Monday, September 29, 2008

Strategy & Tactics

Perhaps it was just me, but I was thrilled by the fact that the potential Commanders-in-Chief gave us the benefit of their insight on the difference between strategy and tactics.

As for whose understanding passes muster, I suppose we should have known something was amiss when McCain at the outset of the debate incorrectly invoked the great Clausewitzian General Eisenhower (a man who, per my old War Studies tutor, read 'Vom Krieg' at least three times) but that was just the start. Here's their exchange:

Obama: "They (US forces) have done a brilliant job, and General Petraeus has done a brilliant job. But understand, that was a tactic designed to contain the damage of the previous four years of mismanagement of this war."
McCain: "I'm afraid Senator Obama doesn't understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy."

McCain's response came in for particular critiscim by Col. Gerald A. Lechliter (ret.) who wrote:

"I'm a retired (1999) Army colonel and was astounded by McCain's confusion about military "strategy" during the debate. I listened to it and then read the applicable area in the transcript. Either he was using language extremely carelessly or he didn't learn some basics in his military career. He was a Navy captain who attended, I believe, the National War College and national security is supposedly his strong suit. It should be second nature. "

Personally, I think Luttwak's levels of strategy (technical, tactical, operational, theatre strategic, grand strategic) are helpful in making this differentiation. The essential problem between McCain and Obama is that the Surge was neither a tactic nor a strategy: it was an operation that contained within it tactics and was in turn in service of a strategy.

All this and James Fallows offering a Clausewitz/Palin comparison - it really was a bumper weekend for On Politik!

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