Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Krauthammer Versus Clausewitz

"Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa."

-- Carl von Clausewitz

There ought to be a law of American journalism that says pundits who write and talk about war should have at least a passing familiarity with the work of 19th century Prussian general and philosopher Carl von Clausewitz.

Granted, Clausewitz is not easy to absorb. Reading Clausewitz is a bit like reading Proust backwards. Even the best translation of On War is taken from manuscripts written in ponderous 19th century German, much of which even Clausewitz admitted was "a rather formless mass that must be thoroughly reworked once more." Nonetheless, as the folks at
so aptly put it, "Carl von Clausewitz is widely acknowledged as the most important of the major strategic theorists. Even though he's been dead for over a century and a half, he remains the most frequently cited, the most controversial, and in many respects the most modern."

And yet, most of today's "experts" on the situation in the Middle East wouldn't know Clausewitz from their elbows. This is especially true of the neoconservative talking heads like Charles Krauthammer, who not only continue to support our Mesopotamian misadventure, but are the characters who talked us into it in the first place.

In a recent column titled "On Iraq, a State of Denial," Krauthammer shows a complete ignorance--or disregard--for what is probably Clausewitz's primary tenet of armed conflict: that all engagements in war should directly support the war's strategic purposes and political aims. But in his rush to chant hosannas over the recent "good news" about "declining violence" in Iraq, Krauthammer asserts that our stated political goals aren't even worth pursuing.

Like most of the neocons, Krauthammer shamelessly overplays the success of their pet surge strategy, describing the violence in Iraq as being "dramatically reduced" and celebrating the "revival of ordinary life in many cities." The closest thing to "ordinary life" we've seen is the woman in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood who is "thrilled and relieved" when her son and husband manage to make it home from work at night without getting themselves killed. Please don't ask me to speculate as to how Krauthammer justifies classifying that sort of scenario as a "revival" or "ordinary."

Krauthammer has ridicule galore for Democrats like Nancy Pelosi who complain that "we have not achieved political benchmarks." That's just crybaby language for left wing losers whose limp-wristed, hand-wringing positions on the war only vary "in how precipitous to make the retreat" as far as he's concerned.

Sure, there's no "top down" political solution attainable as of yet, Krauthammer admits. But, he asks, should that "invalidate our hard-won gains?" Moreover, "Why does this [lack of political progress] mean that we cannot achieve success by other means?"

Well, Doctor K., had you studied a little bit about war before you began telling everyone where and how and when to fight one, you might have run across this rather pertinent Clausewitz quote:
"If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits."

What Krauthammer and his fellow mongers want so desperately to conceal from the American public is that their grand scheme for controlling the world's energy market by invading Iraq has gone up in fumes.

A New York Times article--posted, not surprisingly, two days after Krauthammer's column appeared--announced: "U.S. Scales Back Political Goals for Iraqi Unity." According to reporters Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin, "The Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections." In case you hadn't already guessed, the oil revenues bill and regional elections were the two things Krauthammer identified as not making any difference to the success of our Iraq strategy. The Bush administration just said they were important goals before they realized they couldn't achieve them because, well, that’s the sort of thing the Bush administration does to keep its war going. Plus, they figure they can get away with that kind of nonsense as long as they have pals like Krauthammer to cover their tracks with bull feathers.

I wish I could make every American visit Clausewitz.com and browse the site for five minutes, or even just three minutes. Heck, if you just stare at the home page for twenty seconds, you'll know more about warfare than Charles Krauthammer and all of the distinguished "scholars and fellows" in the Project for the New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution and the rest of the neoconservative think tanks combined.

And maybe, unlike Charles Krauthammer, you'll think twice when a hundred or so of your best ideologue friends ask you to help them talk your country into undertaking a stupid war.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention…

A story in the November 25 Washington Post states that, "A White House assessment of the war in Afghanistan has concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals that the Bush administration set for 2007 have not been met, even as U.S. and NATO forces have scored significant combat successes against resurgent Taliban fighters."

Isn't that just a heck of a thing?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008. Visit here to listen to Jeff's recent conversation with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum.


  1. Anonymous6:09 PM

    I keep a copy of Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu on my Palm at all times. Nothing like the classics to keep you from loosing focus.

  2. Anonymous7:32 PM

    I get by this site far too infrequently. However, if I come by too often I will expect someone to confer a degree of some sort on me. As it is I am clearly more deserving of one than any of several frequently quoted neocons.

    Good piece and good advice re von Clauswitz.


  3. Mono,

    Two good volumes to have nearby, that's for sure.


    You're most welcome here whenever you manage to get by this way.



  4. Anonymous6:33 AM


    Is there any way you could change blogger's settings towhere individual blog posts can be viewed as single pages?

    It would allow me, and perhaps others, to promote them on dig and other social networks, thereby increasing the number of people exposed to your essays.

