Gregory R. Copley

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Gregory Copley with Bill Bryan, the supervisory professor of the Command & General Staff College at Ft. Belvoir, after Copley's address as part of the Leadership Lecture Series on January 24, 2007.

The Art of Victory: Leadership in Turbulent Times

By Gregory R. Copley

An Address to the US Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, January 24, 2007.

No-one can deny that these are turbulent times. The entire fabric of our lives, and life for people everywhere, is open to question. We await and expect change, and change creates anxiety. But it might also be argued that periods of change, uncertainty, and anxiety are exactly what call forth the need for leadership. Leadership is less demanded in times of tranquility, when established orders and recognized hierarchies do their job of stabilizing and managing societies, and even armies. But chaos, danger, and movement all require the calming order of leadership.

You have, as young officers, all experienced the power of leadership at a very personal level under the demanding tactical conditions of conflict in Iraq or Afghanistan, or elsewhere. Even in support functions, away from the heat of battle, during times such as these � when the very nature of conflict is changing � there is the implicit demand for excellence, example, and decisiveness. When logistics fail, people die. When communications or intelligence do not perform, people die. When all elements of the military equation fail, battles are lost, wars are lost, and society as a whole is thrown into new political territory.

Thus we see the significance of the unbroken thread of leadership and the command and control networks from the platoon level to the management of armies and nations. The nobility of leadership is obvious at a squad level, or on the level of a platoon or company: the galvanizing power of personal leadership can be seen to transform tactical situations. But as the task spreads, as it must, up the chain of society, embracing larger and larger formations of troops, and broader elements of humanity, the tasks become more abstract, and the connections between actions and reactions less distinct. Decisions made at a strategic level emanate less from the heart, and more from the acids which swirl in the pit of the stomach and the unsleeping recesses of the brain.

Let me cite for you a few paragraphs from an address I gave to an earlier course here at the Command & General Staff College before I specifically address the matter of leadership: [Click here for Full text]

Officers of this Command & General Staff College Course: you are, in the profession of strategy, still young, and have yet to be given great command, �though your mettle has already been tested in harsh times. You are now being called to even greater service for your country because you have proven to have the essential instincts of courage, decisiveness, loyalty, and intellectual curiosity. These are the noble characteristics of youth, which has the strength to respond quickly and efficiently to the immediate challenges; to be able to obey without question; to uphold the ideals of a civilization handed down from heroes of antiquity.

But, to quote the words from St Paul�s First Letter to the Corinthians:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

For now we see through a glass, darkly �

Thus now you move from the golden horizons of youth into a night of serried shadows. With this Command course, you move from the tactical to the strategic. From the immediate and visible, to the indefinite, the wraith-like, and the invisible. From what, in youth, seems the certain clarity of knowledge to that which, in growing maturity, is the troubling uncertainty and infinite nuance of wisdom. From follower to leader. The marshal�s baton which has merely weighed heavy and useless at the foot of your knapsack must now be the altar � indeed, it is a knowledge stick � which you transport with you. For you are to command the future, if you can but see the broad horizons while retaining the characteristics and vigor which made your command of the immediate � the tactical phalanx � so gratifying to grasp.

Our talk today is of victory, which goes beyond military strategy � although it embraces it � and which transcends any single generation. And if we understand victory, and the path to its achievement, then we will truly contribute to the endurance of our civilization. Once we grasp the meaning of victory we can begin to understand the arts and costs of its achievement.

Now let me return to what I have prepared for you.

Within the framework of grand strategy, which I address in The Art of Victory, we will consider the aspects of leadership which were touched upon in the book. In fact, all 28 maxims of The Art of Victory relate to leadership because leadership entails the grasp of the bigger picture, the context of past, present, and future, in the broadest sense. Within those 28 maxims, however, several specifically addressed the qualities required of leaders.

Maxim 15 of The Art of Victory states: �The true leader is in harmony with the times, and comprehends the place and r�le of past leaders while building a foundation for future leaders. Only through leadership can a society be greater than the sum of its parts.�

Former US President Richard M. Nixon said that �management� was prose, and leadership was �poetry�. The manager, he said, thinks of today and tomorrow. The leader must think of the day after tomorrow. Today, however, because of the flattened social hierarchy, the result of globalization, in which traditional structures of power and leadership are neither trusted nor respected, it is difficult to identify the true leaders among us, and even more difficult for leaders to rise out of the cynicism and self-absorption of society.

