Many volumes have been written on how to win wars. Zenpundit at the Chicago Boyz blog gives us ten steps to lose a war:
1. War is the Continuation of Domestic Politics:
The point of politics is to acquire, hold and enjoy using power. When we lose sight of this fact due to romantic notions of “national interest” or “duty” and spend too much attention prosecuting a war against foreign armies then our real enemies – the political opposition – can take advantage. What good is overseeing a global victory over an epochal tyranny if the result is you get immediately voted out of office like some hapless loser? While on the surface, it might seem wise during a war to staff a government with able statesmen, experienced generals, capable diplomats and other experts, the truth is that if you do so you will have very few plum jobs left with which to reward the cronies, ideologues, campaign consultants, activists, wealthy grafters and partisan hacks who got you into power in the first place. Without their continued support, you will not be long for political office.
The fact is that the nation can survive many lost wars far longer than your career will survive lost elections. Once you view the war solely through the prism of how any action might impact your fortune in domestic politics, you will have a marvelous clarity that the war is the best pretext upon which to expand your power at the expense of the opposition and the people.
2. Policy is the True Fog of War:
Having a clearly defined, coherently articulated policy based upon vital interests and empirical facts that sets a few realistic objectives in a way that makes possible shared understanding and broad political support is no way to go about losing wars.
Keeping in mind #1, the point of war policy is to generate a set of politically compelling slogans that remain ill-defined enough to serve as an umbrella under which many contradictory and competing agendas can cohabit until some of them can be opportunistically realized. These agendas may not be realistic – in fact, it is easier to put them forward as attractive fantasies for the public if your administration is unburdened with officials with genuine expertise in warfare, economics, foreign cultures, history and other inconvenient information that the media and the political opposition will only be too happy to seize upon. The more abstractly and arcanely expressed the policy the harder it is for critics to demolish and the better it is for losing wars. “Unconditional surrender” for example, is bad because it is too concrete and easily evaluated – either an enemy is totally defeated and in your power or he is not. “Make the world safe for Democracy” by contrast, is better as it is more ill-defined and subjective, permitting a larger range of politically tolerable bad outcomes. ”Responsibility to Protect” and “War on Terror” are even more abstract, being essentially unlimited, open-ended, process goals that do not have any point of “victory” whatsoever and can thus not only potentially bring about not only losing wars but very long ones.
3. Strategy is a Constraint to be Avoided:
Strategy is about lining up Ends-Ways-Means to construct a theory of victory. While that might give us hope of prevailing over an enemy in an armed conflict, forging a strategy – any strategy -comes with a severe cost: namely the discipline of the government adhering to a strategy requires choices be made about the use of limited resources rather than keeping “all options open” to react to transient and trivial political concerns on a moment’s notice. Strategy for the nation equates with diminished political flexibility and mobility for the politician.
In other words, having a strategy might require elected officials expend their precious political capital in order to pursue it without getting anything in return that might expand their powers or further their personal careers. Doing strategy would mean prioritizing winning the war over other possible objectives and putting key decision-makers in the uncomfortable position of having to say “No” or “Not now” to powerful and influential people or factions. Worse, having a strategy also implies that the results can be quantified and evaluated for success, costs, failure and ultimately, personal accountability for leaders.
Obviously locking ourselves into a strategy is something to be avoided if we wish to stay in power, so “strategy” is only invoked rhetorically to mean a wide and confusing array of other non-strategy things – tactics, goals, operational art, planning, public relations, nation-building, diplomacy, policy, routine procedures, withdrawal dates, theories, fantastical pipe dreams and so on. When “strategy” means anything and everything it ultimately means nothing.
4. All Lost Wars are based on Self-Deception:
It is not enough to avoid strategy, there must also be a collective political determination to avoid reality enforced from the inception until the bitter end.
Wars have real and physically destructive consequences for the people who fight them, but unless you are engaged in a desperate struggle to repel a foreign invader, chances are the battlefield is far away from your home territory. This gives political leaders wiggle room to manipulate perceptions – most importantly their own – to political advantage by controlling information about the war and shaping the ideological boundaries of acceptable public discourse. This will eventually lead to a vicious cycle of bad decisions as misinformation and deceit corrupts the OODA Loop, but political leaders will maintain their political advantage over their critics, at least until the day of reckoning arrives.
Here we must begin with an insistence of a position of firmly held ignorance regarding the prospective enemy, their military capabilities, economic resources, the geographic characteristics, their cultural attitudes toward conflict and their history as a people. Should such information become widely known, it might result in popular skepticism about the wisdom of the entire enterprise, the difficulties that might be encountered and the prospects for success. If you wish to lose a war ignominiously, the less you know the better.
Likewise, once war has begun, the initial jingoistic overconfidence that greeted the war will quickly fade unless actively sustained by preventing an honest analysis of events and providing a steady stream of rationalizations for the gullible public. It would be a good idea to ban discussion that accurately characterizes the form of warfare or the nature of the enemy, though these things alone will not be sufficient. The intelligence process itself should be corrupted when possible to provide the “right” answers and censored or circumvented when it is not; while public assessments should use irrelevant metrics divorced from their context so that they will not have to be gamed later. Critics, truth-tellers, whistleblowers and those not towing the party-line should be retired, fired, demonized and punished.
5. Isolate the War and those Fighting it from the People:
A war forgotten by the folks at home is a war that is much easier to quietly lose.
At the outset of the war, ask no sacrifice of the people because that will give them too much of a stake in a victorious outcome and raise expectations about your own leadership. Neither raise their taxes (at least not for the war at any rate) nor conscript their sons. Do not even issue a national call to the colors for volunteers, instead encourage people to be at ease and go about their business. Supplement your small regular army that increasingly feels itself a caste apart with highly paid mercenaries and foreign paramilitaries while neglecting the needs of your own troops. Speaking of the troops, always lavish the soldiers with superficial public pieties about service, sacrifice and heroism, but cynically break faith when it comes to your obligations to look after their interests. Continue Reading