf War. In this modern age of instant
worldwide communications, the potential for such adverse consequences,
and even for their manipulation, has obviously increased. With the growth
of satellite television and the Internet, censorship is not a realistic
One solution is a "grand strategy" that guides military
actions not only to minimize these effects but to produce positive benefits
on morale and public/world opinion. Such a grand strategy would also
shape our alliance structure and form a key element in isolating adversaries
from physical, mental, and moral support.
The late American strategist, John R. Boyd, suggested
four functions of a "sensible" grand strategy:
Support our national goal, which at the highest
level involves improving our fitness, as an organic whole, to shape
and cope with an everchanging environment
Pump-up our resolve, drain-away our adversary's
resolve, and attract the uncommitted
End the conflict on favorable terms
Ensure that the conflict and peace terms do not
provide seeds for (unfavorable) future conflict.
Note Boyd's mention of the "uncommitted," a group
often slighted (or even antagonized!) in modern warfare. Grand strategy
seeks to "influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that
they are drawn towards our philosophy and are empathetic toward our
success." If they choose to join our cause, great; but at the very least
they should refrain from any actions that furnish comfort, support,
or information to our adversaries.
A tall order. Boyd does not provide a checklist
for accomplishing it, but instead advises gaining "an appreciation for
that we as well as the uncommitted and any potential
or real adversaries must contend with." In other words, to create a
grand strategy that works, we must carry Sun Tzu's admonition to "know
the enemy and know ourselves" at a step or two farther: to know potential
opponents and the uncommitted as well as we know the enemy and ourselves.
Boyd suggested a three part approach:
With respect to ourselves, live up to our
ideals: eliminate those flaws in our system that create mistrust and
discord while emphasizing those cultural traditions, experiences,
and unfolding events that build-up harmony and trust. [That is, war
is a time to fix these problems, not to delay or ignore them. As an
open, democratic society, the United States should have enormous advantages
in this area.]
With respect to adversaries, we should
publicize their harsh statements and threats to highlight that our
survival is always at risk; reveal mismatches between the adversary's
professed ideals and how their government actually acts; and acquaint
the adversary's population with our philosophy and way of life to
show that the mismatches of their government do not accord with any
social value based on either the value and dignity of the individual
or on the security and well being of society as a whole. [This is
not just propaganda, but must be based on evidence that our population
as well as those of the uncommitted and real/potential adversaries
will find credible.]
With respect to the uncommitted and potential
adversaries, show that we respect their culture, bear them no
harm, and will reward harmony with our cause, yet, demonstrate that
we will not tolerate nor support those ideas and interactions that
work against our culture and fitness to cope. [A "carrot and stick"
approach. The "uncommitted" have the option to remain that way—so
long as they do not aid our adversaries or break their isolation—and
we hope that we can entice them to join our side. Note that we "demonstrate"
the penalties for aiding the enemy, not just threaten them.]
During the Vietnam War, we committed every mistake
in the grand strategic book. Instead of attracting the uncommitted,
we repelled them by a perception of indiscriminate use of firepower
(more tons of bombs than in all of WW II), we failed to negate Ho Chi
Minh's claim that he was fighting a straightforward war for independence,
we did not respect the ideals and culture of our allies ("gooks"), and
our population came to believe that their government was not telling
the truth about either the goals or the progress of the war (which is
why our tactical victory in the 1968 Tet offensive resulted in a grand
strategic defeat.) As a result, achievements on the battlefield were
offset by our government's isolation first from its allies and then
from its own people.
As a basis for a grand strategy, Boyd recommended
a "unifying vision":
A grand ideal, overarching theme, or noble
philosophy that represents a coherent paradigm within which individuals
as well as societies can shape and adapt to unfolding circumstances-yet
offers a way to expose flaws of competing or adversary systems. Such
a unifying vision should be so compelling that it acts as a catalyst
or beacon around which to evolve those qualities that permit a collective
entity or organic whole to improve its stature in the scheme of things.
The U.S. Constitution represents such a theme for
this country. The challenge of American grand strategy, therefore, is
to uphold the ideals embodied in the Constitution, while showing that
we respect the culture and achievements of our allies, the uncommitted,
potential adversaries, and even the population of actual adversaries.