What we have seen, as a result, in current society, is that many people, in order to claim leadership, or to wear the badges of leadership on their sleeves in order to gain office, choose the easy path of attacking existing or traditional hierarchies. In democratic society as a whole, criticism is the easy path to what appears to be leadership. In fact, political position or power does not necessarily equate to leadership. Only in time of crisis, then, do we see whether those who control the structures of power can, in fact, lead.

In The Art of Victory, I talk a lot about national commanders or politicians whose sole goal is to spend the fruits of victory; to spend the accumulated social, strategic, and economic wealth of their nation. These are managers, not leaders. True leaders seek to continually build the structures and substance of victory.

In the military, as well, we see the difference between �managers� and �leaders�; the managers thrive in peacetime operations, and keep the status quo. But they do not prepare their services for the coming conflicts, and the changing nature of conflict. Managers reaffirm the processes rather than the goals of their positions.

I would also commend to you another new book, Contra Cross, by William Meara, published in 2006.1 This book showed how the US Army resisted � even after the success of the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong in Vietnam � the need to adopt doctrine suited to irregular conflict.

It is easy to see how this has hurt the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, in much the same fashion as the proponents of battleships resisted the move to aircraft carriers, retarding the Allied ability to fight the Pacific war in World War II.

Managers look backward; leaders look forward. Managers take no risks with their careers; leaders risk their careers for the greater good.

The great strategic leader, who is essential for the achievement and sustenance of victory, is the one who can manage the status quo in times of peace, and yet move it forward without chaos. In times of danger, this leader can anticipate threats and mobilize resources to pre-emptively deter an enemy�s hostility.

Some leaders � motivated by the retention of personal power � rely on the constant absence of hope in their society in order to achieve maximum compliance, rather than address the fickle and erratic behavior which hope and rising expectations create.

The absence of hope enables the creation of a tool � terrorism � which cannot build, only destroy.

Maxim 16 states: �Collective leadership does not exist. Collective responsibility is the abdication of responsibility.�

Leadership and responsibility must be conducted in relative isolation; the greater the level of leadership and responsibility, the greater the isolation from human interaction which must be accepted. This is because leadership is as iconic as it is physical. In other words, leadership must represent ideals, and must in some senses be unassailable and seemingly above base desire.

Societies prosper through diversity and complexity. They retain, consolidate, and advance their victory through this diversity. But victory is first achieved, and then defended, when the society can be induced to act en bloc, as one. To cite Gustave LeBon, who in 1896 wrote: �Whatever be the ideas suggested to crowds, they can only exercise effective influence on condition that they assume a very absolute, uncompromising, and simple shape.�2

This unity of purpose can be achieved only through unity or singularity of leadership. Leadership, while it may be sought by the individual, is granted by the crowd; therein lies the symbiotic relationship, demanding mutual trust.

The great and obviously disastrous example of �collective leadership� was that which Tito bequeathed to Yugoslavia. With the war which will re-erupt in Kosovo over the coming months we can see that we are fighting that disaster a quarter-century after Tito�s death.

Maxim 17 states: �Leadership, like victory itself, is as it is perceived and revered to be.�

No wonder there is chaos in the world. The phenomenon of globalization � which essentially became viral in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Cold War � flattened the world�s industrial and social hierarchical structures with the leveling effect of a nuclear weapon.

But herein lies the dichotomy. If the hierarchical structures of the world � that is, the traditional, vertical structures of society � have been destroyed, damaged, or attacked, then how can the leadership attain the respect and reverence which is required for it to be effective? That is the great challenge of today and tomorrow.

Indeed, in order to persuade people, even troops, to follow a leader in the current environment, we have seen leaders prostrating themselves with populism before the people they are supposed to lead. This is the reverse of what is required to achieve great leadership and therefore great societies.

