James Holmes of the U.S. Naval War College has an interesting essay about how Grand Strategy relies on a good sense of the possible:
The strategist Aesop relates a tale of misbegotten strategy. A group of mice convenes to determine how to outwit their archnemesis, the Cat. An enterprising young mouse devises an ingenious strategy, pointing to “the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us.” The mice, he reasons, could escape the feline’s clutches easily once alerted. He therefore urges “that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighborhood.”
The council of mice applauds the proposal — whereupon an older, wiser mouse asks who will bell the Cat. Silence descends. The fable concludes with the sage mouse intoning that “It is easy to propose impossible remedies.” Or, as a former teaching partner of mine puts it, anyone can come up with an impossible plan!
. . .
If someone proposes some grand strategy while scanting the how of implementing it, it’s time to level tough questions. For instance, I’ve criticized the idea of “offshore balancing” for precisely that reason. Proponents of this rather elegant theory have a habit of waving aside the colossal practical difficulties Washington would encounter should it try to put it into practice. To paraphrase Aesop’s farseeing mouse once more, it’s easy to dream up an impossible plan.
Or there’s the AirSea Battle Doctrine. One objection to retiring offshore is that a wartime adversary may veto U.S. forces’ return. But because AirSea Battle is an operational concept rather than a full-up strategy, many grand strategists insist it has no place in discussions of grand strategy. (It’s worth pointing out that “battle” isn’t a strategy either, but few grand strategists argue for banishing it from strategic discourses.) That may be true in a narrow sense. Nevertheless, U.S. grand strategy depends on access to important theaters. Nor is this anything new. A century ago, Mahan defined sea power as prying and keeping open commercial, political, and military access — in that order. That’s grand strategy to a T.
Read it all here.
Charles A. Blanchard
United States Air Force