7: Consequences

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The preceding chapters have considered some of the prominent explanations for the emergence and persistence of vicarious warfare. Building on this foundation and drawing from a wide range of recent studies, this chapter will expose its principal operational manifestations to further scrutiny with the aim of uncovering its central dynamics and shedding greater light on the often counterproductive strategic consequences of this form of war, at least as it has been conducted by the United States over recent times.

The first section provides a foundation for the discussion by presenting core Clausewitzian insights that can aid appreciation of the political dynamics underlying the use of force, and specifically as they apply to vicarious warfare. This helps explain how apparent tactical gains can shroud serious deficiencies in strategic terms. The second section outlines how these dynamics play out in relation to three ‘Ds’ of delegation, danger- proofing and darkness, which are employed as short-hand descriptors for some of the central practices that have characterized contemporary American vicarious warfare.

A number of studies advocating versions of vicarious approaches have deemed it necessary to set up their views against what they see as a dominating ‘Clausewitzian’ mentality in American strategic thinking. This, they argue, has compelled America to harmfully apply overwhelming force in pursuit of decisive victories, and has even promoted ‘foolish beliefs about the necessity of slaughter’.1 Instead, they suggest that America should play to its ‘asymmetric’ strengths in air and naval power, special forces and intelligence assets to target enemy vulnerabilities while simultaneously limiting America’s exposure to risks, costs and casualties From a slightly different direction, in a popular recent book McFate bluntly describes Clausewitz as the ‘high priest of conventional war’ who thought ‘brute force and battlefield victory is everything’.3

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Vicarious Warfare
American Strategy and the Illusion of War on the Cheap