11 July 2010

Whither the Strategists

I've been taking the time to catch up on some reading on the topic of strategy after  hearing a number of prominent bloggers bemoan the lack of strategic planning and theory, especially in the 21st Century, and in recent American history in particular. I'd offer that America's seemingly unlimited military resources have contributed to sloppy strategic thinking, if we're even thinking in that realm at all.

For a while, I've been heavily engaged in Piers Macksey's War for America, which delves into the strategic challenges facing Britain during the Revolutionary War.  I'd argue that it has some significant parallels for the United States, as it fights two expensive counterinsurgency campaigns abroad, with threats still lurking about from much larger powers.  I'm also reading Edward Luttwak's Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.  Strangely enough, after the first two chapters, it seems to be less about strategy than it is about operational and tactical theory, though I think grand strategy will be explored in full later in the book.  I'm also keenly cautious about the traps of "orientalism", after reading Patrick Porter's latest book.

For specific posts on the lack of strategic thinking in America, see Ink SpotsKings of WarArmchair GeneralistAndrew Krepnevich, edit:  Armchair Generalist again.  For blogs dedicated to strategy, see Adam Elkus' Rethinking Security and Red Team Journal, as well as Thinking Strategically, and Offshore Balancer.

11 comments:

Aaron Ellis said...

I've given up on 'Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire' c. 130 pages before the end. Most of the book is operations, tactics and - point where I stopped - technical details about Byzantine soldiers and their weaponry. The grand strategy aspect is touched on occasionally, Luttwak's theme of Byzantium using force economically and today's enemies being tomorrow's friends. (Realized this theme has one or two flaws too; Luttwak says Rome was all about decisive engagements and wiping out, yet Caesar was always keen on using force economically and reconciling quickly - in the Civil War, at least).

Starbuck said...

Thanks for the heads-up.

I'm also a little skeptical of the study after reading Patrick Porter's Military Orientalism. If anything, it looks as if Luttwak is projecting his ideal form of strategy onto the Byzantines, rather than conducting a careful analysis.

Aaron Ellis said...

'Military Orientalism' is a dangerous book. I can't enoy watching 'Zulu' now without thinking Porter disapproves of me...

Starbuck said...

Sadly enough, I have a case of DVDs I brought with me to Germany in my carry-on luggage. Both Zulu and Zulu Dawn were in there, along with Lawrence of Arabia.

Starbuck said...

We watched either Zulu or Zulu Dawn (the one with Michael Caine) as part of our professional development one time. When the final, climactic battle is about to occur, one smart-ass captain whispered to the colonel:

"Sir--the only reason they're winning is because they're allowed to grow sideburns".

Aaron said...

My guess is that there is a paper buried deep in a journal somewhere, arguing that the military strength of the British Empire was based on sideburns. And there was a correlation between their decline in fashion, and Britain's decline as a global superpower.

Also, Luttwak talking about 'GSoBE': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMcoOiOxLf8

J. said...

Strongly recommend Michael Handel's "Masters of War:Classical Strategic Thought." A must-read.

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GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Handel's "Masters" is awesome. - "Why Germans Lose At War" by Macksey is good anti grand strategy reading - for the Euro Centric

A.E. said...

To add to the already quite good book recs,

"Makers of Modern Strategy" Paret (ed),

"Grand Strategies in War and Peace," Kennedy (ed),

"Rulers, States, and War" Murray (ed),

"History of Military Thought," Azar Gat (ed)

And if you can find it, the National Defense University produced a giant book in 1984 containing excerpts of all manner of strategic classics. I have a copy through Amazon.com used books.