The resident faculty were speaking German this morning. Well, not really. Most were speaking English as if they were coughing up hairballs, in a poor imitation of German. Pootie the Precious was insulted, until we reminded her she has no hairballs.

Buried somewhere between “Ach” and “Tung” … was a clue. (More)

First our customary thanks to last week’s guest lecturers. Last Tuesday, Professor of Topofclassclownistics JanF offered a stellar example of Digging Deeper, discussing the proposed Serengeti Road. Last Wednesday, Professor of Commuhealthmemiofieldrogueology TheFatLadySings explored Bringing Rural Minorities into the Netroots Fold. Both were excellent discussions and are worth reading if you missed them.

Note: We have no Morning Feature guest lecturers scheduled yet for Tuesday or Wednesday. We also have openings this week in our campus soapbox Furthermore!, our afternoon people-watching series Midday Matinee, and our evening environmental series Our Earth. If you are a BPI Author, you will find a list of openings for each series on the Authors Notepad in your Dorm Room. Type in your user name and the date and topic you want, then click “Save Notes.” When I see it, I’ll put you on our Schedule and remove your note from the Notepad. If you are not yet a BPI Author and would like to contribute, please contact the BPI webmistress.

Also: Please share your stories of offline political activism in Things We Did This Week.

That leaves us with the resident faculty and the clues they left en route from the wine cellar library where they spend the weekend drinking thinking on our motto of Magis vinum, magis verum (“More wine, more truth”) to the hot tub faculty lounge for their weekly game where the underwear goes flying planning conference. Fortunately, they didn’t settle for coughing up hairballs as if that were speaking in German. They also left a copy of Carl von Clausewitz‘s military classic On War on the stairs. They even left the book open to the page with this passage:

We maintain, on the contrary: that war is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means. We say, mixed with other means, in order thereby to maintain at the same time that this political intercourse does not cease by the war itself, is not changed into something quite different, but that, in its essence, it continues to exist, whatever may be the form of the means which it uses, and that the chief lines on which the events of the war progress, and to which they are attached, are only the general features of policy which run all through the war until peace takes place. And how can we conceive it to be otherwise? Does the cessation of diplomatic notes stop the political relations between different nations and Governments? Is not war merely another kind of writing and language for political thoughts? It has certainly a grammar of its own, but its logic is not peculiar to itself. [Chapter VI, Part B. Emphasis added.]

This characteristically dense German paragraph is the source for Clausewitz’s most widely misquoted and most widely misunderstood maxim: “War is politics by other means.”

Our emphasis this week will be the “widely misunderstood.”

Consider David Broder’s Halloween call for war with Iran to boost our economy and President Obama’s popularity for 2012. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) quickly joined the chorus, declaring “containment is off the table” and calling for a war to “neuter” the Iranian regime. In a visit to Israel last week, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared that House Republicans would “serve as a check” on the Obama administration, saying the president must “ratchet up the pressure” on Iran.

If asked, each might contend he was only following Clausewitz’s maxim: “War is politics by other means.” A fuller reading of Clausewitz reveals they are not only incorrect, but morally wrong.

The complete paragraph quoted above makes clear that Clausewitz discussed war as an instrument of foreign politics: relations between nation-states. Clausewitz noted that nations at war often continued to negotiate their disagreements, and that the military operations were fundamentally part of that political dialogue. This week we will discuss the Clausewitzian Triangle, an international relations theory that sees military action as a means to gain leverage in negotiating a dispute. The ultimate objective is a negotiated settlement, not military dominance for its own sake.

Broder and others – mostly but not exclusively conservatives – promote war as an instrument of domestic politics: trying to recreate the military-driven economic growth of World War II, or simply vying for partisan political advantage. We’ll explore how President Bush and the GOP used the Iraq War for domestic political leverage, and how this month’s calls for war with Iran fit that same pattern. There may be, in rare cases, legitimate moral reasons to wage war. But boosting our economy or partisan politics will never qualify.

Broder and the Iran war hawks are not simply incorrect. They are morally wrong.


Happy Monday!