Friday, December 12, 2014

Two kinds of war

War, wrote Clausewitz, is politics by other means.  At certain times during peace, politics becomes war by other means, and subduing the enemy becomes the objective of one or more political contenders.  So it has been here in the United States at least since the 1980s, when Newt Gingrich emerged as a leading figure in the House of Representatives, and so it is today.  And to understand why the Republicans are winning--as they surely are--it is necessary to delve a little further into Clausewitz and look at  a basic distinction he made between two kinds of war.

"War," he wrote in a preface written while he was still working on the book, "can be of two kinds, in the sense that either the objective is to overthrow the enemy—to render him politically helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we please; or merely to occupy some of his frontier-districts so that we can annex them or use them for bargaining at the peace negotiations.”  At the Naval War College, we named these two kinds unlimited and limited war, respectively.  Those terms had nothing to do with the extent of the effort the two sides were making: they referred to the kind of victory they were seeking.  In many wars, the two sides have had different kinds of objectives.  The Union wanted to, and did, completely conquer the Confederacy and force it to submit; the Confederacy would have been content to force the Union to let it alone.  Other subtleties often intrude. North Vietnam was fighting an unlimited war against the South Vietnamese government, but a limited one against the United States, since it only wanted us to withdraw from Vietnam.  The US fought a successful limited war against Iraq in 1990-1 and a disastrous unlimited one in 2002.

Our political struggle is nearing its climax.  Its essence is quite simple.  The Republican Party has been fighting an unlimited war at least since the 2000 election.  The Democratic Party has been fighting a very limited one:  it wants to stay in power when possible, assure the rights of women and gays, and preserve social security, medicare, and the ACA.  The Republican Party is fighting an unlimited war against the whole edifice of government and workers' rights that has been built up since the Progressive Era.  Their propaganda argues that the Democrats are trying to replace the American system with dictatorship and socialism, but this is, frankly, ridiculous.  Barack Obama essentially wants to keep the country where it is.  In normal times that's a sound strategy, one followed in different ways by Ronald Reagan (who changed things more marginally than fundamentally) and Bill Clinton.  But we are living in the crisis predicted by William Strauss and Neil Howe nearly twenty years ago.  The old order which the Democrats claim to be defending is nearly dead, because the generation that were young adults when it was created are almost entirely dead, and thoroughly removed from power and influence.  The Democrats have not put forward anything new to take its place.   The Republicans have: a vision of almost complete economic liberty, in which the federal government no longer looks after the less well off, the United States economy is increasingly dominated by the financial sector and the production of fossil fuels, and both public and private employees lose the right to organize and bargain collectively.  It will also be a world in which about 10 million non-citizens continue living in the United States, working as hard as any of us without basic rights.  It will show no respect for civil liberties.  Its attitude towards the rest of the world is much less clear, but I hardly expect to see the Republicans pull back from the Middle East.

During the last four years President Obama has consistently been at a disadvantage dealing with the Congress because he always wanted an agreement--a peace treaty in a limited war.  They did not, and they threatened the destruction of the government to get more of what they wanted.  Now that they control the whole Congress, their tactics will get much worse. Indeed, this is already happening: the Republicans have slipped a major amendment of the Dodd-Frank law into the continuing resolution they are about to pass, and the Senate and the White House are clearly not going to threaten to shut down the government to force them to undo it.  This, mark my words, will be the pattern for the next two years.  One Republican rider after another will be slipped into budget bills, and the President will sign them, I predict, unless they materially change Medicare or Social Security--and maybe even then.  The Democratic illusion of limited war was evidently on display once again during Congressional negotiations last week, when Democratic leaders said a new, more generous provision on campaign donations by wealthy individuals was "a necessary compromise to forestall more aggressive efforts by Republicans next year to whittle away at other campaign funding restrictions."  Nothing the Democrats do will forestall anything the Republicans want to do.

