Sunday, March 18, 2012


"Power has a psychological and not only a technical component. Men can only be led by statistics only up to a certain point and then more fundamental values predominate. In the final analysis the military profession is the art of prevailing, and while in our time this required more careful calculations than in the past, it also depends on elemental psychological factors that are difficult to quantify. The military found themselves designing weapons on the basis of abstract criteria, carrying out strategies in which they did not really believe, and ultimately conducting a war that they did not understand. To be sure the military brought on some of their own troubles. They permitted themselves to be co-opted too readily. They accommodated to the new dispensation while inwardly resenting it....Throughout the 1960's the military were torn between the commitment to civilian supremacy inculcated through generations of service and their premonition of disaster, between trying to make the new system work and rebelling against it. They were demoralized by the order to procure weapons in which they did not believe and by the necessity of fighting a war whose purpose proved increasingly elusive. A new breed of military officer emerged: men who had learned the new jargon, who could present the systems analysis arguments so much in vogue, more articulate than the older generations and more skillful in bureaucratic maneuvering. On some levels it eased civilian-military relationships; on a deeper level it deprived the policy process of the simpler, cruder, but perhaps more relevant assessments which in the final analysis are needed when issues are reduced to at test of arms".

Henry Alfred Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 34-35.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey spoke to a packed audience of members of the Oxonian Society to-day at the (admittedly poshlost) Russian Tea Room in mid-town Manhattan. General Dempsey who comes from upstate New York and who speaks a mostly Northeastern American nasal tone of voice, intermixed with the usual pseudo-American Business School / corporate language ('opportunity costs', et cetera), while not in the least a shy man, he gave the impression to this observer as being less of a physical presence then most of the higher military officers that the American military tends to produce, with their booming voices and exuberant (so-called 'type A') personalities. The General spoke to an enthusiastic and agreeable audience of people. The following were some of the General's remarks:

Concerning the transition that the American military is undergoing, General Dempsey stated that he and his colleagues in the Joint Chiefs were: 'building on a foundation of strength' in terms of the institutional structure of the armed forces. Following from which, the General mentioned that the following were some of the transitions that the military were undergoing at the moment: i) recovering from ten years of almost 'constant redeployment' overseas; ii) going from bigger to smaller budgets; iii) losing 125,000 troops from the military as the three services 'downsize'.

As per the new national security strategy announced by the American President in January of this year, the General opinioned that au fond this consisted of the following elements: a) 'keeping the pressure on the terrorists'; b) learning the lessons of the last ten years, including usage of special operational forces; cyberspace; using creatively, new, high technology such as drones; c) re-balancing forces and focus from the Near East to the Pacific Ocean region; d) new fiscal reality of smaller (in constant dollar terms from the high point of 2009-2010) budgets in the next five to ten years time.

Concerning the ongoing negotiations and pressures dealing with the regime of mullahs in Persia, General Dempsey reiterated his recently stated belief that Persia is a 'rational actor', and thus can be dealt with as such, rather than a Hitlerian menace, who is impervious to sweet or hard reason. That au fond, the USA and the Israeli government agree on the ultimate goal of a non-nuclear Persia. And that both governments have a 'good understanding' on the issue, and that there is 'constant contact' between the two country's armed forces. The General expressing the fear that once Persia had nuclear weapons, that almost every regime in the area would have them also. Concerning the issue of the the possibility of Persia endeavoring to close the Straits of Hormuz, the General admitted that 'not with certainty' could the USA prevent for a short time Tehran from closing that waterway. As per General Dempsey, the dangers of a pre-emptive strike on the regime in Tehran outweighed completely any possible gains from losing both international support on the issue and reinforcing the domestic support of the Persian regime from its restive population.

Concerning the likelihood of intervention by the Western and other powers in Syria, the General stated that he believe both arming the opposition and endeavoring to enforce a 'no-fly' zone, were premature. That the lack of international consensus on the issue made it unproductive to take any action by the Americans and their allies at this time. As the General stated clearly: "I do not advocate doing anything unilateral in the case of Syria."

And with those comments, the General concluded his talk. What can one say of this event? I for one view it as confirmation that the current American Administration, like its predecessor, has managed, finally, to find the perfect spokesman in uniform for its views on international relations and the use of force. Which is indeed more or less the norm in American Administrations since the Vietnam War (the difficulties that the Clinton Administration experienced being somewhat of an exception to this trend). The perception that the American military were out of control to an extent in the first two years of the current American Administration, can I now believe be relegated to the dustbin. On almost every issue that may occupy the American President in the near future, General Dempsey would appear to be an ardent advocate & supporter of the former's policies. Which rightly or wrongly, is indeed the best form of civilian-military interaction. Unfortunately, General Dempsey also appears to be completely lacking in that je ne sais quoi which is as Kissinger aptly puts it is 'the art of prevailing'. Or as the great Clausewitz aptly put in in his magnum opus, Vom Kreige:

"Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything is very easy. Once it has been determined, from the political conditions, what a war is meant to achieve and what it can achieve, it is easy to chart the course. But great strength of character, as well as great lucidity and firmness of mind, is required in order to follow through steadily, to carry out the plan, and not to thrown off course by thousands of diversions. Take any number of outstanding men, some noted for intellect, others for their acumen, still others for boldness or tenacity of will: not one may possess the combination of qualities needed to make him a greater than average commander 1."

1. Carl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited & Translated by Sir Michael Howard & Peter Paret. (1976), p. 178.


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