Georges Clemenceau, who had been President of France in World War I, noted in his 1926 book, Demosthenes: �Nations have never cheerfully followed any leaders except those who have asked them to shed their blood.� But he also said: �Every man is quick to offer himself as leader and the crowd sooner or later is quick to take its revenge on the one who chances to be chosen.�

Even so, he said, �great lives open for us avenues of light in all directions.�3

Real leadership is a lonely exercise, removed from the crowd; and this must be so.

In all forms of leadership it is apparent that great acts of intellectual courage are achieved alone. They are rarely the result of collective thinking among equals. These acts of intellectual courage � the essence of leadership � may be passed on to the crowd as inspiration to follow, but the crowd itself, all the while demanding authority for itself, can in no way lead.

�Crowd leadership� is chaos and destruction.

The normal person � adept, thoughtful, and distinctly individual when alone or in the company of a few people � loses many faculties of reason, and assigns away the most fundamental of rights, on becoming part of a crowd.

Gustave LeBon noted that �by the mere fact that he forms part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs in the ladder of civilization. Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian � that is, a creature acting by instinct. He possesses the spontaneity, the violence, the ferocity, and also the enthusiasm and heroism of primitive beings � An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.�

So the leader must achieve a balance between the appropriate degree of separation from the crowd, and the appropriate degree of identification with the crowd. But he can in no way be subsumed by the crowd. The whole system of hierarchical rankings within societies � civil crowds and military ones � enables the appropriate amount of authority to ensure leadership appropriate to the task. Hence, corporals lead few, and generals many, but each has an indispensable function. Each rank is incrementally further away from the crowd, for which it must make the rational decisions.

In this process, leaders emerge from the led, having become imbued with the concepts of earlier leaders. Few leaders emerge full-blown, without the cathartic birthing process of evolution in the crowd�s womb.

Maxim 18 states: �All victory is the responsibility of the leader, and the leader is the fruit of the society. A single poor leader damages victory, just as a single great leader may advance its cause.�

The leader ultimately must transcend collectivity, which is defined by its median, its mediocrity; its lowest common denominator. But if successive leaders fail to raise the median of the society, then the society may ultimately reject even the best leader.

No office in the world has held more power in the past half-century than that of the US President. Despite the apparent awe, however, in which the office is held, few Americans can name all of their nation�s presidents. Most could name a few US presidents, inevitably those who transcended their peers to advance the cause of their country.

For all their political savvy, the van Burens, the Millard Fillmores, the Jimmy Carters, and the like, were all just marking time, failing to raise the median of US society, and often damaging it until more visionary leadership could be elected. The Comte de Maistre said in the 18th Century that every country gets the government it deserves. This is not always true, but generally so, largely because leadership � and government � is a reflection of its society, and in many ways mankind is less than the sum of its parts.

And now we see a great flattening of social hierarchies, in which traditional forms of leadership are being weakened. This is the most important and dangerous byproduct of globalization, which has dramatically promoted lateral communications within societies, and across national lines, and has prospered by attacking or questioning vertical hierarchies and leaders.

Nobility of purpose, so difficult to retain when the challenges of higher office become more complex and obscure, remains, then, the critical element to the prestige and effectiveness of leadership. Nobility embodies not merely the ethical and moral integrity of the individual; it also embodies a sense of vision, a broadening of the contextual environment and an extension of the horizons which are seen, moving from the tactical to the strategic.

The current strategic environment

Let me conclude by briefly discussing with you the strategic framework facing the US and the West today.

Iraq is the present focus of the US electorate and the media. But it should not be the main focus for the professional strategist or the career Army leader. The question of the conflict in Iraq must be seen in a broader geopolitical context as well as in a longer timeframe. Certainly there are vital doctrinal, technological, and operational lessons to be drawn from the actual conflict in Iraq itself; I do not mean to diminish those aspects of the conflict. But the matter should relate, from the standpoint of the West, to Western interests, and not to the West�s current ethical or philosophical fashions.

But we find that the underlying Persian civilization remains, still, at the heart of the matter. Iran, not Iraq, is the principal pivot on which East-West issues lie. The current religious and other issues which we see enflaming Iraq at present are merely the reflection of that reality.

The re-emergence of real Persian power is possible, for the first time in 2,500 years. The challenge for the West is to ensure that Persia, today�s Iran, emerges as part of modern society rather than as the ideologically-driven gunpowder state which it became after US Pres. Jimmy Carter destroyed the Shah�s Government and with it the stability of the Middle East.

