Grand Strategy Applied to Western Leader

Book Reviews
WSJ Review by John Nagl
Kirkus Review

Review from Caspian Report

Buy On Grand Strategy by J. L. Gaddis

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Grand Strategy
The alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily
limited capabilities. Failure arises when a leader try to force events
to fit a preconceived design. Successful leaders acknowledge and capitalize on paradox as they unfold. Successful statecraft,
required of all leaders, requires self- reflection and self-criticism.

Victory required denial a of justice. Justice required a denial of victory. Britain suspended1935-1945 elections. US had fighting over US direction as few wanted the mistake of getting into WW 1. FDR was political and won a war, Wilson's morality lost a League.

Silences vs. cacophony
Institutions are less important than individual relationships Irving Berlin had learned reporting on the world at war. Trying to report from Russia, he ran into individuals who were fearful and silent and separated from the Western world. Lenin changed the USSR ecology, made it differed from that of the United States. One demanded silence, the other thrived on cacophonies.

The Need for Truth

Russians had suffered during the czars, but Stalin's suffering was different. It was Marxian as interpreted by revolutionaries who felt truth did not exist, someone had to organize and lead people into a national planned system. Marxist/Fascists followed the true correct theory, judgment was not needed. They knew answer in advance so contradictions could be ignored as they would be removed by the flow of time. Being correct provided the confidence needed to not fear the future.

The Importance of Scale

Berlin felt FDR was sure of himself, self confidence. He could solve WW2 related problems not knowing of Dialectical and Historical Materialism
written by J. V. Stalin 9/38. He had no theory beyond his own ability if he was in control. His self confidence did not come from a search for truth. He learned to live with incompatible alternatives. He was a juggler, knew importance of balance, was not consistent but could see the big picture and create balance by knowing the importance of scale. He managed variables need to balanced goals with resources. The BEAR was needed to stop Germany, Victory required denial of justice and Justice required denial of victory.

FDR required no guaranties for Baltic and Poland because we need Russia. So FDR said screw Poland. It would be the US and USSR deciding on direction, no morals or ethics involved. Oliver Wendell Holmes- said of FDR, "a second class intellect but a first class temperament.

Grand strategy requires the directional compass of intellect and a gyroscope to provide for a balanced temperament. Carl von Clausewitz Complexity requires intellect to determine course which requires adjustment which combined with temperament determines how to adjust.

Napoleon the conqueror couldn't balancing aspiration with capability and lost an empire.
Lincoln save a country by not doing so.
Wilson the builder could nor adjust.
FDR the juggler
balanced important variables.

Foxes and Hedgehogs of
Borrowed from the Greek Poet
Achilles and expanded by philosopher Isaiah Berlin, concept is that our species survived as a species by combing tactical flexibility of the foxes when adjustments to rapid changes are needed and use hedgehogs strategy to  thrive in stable times. He believed good judgment required a balancing act that requires rethinking core assumptions while preserving our existing world view.

Negative Liberty means individuals allowed choices, allowed contradictions even cacophonies but are provided no compass. They were foxes without a compass which results in drift leading to possible anarchy. Machiavelli, Octavian Caesar, Elizabeth I 

American founders, Lincoln, and FDR were foxes with a compass
Risk is accepted by low expectations using proven means for achievable ends while subjecting theory to corrections. Required no compatibility, no convergence with theory when subjected to experience and corrections.
Pluralism was required. Berlin felt it created a dynamic, antagonistic, discontented world...The contradiction of life and death is the greatest we will behold, almost all participants deserve respect.

Good judgment assumes Moral equivalents across opinions with equal cost from failure. Berlin saw WW 2 Politics as a polarity with in equivalent concepts of Liberty at either end. 

Positive liberty:
individuals yield freedom of choice to some higher authority that
Silenced contradictions
with disposition and the possibility of slavery or even extermination.
Hedgehogs herding foxes,
they were sure of being correct and wanted few alternatives:
Risk was lessened or postpones with a promise of treasure.
No proof beyond theory
because with compatible of means, ends automatically converge.
All knew how world worked, allowed little opposition.

Accepting Past and Present incompatibles 

In 1962 RFK response to a  Mexican War question was taking Mexico by force was probably incorrect. It cause Deep Do

Should we give Texas back. Most would say no. The resulting justice would cause  chaos and too much injustice would result. Contractions exist. Learning to live with history means living with incompatibles.

Grand strategies helps because all fair deals are based on proportions- the item received must be in balance, be in proportion to that paid.

Grand strategy aligns desires with ability.

Fairness is helped by bending toward freedom or negative liberty.

To Carl von Clausewitz it meant subordinating war to policy for what freedom comes from violence.

