William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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The President's Clausewitz Problem

Paris, November 26, 2014 – Chuck Hagel’s departure from the Obama Defense Secretary’s post has been attributed to his failure to fit in with the Obama cabinet’s crowd. Among his other reported differences was that he was only a sergeant in Vietnam, twice wounded.

A twice-wounded veteran, I should think, would make him a rare specimen in a Washington packed full of Senators and Congressmen, and State Department and National Security Council staff who assume that they know more about war than Clausewitz, and unwounded but heavily decorated generals eager to get back to showing their stuff, as in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(As I have noted before, the most celebrated of those, David Petraeus, when he resigned from the army, was entitled to display more than 50 items of military adornment up one side of his chest and down the other, none of them the Purple Heart - for foreign readers, a U.S. military decoration awarded for wounds suffered in combat. One understands why a former sergeant may be thought a social embarrassment, especially if he calls himself “Chuck.”)

Sergeant Hagel’s real problem seems he supported too few wars for President Barack Obama, agreeing with the generals that airplanes alone don’t win wars - and certainly he supported not enough wars to satisfy the Pentagon and some of the aggressively ideological ladies in the State Department and on the White House staff. The president was elected on a platform of ending the war in Iraq, already presumed effectively won, and to expedite victory in the more important war in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden made his home.

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