The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

American Military Leadership –Carl or Antoine?

Jomini and Clausewitz coexist in many modern militaries. Jomini, with his emphasis on principals and application may dominate at the tactical level of war. Clausewitz, with the emphasis on ambiguity, complexity and politics tends to become more important at the more senior leadership levels. The break point logically seems to be at the level of brigade command. Brigade commanders are the military’s senior tacticians. They are involved in the day to day operations and maintenance of the force and have the responsibility to planning, leading, and executing operations. Brigade commanders live in the tactical environment. Cause and effect relationships at the brigade level are more direct and the certainty of factors influencing decisions is higher. Some general officers operate in the tactical environment as well –depending on the operational situation. However, at the general officer level the tendency is for issues to become more complex and for effects to become more separated from causes. Politics, media, and other factors beyond the military’s control begins to intrude on decision making at the general officer level.

Do you agree or disagree with the above analysis?

A challenge facing the effectiveness of general officers is two-fold. First, how does one select the best officer to operate in the Clausewitz world (senior leader) based on the performance of officers who are typically operating in the Jominian world (tactical)? In addition, how does the army train senior leadership (Clausewitzian) thinking before the leader makes the general officer ranks, if there is little or no opportunity to practice it for most of an officer’s career at the tactical level?

Some analysts believe, whether the above described relationship exists or not between Jomini and Clausewitz’s ideas, its irrelevant because American culture demands a demonstrated, positive, scientific approach to all activity and thus the Jominian approach to war dominates the American way of war at all levels. Do you agree?

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October 18, 2013 - Posted by | H100

4 Comments »

  1. Clausewitz’s view that senior leaders must be adept in politics, complexity and ambiguity is a pessimistic view but one we often hear reference to at lower levels. We have discussed in leadership class that senior leaders have the ability to make broad statements which they hold juniors accountable for understanding and translating to a plan and action. While this may be true, our senior leaders must be able to focus on the big picture and not troop leading at the lower levels. Military leaders must also be far more involved in politics than tactics on a daily level, especially as we continue to withdraw from Afghanistan. Admirals and generals are constantly called to testify before Congress about programs, strategies, status of forces, etc. Like it or not, our Flag Officers are fully ingrained in politics (informing and justifying DoD and service actions and recommendations) and must continue to be in order to work within the system we have.

    In his blog, CDR Salamander (http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2013/10/every-army-4-star-ses-needs-to-be-fired.html) posts an interesting debate about the upcoming QDR and Army drawdown. His premise seems to be, building off a recent Army Times article (http://www.armytimes.com/article/20131017/NEWS05/310170024?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter), that the large number of Army flag officers who have to some degree stated inability to support national security and defense strategy with an Army end strength of less than 450,000 have become too involved in politics, are not executing presidential guidance or national strategy and should make way for senior leaders who recognize the fiscal constraints and are able to fulfill the requirements with what is allocated to them (and not factoring in joint force support from sister services).

    Are statements from flag officers indicating that the Army can’t meet Defense Strategic Guidance with a mere 420,000 active Soldiers the role and responsibility of those generals? Is the nature of these statements political, self-preservation of the force, informational or a combination thereof? How does a Flag Officer determine when it’s time to say “roger” and find a way to execute and accomplish with less and when is the job of a Flag Officer to publicly state that it’s going to be dangerous to comply? Are there any thoughts or strong feeling from the section on this?

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | October 21, 2013

  2. Submitted for the debate related to the above post is a YouTube clip from Hardball with Chris Matthews on CNN regarding General McChrystal’s statements at the IISS in London from 2009, which many of us remember. The segment was dubbed “Pentagon vs. White House” and discusses an example of politics and the Flag Officer http://youtu.be/Azvk5SP45bs

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | October 21, 2013

  3. Clausewitz’s view that senior leaders must be adept in politics, complexity and ambiguity is a pessimistic view but one we often hear reference to at lower levels. We have discussed in leadership class that senior leaders have the ability to make broad statements which they hold juniors accountable for understanding and translating to a plan and action. While this may be true, our senior leaders must be able to focus on the big picture and not troop leading at the lower levels. Military leaders must also be far more involved in politics than tactics on a daily level, especially as we continue to withdraw from Afghanistan. Admirals and generals are constantly called to testify before Congress about programs, strategies, status of forces, etc. Like it or not, our Flag Officers are fully ingrained in politics (informing and justifying DoD and service actions and recommendations) and must continue to be in order to work within the system we have.

    In his blog, CDR Salamander (http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2013/10/every-army-4-star-ses-needs-to-be-fired.html) posts an interesting debate about the upcoming QDR and Army drawdown. His premise seems to be, building off a recent Army Times article (http://www.armytimes.com/article/20131017/NEWS05/310170024?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter), that the large number of Army flag officers who have to some degree stated inability to support national security and defense strategy with an Army end strength of less than 450,000 have become too involved in politics, are not executing presidential guidance or national strategy and should make way for senior leaders who recognize the fiscal constraints and are able to fulfill the requirements with what is allocated to them (and not factoring in joint force support from sister services).

    Are statements from flag officers indicating that the Army can’t meet Defense Strategic Guidance with 420,000 active Soldiers the role and responsibility of those generals? Is the nature of these statements political, self-preservation of the force, informational or a combination thereof? How does a flag officer determine when it’s time to say “roger” and find a way to execute and accomplish with less and when it is time to publicly state risk or dangerous to comply with policy or the status quo? Are there any thoughts or strong feeling on this or the links below? Is this what Clausewitz meant or is this something else entirely that has come out of the system we have here?

    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131021/DEFREG02/310210038/US-Army-Leadership-Delivers-Message-Frustration-Resignation?odyssey=mod_sectionstories

    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20131021/DEFREG02/310210035/Only-Two-US-Army-Brigades-Now-Combat-Ready-Chief-Says

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | October 22, 2013

  4. Sir,
    The problem I have with the initial analysis of the above question is that I think there is no longer such a clear delineation between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. This has much to do with the information/digital age and the ability of our nation’s leaders, media, and public to scrutinize even the actions of a private. To that level, politics, media, and other factors beyond the military’s control now begins to intrude on decision making at not only the general officer level, but nearly every level that we operate. I have experienced this first hand in multiple deployments.
    To address the second point, and in support of my above argument, officers in today’s army with multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, have not only operated at the’ tactical level,’ per se. Many officers in today’s army have a very good (at least initial) understanding and conceptualization of the more senior levels and their impact on the battlefield which will undoubtedly better prepare them for positions of senior leadership.
    I would tend to agree that current American culture more closely aligns with the Jominian approach to war, but I do not think that abdicates our senior leaders from understanding some of the fundamental Clausewitzian principles. Having a sound understanding of both will provide senior leaders with the ability to carefully balance, as needed, the principles of both Jomini and Clausewitz and apply them where they fit best.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | November 5, 2013


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