Archive | September 2013

RePost: George Kennan on ‘Political Warfare’


The seeming dichotomy of Peace and War does not exist so splendidly in reality; for all factions and especially all nations tend to exist in a state of partial competition. Clausewitz counsels that war is merely politics by other means; certain commentators disillusioned by democracy contend that politics is merely war by other means.

Thus it is immediately obvious why great generals have at times made great statesmen, and great statesmen great generals. Now the martial and civil arts are indeed very different in method, style, culture, and a thousand other measures; but they share together certain principles, and in the last analysis they both exist for the accomplishment of political ends.

Han Feizi teaches of the Ruler’s Two Handles- rewards and punishment. Machiavelli admonishes of the two tools which a Prince must know how to use- force and laws. Other analyses beyond these might include the control of information or the manipulation of wealth as similar instruments of political power. The wise statesmen, then, knowing the interest of his country, will see that in peacetime, he is neither at peace nor at liberty to believe he is. By the tools available to him he must defend his realm from the barbarians at the gates and the regents directing them, for these opposing regents use all similar tools available to them to advance their interests at the expense of their neighbors. Were the world simpler it might be defined as a war of all against all; but our world is not simple, and the intensity of competition, relative degree of cooperation, temporal and geographic and cultural peculiarities, and situational balance of power, being perpetually shifting factors, necessitate the leader’s prudence in managing his country’s interests.

George Kennan, titan of the Cold War and one of the soberest minds ever at the helm of American foreign policy, outlined a re-acquiring of the ancient art of Political Warfare, that tool to navigate the constant state of affairs which is not quite war yet not quite peace. His analysis ought to be considered by all analysts and strategists pondering the currents of American foreign policy. I have copied the introduction below, and attached the full partly-unclassified paper further down.


“1. Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz’s doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP–the Marshall Plan), and “white” propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of “friendly” foreign elements, “black” psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states. 

2. The creation, success, and survival of the British Empire has been due in part to the British understanding and application of the principles of political warfare. Lenin so synthesized the teachings of Marx and Clausewitz that the Kremlin’s conduct of political warfare has become the most refined and effective of any in history. We have been handicapped however by a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war, by a tendency to view war as a sort of sporting context outside of all political context, by a national tendency to seek for a political cure-all, and by a reluctance to recognize the realities of international relations–the perpetual rhythm of struggle, in and out of war.

3. This Government has, of course, in part consciously and in part unconsciously, been conducting political warfare. Aggressive Soviet political warfare has driven us overtly first to the Truman Doctrine, next to ERP, then to sponsorship of Western Union [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. This was all political warfare and should be recognized as such. 

4. Understanding the concept of political warfare, we should also recognize that there are two major types of political warfare–one overt and the other covert. Both, from their basic nature, should be directed and coordinated by the Department of State. Overt operations are, of course, the traditional policy activities of any foreign office enjoying positive leadership, whether or not they are recognized as political warfare. Covert operations are traditional in many European chancelleries but are relatively unfamiliar to this Government. 

5. Having assumed greater international responsibilities than ever before in our history and having been engaged by the full might of the Kremlin’s political warfare, we cannot afford to leave unmobilized our resources for covert political warfare. We cannot afford in the future, in perhaps more serious political crises, to scramble into impromptu covert operations [1 line of source text not declassified]. 

6. It was with all of the foregoing in mind that the Policy Planning Staff began some three months ago/2/ a consideration of specific projects in the field of covert operations, where they should be fitted into the structure of this Government, and how the Department of State should exercise direction and coordination. “


RePost- Francis Bacon’s ‘Of Studies’ (Some Books are to be Tasted, Others to be Swallowed, Some Few to be Chewed and Digested)

This morsel leaves an aftertaste of uncertain nature in the mouth of its consumer. In few other places has such a deep and broad, yet poignant and concise, enumeration of the uses and methods of study been compiled and expressed. One might protest, that the resulting passage is at best confusing and at worst unintelligible; it was intended to be so. The understandings closest to TRUTH are oft’ not easily discerned upon a single reading, and require periodic refreshment and review over years of constant study. As the reader grows, so does the meaning of the work become more fully known to them. This is the essence of ‘a relationship with a text.’ And if there is any passage worth constant review, which one moreso than Bacon’s essential review of study itself?


“Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need pruning, by study; and studies themselves do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men condemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores[Studies pass into and influence manners]. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they arecymini sectores [splitters of hairs]. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind may have a special receipt.”

Rebuke of the Strategic Argument for Syrian Intervention


Here is an article finally arguing for Syrian intervention from a wholly non-dogmatic perspective- the one thing which could threaten my assertion that we ought not strike Syria.

Point by point, here is what I think:

1. “The regional order is at stake.” Doran seems convinced that it is in our best interest to prop up the Saudis and the Gulf Sheikdoms against the Iranians, arguing that the Sunni victory in Syria will pave the way for a stable regional order in the Middle East.
WHAT regional order? Syria is not about to become integrated into the weak associations of Muslim states which currently exist in theory. Iran is not about to renounce its history rivalry with the Sunni world, regardless of how many Jews Rouhani consoles. There is no EU-esque regional order on the horizon for the Muslim world, and idly hoping for one can do nothing but becloud.