Western Leaders a Grand Strategy Critique

1. Success Requires Temperament

had uncontrollable ambitions, no fear and advisor Artabanus
could not control his fears. No balance meant a poor team.

Percales went from intolerance to repression  in one speech,
and then Athens soon followed.

Octavian Cesar
rose by learning self-control.

Mark Antony
fell by forgetting it.

2. Princes as Pivots changed Western History

Augustine and Machiavelli served pivotal monarchs
Philip II
micro managed a vast empire that pivoted down.
Elizabeth I
balanced the needs of Parliament, her colonies, align end to means and began the replacement empire.


3. Ambition Must Be Balances with Capabilities

Napoleon confused aspirations with capabilities, failed to align end to means, lost a war and went to prison.

Lincoln align end to means, balances politics and military,
won a war and saved his country.

Wilson the builder failed to align means to ends and maintained justice but lost a League.

FDR aligned ends to means, gave up justice and won a war

4. Balance Goals with Capabilities

Napoleon confused aspirations with capabilities, failed to align end to means, lost a war and went to prison.

align end to means, balances politics and military, won a war and saved his country.

Wilson the builder failed to align means to ends and maintained justice but lost a League.

aligned ends to means, gave up justice and won a war

WSJ Review

‘On Grand Strategy’ Review: The War Against Decline and Fall
enduring empires and the mistakes that may
lead to ruin. review by John Nagl


This most important book covered the evolution of strategic thinking from Machiavelli to the nuclear age,

 "Like “Makers of Modern Strategy-FROM MACHIAVELLI TO THE NUCLEAR AGE,” it explores the facets of wisdom, temperament and courage that create great leaders and enduring empires.

“On Grand Strategy” begins with the Persian king Xerxes ’ invasion of Greece in 480 B.C., an invasion that went spectacularly wrong. Xerxes suffered from an inability to connect the ends he desired—control of Greece and ultimately all of Europe—with the resources available. Xerxes was not the last warrior-king to suffer from that particular affliction.

Napoleon underestimated Russian winter and the will of Russian peasant even before he met defeat at Waterloo. Hitler had troops invade Russia in summer uniforms expecting quick victory but another cruel winter took its toll.

These leaders were like Isaiah Berlin figures. They were hedgehogs over-focused on a doctrine or an objective and failed to adapt to meet the current situation. Gaddis respected foxes more. They hold fast to objectives and adjust their tactics to difficulties—geography, weather, time, public support.

Desires often overwhelm available means requiring a strategy set priorities, build alliances and conserve resources.

Mr. Gaddis presents an array of leaders who mastered this strategy method. 
Queen Elizabeth I
understood British geography strength and her sea power would keep her safe.
Abraham Lincoln
adjusted his thinking on slavery from wanting to block its growth to arming free blacks to emancipation of slaves held in belligerent  territory. Franklin Roosevelt focused on the greater strategic threat Germany  rather than Japan who had struck first. They all choose historically successful strategic principles that Mr. Gaddis feels will work in the future.

Not a perfect book, On Grand Strategy short-changes Eastern tradition and doesn’t effectively analyze how the nuclear revolution affects military strategy.  He shows many leaders with few strategy skills led their countries poorly.

Success is not guaranteed. It require wisdom, historical sense, and the ability to “respects time, space, and scale.”

Mr. Nagl is the headmaster of The Haverford School. A retired Army officer, he saw combat in both Iraq wars and is the author of “Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice.”

How great leaders make good and terrible military decisions  a less favorable review by

Gordon M. Goldstein is an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.

Kirkus Reviews

Gaddis analyzes the processes and complexities involved in devising grand strategies: “the alignment of potentially unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.” Strategic leaders need to be flexible, creative, and observant. Political theorist and philosopher Isaiah Berlin popularized this memorable line from an ancient Greek poet: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

Both Tolstoy and Carl von Clausewitz, respect theory and practice “without enslaving themselves to either.” Abstraction and specificity “reinforce each other, but never in predetermined proportions.”

That big thing—an obsessive idea or abstract ideal— is likely to prevent innovation. “Assuming stability is one of the ways ruins get made,” “Resilience accommodates the unexpected.”

Elizabeth I defied traditional expectations by “... tolerating (within limits) religious differences...Rather than impose a grand design, she responded deftly to her changing world. Napoleon failed because of limited “peripheral vision” blinding him of “landscapes, logistics, climates..." troop morale  and enemy strategy.” Abraham Lincoln was astoundingly intuitive, managed polarities: they didn’t manage him.” FDR had a Second Class Mind and a First Class Temperament according to O. W. Holmes.
Editor's Note:




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