Monday, November 16, 2009
The heavy travel continues apace so no promises here, but Edward Luttwak's most recent effort in Foreign Policy is worth your time. He suggests that if the United States wishes to retain its status as the indispensible power (an open question in the age of Obama), it needs to emulate the Byzantine Empire rather than the Roman. Specifically:
I've spent the past two decades poring over these texts to compile a study of Byzantine grand strategy. The United States would do well to heed the following seven lessons if it wishes to remain a great power:
I. Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time. Train intensively and be ready for battle at all times -- but do not be eager to fight. The highest purpose of combat readiness is to reduce the probability of having to fight.
II. Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his actions continuously. Efforts to do so by all possible means might not be very productive, but they are seldom wasted.
III. Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances. Don't think like the Romans, who viewed persuasion as just an adjunct to force. Instead, employ force in the smallest possible doses to help persuade the persuadable and harm those not yet amenable to persuasion.
IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals. The object is not to destroy your enemies, because they can become tomorrow's allies. A multiplicity of enemies can be less of a threat than just one, so long as they can be persuaded to attack one another.
V. Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power. Diplomacy is even more important during war than peace. Reject, as the Byzantines did, the foolish aphorism that when the guns speak, diplomats fall silent. The most useful allies are those nearest to the enemy, for they know how best to fight his forces.
VI. Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies. Remember: Even religious fanatics can be bribed, as the Byzantines were some of the first to discover, because zealots can be quite creative in inventing religious justifications for betraying their own cause ("since the ultimate victory of Islam is inevitable anyway …").
VII. When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. But there is no urgency because as soon as one enemy is no more, another will surely take his place. All is constantly changing as rulers and nations rise and fall. Only the empire is eternal -- if, that is, it does not exhaust itself.
Recognizing that the Bush administation did not follow this useful advice, the "progressives" now in charge of our foreign policy have evidenced no stomach for the hardball covert ops necessary to go Byzantine on our rivals and enemies. That points to a paradox: If you do not like overt war, then you need to have the stomach for shadow war. If American hawks have been too quick to wage the former, American liberals (since the Carter years) have done everything they can to block, defund, and undermine the latter. This is curious, since nothing is more likely to lead to ill-advised overt war than the inability to win a shadow war. The liberal desire to substitute "diplomacy" for both -- as if diplomacy were its own discipline that operates in a vacuum -- will lead to nothing but the weakening of America.
"...patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. "
Given the Democrat party in this country, this would likely be the major downfall. Vietnam: "We've lost. Get out! Get Out!; Iraq: "this war is lost. Get out! Get out!; Afghanistan: "We're losing. Get out! Get out!".
Byzantium had a completely different strategic position than we do (the defining characteristic of US strategy is that we are boundaried by weak neighbors and gigantic oceans). Also, it was conquered by invading Muslim hordes a bite at a time, starting in the 7th century with the Arabs and ending in 1453 with the Turks. And it is now (still) the capital city of Turkey.
Sounds like their strategies didn't work so well.
Byzantium managed to survive as a state for almost 800 years after its western counterpart was dismantled. Historically, that is an absolutely absurd amount of time. The number is even more striking given that it spent its entire history with extremely powerful nations at its doorstep: first Persia, then the Muslim Caliphate, then the eventual Ottoman empire, to say nothing of the "lesser" threats of the Bulgars, Rus, Khazars, and other tribes out of eastern Europe. To say that "their strategies didn't work so well" is absurd.
Minor quibble: The Western Roman Kingdom/Republic/Empire (753 BC – 476 AD) outlasted the Byzantine Empire (476-1453) by about 300 years. Minor quibble, as I’d be pleased if the US can survive either 900 or 1200 years.
I – During the Roman Republic, the Romans had no standing army. The US gets the idea of the Minuteman or the statue of Washington putting down a firearm and standing next to his plow from the Roman dictator Cincinnatus. The Romans felt only citizens should serve in the military, and had to balance warmaking ability with the requirement for soldiers to manage their own estates.
III-IV: during the Second Punic War, Rome employed a “Fabian Strategy” (named after the general Quintus Fabius Maximus) of maneuver and attrition against Hannibal Barca. The Romans generally employed a Clausewitzian strategy because they were usually the best army on the field.
V – The Romans did this. During the time of the Republic, they grew by recruiting allies and by treating them fairly. Even when betrayed (Locri Epizephyrii) the Romans treated conquered peoples with mercy; when the town fathers of Locri protested their treatment at the hands of the Roman military governor, Quintus Pleminius, the Romans responded in a way that would be familiar to a modern American…the debates sound identical (but for the funny names) to the debates after Abu Ghirab. Everyone remembers Rome’s destruction of Carthage, the Macedonians, and the Israelites, but people fail to realize that Rome tied, in some cases for more than 150 years, to placate those powers before resorting to scorched Earth.
