The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Clausewitz, Politics and the American Military

Clausewitz is famous for his comment that war is an extension of politics by other means.  This is not the definition of war, but rather the context within which war takes place.  That is, war takes place and is only understandable within the context of politics.  By extension then, to be able to effectively plan, supervise, and conduct war a senior military leader must, in addition to his expertise regarding military matters, also be expert at understanding politics.

The sticking point here, is that the professional American military officer is taught to avoid politics.  Expert on American military professionalism, Morris Janowitz, stated:

Under democratic theory, the “above politics” formula requires that, in domestic politics, generals and admirals do not attach themselves to political parties or overtly display partisanship.  Furthermore, military men are civil servants, so that elected leaders are assured of the military’s partisan neutrality.

In practice, with only isolated exceptions, regulations and traditions have worked to enforce an essential absence of political partisanship.

Has this tradition of non-partisanship caused American military leadership to focus too much on the mechanics of making war at the operational and tactical level?   What is the role of the senior military leader in formulating national strategy and can that leader avoid being politically partisan if the different political parties disagree on strategy?

How has the war in Iraq illustrated Clausewitz’s concept of the relationship between war and politics?

How do Clausewitz’s ideas, including the important idea of the trinity,  influence our understanding of the current situation in Afghanistan?

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Current Events, H100 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments