In retrospect: was Afghanistan worth it?

Friday’s Last Word – Pull Pin, Throw Grenade, Run Away: A provocative thought to kick off the weekend…

By Major Matthew Cavanaugh


In teaching Military Strategy we cover Clausewitz (as one might expect).  Yesterday I taught the back half of a two-part lesson on this important war theorist, and tied in two of his concepts with Sun Tzu’s.  The two “megaconcepts” are interaction and rationality (and come from Bradford Lee of the Naval War College’s work).

Interaction is about the day to day fight – the “duel,” as Clausewitz puts it.  This would also fall in with Clausewitz’s first definition of war – “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”  One could think of a combatant commander, in theater, directing military forces in this interaction.  In this megaconcept, war is oriented towards the contest.

Rationality is about the broader purpose for the war – the context.  Clausewitz gives us another definition of war that aligns with this concept – that war is “an act of policy.”  Consider the U.S. President as a commander in chief, with a wide-angle lens, paying attention to two rational calculations: one, can our means deliver the ends we seek?  Two, is the benefit worth the costs (blood and treasure) to be paid? Clausewitz covers this second point,  

“Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and also in duration.  Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.”(Paret and Howard translation, 92)

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