Friday, May 05, 2017

Making strategy in the real world

Williamson Murray:

Several general points about the making of strategy bear repeating. The first is that those involved, whether statesmen or military leaders, live in a world of incomplete information. They do not know, in most cases, the strategic intentions and purposes of other powers, except in the most general sense, and their knowledge of their own side is often deficient. Second, circumstances often force them to work under the most intense pressures. When a crisis occurs they have little time for reflection. As a result they often focus on narrow issues without looking at large long-term choices; in other words, they will see some of the trees but miss the forest. Few can express their ideas in a logical or through fashion, either on paper or face to face. Most merely react to events rather than mold them to their purposes. Like politics, strategy is the art of the possible, but few can discern what is possible.
Henry Kissinger:

Any statesman is in part the prisoner of necessity. He is confronted with an environment he did not create, and is shaped by a personal history he can no longer change. It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. As I have said, the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstances.
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary in the decade before World War One:

A minister beset with the administrative work of a great office must often be astounded to read of the carefully laid plans, the deep, unrealed motives that critics and admirers attribute to him. Onlookers free from responsibility have time to invent, and they attribute to Ministers many things that Ministers have no time to invent for themselves, even if they are clever enough to be able to do it. If all secrets were known it would probably be found that British Foreign Ministers have been guided by what seemed to them to be the immediate interest of this country without making elaborate calculations for the future.
John Lewis Gaddis:

[Political scientist Alexander] George has suggested that there exists, for political leaders, something he calls an 'operational code'-a set of assumptions about the world, formed early in one's career, that tend to govern without much subsequent variations the way one responds to crises afterwards.
Field-Marshal Earl Wavell

Now for his mental qualities. The most important is what the French call le sens du praticable, and we call common sense, knowledge of what is and what is not possible. It must be based on a really sound knowledge of the "mechanism of war", i.e. topography, movement, and supply. These are the real foundations of military knowledge, not strategy and tactics as most people think. It is the lack of this knowledge of the principles and practice of military movement and administration-the "logistics" of war, some people call it-which puts what we call amateur strategists wrong, not the principles of strategy themselves, which can be apprehended in a very short time by any reasonable intelligence.
Unfortunately, in most military books strategy and tactics are emphasised at the expense of the administrative factors. For instance, there are ten military students who can tell you how Blenheim was won for one who has any knowledge at all of the administrative preparations that made the march to Blenheim possible.
Samuel Eliot Morison::

The British Chiefs, especially Sir Alan Brooke, never could seem to understand why the Americans had to have commitments well in advance. They accused us of being rigid and inflexible, not realizing the terrific job of procurement, shipbuilding, troop training and supply necessary to place a million and a half troops in England, with armor, tanks and troop-lift, ready to invade the Continent.

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