Friday, May 14, 2010

Comment on the Belmont Club:
"The Ten Ships"

Wars are fought on two levels, the tactical and the strategic. On the tactical level you have to fight the enemy where he is. Much of the fashionable intellectual attachment with avoiding that and running in circles or straining at sideshows can be traced back the Sir B. H. Liddell Hart's espousal of the "indirect approach." It never did rise to the coherence of a theory let alone a doctrine but as a catch phrase used and misused by the half educated it has persisted. In the mouths of amateurs it does almost as much harm as misusing Clausewitz's quote on war and politics does to justify responding to real aggression with paper exercises. In happier days John Mearsheimer did a good job of discrediting Hart in "Liddell Hart and the Weight of History."

On the strategic level we need plans to deal with energy and other resources. We need a plan to deal realistically with China and Islam. We can not ignore tactical issues in the name of Olympian disdain while studying larger issues. To do so quickly degenerates into a sterile dilettantism that masques cowardice for restraint. We also cannot allow our enemies, the term adversaries should be banned from public use, to control our actions by leading us into wasteful limited engagements.

In the Pacific War the Navy wanted to drive straight for Taiwan and use it as an unsinkable aircraft carrier to control both Japan and China. The Army insisted on first honoring Douglas MacArthur's promise to return to the Philippines. In hindsight it is possible that costly as the sweep up the Solomons and the forgotten campaign in New Guinea were they may have been the surer path to victory. The direct lunge across to Taiwan, if attempted before the destruction of the Japanese forces in the Slot and the Philippine Sea, might have proven even more disastrous than Montgomery's lunge to shorten the European conflict in the Market-Garden "A Bridge to Far" campaign.

For the long term would it have served American interests if we had ended the war with a base structure on Taiwan? Probably and post war efforts to create that infrastructure proved more transient and less effective than a stronger earlier presence might have. If we had conquered Taiwan and then used it to support our interests in China, rather than simply negotiating basing arrangements with the soon to be defeated KMT, we might still have a presence there and greater influence over China. My suggestion does not imply that we would have frustrated Chiang kai Shek's ambitions and pretensions or used such bases to attack the mainland but only that we might have been able to secure a more permanent footing similar to that we hold over Gitmo.

Fighting in Thailand, Michael Yon is live-blogging on FaceBook and Twitter. Also he published a BOLO for a possible attack in Kabul, very bad possible compromise of security. I would be surprised if he gets any further cooperation from DoD or CIA, unless it was a deliberate leak.

To tie back to the thread, are the Thai "Red Shirts" among China's ships? How do we respond? Do we render them ineffective by pressing for social and political reform in Thailand? Do we urge the Thai government to crush the threat and support an ally? Do we respond by attacking a Chinese interest elsewhere to get China to order their agents to pull back?

M. Simon,
Liddell Hart was more than muddled in his use of the term "indirect approach." Rather than offer it as an interesting tool to be considered among others when evaluating a situation he attempted to raise it to the level of a universal principle. To do so he applied it to every case that he could no matter how inappropriate. He constantly changed his definitions and even reversed himself, for example on the relative value of the offense versus the defense, in a desperate effort to retain his position as an authority figure.

The disasters of WW-I were caused by many factors, some of them technical. The abuse that was subsequently heaped on the generals was without any distinction regarding their actual intentions or skills or the conditions they faced. Broadly speaking the Americans and British, despite the horror of the Somme, tried to avoid pointless attacks while the French and Italians spent the blood of their own people recklessly. Today we are also subject to criticism that may be self serving. Some criticism is needed and valuable and sometimes a good analyst whether within or outside of the services can propose a model that will result in a more efficient expenditure of resources. We all I presume hope that in a tiny way we contribute to that effort. Some critics are always so wedded to their own importance and their pet doctrine that they will bend both the terms of their theory and the evidence of a given problem to hammer both into a shape they find useful.

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