2.”The only route to a political solution is regime change.” Doran argues that the Obama Administration’s hopes for a power-sharing agreement between the government and the rebels have been illusory, and he is right- a negotiated settlement has never been an option seriously worth considering in this war.
However, that does not make the alternative- ultimate victory for the rebels- any more worth pursuit. In the first place, American regime change in the Middle East- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya- has thus far not worked in the 21st Century, and it is not likely to work now when our rationale is the exact same for Syria as it was for those other situations. In the second place, I am not convinced that there is anything worth looking forward to in a post-Assad Syria.
Additionally, the balance-of-power implications ought to be obvious. The Israel-Egypt and Iran-Iraq balances of power are the most crucial balances in the Middle East, and we have seen what eliminating Iraq did to the power of the Iranians. Now that the Gulf States and Saudis have replaced Iraq, it is unclear that pushing back Iranian power in the interests of the Gulf States and Saudis would lead to a particularly stable balance.

3. “The United States should therefore build up the rebels as aggressively as possible.” Assuming the preceding admonition on the necessity of regime change to be correct, this would be the obvious policy prescription.
There has been plenty of coverage on the immediate downside of this- by backing the rebels, you send weapons to organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda, who one day may turn their guns on American targets. The 1980s Afghanistan analogue is obvious.
However, this might be justifiable in a strategic sense, wherein the enemy of your enemy becomes your friend. But I do not think the proponents of this policy have grand strategic designs in mind- rather, they seem to be hoping for some quick and easy solution to allow them clean consciences. For they have failed to note that the rebels they hope to send weapons to are affiliated with those movements which strive to undermine our strongest allies in the region, the Egyptian military and Israel. The intended policy of justice goes counter to a policy of prudence and good faith. Washington, of course, counseled against permanent alliances; but he did not so in the intent of giving American support to every national freedom movement popping up every few years.

4. “Supporting the FSA is not the same as supporting al-Qaeda.” In a flourish of journalistic irresponsibility, Doran posits that we ought to direct resources into building up a third option two support, that we might not have to support Assad or al-Qaeda- presumably, he hopes we can create, from people radicalized by war, a group of people which is in no way radical, which responds only to our call, which has not its own best interests but ours at heart.
This is silly flim-flam of the sort which adults should never indulge. Man is not a blank slate; when we deal, we deal with PEOPLE, with their own thoughts, their own prejudices, their own interests, their own ways, and it is utter foolishness to assume we can mold them to our liking. Indeed, there are a great many Syrians who are neither in the Assad or al-Qaeda camps, who fight for reasons other than Power or Paradise. And it may be wise to attempt to empower such people, especially as it seems that this faction is at odds and even at arms with the jihadists. But it is foolishness- utter, utter foolishness- to fall into the mode of thought that this faction is more moral and therefore more supportable than the factions they oppose. There are no clean solutions in this case.

5. “Striking the regime will help to contain weapons of mass destruction.” Doran basically throws this in there to reach the nice number five, so he wouldn’t have to have an awkward ‘4 Truths about Syria’ title. He takes the opportunity to explain that the United States should be more muscular in the Middle East because the Arabs actually wish we were more muscular, and that we can do that by dropping a few bombs here and there on chemical plants.
He never does explain how this intervention will help to establish the global norm, that WMDs ought to be off-limits.

I must thank Doran, actually, for he has done what so many of his colleagues in the foreign policy community have failed to do- he has created a list containing a few potentially rational points which paint the Syrian conflict in strategic rather than ideological terms. I have been overly harsh; his analysis is definitely worth consideration.

However, Doran, employee of the W administration, is polluted by the tendency of his colleagues from that age- that poisonous assumption that America can and ought to spread her principles by the sword, and that our intersts will be ultimately served thereby. He joins arms today with those legalistic hawks who demand world order and global justice.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am a Kiplingesque imperialist, never convinced by purely ethical arguments against the employment of force or the expansion of power. Rand Paul, in my opinion, is profoundly uninformed about the realities of superpower status. But I align with his views here, on the Syrian issue, because he understands what the hawks do not- that nothing good can come from intervention, while much bad inevitably must result.

Every Curse a Blessing- Every Blessing, yet, a Curse

Below I copy a post I wrote in September 2012, while my dear roommate Fenghua was helping me cope with the brutal realities of life:

“There really are certain perks about being surrounded by wise, culturally in-touch Asian people:
A traditional Chinese story, as related to me by my roommate Fenghua Yang:


Once upon a time in a country village in China, a family of a mother, father, grandfather, and son lived together on a farm. 

They had a beautiful mare, and she was their prized possession, for she pulled the plow and helped them harvest.

One day the mare ran away, and the mother, father, and son were deeply grieved.

But the grandfather said: “It might not be bad.”

Three days later the mare returned from the wilderness with a mighty steed. Upon this the father exclaimed: “We will now be able to do twice the work and make twice as much money; additionally we may now breed our own horses!”

But the grandfather said: “It might not be good.”

