Ancient Laws, Modern Wars
April 12, 2017 9 Comments
After eight years of withdrawal, what rules should the U.S. follow to effectively reassert itself in world affairs? The most dangerous moments in foreign affairs often come after a major power seeks to reassert its lost deterrence. The United States may be entering just such a perilous transitional period.1. Avoid making verbal threats that are not serious and backed up by force. After eight years of pseudo-red lines, step-over lines, deadlines, and “game changers,” American ultimatums without consequences have no currency and will only invite further aggression.2. The unlikely is not impossible. Weaker powers can and do start wars. Japan in December 1941 attacked the world’s two largest navies based on the false impression that great powers which sought to avoid war did so because they were weak. That current American military power is overwhelming does not mean delusional nations will always agree that it is so — or that it will be used.3. Big wars can start from small beginnings. No one thought an obscure Austrian archduke’s assassination in 1914 would lead to some 18 million dead by 1918. Consider any possible military engagement a precursor to far more. Have a backup plan — and another backup plan for the backup plan.4. Do not confuse tactics with strategy. Successfully shooting down a rogue airplane, blowing up an incoming speedboat, or taking an ISIS-held Syrian city is not the same as finding a way to win and end a war. Strategic victory is time-consuming and usually involves drawing on economic, political, and cultural superiority as well as military success to ensure that a defeated opponent stays defeated — and agrees that further aggression is counterproductive.
via Military Deterrence & Trump’s Leadership Abroad: Principles for Foreign Policy | National Review Read the whole thing.™
There’s more there and they are all true, useful, and important. One that we Americans are very prone to is number four above. It’s always a problem, where is the dividing line. There is a murky area in there as well that some theorists coming after Clausewitz refer to as the ‘operational’. While I see their point, which is valid, these theories are already too complex, so it is best to do our best to maintain a sharp clear line.
If they are doing their job, the TLAM strike in Syria in Syria was strategic. It may or may not deter Hasan, although that is certainly desirable, but it depends on his calculus of survival. If he thinks he is more likely to survive by doing such things, he will. He is, after all, a man of weak morals, caught in a corner. He will do his best to survive, just as Saddam did.
But the point of that strike, which occurred while the President was having dinner with the Chinese Premier, was not Syria. It was Iran and North Korea, and it was notice to their sponsor states, Russia and China, that we were quite unhappy, and that the eagle just might scream in other parts of the world.
It’s important to realize that the United States, while it may be possible to destroy it, it can only be destroyed by what is essentially a nation level suicide-bombing, and only Russia (and maybe China) can do it. America’s only real enemies are internal. And that too has precedent, especially with Rome. Are we there? I don’t think so, but there are troubling signs.
My reading is that the first signs of decline are corruption, venality, and a deterioration of will. I do see these signs in abundance, and we would be wise to check our course. Or maybe we did, and that why we have Trump.