Saturday, December 15, 2007

As long as I'm on a strategy binge anyway, ...

The recovering Wretchard has a post up yesterday noting the European response to the recent NIE regarding Iran is to impose sanctions against that country if the UN fails to do so.

When you couple this with the rather bland response of the Bush administration (and in particular, Bush himself), one has to wonder if this report was crafted as it was to elicit just this broadened reaction against Iran outside the US?

Ultimately, one has to conclude that the reality more probably falls into the general category known as the stopped clock syndrome. The give away, I think, is the complete lack of encouragement that ought to accompany an actual strategic gambit; encourage the target(s) through both positive and negative incentives, entice the enemy to exacerbate the situation, etc.

Sigh. Yet another opportunity lost ...


Alex said...

And what do you think of Obadiah Shoher's arguments against the peace process ( )?

Will Brown said...

Hello Alex,

I'm afraid my answer may leave you somewhat unsatisfied.

First, let me emphasise that I was unaware of Shoher's book so thank you for that info. That said, I have read Machiavelli and am broadly familiar with the concepts and theories his work postulates. With that in mind, I will attempt an at least partial answer to your question.

A brief explanatory aside may be useful here. As you may be aware, there are "schools" or disciplines of thought on the contributions of the several principle contributors to strategic science. Generally speaking, they are that Clausewitz is most applicable to an organised army's function and operation. Machiavelli is, again, most applicable to the structure and manipulation of a complex political structure. Sun Tzu's work on the other hand survives in the form of a particular application of a more generalized philosophy, the Bing Fa. For this reason students of the Bing Fa commonly regard both Machiavelli's and Clausewitz' work as being of more limited application (do I really need to specify which school I am a student of? :)). That being said, within their limitations both works are exceedingly valuable contributions to the science.

With those caveats, I will attempt to answer your question.

I think that Mr. Shoher has based his work on a deliberately agressive set of principles that rely upon one basic tactic, pre-emption of opposition. Machiavelli is justly famous for the pragmatic finality of his prescriptions, I'm afraid. It has to be said that, within the structured constraints of a functioning polity, in whatever form that may take, his tactics can be quite effective though, if often personally risky (his assumption of the degree of personal threat to be preempted may very well have been valid in his own era, however).

This gives rise to two related responses; first, that Isreal is not a unified entity as regards it's potitical decision making process or even it's national philosophy (it is a "jewish state" but not a theocracy, for only one example), so attempts to apply Machiavelli's precepts outside of such a unified political entity often fail (no surprise here; they weren't designed to apply outside such a structure). Second, Machiavelli assumes a certain degree of conformity of interest within the targets he sought to pre-empt that simply doesn't exist between competing countries. Add to that mix the efforts of various non-state actors (the list is extensive for only those of strictly middle-east origin and scope, get truely international and no single individual has the means to track and analyse their competing intentions, never mind their actions, with an eye towards pre-empting them).

So, having done no more than scan the website you referenced, my opinion is that Mr. Shoher has severely limited his options and preempted whole catagories of tactical manipulations from which he might otherwise have availed himself. This could well be as a result of his greater familiarity with his intended audience, jews specifically and Isreali's more generally (not all Isreali's being jewish). My own experience with such people's is no doubt more limited than is his own, so I stipulate his greater depth of experience. I honestly don't have any idea whether, or even if, the Bing Fa might clash with Judaic law and principle. I would assume that it would to some extent though, since the independence of, and reliance upon, the individual is the foundational principle of that philosophy (in my personal view). I think it a given that any "peace process" that Mr. Shoher's work might support could only arise after the shooting had finally ended. Please note that I am deliberately avoiding drawing any conclusions as to Mr. Shoher's intentions; I haven't read his work nor do I know the gentleman so I have no basis upon which to cast such judgements.

To sum up, Machiavelli tends to prescribe actions which would more likely be strategically counter-productive in the more chaotic international competitive field. His basic position of violent pre-emption forces Mr. Shoher's adherants into the necessity of having to fight all the battles, thus making any ultimate outcome more likely to be a phyrric one. I confess a certain personal sympathy with this urge which, I submit, is why I am the slap-dash student of the Bing Fa and Sun Tzu's surviving work that I am.

I hope this has answered your question to some extent. If you wish further knowledge regarding Sun Tzu, I recommend you consult with Gary Gagliardi at
his web site.