Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Two kinds of war

War, wrote Clausewitz, is politics by other means.  At certain times
during peace, politics becomes war by other means, and subduing the
enemy becomes the objective of one or more political contenders.  So it
has been here in the United States at least since the 1980s, when Newt
Gingrich emerged as a leading figure in the House of Representatives,
and so it is today.  And to understand why the Republicans are
winning--as they surely are--it is necessary to delve a little further
into Clausewitz and look at  a basic distinction he made between two
kinds of war.

"War," he wrote in a preface written while he was
still working on the book, "can be of two kinds, in the sense
that either the objective is to
the enemy
—to render him politically
helpless or militarily impotent, thus forcing him to sign whatever peace we
please; or merely to occupy some of his frontier-districts so
that we
can annex them or use them for bargaining at the peace negotiations.” 
At the Naval War College, we named these two kinds unlimited and limited
war, respectively.  Those terms had nothing to do with the extent of
the effort the two sides were making: they referred to the kind of
victory they were seeking.  In many wars, the two sides have had
different kinds of objectives.  The Union wanted to, and did, completely
conquer the Confederacy and force it to submit; the Confederacy would
have been content to force the Union to let it alone.  Other subtleties
often intrude. North Vietnam was fighting an unlimited war against the
South Vietnamese government, but a limited one against the United
States, since it only wanted us to withdraw from Vietnam.  The US fought
a successful limited war against Iraq in 1990-1 and a disastrous
unlimited one in 2002.

Our political struggle is nearing its
climax.  Its essence is quite simple.  The Republican Party has been
fighting an unlimited war at least since the 2000 election.  The
Democratic Party has been fighting a very limited one:  it wants to stay
in power when possible, assure the rights of women and gays, and
preserve social security, medicare, and the ACA.  The Republican Party
is fighting an unlimited war against the whole edifice of government and
workers' rights that has been built up since the Progressive Era. 
Their propaganda argues that the Democrats are trying to replace
the American system with dictatorship and socialism, but this is,
frankly, ridiculous.  Barack Obama essentially wants to keep the country
where it is.  In normal times that's a sound strategy, one followed in
different ways by Ronald Reagan (who changed things more marginally than
fundamentally) and Bill Clinton.  But we are living in the crisis
predicted by William Strauss and Neil Howe nearly twenty years ago.  The
old order which the Democrats claim to be defending is nearly dead,
because the generation that were young adults when it was created are
almost entirely dead, and thoroughly removed from power and influence. 
The Democrats have not put forward anything new to take its place.   The
Republicans have: a vision of almost complete economic liberty, in
which the federal government no longer looks after the less well off,
the United States economy is increasingly dominated by the financial
sector and the production of fossil fuels, and both public and private
employees lose the right to organize and bargain collectively.  It will
also be a world in which about 10 million non-citizens continue living
in the United States, working as hard as any of us without basic
rights.  It will show no respect for civil liberties.  Its attitude
towards the rest of the world is much less clear, but I hardly expect to
see the Republicans pull back from the Middle East.

During the last four years President
Obama has consistently been at a disadvantage dealing with the Congress
because he always wanted an agreement--a peace treaty in a limited war. 
They did not, and they threatened the destruction of the government to
get more of what they wanted.  Now that they control the whole Congress,
their tactics will get much worse. Indeed, this is already happening:
the Republicans have slipped a major amendment of the Dodd-Frank law
into the continuing resolution they are about to pass, and the Senate
and the White House are clearly not going to threaten to shut
down the government to force them to undo it.  This, mark my words, will
be the pattern for the next two years.  One Republican rider after
another will be slipped into budget bills, and the President will sign
them, I predict, unless they materially change Medicare or Social
Security--and maybe even then.  The Democratic illusion of limited war
was evidently on display once again during Congressional negotiations last week,
when Democratic leaders said a new, more generous provision on campaign
donations by wealthy individuals was "a necessary compromise to
forestall more aggressive efforts by Republicans next year to whittle
away at other campaign funding restrictions."  Nothing the Democrats do
will forestall anything the Republicans want to do.

pundits still refuse to believe what is happening.  They point to the
renewed strength of more traditional Republicans vis-a-vis the Tea
Party--a strength which is more apparent than real--and say that now
that the Republicans control Congress, they will to to "show that they
can govern."  But this is a total misreading, because the Republicans do
not want anyone to govern the United States, in fundamental ways.  They
want armed citizens to roam the streets of every city in the nation;
they want freedom for Wall Street and employers; they want unregulated
fracking.  The reason the Tea Party is so influential is that more
radical and militant factions always become stronger and more
influential in the midst of an unlimited war.  That was how the Jacobins
took power in France in 1792 when European monarchs had invaded the
nation, and how abolitionists won Lincoln over two years into the Civil
War.  Because the Democrats are so committed to the status quo, the
strength of their radical wing in the Senate has now been reduced to
two, Bernie Sanders (who doesn't even run as a Democrat) and Elizabeth

This is why, despite the electoral arithmetic to which
Democrats cling, I am so nervous about the next election.  Hillary
Clinton, to begin with, is very much a centrist Democrat with close ties
to Wall Street and AIPAC.  She will not be running as a revolutionary
New Dealer. She will depend on getting young people, women and
minorities to the polls in sufficient numbers to elect her--but will
this work?  I see no reason to think that the youth or minorities will
turn out for Hillary in the same numbers that they did for Obama.  The
Hispanic vote might if she takes a really strong stand on immigration,
but everyone will know that it will be impossible to deliver on real
reform with the Republicans in control of Congress. And meanwhile, the
Republican dau tranh campaign (use the search function, above, if
you want to understand that reference), will have reduced us to
near-chaos for two years, and the country may want to vote Republican
just to get that over with.

The Repubilcans have also been
winning, I think, because their goals reflect the spirit of their age
and of the Baby Boom generation. Individual freedom in every area of
life has been our mantra for nearly half a century.  Respect for
leadership, sacrifice, and cooperation for the common good have
gradually disappeared from our society.  Democrats find it necessary to
pretend that they haven't; Republicans are going with the flow.  This
has happened before, after the Civil War.  It took another 40 years
before the country even began to get back on track. That could be our
destiny, too.

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