Executing such a grand strategy would have the effect of limiting the
support for—and so the options available to—violent
ideological, trans-national "terrorist" groups.
Unlike military strategy, which must of necessity
be kept secret and shrouded in ambiguity and misinformation, grand strategy
must be well publicized and proclaimed by top leaders on a daily basis.
Churchill defeated Hitler not because he was a great strategist (just
one day after Churchill dismissed the blitzkrieg as merely a "scoop
or raid of mechanized vehicles," German armor reached the English Channel,
effectively deciding operations in France) but because he was perhaps
the greatest grand strategist of the modern era:
Side by side, unaided except by their kith
and kin in the great Dominions and by the wide empires which rest
beneath their shield—side by side, the British
and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind
from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened
and stained the pages of history. Behind them—behind us —behind the
Armies and Fleets of Britain and France—gather a group of shattered
States and bludgeoned races: the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians,
the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night
of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless
we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.
- First Broadcast as Prime Minister, May 19,
Lincoln was his worthy equal in the previous century:
This is essentially a people's contest. On
the side of the Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world
that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate
the condition of men; to lift artificial weights from all shoulders;
to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all an unfettered
start and a fair chance in the race of life. [July 4, 1861]
As the examples of Churchill and Lincoln show, successful
wartime leaders place a high premium on grand strategy. During the early
phases of a conventional conflict, when alliances are being formed,
and throughout a fourth generation war, they have no more pressing responsibility.
In any stage, however, it is not enough just to formulate and proclaim
grand visions and noble ideals: Political leaders must also ensure that
military commanders understand the grand strategy, enthusiastically
support it, and harmonize their operations with it. They must remove
commanders who cannot or will not maintain such harmony, while still
achieving their missions, and promote those who can and do.
John R. Boyd, "Patterns of Conflict," 138-143.
___________,"Strategic Game," 53-57.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, (Cleary trans, Shambhala,
1988). Sun Tzu advised attacking alliances before engaging in military
actions (69), placed high premiums on intelligence (knowing the enemy,
82 and Chapter 13), emphasized moral unity ("momentum") as the key
to victory (43, 98-99), and proclaimed that winning without fighting
was best (67).
Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1832. Clausewitz
placed the "passions of the people" in the first position of his "Trinity
of War." (Book I, Chapter I, Section 28).
"A popular government without popular information,
or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or
perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean
to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge
gives." - James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822
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New York Times
September 11, 2003
Foreign Views Of U.S. Darken Since Sept. 11
By Richard Bernstein
BERLIN, Sept. 10
In interviews by Times correspondents from Africa to Europe
to Southeast Asia, one point emerged clearly: The war in Iraq has had a major
impact on public opinion, which has moved generally from post-9/11 sympathy
to post-Iraq antipathy, or at least to disappointment over what is seen as
the sole superpower's inclination to act pre-emptively, without either persuasive
reasons or United Nations approval.
Even at this low point, millions of people still see the
United States as a beacon and support its policies, including the war in Iraq,
and would, given the chance, be happy to become Americans themselves.
Indeed, while the United States probably feels more threatened
now than in 1989, when the cold war ended, Europe is broadly unconvinced of
any imminent threat.
Most striking was a difference over the use of military
force, with 84 percent of Americans but only 48 percent of Europeans supporting
force as a means of imposing international justice.
In Europe overall, the proportion of people who want the
United States to maintain a strong global presence fell 19 points since a
similar poll last year, from 64 percent to 45 percent, while 50 percent of
respondents in Germany, France and Italy express opposition to American leadership.
Even in Japan, where support for America remains strong,
the view of the United States as a bully has entered the popular culture.
A recent cartoon showed a character looking like President Bush in a Stars
and Stripes vest pushing Japanese fishermen away from a favorite spot, saying,
"I can fish better."
Contributing to this report were James Brooke, Frank Bruni,
Alan Cowell, Ian Fisher, Joseph Kahn, Clifford Krauss, Marc Lacey, Jane Perlez,
Craig S. Smith and Michael Wines.