History repeats (wiser heads than Bush and Blair)

General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (01/06/1780 – 16/11/1831) wrote between 1816 and 1830 his acclaimed and (even now in the 21st Century) influentially pivotal text ‘On War‘.

On War‘ is the strategic thesis that effectively dictates what will win and what will lose the modern military battle.

Von Clausewitz’s thought-provoking exploration in to the logical rule of war is required reading at most modern military colleges – the Army college at Sandhurst is no exception.

The learned General makes it plain that ‘a war should never be fought on two fronts’.

Book 6, Chapter 7 – The Offensive Battle – is particularly interesting in the following observation of the flanking/outflanking manoeuvre:
‘To be able in turn to operate with success against the flanks of an enemy, whose aim is to turn our line, it is necessary to have a well chosen and well prepared position.’

Indeed Von Clausewitz’s contemporary, the Prussian Field Marshall Alfred Graf von Schlieffen sought to ignore this rule when he put forward a plan to fight a campaign on two fronts.

Von Schlieffen’s plan was later executed by the advancing German forces in the early stages of the First World War and resulted in a massive, costly (in human terms) and unbelievably painful period of trench warfare in which the better-armed, better-fed and better-equipped Germans comprehensively lost the battle.

It seems that two modern-day Generals haven’t read von Clausewitz’s definitive philosphy on warfare.

Bush and Blair.

It was a huge error in military judgement for Bush and Blair to commit a massive amount of military materiel to the open-ended and undefined ‘War or Terror’ which has resulted in the wilful slaughter that now defines the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But this error was compounded and magnified a hundred times when taken in the context of the other two military fronts that the US and UK were already fighting.


Yes, the war in Afghanistan is being fought on two fronts – and that’s something worth reminding ourselves of:

Afghanistan is currently host to the NATO-led military force which includes a large number of US forces.

Outside of this deployment – and external to this military structure, chain of command and communications model – are the US-led forces (almost exclusively composed of US ‘Special Forces’) who are fighting the local ‘War on Terror’.

So we have two distinct military operations in Afghanistan:
* The ‘regular’ forces that comprise the NATO operation and,
* The ‘special’ forces that comprise the ‘War on Terror’.

And in Iraq we have a third military operation; tens of thousands of staff fighting under the US-led ‘War on Terror’ (Iraqi Chapter) banner.

So the ‘alliance’ is actually fighting a war on three fronts.

I wonder what von Clausewitz would have said about that?

6 thoughts on “History repeats (wiser heads than Bush and Blair)

  1. Brennig

    Interestingly and eloquently put but doesn’t this scenario constitute a war in three theatres as opposed to a war on three fronts?

    In most major campaigns for the Romans onwards it was common if not always desirable to fight wars in various theatres in defenceor offence of empire.

    I suspect that von Clausewitz’s thesis related more to fighting in two fronts (specifically geographically opposing fronts)in the same theatre. A scenario that an aggressive 20th century Germany was particularly exposed to vis a vis it’s being sandwiched between Russia and Russia’s allies France and Great Britain.

    This of course meant that any action against one front risked leaving the other front exposed. Particularly irksome when those fronts encompass the Fatherland.

    As you say, to negate this, at the turn of the last century von Schlieffen came up with a cunning plan that nearly succeeded. namely to knock out France before Russia coul properly mobilise. They very nealy succeeded.

    Hitler was of course much more successful second time around knocking France in six weeks. But crucially, by leaving Great Britain alone and focussing on invading Russia, he allowed a war on two fronts to develope.

    In both instances the war on two fronts was signified by being a war specifically on two of Germany’s (or Germany’s domain’s) frontiers. That is what is so particularly precarious for a nation at war.

  2. Hi Harry,

    You see, the thing is…

    God, I hate starting a thought like that but.

    The flaw in The War On Terror (or The War On Terr, if you listen carefully to what GW Bush actually says), is that isn’t a conflict in which one nation state is engaged.

    It’s a battle against a nebulous group of individuals from no particular country and who may even be members of the home nation.

    So locating the military force in this ‘war’ in two particular foreign theatres is going to succeed in the war against terror how?

    It can’t.

    Our politicians have committed the ultimate act of military stupidity, they have taken us in to an unwinnable war.

    However on the point of history, Hitler’s strategists, in adopting the Blitzkrieg strategy elevated military conflict to a level that von Clausewitz was clearly not capable of grasping.

    But even Hitler met his military nemesis on the Russian Front – eventually.

  3. Indeed. The phrase ‘War on Terror’ is total tripe especially coming from the head of state of a nation that was quite happy to turn a blind eye to thousands of its citizens openly supporting and funding the I.R.A.

    Unfortunately the current Muppet in residence in the White House has inherited his predecessor’s penchant for the soundbite. And this particular sound bite has bitten Bush junior right in the arse.

    What on eath persuaded Bush Junior and his catamite Blair to invade Iraq? There was no logic let alone ‘Causus Belli’.

    Granted, Saddam was a monster whome most of his Arab neighbours were more than happy to see militarily neutered and yes despite the current mess the world will ultimately be seen as a better place without him. But on that basis America should have invaded Zimbabwe years ago, to say nothing of North Korea and most of the rest of Africa.

    The only way the war in Iraq could ever have been won is if there was a bloody good plan as to what to do in the vacuum created by the demise of the dictatorial Baathist thugs. Unfortunately the Yanks completely underestimated the incoherance of the Iraqi ‘nation’, and I use the term loosely.

    It is rarely mentioned that the death and carnage being wreaked upon Baghdad on a daily basis is by Iraqi against Iraqi. Sunii v. Shi’a v. Kurd v. the occasional Allied soldier. It makes Belfast in the 1970’s look like the Henley Regatta.

    Unfortunately the only way out is an undignified get out and God/Allah help Iraq then.

  4. I entirely concur with your comparison of Zimbabwe and the Middle East.

    That Blair took this country to war on fabricated evidence is now beyond all doubt.

    Yet in the southern part of Africa the humanitarian agencies provide evidence of wrongdoing on a massive scale.

    But our government does…

    Mind you, the local political scene is complicated.

    Mugabe seems to have a degree of taci support from SA – because without this, he wouldn’t be able continue propping up his regime.

  5. The politics in Africa is complicated but then in truth the politics is always complicated

    In the case of Africa the West, and particularly Britain, has always felt it necessary to treat the African despots with kid gloves so as to avoid the charge of racism.

    Before Mugabe, Zimbabwe was one of the most prosperous nations in Africa. Now he has dragged his country to a state of almost utter collapse where the only thing keeping it together is fear. And should our government criticise (which it rarely does) then that evil old satan simply turns round and spits out the word ‘imperialism’.

    I’m no imperialist but I bet that the average Zim would swop Mugabe for Empire any day.

  6. The “Current Muppet in Residence in the White House” is not the only one to blame. The Army Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army testified before Congress of the impending disaster. They said that 400,000 troops would be needed to take care of the potential sectarian violence. Both lost their jobs over their testimony. Congress still voted to go to Iraq. Both the White House and Congress should have been reading Clausewitz rather than intelligence reports.

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