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The answer is very useful. General Carl Von Clausewitz served in the Prussian army of the early 19th century in many capacities. He fought in the Rhine campaigns and against the French in the Napoleanic Wars, and attempted to understand and analyze war in all of its aspects. Clausewitz carefully studied the human and social factors of war, and he understood that war was used by governments for political purposes. He also knew that this political purpose, plus chance and antagonism, all congealed to shape the dynamics of war. His book, “On War,” is widely considered one of the most important ever written on the topic of war.
His theories of war, such as Fog and Friction, the Genius of Commander, and others, are entirely relevant to modern-day war. In particular, as we study non-conventional wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq, it is easy to see that Clausewitz’s ideas may be even more relevant than they might be for conventional situations (Heerwagen).
One of the most important themes that he set forth was his insistence that the political side of war should not and cannot be left out when planning a military operation. As a matter of fact, Clausewitz’s main claim was that the political intention should take a predominant role in every aspect of military planning. This is not to say that politicians should play a primary role in planning military campaigns, but rather that the ultimate political aims of a given country must be of vital significance to military commanders in the pursuit of their strategic planning of the war. Surely, one cannot deny the infallibility of this reasoning as it applies to today’s wars against terrorism.
“The first, supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature” (Clausewitz, Howard and Paret, p. 30)
Perhaps what Clausewitz told us two hundred years ago, that we didn’t listen to, was that we failed to understand in Iraq, and again in Afghanistan, just what kind of wars we were getting into. We assumed the typical short, technological, “shock and awe” campaign of the early 1990s. Instead we failed to understand the threats of an insurgent movement or the complications that we encountered with not-so-supportive populations, or the fact that we were facing an intelligent, opportunistic, well-armed enemy in both countries that had no central command for us to dismantle.
Though there are many more of Clausewitz’s theories that apply today in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is his statements regarding total war vs. limited war that strike home as we consider if we can win against terrorists without our aim being total annihilation of them — as is their aim against us.
Clausewitz poses that “if one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by the bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand” (Clausewitz, Howard and Paret, p.14). As the U.S. plays with one hand tied behind its back, the terrorists do not.
He led the People’s Republic of China for almost 30 years and created the set of communist policies now known as Maoism (Lynch, p. 126). He was a creative, shrewd politician and a masterful military strategist. He destroyed U.S.-backed Nationalist China’s 4-million strong armies in a long line of huge battles, and forced them to escape to Taiwan .
Today, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States faces terrorist enemies and insurgents that are fully utilizing versions of Maoist military strategy. Mao called for careful and capable organization, patience in military commanders, and intelligent and astute political operatives.
Mao has been called the “consummate Clausewitzian strategist” (Grant).
Maoist strategy for war comes in three phases. Revolutionaries, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, begin as relatively weak and desperate, and end up eventually, as a strong, politically motivated and almost unstoppable military entity.
Phase one involves the terrorists (revolutionaries) constructing the organization. This is a quiet, patient buildup of the command and military structure. The rural and remote outlands of a country are the place to do this, as it was with Mao’s Chinese Revolution and as it is today with the Taliban. Phase two begins the action of the terrorism (revolution). This involves avoiding direct head-on confrontation with government military. Strike where the enemy is weakest, says Mao. And this is precisely the strategy the Taliban are taking in Afghanistan. In phase two, the point is to establish an infrastructure, propagandize in those areas that are liberated, and win over the population. Phase three, in the ideal Mao scenario, involves the crumbling of existing government (Grant).
And in Afghanistan, to this day, the Taliban continues to rebound and fight using these same strategies that proved successful for Mao. The Taliban has a firm foothold in the myriad of remote mountains, foothills, and caves of the country. They already defeated the mujahedeen in a war in which they utilized Mao’s tactics. They are now fighting the same kind of war against us.
They have succeeded in winning over the population in certain areas of the country and established footholds of resistance to propagandize the local people against their enemies. They are attacking the U.S. forces at will and at their vulnerable points. They have been so successful that President Obama called for a surge of tens of thousands of troops. and, only in the past few weeks, the U.S., with this new influx of troops, has had to move into populated areas of the country to destroy and remove the Taliban from the strongholds they have established (Grant).
Clausewitz, Carl von, et al. On War. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Grant, T. “Revolutionary strategies: Maoism.” 24 June 2005. armsandinfluence.typepad.com. 20 February 2010 .
Heerwagen, B. “Carl Von Clausewitz and his Relevance as a Contemporary Theorist.” 27 March 2007. dtic.mil. 19 February 2010 .
Lynch, M.J. Mao. New York: Routledge, 2004.
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