Afghanistan, as a direct neighbor of Iran and a country which is in many areas Farsi-speaking, is also tied to the Iranian strategic matrix. It is unlikely, for historical reasons, that NATO and the present Government in Kabul can prevail in the war there, in terms of creating a national writ for the country.

What the Coalition presence in Afghanistan and Iraq can do, and is doing, is buying time for more holistic strategies to be developed by the modern world to cope with the very logical ideological whiplash we are seeing to globalization by the disenfranchised and unproductive societies which have embraced jihadism and Islamism.

The real problem is that we have seen no development of constructive long-term strategies in the US, or anywhere else in the West, to the challenges exemplified in the Iraq, Afghan, or Iranian situations. We see from Western leaders only short-term, reactive policies � which do not amount to strategies � which then begs the question as to why we are �buying time� if we do not intend to use the time, acquired with blood, to create true, long-term strategies to preserve Western, and, indeed, global interests.

We also need to look at the matter of the recent North Korean nuclear and national command authority demonstrations, and at the People�s Republic of China�s demonstration of an anti-satellite weapon. We need to understand the relationship between the PRC, North Korea, and Iran. It is from this complex of states that the US and the West will ultimately find a major strategic threat.

The age of 20th Century warfare is over, and the end is foreseeable of the interim age dominated by irregular warfare. Indeed, it is possible to envisage the end to the viability of ballistic missile-delivered nuclear and biological weapons.

We could already have entered the age when nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles were rendered obsolete had we but followed through with the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), created by Dr Stefan Possony, my old colleague, and Pres. Ronald Reagan. Now, however, we find that China is in the forefront of activity to develop a space-based military capability, moving to develop its own SDI, and the US will have to react.

We should be in no doubt that the People�s Republic of China represents a far more credible competitor to the US than did the old Soviet Union. China, since Deng Xiaoping, is more soundly based in economic terms than the USSR, and is becoming efficient in strategic and military terms. Meanwhile, the US has no cohesive military alliance to face the PRC and its allies. NATO is not an instrument which the US can wield against China in the foreseeable future, and US treaty arrangements in Asia have to some extent been paralyzed by Beijing, where they have not already been undone by successive US administrations.

But the strategic environment could again change without much warning if either the US or Chinese economy was to collapse, or slow down dramatically, in the coming decade or two. There are a variety of factors which could bring about a political crisis in mainland China, including a slowdown in the US economy. While this may precipitate a collapse of a centralized, unified, China, it is likely that it would also first engender regional conflict, including a mainland Chinese war to seize Taiwan.

Let me say, in closing, that we face interesting times, in which the global framework will be totally transformed; in which new technologies will change both the economic and military balances; in which entire countries will appear or disappear; in which alliances which we have taken for granted will no longer be viable.

But throughout this process, the challenges facing leaders will be more profound and complex than anything we have seen in the world for more than a century. To earn leadership, rather than merely to be promoted into it, will demand a mastery of the power to engender respect for the individual and for the institution. The symbols of leadership may have to be re-defined, and certainly they will have to be reinforced.

And no leader will long survive without wisdom; a wisdom engendered by great experience and even greater reading and reflection; a willingness to place cause above self; tomorrow ahead of today. And to be able to demonstrate that the purple banner of leadership carries the great saga of our yesterdays into the promise of an even greater tomorrow.

In all of this, you, whom the people of the United States now call to leadership, must face the need to recognize wisdom, and to seek it; and, with wisdom as goal and master, to follow the immortal words which Shakespeare put into the mouth of Polonius: To thine own self be true.

1. Contra Cross: Insurgency and Tyranny in Central America, 1979-1989. By William R. Meara. Annapolis, Maryland, 2006: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN: 1-59114-518-X.

2. LeBon, Gustave: The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. New York, Viking, 1960. Our edition: New York, 1896: Macmillan. 

3. Clemenceau, Georges: Demosthenes. Translation by Charles Miner Thomson. Cambridge, Mass., 1926: Houghton Mifflin. 


Copyright � 2007, Gregory R. Copley. All rights reserved.
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