  5. Anonymous11:36 AM

    Know what you mean about Proust---"Rememberance of Things Past" is still sitting on the back of the john after twenty years, no further advanced than beyond page 103.
    As for the "limp wristed" types are you referring to those bloated, pasty faced neo-con lawyers and theorists? And where in the hell are the Academy historians, who should be doing primary courses on Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Bonnaparte----critical thinking 101 at least.

  6. Anon...

    I've been trying to figure that one out ever since I opened this site on blogger. I fear that I'm going to have to migrate elsewhere to get the effect you're describing--and may wind up doing just that when the book comes out in the spring.


    My copy of ROTP is sitting on a rosewood shelf in the living room. I stopped about page 129, and it took me 130 days to get that far.

    Re the universities: one of my war college profs helped write Rebuilding America's Defenses, so that tells you what the academic warriors are up to, and whose side they're on.


  7. Anonymous3:18 AM


    I'm able to do it with blogspot / blogger. Fiddle with the control panel.

  8. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Nice comment Jeff. Love your blog btw, I come here often and read. Always feel better afterwards since it is nice to know that so many people out there do understand what is going on.

    I'm very interested in Clausewitz and have spent a good bit of time studying his work and applying it to education theory, but that is not the point I wish to make here.

    Clausewitz's On War is actually two books in one - one concerns his general theory of war which is still applicable today whereas the second book is an art of Napoleonic warfare which still has limited applicability, but is pretty much outdated.

    The general theory of war is not how to fight wars - that is, isn#t positivistic theory - but how to think about wars which is why it has lasted for so long and is still very relevant today. I would say it is still cutting edge.

    The Neocons wish to bury Clausewitz (I encounter this all the time on IntelDump where I post the most) since that allows them to avoid explaining what their political purposes actually are. I think that more Krauthammer's intent, although cluelessness with that lot is always possible. . .

    Anyway, great comments.

  9. Sey,

    Yes, the portion of Clausewitz's work that involves Napoleonic tactics is pretty much worthless now (though some will claim "hey, wait 'till they find a sure-fire defense for bullets and the bow comes back in style).

    Your observation about Clausewitz and the neocons is spot on. They don't want to talk about their real purposes.

  10. Anonymous8:11 PM


    Thanks for the kind words.

    What's your take on 4th Generation Warfare?

  11. Sey,

    That's an excellent question, and one that I plan to start answering next week. (Thanks for the idea.)



  12. Anonymous8:17 PM

    Great Jeff!

    Look forward to your take on 4GW, but be warned, I'll be very critical of the whole messy concept . . .

  13. Fair enough, seydiltz. ;-)

  14. Anonymous7:30 PM

    A bit of background. . .


    4GW, the continuing saga . . .

  15. Sey,

    I'm in the process of re-reading the original 4GW essay, and am reminded that Lindt and co. tended to completely overlook a number of things, most notably Sun Tzu.

    They talk about Moltke coming up withe encirclement, and Hitler's Wehrmacht more or less inventing maneuver warfare, when in fact, that stuff was old hat in BC days.

  16. Anonymous2:52 PM


    Agree, it is necessary to reread the original article and then compare it with what they are saying today.

    No mention of Sun Tzu, or Clausewitz for that matter, no mention of the end of the state, no mention of "trinitarian warfare" . . .

    It was very much a hodge-podge of ideas that a group of strategic thinkers and serving military officers were kicking around, hardly a profound statement concerning the future of warfare. . .

    Yes, and maneuver warfare was old hat and was the usual way that the Germans fought wars going back to the Great Elector. Blitzkrieg was a catchword in the late 1930s for what had always been Bewegungskrieg, or war of movement. They portray 3rd Generation Warfare as "idea-driven", but the examples of it they give for 1918 were failures, and it was not until the corresponding technologies along with the associated doctrine and training were ready that the modern Blitzkrieg could achieve operational and strategic effect.

    Imo, it is a very confusing concept, which creates more problems than it takes care of, not to mention the confusion of Lind and others in mixing up their concept with reality, that is assuming that warfare today corresponds to their concept of 4GW, rather than their concept providing insight into a more complex reality. . .

  17. Well said, Seydlitz.


  18. Anonymous4:05 PM

    Can someone tell me what Clausewitz is trying to teach me when I read "the art of war in its highest pont of view is policy"- Is he saying that the fight begins with policy and that the war starts well before the fight.. or something else- Thanks

  19. Good question, Anon. People make a good living teaching Clausewitz in universities and leave their students more confused than they were when they started.

    The best I can state it is that war is fought to achieve political objectives. It can be anything from land to grow food on to mineral rights to energy resources like oil. The point being that once the violence of war no longer reflects pursuit of the political goal, it becomes "organized but pointless violence."

    Hope that helps.


  20. Anonymous5:54 PM

    Thanks- I appreciate the clarity-

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