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Friday, February 28, 2014

Patton's "Why Men Fight" in a Modern Context

General George S. Patton delivered a lecture, known as "Why Men Fight," in 1927 that closes with three very important lines:
"Nothing new was discovered since the soul of man is changeless.
Our difficulties differ in manifestation but not in nature from those Alexander experienced and Caesar knew.
Our success or failure in the next war will depend on our ability to face the naked facts as they exist, and to utilize our means not as we would, but as we may."
Over the course of the more than 8500 word lecture, Patton provides his view on the foundational elements of human conflict, a historical-theoretical sourcing of warfare and organized force, military motivations and training, and far more, although in a decidedly non-academic and unsourced manner.  However much Patton's remarks may occasionally appear antiquated or even discriminatory, a gift given through the passage of time, they provide a specific perspective worthy of consideration.  In 1927, the inter-war period that still thought of World War I as the unimaginably devastating and impossibly unique Great War, technology and warfare had yet to progress to its modern level of sophistication, and there still existed a traditionalist understanding of how to execute a war.

Fundamentally, the same problem occurred in 1927 as now: addressing the world, or "the next war," as it is and not as it should, might, or would be preferred to be.  Patton outlines a few ideas for the improvement of the military, its strategy, and its tactics, in accordance with the ills he perceived at the time of writing, but his strength in this rousing, semi-anecdotal lecture is the understanding that humanity, both as a whole and in more disparate collectives, is shaped by its environment.  Both World Wars, for example, were the product of a confluence of circumstances and could only exist as such -- Patton acknowledges this as true for all known incidents of state and sub-state aggression.

Essentially, Patton makes a subtextual argument, perhaps inadvertently, for realism.  What is state-level security balancing if not a higher-level abstraction of humans uniting against another enemy, or pursuing self-interested courses of intimidation?  What is the effective use of force, if not attempting to profit from the loss of another?  What is military might, if not the development of a professional fighting force, who will risk their own lives, to avoid the conscription, and promote the well-being, of the general public?
"The man who fights for a living must, unless he is a very rare person, live in order to profit by his fighting."
Some of Patton's advice is strangely applicable to a modern environment that may soon see a remarkable decrease in the Army, such as placing a greater emphasis on properly educated and experienced Officers, decreasing in the use of Reserve forces (presumably the National Guard, as well), and returning to the extremely effective, if not always publicly palatable, training environments that produce the exact type of soldier needed.  The distinction between a professional military and an amateur one, created through forced or inadvisable service, is, in "Why Men Fight," clear: selflessness, honor, and dedication versus self-interest, external motivations, and identity crises.  Amateur forces are a substantially greater liability when the time comes for true soldiering, as Patton may have observed of Vietnam, had he survived to see one of America's greatest military embarrassments.

According to Patton, not yet a century ago, it may be better, therefore, to retain a larger professional Army than be forced to expand ranks on extremely short notice, sacrificing quality at the altar of quantity, and to keep general or inexpert civilian opinions out of military matters, as much as possible.  This, too, would seem to apply to the paramilitary efforts of non-military national security organizations for which the public is too ill-informed, ill-fortified, and ill-adjusted to be involved.  In a democratic republic overseen by a President both civilian and Commander-in-Chief, however, such a distinction is clearly problematic.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Brief: Comprehensive Realism through Psychology

Currently, there exists no aspect of international relations theory or foreign policy analysis (FPA) that neatly and accurately assesses and predicts the behaviors of states in the international theatre, although neoclassical realism comes much closer to doing so than many other, competing theories. This is a problem inherent in attempting to categorize, define, and predict behaviors, not necessarily rational ones, in an environment where individuals, leadership, history, culture, domestic politics, and substantially more all stand as constituent factors of influence. A more comprehensive realism -- previously discussed -- would have a much better chance at understanding the status and natural tendencies of a state; however, these factors of influence may be more simply delineated than at first glance, as a summation of psychological factors.

Instead of attempting to measure, even qualitatively, untold and seemingly unending variables in the pursuit of FPA, perhaps a psychological analysis would be more apt. Domestic politics and culture are, if nothing else, the public display of self-selecting group psychological attributes within the context of relevant history, itself psychologically weighted. The personality and proclivity characteristics of individual citizens, leaders (as individuals), and the leadership (as a collective) of a state are also simply described through psychology, if applied to the specific levels. This would seem to indicate a greater probability of success for foreign policy analysis in an academic association between psychology, international relations, and, more generally, political science, rather than the multivarious disciplinary sub-interests of FPA at present.