VI – Not all religious fanatics can be bribed. Rome had real troubles with the Jews (ultimately resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem) because the Jews remembered a time when they had a theological empire…just as many Muslims remember the Caliphate. Although there were many Jews who favored engagement with Rome (the so-called “Hellenized Jews” including Josephus and Herod), seemingly about every 30 years, a rebel would arise who would claim to be about to lead Israel from Rome’s thumb and re-establish the State. They often engaged (the “Sicarii”) in what we would call “terrorism” today. Bar-Abbas, BTW, freed in Christ’s stead, was one of them. The Romans respected the age and traditions of Judaism and tried everything…harsh rule, lax rule, rule by proxy before finally giving up and burning Jerusalem and expelling the Jews.
“Empires of Trust” by Thomas Madden is highly recommended. The ideas above are his. I commented http://www.seablogger.com/?p=16841 extensively on some of his ideas.
Must be the attempt at an embedded link that blew this up.
One idea I hope we lose is the Greek idea of imposing Democracy through war and occupation. If, in 2002, we had employed overwhelming force against the Taliban as rapidly as possible, closed off the Pak border as much as possible, killed as many of AQ and Taliban as possible, and then departed the country shaking our finger and saying "Don't make me come back here", we'd have been better off.
Appearing to the world and especially to your enemies to be the predictable victor in any war is far more important than "building new institutions".
We have an influential minority in our country that likes war for its own sake. Think Dick Cheney. I suspect Dawnfire is part of this camp, even if he won't admit it. We're the only country in the world that can deliver compelling military force at a great distance, but we've largely lost that advantage because of Iraq and Afghanistan. [Putin smiles]. It's also contributing to our financial ruin. [Putin smiles again]. We should have focused on being ruthless in shadow wars.
"No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique. For a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life. Hence the enlightened leader is heedful, and the good leader full of caution."
"Walk softly and carry a big stick."
Enough Americans see this so that it's a principal factor in why the Republicans aren't much of an opposition party. There's no guaranty in the Republicans recovering power because of this, even if Obama screws up.
Like Superman, we have one weakness militarily: Ours is that we value the lives of our soldiers highly, so our forces are very expensive to operate. This is especially true as an army of occupation. Even more importantly, we won't tolerate high numbers of casualties.
ps, Obama-Holder are running the KSM trial in NYC as political theater for the next year or more to remind us of Bush-Cheney, etc. It's a useful distraction for Obama, even if he gets criticized over it. It means we're not criticizing him about other things.
"We have an influential minority in our country that likes war for its own sake. Think Dick Cheney."
It is truly amazing how demagoguery seeps into becoming accepted wisdom, usually without the intervening step of actual thought.
While the comments of John Galt were both illuminating and wise, it would also be good to remember that in the 20th century, we were part of two "total wars", in which the first saw the destruction of three empires in 4 years, and second saw the slaughter of millions (most non-combatants) on an unheard of scale, thanks to modern weapons and the power of the ruthless.
And we were in a "cold war" stalemate with one particular nation (empire?) for almost 50 years, when both sides possessed "total weapons" that could legitimately destroy any nation state. We have been in a mode of thinking to take a precautionary notion with respect to dangerous or potentially dangerous adversaries. We may not have months, or even years to mobilize and raise an Army or military force to respond.
So sure, this is all the fault of Dick Cheney, Dawnfire82 and the Neocons.
While accepting the wisdom and observations of Edward Luttwak (the principles are sound), the situations are measurably different than in the days of Byzantium. Weapons exist today, in the hands of 'potential' enemies that could kill millions in an afternoon, and we possess the same capabilites.
We've also heard a lot of 4G warfare, COIN and asymetrical warfare. These are the shadow wars, as compared to a real Total War which could exterminate millions.
What we will see with the 'trial' of KSM is lawfare, versus warfare; I'm sure this will win converts to our side and a whole lot of 'atta boys' from the Muslim world. Where does this sort of effort fit into the continuum of Luttwak's treatise? Is this diplomacy written in code? Or is it something else entirely?
David, thank you for the kind words. Were you joking about KSM's trial buying us goodwill? I worry it will
--Look like a show trial
--Provide a platform to distribute anti-American propaganda, and
--Be a fishing expedition for the bad guys trying to unravel our intel.
#1 and #3 are inversely related..the more we try to offer a fair trial, the more we compromise out intel network...while the more we try to protect out network, the more unfair it will see.
"Think Dick Cheney. I suspect Dawnfire is part of this camp, even if he won't admit it."
Bwahaha! Look, I've made it to liberal boogey man status like Dick Cheney! I can die now, happy and fulfilled.
