Dr. Brendan Simms: Strategery

I’ve always loved how the experts, the specialized mandarins and policy wonks ridiculed Bush for his malapropisms. The overly specialized development of precise language does have its flaws, if only exposed in the caldron of the mundane.  Where else is that found if not in war?

Bush knew his limitations.  He also knew how perilous we were in 2006.  The whole ‘bloody’ mess (as the British say) of Iraq, nearly brought the entire edifice down.  This says nothing of our adversaries.  It points to the intrinsic weakness of not shaping Republican institutions of government.  The ‘founding’ was understood to be decentralized, that is why we employ the terms ‘limited’ and ‘enumerated’ to evidence the strength our American Angelo insight that ‘monolithic’ is dangerously suspect to collapse.    I dare say we nearly lost it all in late 2006.  But the strength of our executive saw it through.  I cannot hope that we’ll be so lucky the next time around.

Its not that Henry Kissenger is all the rage; its the simple fact that democracy is not the solution to unfree societies.

What we are witnessing throughout the Levant and North Africa is dangerously close to how Lenin and his satanic cohorts co-opted the Russian Revolution:  Red October has its precedence with other militancy embodied in Marx et al.

This is why ‘offshore balancing’ (term used by students of international security studies) to denote the option our current President will use as he ‘secures’ our retreat in the AfPak region is dangerous.

I  understand that no single nation can change Afghan culture.  Without decades of Imperial style rule; be it direct or indirect, Afghan culture is impervious to the social and political entreaties that dominate the west.  I also understand that when we leave this region and give the imperative of action over to the Taliban, we in the West have abdicated.  ‘Offshore balancing’ does nothing to address this impact.

As Dr. Petraeus noted throughout his writings, when American soldiers secured the civilian population, the quality of intelligence skyrocketed. A previous political impasse was resolved in favor of an American balance of power.  This only proves the hollowness of an Air-centric mindset that dominates the doctrines of American institutions.  But any reading of Arnold Toynbee or Marshall McLuhan could have demonstrated that!

What I fear as we engage the AfPak theatre is that ‘offshore balancing’; counter-terrorism measures that ground our deployment in terms tied to failed Air-centric doctrines, will be the final refuge for political opponents of our ‘War on Terror’.

This will not play well in Islamabad or Karachi.  Our enemies will read a measure of our force posture consistent to the exposed weakness our flaccid liberalism has become and draw their own conclusions.  You can’t fight a war using the means of political correctness!

I think a proper hermeneutics would expose a fallacy!  A close look at ‘offshore balancing’ and the tactics of counter-terrorism will expose both bad strategy and bad history.  For the story of the past century is the story of very bloody and expensive but sustained and successful interventions in Europe and Asia.

The misplaced historical emphasis is that Britain became great by avoiding a Continental commitment, exploiting maritime relations to build an empire linked by trade.

This interpretation (misplaced as it is) shaped the life and motivation of Alfred Thayer Mahan, and through him Theodore Roosevelt.  By simply controlling the commons, Britain excused herself from becoming embroiled in land wars on the European Continent.

If only it were true.

This interpretation is a caricature of British strategy.  As Dr. Brendan Simms of Cambridge University so convincingly argues in his recent ‘Thee Victories & A Defeat:  The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire”, the pattern of Britain’s success was not in sheltering behind the Royal Navy but in maintaining either through subsidizing allies or by directly intervening, the liberties of Europe.  Through this political means, Whitehall maintained a balance of power favorable to itself.  This system of realism was embodied throughout the lowlands of Belgium and Holland, where Whig leadership found a niche and thrived to advance British Imperial social and political interests.

This strategy gave win for both the 18th & 19th centuries; the defeat described by Dr. Simms is the loss of the American colonies; the result of Tory rule and the embrace of pure navalism.

Properly understood, sea power- the security and ability to efficiently trade upon the international commons BEGINS ASHORE.  Like Britain in the lowlands, Americans must secure the outer, continental perimeter to ensure our interests and the common interest in a stable and relatively liberal, if even authoritarian international system.

This expresses the clear pattern of American strategic behavior throughout the early 20th century.  For the deepening American involvement in the greater Near East centered around the Persian Gulf cutting across the region from West Africa to Southwest Asia, likewise conforms to this STRATEGERY.  America has already pursued ‘failed’ ‘offshore balancing’ from Franklin Roosevelt’s agreements with Ibn Saud through dual containment of the Clinton years.  Both failed to produce a satisfactory outcome.

I think Petraeus’ hard fought sentiments are true:  the United States & NATO are a long way from securing the liberties of the region, but it would be both difficult and dangerous to renege on this continental commitment.

The American display of strategic genius will not be found in de Gaulle or Bismark (ironically, both are realists), but in a willingness to persevere like Imperial Brits, to occasionally regroup without retreating, and to remember that ultimate success is to be found ashore.

Perhaps all those specialized policy wonks at State and Pentagon could start reading Arnold Toynbee, specifically his remarks on the idolization of ephemeral technique as the criteria embodying imminent failure.

About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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