The next week the son was riding the new steed, and the still-wild animal threw him off his back so hard, that upon landing he broke both of his legs. The father and mother were greatly grieved, and they exclaimed “We have lost a good deal of labor, as our son is in pain!”

But the grandfather said: “It might not be bad.”

The very next day, the Emperor’s couriers came through the little village, for the Kingdom was mustering for war, and every family was, by law, required to provide an able-bodied son to the service of the state. The courier came to this particular family, and seeing that he was lame from his accident, declared: “You would be useless on the field of battle. You may stay with your family to heal.” The next week, news came of a terrible battle in which the regiment consisting of young men from this village had been utterly annihilated, and every last man had been killed. Upon hearing the news, the family rejoiced that their son had not shared that fate.

Thus the eternal successions of fate continued, as they continue to this very day, for sometimes the blessing is the curse, the curse the blessing, and no Man knows what Heaven has in store.”


The principles stated above, in that timeless myth, are expressed in a somewhat different way by Alexander Hamilton:

‘Tis the portion of Man assigned to him by the eternal allotment of Providence that every good he enjoys, shall be alloyed with ills, that every source of his bliss shall be a source of his affliction- except Virtue alone, the only unmixed good permitted to his temporal condition…”


I hold it a general principle, that the substance of our universe is primarily amoral. We cannot hold Good and Evil in our hands; and when we act in the name of Good, not only Good but Evil tends to follow, as those acting in the name of Evil tend, in some odd and unseemly way, to produce not only Evil but also Good.

This does not, in any way, suggest that Good and Evil exist only in our minds, or that there can be no Good situations in our reality- for indeed, the Chinese proverb and the Hamiltonian quotation both speak of some sort of Good, though not necessarily the heartfelt or code-based Goods stereoptypically pursued. 

If anything, these two passages illustrate what I take to be the fickleness of our world- which seems to be an endless sea of gray, through which prudence and vigor are the most necessary instruments of navigation. 

A Letter to a Friend- No Such Thing as Progress

This letter was written in response to the question: Do you believe in Progress?


In short, no. I believe in complexification and development, and I believe that in no two eras are things precisely similar; but in terms of true moral progress, as in a greater alignment with conditions upon Earth with the will of Heaven, I am firmly in the realm of disbelief. I see a world where what appears at times to be progress turns out to be, instead, differing moral norms and manipulations of power, and most importantly, quite hubristic interpretations of history. This, I hold to hold true to Mankind in general, the largest associations of men, all the way down to most of the smallest.

But as regards the individual, to some degree the family, and to some other degree certain associations and orders formed with individual excellence in mind, I certainly see some greater moral capability. Now this does not mean that I believe individuals can become Christs easily; but nonetheless, the occasional phenomenon of saintliness seems to suggest that individuals can, while not rising out of the muck which forms their bodies, align their soul with that Heavenly will, that fountain of goodness, to some meager degree. The hymn poses that we are ‘one foot in paradise, one in the waste.’ I would argue the reality is more complex, more ugly: We inhabit the waste, while bearing within us a spark of celestial fire which sees a better world, which we may only realize in our lives by feeding the flame.

But this is limited, of course, to the life of an individual. Families, being based upon a love more sublime than any but that of the Creator, and organizations and orders dedicated to excellent individualism, may attain some standards of virtue too. But in general, the only true moral progress may be made in the heart of the single person- and that, as the necessity of religion reveals, is the most truly fallible thing upon this Earth.

If in individuals progress must be so fickle, so constantly ephemeral, how much the more human collectivities? My understanding can be summarized in the title of Neibuhr’s treatise: ‘Moral Man, Immoral Society.’ While the individual may make choices, and arrive at moral dilemmas, human collectivities and societies- factions, all- are immoral to the dignity of individuals by their very nature. In their behavior, they are typically beasts. In their views of themselves, they are angels. This is not progress- this is the very folly of the human condition.

The ancients considered Man and analogue for the Universe at large. I find much wisdom in this understanding, for the fractures and tendencies of both seem quite analogous. But in one crucial factor the metaphor is insufficient: Man may, however imperfectly, attempt to govern himself by will. But there is no Universal Will governing the Universe (save the Will of God, which is beyond our comprehension) nor a truly moral General Will governing any of the various factions so brutal to each other. Certainly, there is a Will in each faction- but it is a Will incapable of self-sacrifice. The will of the individual is.

Thus the best which can be hoped for in this life is a prudent (and more often than not, lucky) development of events causing the least harm and the most good. But that is more a fortunate development than a moral one. The moral choices of life are at the hands of individuals, and always will be. I see no progress from our broken state. We have been condemned to life from our dawn as a race, and we shall be so condemned until we have been extinguished. 

RePost- Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ (The Greatest Poem Ever Written)

Sexist and Imperialist yet salient. This is, in my opinion, the greatest poem ever written. Concise in form yet universal in scope, it does a better job than I have ever seen of reconciling the practical reality of the world with the idealistic and irrational excellence required of a decent life. It barely dabbles the metaphysical; but its implications go far beyond the mere living of life and into the great questions which have occupied the religious since time immemorial.

“IF you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

‘If,’ by Rudyard Kipling