Centrist pundits still refuse to believe what is happening.  They point to the renewed strength of more traditional Republicans vis-a-vis the Tea Party--a strength which is more apparent than real--and say that now that the Republicans control Congress, they will to to "show that they can govern."  But this is a total misreading, because the Republicans do not want anyone to govern the United States, in fundamental ways.  They want armed citizens to roam the streets of every city in the nation; they want freedom for Wall Street and employers; they want unregulated fracking.  The reason the Tea Party is so influential is that more radical and militant factions always become stronger and more influential in the midst of an unlimited war.  That was how the Jacobins took power in France in 1792 when European monarchs had invaded the nation, and how abolitionists won Lincoln over two years into the Civil War.  Because the Democrats are so committed to the status quo, the strength of their radical wing in the Senate has now been reduced to two, Bernie Sanders (who doesn't even run as a Democrat) and Elizabeth Warren.

This is why, despite the electoral arithmetic to which Democrats cling, I am so nervous about the next election.  Hillary Clinton, to begin with, is very much a centrist Democrat with close ties to Wall Street and AIPAC.  She will not be running as a revolutionary New Dealer. She will depend on getting young people, women and minorities to the polls in sufficient numbers to elect her--but will this work?  I see no reason to think that the youth or minorities will turn out for Hillary in the same numbers that they did for Obama.  The Hispanic vote might if she takes a really strong stand on immigration, but everyone will know that it will be impossible to deliver on real reform with the Republicans in control of Congress. And meanwhile, the Republican dau tranh campaign (use the search function, above, if you want to understand that reference), will have reduced us to near-chaos for two years, and the country may want to vote Republican just to get that over with.

The Repubilcans have also been winning, I think, because their goals reflect the spirit of their age and of the Baby Boom generation. Individual freedom in every area of life has been our mantra for nearly half a century.  Respect for leadership, sacrifice, and cooperation for the common good have gradually disappeared from our society.  Democrats find it necessary to pretend that they haven't; Republicans are going with the flow.  This has happened before, after the Civil War.  It took another 40 years before the country even began to get back on track. That could be our destiny, too.


ed boyle said...

And when we get a young bush jr as prez? To me "killary", as European internet users mock, is bad enough, having to prove macho, like wimp Obama or fellow female Thatcher or Merkel, by having an iron hand in forein policy and/or economics.

Of course now the world has caught on. American leadership, culture is excessive, repressive, burdenng. International bankruptcy for many countries is coming to fruition due to welfare warfare state, debt growth ideology. You can't have guns and butter for all the people all of the time and in ever growing amounts, so war rhetoric results. US West as prize in civil war, ukraine bread basket in WWII.

America wants Russia,China to submit, both wanted to be left alone. Now the tone has gotten personal. Reserve currency petrodollar system, oil price wars, anything goes short of war, except proxies, destabilization by color revolutons, terror attacks in weak points(chechnya,etc.).

Plutocrats, military industrial, FIRE control the politicos and money lies in action, life and death as computer game played by psychs on meds. These people produce policy papers, institutes, propaganda, buy press, European politicians to ensure docility. NSA, CIA work for them.

This looks like battle for this system. Both parties support it more or less. Right would reuce state to bare minimum,risk starvation of population for their pymasters and left would keep SNAP, ddisability, soc security. Military and banks are holy to both, the paymasters .

This is why US bankruptcy, reboot is so appealing. Withdraw of military, govt restart with basic services and regulations, maybe new constitution. I suspect a dictator however and a foreign war,maybe the last. If people hadpower, usd were gone. Industrialism, communicatons, trade, travelwere supposed to bring world together for peace but the opposite happens. When peak energy stops the game f debt, growth, aggression it will be a mess but manpower and traditional conservative values will be required, i.e. mind own business, self reliance, hard work, no bank and military welfare and global hegemony with funny money and fluid gold from dinosaurs that flows till its gone. Expansion is over, letssee if cancer once cut out is survivable.

SK Figler said...

Good analysis by David Kaiser on the twokinds of war. I think, though, that David missed a critical example, or perhaps a third kind of war: government against its own citizens, which is illustrated extremely well in the movie "Citizen Four" about Ed Snowden. In brief, we are the enemy of the government that we elected to protect us.