Saturday 24 Feb 2018 | 19:21 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Feb 2018 | 19:21 | SYDNEY

Strategy and the 'spirit of the age'



16 July 2010 11:26

I recently saw on a friend's social networking page that he was in Washington, DC to attend a conference about Iraq and strategy. My interest was piqued by a post made in reply, stating: 'That is so 2008'. Subsequent posts echoed the theme that Iraq was either 'over', 'old news' or simply 'unfashionable'. 

Despite the US 'surge' of 2007, Iraq remains an unstable place. Deaths among Iraqi civilians and security forces are still averaging over 200 a month. The outcome of the recent (successful) elections offer little reassurance about the long-term prognosis for stability and governance. The enduring strategic aim of the American effort in Iraq since 2003 — lasting stability — still remains in the balance. The important strategic aim has not changed, yet the 'so 2008' comment highlights that something else has.

Carl von Clausewitz suggested that the character of war (and by implication, strategy) was influenced by 'the spirit of the age'. This 'spirit' is more than just the zeitgeist; what also matters is the way contemporary political, social and culture ideas and values are developed, transmitted and received. The posts on my mate's webpage hint at what the 'spirit of the age' may have done to what passes for contemporary strategy. 

Strategy is, and has always been, irrevocably tied up with politics and the expedient use of war and other actions to achieve desired results. The 20th century strategist Andre Beaufre referred to it as the 'dialectic of the battle of the wills'. Yet in the 21st century, strategy is becoming less about the dialectic and more about the expedient. The comment that Iraq is 'so 2008' reflects the growing dissonance between the policy expediency that informs such a perception and the underlying strategic imperative that still sees US forces committed to Iraq until at least 31 December 2011.

Soldier Z, Soldier X and Peter Leahy effectively pose the same question. It is unlikely to be answered directly and in the manner they hope for. The 'spirit of the age' has reduced strategy (grand or otherwise) among Western nations to the expediency of the sound bite.

Photo by Flickr user purpleslog, used under a Creative Commons license.

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