It's so much easier to simply impugn the morals or character of your opponents than deal with the facts of a situation, isn't it?
"Byzantium managed to survive as a state for almost 800 years after its western counterpart was dismantled. Historically, that is an absolutely absurd amount of time."
Really? Russia, directly descended from (and named for) a state called Kievan Rus, has existed as a continuous political entity for about 1129 years. England for 946 years since the Norman conquest. France (named for the Franks, recall) for 1166 years since the Treaty of Verdun. The Abbasid Caliphate formally existed for 769 years until is was subsumed into the Ottoman Empire. The Zhou dynasty of China lasted 789 years. Portugal has existed for 870 years. Ethiopia has been a continuous and independent nation for approaching 3000 years. Does that mean we should seek to emulate Ethiopia, the clear winner of this little contest?
The history of the Byzantine Empire was one of almost continuous decline and was marked by dependence upon foreigners, (see Varangian Guards, Optimatoi, Catalan Company, and Almogavars) bribes (see Avars, Pechenegs, Huns, et cetera), and fortifications (see Siege of Byzantium, episodes 1-14). Their territory peaked early in the empire. By the 8th century, territorial holdings outside of Anatolia were almost nonexistent. By the 14th century, territory IN Anatolia was almost nonexistent. Of 88 emperors, 42 were killed in office or overthrown.
You seem to applauding their long, slow death. If that appeals to you, then by all means, seek to emulate it.
But the fact remains that they continuously declined and died, and the length of their survival was attributable mostly to two factors; natural defensible boundaries in Anatolia that made it more difficult for invaders to move in and maintain supply lines, and Greek Fire, which enabled naval supremacy in situations where they otherwise wouldn't have had it.
"then the Muslim Caliphate"
There were three of these, by the way. Four if you count the Turks (caliph was one of the titles claimed by the Turkish Sultan)
Since there are apparently a number of armchair strategists coming out over this post, I figured I'd contribute as such with my own opinions on the bullet list.
Note, however, that my initial point about the drastic contrast between the Byzantine strategic situation and our own and therefore the inapplicability of Byzantine strategies to our own situation still stands.
"Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time..."
There is no point in having a nice, proficient, effective army if it never gets used. Reticence to use force to secure strategic interests means that your credibility declines and your warnings become bluffs, free to be called by opponents. As such, they ignore you even when you are serious. The net result of this is an increase in the number of conflicts. Readiness to use force, however, has the opposite effect; opponents takes your warnings seriously because they are likely to be backed up by military action (the ultimate arbiter of international disputes).
"Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his actions continuously..."
This is sound, but should be a given. There's nothing 'Byzantine' about it. You operate in ignorance at your own risk.
"Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances..."
This is also a given. No army that wants to win seeks out unfavorable situations for battle. But caveating this with 'very favorable' just sounds like a politician's excuse to avoid conflict, by stating a condition which exists theoretically but which dies upon contact with the enemy. Times come in war where there are only bad and worse choices, and you cannot delay a confrontation without severe consequences.
"Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals..."
The object of a war is not usually to destroy your enemy; it is to defeat them. Exceptions exist. Germany, Japan, and Iraq were destroyed and occupied in order to replace what existed there before, because what existed there before was judged too dangerous to go on living. These were political decisions. The assumption in this bullet point is that any enemy can be potentially useful as an ally in the future; that is a wrong assumption, not least because of geographical realities. It made more sense 700 years ago when the decision to end a war and turn on another as allies could be made by, literally, two monarchs coming to a personal agreement and the mutual spheres of influence were geographically limited. But then, so did easy conquest, cession, and reconquest of territory. Modern nation states tend not to work that way.
"Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power..."
Don't fight alone if you can help it? Again, this seems obvious.
"Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies."
Danegeld? Seriously? Give them money in the hopes that they will go away? In game theory terms, transfer present resources to a potential enemy in order to delay his attack? That just strengthens his resources for when he DOES decide to attack. It also rewards brinksmanship; look like you're a danger and get paid. Good luck with that.
At best, you can temporarily peel away an enemy faction from its allies but if you think that their loyalty to you is permanent or even long term then you are terribly mistaken. (see Afghanistan)
"When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time."
Didn't he *just* say to avoid wars of attrition? Because that's exactly what this is describing.
The Byzantine Empire was whittled away a piece at a time until it was too weak to survive anymore. Attrition worked against them, and in favor of the multitudinous, aggressive hordes that repeatedly assaulted it. Turns out that the Empire was not, in fact, eternal at all though the certainty that it was might have made the loss of those whittled pieces easier.