Once established, this comprehensive realism would be the most useful approach to foreign policy making, as the foreign policy maker -- either as an individual or as a collective -- can not only better understand and predict the behaviors of another state, but their own motivations and predilections, as well. The current implementation of various FPA and international relations theories or models within the foreign policy making community is far less than ideal, but it is not difficult to imagine that with greater relevance and substantially increased accuracy, such a model would have a place where its contemporaries do not. Otherwise, there seems to be little interest, or a favorable case for any, in academic theories of limited application and questionable veracity.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Importing Terrorism to the Homeland

There is every indication that the Syrian civil war is becoming far more than just a domestic conflict, as supporting fighters flood into the country for a variety of ideological, theological, and political reasons: it's becoming a training ground for individuals to train not just in camps, but also in the ongoing, active, and brutal war.  Those individuals who may be labeled as terrorists are receiving greater training than any camp ever could provide, which can then be exported out of Syrian borders and imported into their homeland, precisely what is currently being encouraged.  An unrecognized danger, however, is the level of training being received.

If bands of fighters are travelling to Syria to support their cause and receive training, and these bands return home after awhile, they will have gained untold tactical, strategic, and practical experience in not only terrorism, but warfare.  A well-trained, properly motivated, and sufficiently supported individual is absolutely a threat to the national security of targeted states, but a small cadre of terrorists acting as a small strike team of terror is a threat greatly magnified by the increased disaster potential.  The majority of modern Islamist terrorists have received training through an assortment camps, since the only two relevant conflicts in recent past, Afghanistan and Iraq, were efforts in guerilla-style terrorism and any major, open conflicts of note concluded long ago.  The Syrian civil war, however, presents a possibly unprecedented opportunity, one that is being fully exploited, to expand the breadth and depth of terrorism.

Without proper state-level and international precautions, these highly trained terrorists can apply their deadly battlefield experience to efforts within their homeland, or perhaps elsewhere, in order to more effectively carry out acts of terror beyond those that rely on suicide tactics.  A reasonable familiarity with breaches, invasions, and maintaining conquered territory -- all under the immense stress and fluctuating circumstances that come with mission execution -- effectively allows such a group to select higher value targets, inflict a greater level of casualties and damage, and present an increased threat to the stability of states.  Weak states that already struggle to with self-defense and support -- such as Kenya or Iraq -- will find themselves unable to hold back structured, militaristic assaults.

The longer the Syrian conflict continues, the greater the danger states throughout the world will face.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Four Forms of Power

There are four forms of power available to modern states: diplomatic, military, soft, and covert.  The first and second -- hard power -- are not often controversial, and although there is occasionally some debate over whether they truly are different aspects of the same effort, they remain permanently, necessarily, and inextricably entwined.  Soft power is, of course, newer and more controversial, but generally regarded as useful, when it works.  Covert power is both less recognized and less discussed, but, perhaps, the most efficacious of all.

Fundamentally, the goal of a state in its use of power is to exert force upon other states in the pursuit of its interests -- this has not changed with the passage of time.  What has changed, however, is the level of influence covert action:  with a single strike team or drone operation, much can be accomplished.  The United States is a country generally unwilling to use its military strength frequently or in full force, while simultaneously questioning the value of diplomacy itself and only occasionally using soft power effectively.  This positions covert power as a semi-ideal solution, especially for Presidents, Administrations, and Congresses that may be more reluctant to extend, or over-extend, the United States in the international theatre.

Covert power has the benefit of being strong enough to neutralize a variety of targets, cultivate fear in a desired audience, and pursue goals less attainable, or impossible, by other means.  Moreover, it is a form of power that is often quiet and substantially more understated than the alternatives, while simultaneously being trackable -- at least by those responsible for managing the execution -- and of great value.  Very few human lives, and none at all in the case of drones, are placed at risk when covert power is effectively used, even when the missions are poorly designed or executed, or an unforeseen obstacle arises.

It is the combination of all the four forms of power that prove the most effective, not an overemphasis on any one over the other -- this, inevitably, results in a failure of both policy and practicality.  In the case of a realist approach to American foreign policy and international relations, diplomacy and soft power need not be ignored, since they ultimately serve the same end goal.  However, emphasizing covert power, where structurally and pragmatically appropriate, may help to better fill the gap between diplomatic failures and traditional military power, especially as an indicator of a potential engagement escalation to come.