Again, Clausewitz’ model fails us in Syria

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We’re stuck in 18th century military thinking and we barely do that as well as Napoleon or Sherman.

Clausewitz’ theorem, that all war is extension of politics (or policy) by other means, simply does not hold in the majority of the wars America has been involved in in the last 15 years. War as politics is the brood of RealPolitic , that is that wars have a logical purpose which in the end makes for a better peace.

As Ralph Peters states, modern warfare has largely reverted back to its default setting, before the state became all-powerful. It is now, “Wars of Blood and Faith”, as Peters terms it. Clausewitz assumed that people, army, and government were separate entities in a war. Current engagements involve people fighting that do not represent governments, are not an organized army per se. This is one reason that when we see dead “civilians”, many in America want to do something to stop war crimes, as civilians are not lawful targets in war. But in the case of Iraq II, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Syria, civilians were in fact the enemy. They wore no uniform and held few conventions that modern armies hold to. A US soldier can shoot a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, and someone can protest: “You shot a farmer!”–and they’d be right. Current laws of war are wholly inadequate in this type of war. The outrage many express at the slaughter in Syria is merely what war always was before the last 200 years. In fact, Qaddafi and Assad are fighting in the only way they can win. Assad cannot throw down his arms, build a school, and quell the insurgency. Historically, this is how insurgencies were stopped: Remorselessly hunt down the insurgents and kill them until they quit. Because of the nature of a “people’s war” the combatants become so marbled with noncombatants, that innocents inevitably die. It’s why America will not win another “small war” in our lifetime.

Our confusion on this matter is clouding the analysis of Syria. It ruined our analysis of Libya and Egypt. If the exact same people fighting against those governments wore uniforms, America would not have sided with them. It was merely our instinct to protect civilians that resulted in US intervention. In both countries, chaos now reigns. In Syria, the most powerful forces of blood and faith are now at work–those of the Sunni/Shia schism. Little talked about, perhaps because Americans do not properly understand the intensity of hatreds that can arise between sects, is the fact that the Syrian conflict is boiling down, just as the Iran/Iraq War, and Iraq II’s insurgency did, to Shia vs Sunni Islam. In the case of Iraq, when the minority Sunni Baathist regime fell, and was replaced by Shia, disavowed Sunni Baathists, desperate to retain power, joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In Syria, a Shia minority, led by Assad, rules a Sunni majority. Iran, a majority Shia nation, backs Assad. If Assad falls, the civil war will rage on. This is not about the despot Assad, it is about Sunnis coalescing power in the form of al-Qaeda, against Shia Assad, backed by Hezbollah irregulars.

Deepening American involvement in Syria threatens to bring much more chaos. Iran is already threatening retaliation, Russia, more intervention. Better to let Hezbollah and al-Qaeda hammer each other.


5 thoughts on “Again, Clausewitz’ model fails us in Syria

    VXXC said:
    September 6, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    “Little talked about, perhaps because Americans do not properly understand the intensity of hatreds that can arise between sects”.

    What if the Sects are Red Empire vs Blue Empire? Or in this case Blue Empire vs the enemy of their “Big Friend$$” the $audis?

    Magus of course to the extent they need to the average American can understand sects.
    They kind of depend on us to sort it out. You may be confusing an O-4 with the American. No, he’s an O-4. He may be capable of understanding but it’s not really a consideration.
    Winning is, and winning is getting out without a black mark. Or even charges.

    By way of comparison Hillary and Bill would stand by you as long as they could, and make sure you at least got a payoff if you say had to do time.

    The only sects we need to understand, and impart to the much maligned average American who’s only problem is no actual national memory of WHY government attracts scumbags, is the competing sects in our government. That is apparently unbelievable despite any evidence, the reason is it’s never happened to us.

    Oh you were talking about “war”. OK. Magus they will never let you, me, us, our Brothers win. We could have swept this all 10 years ago.

    Ah..but then what happens to our Masters? If we were to taste victory instead of ashes. They know what they would do.

    It would be just if it happened anyway, of course.

    VXXC said:
    September 6, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Actually the model you need is: Who, Whom.

    ajmacdonaldjr said:
    September 7, 2013 at 5:42 am

    The US et al have no interest in protecting civilians… only in destabilizing regimes that are a threat to the Jewish state. Gaddafi and Assad told the truth when they said foreign mercenaries attacked them for no reason in order to destabilize their governments. Our allies and our military = the bad guys. Sorry, but that’s the ugly truth. And we’ve been the bad guys for over 100 years.

    Royce said:
    September 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    You’re right about Clausewitz — he understood war in terms of governments and politics but that concept does not apply. First the situations across the Middle East and North Africa are not political in the sense the people want a democracy. In fact the “people” are largely ignored and are irrelvent because these are power struggles between religious factions. There really aren’t any winners — just changes in dictators or clerics with dictatorial powers. The US and the West continue with the misguided idea that the “people” want democracy. The people might want democracy but they are irrelevent. The idea that the opposition to Assad are “rebels’ is an example of how misguided our policies are. Those aren’t rebels they are invaders, the people are the victims, there will not be any winner — just a new dictator possibly worse than the old one.

    VXXC said:
    September 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Clausewitz’s insights about war are timeless, his policies break down outside of nation-state Europe.

    We are Empire, and when we attack Syria we hurt ourselves…

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