And the whole idea is premised on the idea that an overarching 'grand strategy' even existed for the Byzantines, which I would have to be convinced of. Ancient political identities tended to be dynastic rather than national, and alleging some sort of continuous strategic vision over, as I mentioned before, 88 emperors doesn't seem likely to me.
This is disappointing. I judge it to be shadow marketing for the guy's new book (available since November 1st, BTW, 13 days after this was published), called 'Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.'
Dirty trick, Edward.
Anyone who is actually interested in American grand strategy should start with 'The Influence of Sea Power Upon History' by Alfred Mahan.
Or you could call Stratfor and ask them; they have it lined up as a powerpoint presentation, though I think they charge for it. Some discussion is had on it here and here.
With respect to the KSM and associates trial(s) to come, I think the comment by Justice Jackson bears repeating:
"The Constitution is not a suicide pact."
To offer Constitutional legal guarantees to non-citizen non-uniformed combatants is strange to say the least.
Sun Tzu, Edward Luttwak, Clauswitz, etc. Everybody has a clever opinion. General Powell's "Rules" also come to mind, which again, though General Powell is a fine man and had an admirable soldier's career, are just excuses not to engage when conditions are less than optimal. Most times, they never are.
"Get there fustest with the mostest" - Nathan Bedford Forrest
"Just win, baby." - Al Davis, NFL owner the Oakland Raiders.
I agree with everything that DF says above about the Byzantine state, Luttwak is just bizarre in his assertion. There is nothing to admire in that state's sorry record, and we are rapidly descending to their level.
Better we should follow the advice of our own founding fathers (Jefferson, Washington, et. al.) and avoid excessive foreign entanglements.
We started to go off the rails under Teddy Roosevelt, and what Teddy started Wilson and his cousin Frank were only too glad to continue. Sprinkle in a little Truman, LBJ, Nixon, Carter and Bush I & II and you have the mess we are in today.
We should have a strong Navy and lead by example, and quit getting into ground wars in Asia.
I agree with TH more than DF82 for most of this list. The "what good is an army if you don't use it" argument strikes me as particularly weak among DF82's points. The leaders of great powers such as Russia and China are rational enough such that they do care about enemy strength, even if the US doesn't demonstrate its ability to fight a large-scale war. Even when Russia was led by crazy commies, they wouldn't risk a major confrontation that could have destroyed both sides, even though the US hadn't recently directly demonstrated its prowess in such a large-scale scenario.
Jihadis, on the other hand, aren't rational at all and so they won't care if you use your military or don't. I've seen it often asserted that "the only language they understand is force" but where is the evidence that they even understand that? If you really think God told you to blow up the WTC, you're going to try to do it, even if it means lots of your compatriots at home are going to get killed because of it.
The problem I see with TH's approach is that "shadow warfare" doesn't seem do what you want it to, unless you restrict yourself to small goals and undertakings. Trying to interfere too directly in the domestic affairs of other countries by this method seems to blow up in our face frequently and generate a lot of blowback at home and abroad. You can complain that the lefties are undermining the shadow war, but they can point to some spectacular failures in that regard, e.g. Iran-Contra, Bay of Pigs, Iranian revolution, funding the Taliban in Afghanistan against the Soviets, and even Vietnam started out like that.
Oh, and get rid of the CIA and NSA, since they have failed in every major intelligence assessment since WWII (Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Fall of USSR, Al Qaeda), have caused us no end of embarrassment with nefarious and illegal activities, and are antithetical in their mission to the best interests of democracy.
Points for TH. I'm humbled by the appreciation for history among the commenters. Also, anything that pulls DF82 out of the saloon with both barrels blazing is a good piece of work.
I too do not think Byzantium is a good fit as a model for our situation. As DF pointed out, there is a huge difference between a world of dynasties and a world of nations. A taste of freedom changes the dynamic.
As for the book, it is pretty rare to see any item in the news reporting on some new discovery or insight that is not timed to relate to something else. A concern for timing is commonplace.
...and so Byzantium had exactly *what* effect on the history of Western civilization?
As opposed to Rome?
There is a difference between "living" and "surviving". And I guarantee that Obama doesn't understand that difference.
Byzantium preserved the works of Ancient Greece. Their ultimate transmission to the West from Constantinople caused the Reformation and Renaissance.
She fought the good fight for 1000 years and otherwise enlightened Western Civilization by preserving the Greek legacy for humankind.
The comments here remind me of one central fact: Luttwak sucks. He's a smart man, but like most political scientists, he presents the world not as it is (or was), but as he imagines it to be. Facts cannot stand in the way of a good theory among his ilk. Like all political scientists, he peddles the illusion of explanation without understanding. His "Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire" posited a strategy that never existed, and I'm sure that this new book on Byzantium does the same. Needless to say, Luttwak's advice is comic, if not just sad.