And I really do have to take exception to this statement from the article:
"Some of Carl von Clausewitz's writings have, for longer than a century, influenced generals to see the object of war as simply destruction of adversaries in detail."
I guess I can accept it if emphasis is placed on the word "Some" because not all of Clausewitz writings emphasized this. I would also caveat this and say "It is the misreading of some of Clausewtiz' writings" or it is the misunderstanding caused by those who only read the bumper stickers of Clausewitz and do not really read (and more importantly study) On War.
Just to make a point we should not forget this quote from the chapter in People in Arms (Book 6 , Chapter 26):
"In a national insurrection the center of gravity to be destroyed lies in the person of the chief leader and in public opinion; against these points the blow must be directed." Clausewitz, 1832.
The other point we should be concerned with in this article is the premise that the indirect approach is somehow equated only with a softer, kinder, gentler approach. If we are going to twist the Indirect Approach in such a way then we should perhaps throw it in the dust bin along with Effect Based Operations (EBO) (which, by the way, is the only term to be struck form the lexicon since 9-11 when GEN Jim Mattis ordered it out of Joint Doctrine -- in contrast we have had a proliferation of new terms, many of which are redundant and overlapping, but I digress)
But we should consider the evolution of the indirect approach as follows (an excerpt from a paper I have not finished writing).
The Indirect Approach, first written and practiced by Sun Tzu and later codified and further developed by Captain Sir B.H. Liddell Hart in the 20th Century remains a key tactical concept, one of the pillars of operational art, and an important part of strategic theory today. It is a very popular term and is used by military and diplomatic strategists as well as politicians in theoretical writings, professional military journals and in the popular press.
However, since the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the resulting, so called Global War on Terror, military and strategic thinkers in the United States have put forth numerous concepts to explain conflict in the 21st Century. Such terms include Irregular Warfare in contrast to Major Combat Operations; Complex Contingencies, Hybrid Warfare and Full Spectrum Operations to name some of the major ones.
Emerging as a major operational construct to support strategy in these new operating environments is the Indirect Approach. This approach has been broadly characterized as working "through, by and with" friends, partners or allies to achieve US objectives and has formed the basis for the development of what the United States military now calls Security Force Assistance (and what gas long been called Foreign Internal Defense). The assumption is that if the U.S. military can "build the capacity" of the indigenous security forces then those forces can achieve security objectives for the U.S. However, is this really the meaning of the traditional Indirect Approach? (as an aside ("through, by and with" should really be written as "through and with" because the "by" really does not add anything to the meaning except to make it grammatically awkward, but I digress again)
Of course B.H. Liddell Hart is the man who brought the concept of the Indirect Approach to the fore in the 20th century. Fundamentally, his strategic concept can be summed up in his own following words:
"In strategy the longest way round is often the shortest way there; a direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, whereas an indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance."
"The profoundest truth of war is that the issue of battle is usually decided in the minds of the opposing commanders, not in the bodies of their men"
Some would apply the Liddell Hart's concepts to purely the maneuver of military forces and the psychological effects on military commanders. This would seem to be a narrow use of the concept and perhaps render it no longer relevant. Even in current U.S. military doctrine (Joint Pub 3-0) it is used in a similar manner:
"In the event that a direct attack is not a reasonable solution, Joint Force Commanders should seek an indirect approach until conditions are established that permit successful direct attacks."
The emphasis remains on the direct attack as decisive and the indirect approach as a means to getting to and setting the conditions for the direct attack. However, in literature by some of today's senior military leaders the Indirect Approach takes on a different meaning:
"The primary contribution of Special Operations Forces (SOF) in this interagency activity is to organize, train, and assist local security forces. The indirect approach relies heavily on the SOF capability to build host nation defense capacity, provide civil affairs forces to give humanitarian and civic assistance, and offer information operations assets to aid the partner."
The Indirect Approach describing the activities of Special Operations Forces appears to be a strategic contrast to the operational and tactical action the indirect approach by regular maneuver forces.