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An On V Update to Old Ideas: Muslims Speaking Out, Iran, Iraq, and More Clausewitz Haters Edition

We continue our quest to clear out stored up links to old ideas. (Expect a lot more next year.) Enjoy!

Muslims are Speaking Out

Last month, John Mikolajczyk wrote a guest post for us, “Good Muslims vs. Bad Muslims”, pushing back against the idea that there is a “lack of push-back against Islamic extremism worldwide” from the Islamic community. Recently, NPR’s On the Media explored two different ways that Muslim communities in America and England have also pushed back against violent extremism. OTM confirms what Mikolajczyk wrote for us: Muslims are speaking out against violence in their name.

The Video Game-Military-Industrial Complex

Last year, Eric C wrote about how the lack of COIN-centric video games. (The sub-title isn’t serious.) The article, "Four Times the Army has Tried to Turn War into a Game", by David Axe of War is Boring (now on Medium.com) describes the Army’s four attempts at making a video game. Each time, a budget-conscious voter could ask, “Why does the Army need to make a video game for the general public?”

To Eric C's point, none of these games seriously take on or address counter-insurgencies, only tactics and squad maneuvers. Man, the military really isn’t going to embrace COIN.

War with Iran

Two years ago, reviewing the case against starting a war with Iran, we pointed out the threat to huge U.S. capital ships--the biggest and most numerous in the world--from anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles. The article, "Mystery Weapon Terrifies Armials", in War is Boring describes how China has spent considerable amounts of cash and time perfecting these missiles. While the article doesn’t mention Iran by name, when it comes to irregular seafare, Iran is always involved.

Since we last wrote about Iran, the country has continued to not attack its neighbors, continued to not have a nuclear weapon, and continued to negotiate with the U.S. Worse, instead of Americans celebrating these achievements, and embracing the possibility of renewing relationships permanently with Iran, war hawks continue to over-hype the threat and threaten to derail these talks.

Discrediting the Neo-Cons

Iraq didn’t have nuclear, biological or chemical weapons capable of attacking America. (We debunked the Syria myth here and elaborated on political ignorance here.) Because of this, and the fact that we deposed a secular dictator, replaced him with a religious dictator aligned with Iran and now the country is mired in a civil war, most people think the Iraq War was a failure. But this hasn’t affected the foreign policy debate, as Peter Beinart points out in this amazing paragraph:

Had a Martian descended to earth in January 2003, spent a few days listening to Washington Republicans talk foreign policy, and then returned in January 2013, she would likely conclude that the Iraq War had been a fabulous success. She would conclude that because, as far as I can tell, not a single Republican-aligned Beltway foreign-policy politician or pundit enjoys less prominence than he did a decade ago because he supported the Iraq War, and not a single one enjoys more prominence because he opposed it. From Bill Kristol to Charles Krauthammer to John McCain to John Bolton to Dan Senor, the same people who dominated Republican foreign-policy discourse a decade ago still dominate it today, and they espouse exactly the same view of the world. As for those conservatives who opposed Iraq—people at places like the Cato Institute and The National Interest who believe that there are clear limits to American military power—our Fox News–watching, Wall Street Journal–reading Martian would have been largely unaware of their existence in 2003 and would remain largely unaware today.

He wrote that last January about Secretary Hagel. After a near war with Syria and the current war in Iraq, it is even more shocking no one has been held to account.

Michael C Isn’t Not the Only Clausewitz “Hater”

The Small Wars Journal hosted an article, “The Continuing Irrelevance of Clausewitz”, asking if he was still relevant, though the article makes a much more nuanced argument than that title suggests. (Again, only bring up Clausewitz at your own risk.) Still, Wm. J. Olson‘s argument echoes many of my feelings on Clausewitz’s near infallibility in some circles:

What shortcomings it is reputed to have as an overall theory--for an older generation like Martin van Creveld or John Keegan, to a newer crop of critics like Mary Kaldor and the 'new war' crowd--are generally dismissed as the result of the fact that Clausewitz died before he could complete an in-depth revision of his masterwork based on his evolving thinking, which a close enough reading of the existing text reveals at various points his true vision to put to rest any doubts about the seminal nature of his work. Thus his obscurity on certain points is a defense against doubt on any point.

War on the Rocks’ David Maxwell responded by clarifying some of Olson’s points (that Clausewitz is a useful starting point, but not an end of the discussion; a point we agree on) but we particularly like that Maxwell used the phrase “Clausewitzians”!

six comments

If people find Clausewitz useful, great. But I don’t see why not thinking him so great is sometimes seen as blasphemy. He wrote lousy in German from what I’ve read which doesn’t make figuring out what he is saying in translation easy. Slim and Grant are easy to understand.

And mostly, he doesn’t say nary a damn thing about navies and oceans. How can he be so hot if doesn’t say anything about navies and oceans? We’re a sea power, we need to know about such things.

@ Carl – We agree one hundred percent. But you should see some of the hate that been heaped upon us and others for daring to question his supremacy.

Frankly, I don’t see how worshiping one figure at the expense of all others moves along the larger understanding of war.

I wonder. War is all about action in the face of uncertainty. Perhaps people use Mr. C in the way a corporate executive uses a consultant. There isn’t anything a consultant can tell him that his employees couldn’t but the consultant sells a sort of certainty. ‘The consultant says, so its gotta be. I feel better now.’

Mr. C is sort of a consultant. ‘Mr. C says, so its gotta be. I feel better now.’

“replaced him with a religious dictator”

I disagree with this characterization of Al-Maliki. He was sectarian and did not rule for the good of the whole country, but for personal power and had the Shia Arabs as base of power, but your description leads to someplace entirely different.

I work in the simulation industry for the Army and have raised this point in the past. Answer I received from our higer ups is modeling COIN is hard. Not a good answer by any stretch and IMHO a tremendus shortcoming. I wonder though, I think there is appeal to a “boring” game. Look at Minecraft.

I’m not sure if the problem is that modeling COIN is hard so much as it requires so many different, concurrent approaches. That was sort of achieved with the SimCity games that had different departments or bureaus under the control of the player, but at a regional level the span of control gets a bit game-unfriendly. Another challenge is time. Insurgencies are long processes, and unless a game really speeds up time (like Civilization), it’s going to get boring. And if it does speed up time then you lose the nuance of COIN. From a military planning perspective, most western armies have adopted doctrines that are variations of the OODA loop, where the idea is to control tempo which invariably gets translated into deciding and acting faster than the adversary (though our staff size and processes actually slow things down). But that’s completely irrelevant when up against an adversary that thinks in terms of generations. Which, in turn, is hard to reconcile in a computer game.