Monday, August 4, 2008

What are the '08 centres of gravity?

So what is the centre of gravity for McCain? What is it for Obama?

Let's start by seeing what The Great Man had to say on the subject more generally:

"Thus, therefore, the first consideration in the combination of a plan for a war, is to determine the centres of gravity of the enemy's power, and, if possible, to reduce them to one. " - On War, Book VI, Chapter 28

“A certain centre of gravity, a centre of power and movement, will form itself, on which everything depends; and against this centre of gravity of the enemy, the concentrated blow of all the forces must be directed.” – On War, Book VIII, Chapter 4

"By seeking out constantly the heart of the hostile power, and staking everything in order to gain all, that we can effectually strike the enemy to the ground." - On War, Book VIII, Chapter 4

"As the centre of gravity is always situated where the greatest mass of matter is collected, and as a shock against the centre of gravity of a body always produces the greatest effect, and further, as the most effective blow is struck with the centre of gravity of the power used, so it is also in war. " - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

"We think, therefore, a theatre of war, whether large or small, with its military force, whatever may be the size of that, represents a unity which maybe reduced to one centre of gravity. At this centre of gravity the decision must take place, and to be conqueror here means to defend the theatre of war in the widest sense." - On War, Book VI, Chapter 27

With these remarks in mind, I'd welcome thoughts on what the centres of gravity for McCain and Obama might be. Options might include: Particular demographic groups, fundraising, field efforts, electoral votes, a particular theatre, a particular state, a campaign message and, I fear, more besides.

Are we looking for the equivalent of the "forces in the field" that Clausewitz so often ascribed the centre of gravity to or is it something completely different? I confess to finding this a most fascinating puzzle...


MAR said...

Previously, my friend John (himself something of an amatuer-strategist) weighed in on what the centres of gravity may be. He'll probably update his thinking but here's what he said earlier:

Blogger John said...

Impressive site.
In my humble opinion from Britain, McCain's COG is Ohio. For McCain,the loss of Ohio makes victory highly unlikely, as getting to 270EVs without Ohio is extremely difficult,(538 puts his chances at about 5% if he loses OH). Furthermore, his supporters know he needs Ohio and hence, if he start to fall back in the polls in Ohio his fundraising numbers (or at least the RNCs given McCain's decision to go public) will dry up and his ground workers across the country will became depressed, further reducing the chance of victory. The vital nature of Ohio will curtail McCain's freedom to spend what money he does have, to mainly Ohio.
For Obama, his COG is his message. So long as he can been seen as a 'comfortable' canditate for change, with the economy and after 8 unpopular years of Bush should be enough to win. He needs to satisfy voters that while he will improve washington, he will not drastically alter their culture, (guns/religion etc). With his message he should have large amounts of funds and hence will have the freedom to pick and choose which states he will fight in.

August 2, 2008 9:59 PM

MAR said...

“But this kind of idea by which we wish to settle the proper relation of the state of expectation to the whole is only correct when a decision is really to take place, and is regarded by both parties as inevitable. For it is only by that decision that the centres of gravity of the respective forces, and the theatre of war determined through them are effectually hit. Whenever the idea of a decisive solution disappears, then the centres of gravity are neutralised, indeed, in a certain sense, the whole of the armed forces become so also, and now the possession of territory, which forms the second principal branch of the whole theatre of war, comes forward as the direct object. In other words, the less a decisive blow is sought for by both sides in a war, and the more it is merely a mutual observation of one another, so much the more important becomes the possession of territory, so much the more the defensive seeks to cover all directly, and the assailant seeks to extend his forces in his advance.” - On War, Book VI, Chapter 28

With this, Clausewitz opens the door to the idea of the centre of gravity being determined but not realized until the moment of “decision” (decisive battle) actually arrives. John and I have been pondering what this means for identifying the centre of gravity in the first place. Perhaps, what we have to do at this stage is simply suggest what we think the centre of gravity currently is and what we think it is likely to prove to be come November 4th reminding ourselves that it could change in the interim.

John said...

Excellent work with the definitions.
I realise now that my earlier comment were based on the (incorrect) assumption that the COG was where the pivotal point(s)of the particular conflict were to occur. Hence my new COGs are the two campaigns, (Which includes their messages, policies, fundraising, ground staff and the time of the canditate themselves). As I see it, this is where the mass of each side exists.
Currently they are being mainly held back in reserve before being deployed to a particular field, probably Ohio/the rust belt. So hence until, they are more fixed, both sides are running skirmish attacks as it were, such as McCains campaign's message of 'Obama is just a celebrity' or Obama's campaign establishing the groundworks for possible efforts in traditionally red states.
In time I think these 'forces' will mainly be deployed in the rust belt. McCain has to defend Ohio and best opportunities to attack, (PA and MI), are also there. While Obama does not need to win the rustbelt he also cannot completely lose it. Together with the need to attack McCain's COG, Obama will also be drawn to the rustbelt.