- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

On Wednesday, it was reported that President Bush would consult with Congress before deciding to invade Iraq. Prior to this proclamation, there was concern that the administration would lead the nation into a costly war without a national debate to rally support. In making a decision to seek national approval for U.S. war aims, Mr. Bush rightly follows proven principles in preparing a nation for war. History shows that it is not enough to marshal military power; one must also marshal both political will and the support of the population.
In his military classic "On War," German war theorist Carl von Clausewitz stated that war's dominant tendencies combine to make a "paradoxical trinity, composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force." In its boiled down state, this trinity consists of the people (passion), the military (the creative management of war's probability and chance) and the government (rational decision-making). During the prosecution of a war, this trinity will continually change, with more emphasis being placed on one part than on the others followed by a shifting of relative importance as our trinity reacts with the trinity of our enemy.
The important lesson here is that one should strive to keep his trinity balanced.
If, in the conduct of war, the government assumes a gross preponderance of the trinity's weight, the voice of the people and the counsel of the military are subverted like the Cold War-era Soviet Union. Equally dangerous is a trinity weighted towards the military, like Argentina's military junta at the time of the Falklands War a case in which the rational process of government was desperately needed but no where to be found. A case of the people holding the lion's share of the trinity? Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars, where the voice of the people became the voice of the government; minus the part about rational decision-making. Picture mob rule under the auspices of a governing body. In each of the above cases, the unbalanced trinity resulted in much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The last example, that of Greece during the Peloponnesian Wars, merits more attention here. In his great work on the history of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenian Thucydides describes a debate that took place in the governing body of Athens the Assembly. The Assembly was where the leaders of Athens (roughly 6,000 of them) gathered to debate the issues of the day, setting policy and determining strategy. The debate that Thucydides describes concerned the proposed Athenian military expedition to Sicily. The Athenians had previously decided to invade Sicily as a way of weakening her great rival Sparta. But after a period of reflection, this decision was not sitting well with Nicias, the general tasked with leading the expedition. Another Assembly was called, and Nicias rose to speak. In his oration, he stated that the decision for war was a weighty one, and that an open debate must be conducted in a way that would allow those who oppose war to voice their opinions without being called cowards. But despite Nicias' attempt to spark an honest exchange on Athenian war aims and strategic alternatives, the fear of running counter to war hysteria carried the day. Those who either opposed the war or desired to discuss other policy options were afraid to speak, less they loose their lives or tarnish their reputations. The Athenian Alcibiades, in arguing for war, asked his fellow assemblymen to "not let the passive policy which Nicias advocates, or his setting of young against old, turn you from your purpose." The end result was a second vote for war. Nicias was unable to change the prevailing direction in which Athens was headed. Fear of challenging the majority resulted in the ill-fated Athenian expedition to Sicily and the eventual downfall of Athens. Athens had lost control of her trinity. Strategic rationality had become a casualty of war.
In applying the lessons of Clausewitz and Thucydides to the current discussion over the decision to invade Iraq, one comes to the conclusion that the conduct of a free and open debate strengthens America by keeping her trinity balanced. By limiting the debate, we weaken our national security. To his great credit, Mr. Bush has recognized this. His decision to bring Congress into the national decision-making process will result in a balanced weighing of strategic alternatives, a focused approach to resourcing a desired end state, and a necessary buy-in for what promises to be a long-term solution to a very real problem. In short, a national debate will unite the nation behind U.S. war aims.
Clausewitz warns that policy must govern strategy, but that policy should never be a tyrant. Let the debate begin.

Roger D. Carstens is a member of the Council for Emerging National Security Affairs.

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