One of the foundational writers career military officers must read is Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, whose unfinished work Vom Kriege (On War) is viewed as a classic read on strategic military theory.
Clausewitz’s work ties together the importance of politics and the will of the people to the prosecution of military operations. One of his key statements was a simple definition of war, which he defined as
an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.”
As I listened yesterday to the incessant misstatements about this Taliban release episode emanating from various “all knowing” pundits — it was evident they had not read Clausewitz, and I’m fairly certain you, Mr. President, have not as well.
If Clausewitz’s assertion was correct, I must ask if the actions of releasing the senior leadership of the enemy evidence our ability to impose our will?
In attempting to defend those actions, many have said we are coming to the end of a war, and thus prisoners are always exchanged. Mr. President, simply declaring that we are ending a war does not end anything. May I remind you it is only possible to end a war by two means: winning or losing — not simply deciding to leave.It is also impossible to have a “war on terrorism,” because a nation cannot fight a tactic. It would be as ridiculous as asserting World War II was fought against the blitzkrieg or kamikaze.
Wars are fought against differing ideologies. We fought for our independence against monarchism. We fought World War I against European nationalism. During World War II we fought against Naziism, fascism, and Japanese imperialism. The Korean War and the ensuing Cold War were fought against communism.And so today we find ourselves fighting against Islamic totalitarianism (Islamism) — which uses terrorism as a tactic. Where we have failed is in understanding this 21st Century battlefield from a strategic perspective — and that is a bipartisan issue.
How can the war be ended? Has there been some declaration signed by the parties involved? A cease-fire? A surrender? The Taliban is not a nation-state nor are they recognized under the Geneva Convention, since they are a non-state, non-uniform belligerent organization occupying the battle space. So why would we enter into negotiations with them? We just elevated their status — with a little assistance from a terrorist-supporting nation-state, Qatar.
Prisoner exchanges are done between nation-states after there is a cessation of hostilities, and agreements of surrender have been signed — the Taliban is still fighting. And as long as Islamists continue their quest of jihad, then we are at war against them. We are strategically engaged in an ideological war, that nasty little thing no one in your administration or your faithful media wants to talk about, but must.
If we could go back in time to talk with General von Clausewitz, based upon his work and thinking, whom do you think he would say has imposed his will upon whom? I think he would surmise that in this current global conflagration, it is not the United States.
It may be too late in your term to suggest you rethink your definitions of war and victory. But I certainly hope your successor, the next Commander-in-Chief, will know something about military strategy and be familiar with Clausewitz and Vom Kriege.
But most of all Mr. President, I believe I speak for many Americans who are appalled that you would release the enemy, in fact their senior level leadership, to return to the battlefield during a time of war. Can you explain to me how those are the actions of a committed Commander-in-Chief, and not someone who is aiding and abetting the enemy?