Monday, August 22, 2011

All that Clausewitz Jazz

23 August 2011

by Jeff Huber

Part two of “Post-Clausewitzean Bebop in the New American Century” reprises themes from some of my older foreign policy routines.  Lamentably, if you’re old enough to read this, their pertinence will persist through your lifetime and probably your grandchildren’s as well.

War Wizards
If you think that what generals and war wags say in the media only sounds like gibberish to you because you have no military experience, you’re wrong.  It sounds like gibberish because it is gibberish. 

Analysts, scholars, old soldiers who won’t fade away and other gee-wizards who claim to be versed in the military arts and sciences agree on the importance of the Clausewitzean center of gravity concept, but none of them agree on what a center of gravity is.  An Air Force pilot will tell you the center of gravity is anything he can drop a bomb on, so you need to buy him a lot of $2 billion bombers so he can bomb all the centers of gravity.  A naval aviator will tell you the center of gravity is always the aircraft carrier; a Navy SEAL will tell you the center of gravity is always him.  A Marine major will tell you there can only be one center of gravity but that’s because Marines can only remember one thing at a time.  An intelligence officer will tell you the center of gravity is a secret, and if you ask an Army general what a center of gravity is he’ll start breathing through his mouth.

The center of gravity concept is a lot simpler than Pavlov's dogs of war would like you to believe.  “The point against which all our energies should be directed,” as Clausewitz described it, should be directly tied to our objective, the prime determinant of all acts of war.  Without a clearly defined objective, war is loosely orchestrated but pointless violence—a description that, not surprisingly, precisely defines our present armed shenanigans in Libya, Iraq, the Bananastans and elsewhere.   

Our center of gravity is the thing that can achieve our objective and the enemy’s center of gravity will be the thing that can thwart us from achieving it.  The purpose of tying what we call centers of gravity to objectives is what keeps us focused on the objective.  When we start prosecuting “centers of gravity” that don’t directly relate to our purpose we get in big trouble.

Will the real center of gravity please stand up?
Not surprisingly, “floating” centers of gravity, and a printer’s plethora of them, have become a trademark of our Long War on Ism.  Since 9/11, centers of gravity identified by America’s war wisenheimers have included Saddam Hussein, his Republican Guard, his air defense system, his command and control system, Baghdad, his sons (Hoodoo and Voodoo? I forget), his weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, his ties to al Qaeda that didn’t exist either, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in Pakistan, al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in general, Shiite militias, Sunni militias, militia leaders, militia leaders’ followers, the Iraqi people, the Afghan people, the American people, the Pakistani people, the supply lines that run through Pakistan, Pakistan itself, Iran, the news media, world opinion, Congress and the poppy crop.  

You don't need to be an expert in all that Clausewitz jazz to figure that centers of gravity are like priorities; if everything is a priority there really are no priorities.  Warfare wisenheimers who tell you otherwise are whistling out their fat dumb toot chutes.  A good 90 percent of the people you see pawning themselves off in the media as experts on the art of war don’t know a center of gravity from their elbows and, more horribly, the tank thinkers who actually cook up our war fighting doctrines don’t either.  All any of these yahooligans know of Clausewitz consists of bite-size buzz phraseology passed down from one generation of clueless combat theorist to the next, and most of them think Sun Tzu’s prime directive is to “Baffle them with bullroar.” 

Our New American Century’s strategic brain trust has produced three major post-modern military doctrines: Shock and Awe, Network Centric Warfare and COIN (aka “counterinsurgency”).  Shock and Awe and Network Centric Warfare are related military “transformation” dogmas that promise to scare and/or confuse the enemy into submission with a top-dollar concoction of Buck Rogers gadgetry and magical mystery mantras like “full spectrum dominance” and “rapid dominance” and “information dominance” and “dominant battlefield awareness” and “dominant maneuvers” and the “net-centric collaboration” of a “self-synchronized” and robust  "network of networks" that produces a “shared situational awareness” as a systemic element of its “organizational behavior.” 

Fred Kagan can't stomach
Shock and Awe, but COIN?
Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare were the cornerstones of our blitz on Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom lo those many years ago.  All they netted us were sticker shock and a good-old-boy network-of-networks that still knocks down big war bucks selling us fecal weapons systems that have proven utterly ineffective at promoting the national security.  Even neocon warlord Fauntleroy Fred Kagan, bastard stepfather of the Iraq surge, admits that these two space-age “warfare theories” have succeeded in combat but failed in war.  In an August 2003 Policy Review article titled “War and Aftermath” Freddie warned us to “beware technology that disconnects war from politics” and confessed that neither Network-Centric Warfare nor Shock and Awe  “provides a reliable recipe for translating the destruction of the enemy’s ability to continue to fight into the accomplishment of the political objectives of the conflict.”   

It was mighty big of Freddie to tell us that the Pentagon had screwed up the great idea he and his fellow neocon-men had to invade Iraq, but he actually had a hidden agenda: namely, to further engulf us in ever-deepening quagmires through the a counter revolution in military affairs dogma called COIN, which has proven to be the biggest lie that martial masterminds have told us since they said air power would make war itself obsolete. 

Next: Warlord Fauntleroy, King Rat and the Desert Ox.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance. 


  1. You there, in Virginia Beach....

    Stay safe, Commander.


  2. Thanks, EL. Things are fairly benign here. This storm was way over-hyped.