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A wonderful discussion about the American Empire

24 June 2009

Here is a wonderful discussion of how American security has mutated into an American Empire.  Seldom are actual threats to America discussed.  Threats to American hegemony are presumed to be threats to America.  Most of the threats described are never analyzed, probably because they would be shown to have the substance of Saddam’s WMD’s.

The focus is on making the world a better place.  Commendable, but for two things:

  • we’re borrowing the money for this project, and
  • doing it largely by killing. 

I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think of the results — as they pay the tab. It’s a gamble without precedent in world history, done without explicit discussion before the American people and Congress.  That is, the major public justification for the wars were and are largely lies.  Saddam’s WMD’s and ties to 9-11.  The Tailiban’s major role in 9-11.  The need to occupy Afghanistan to prevent more 9-11′s. 

Perhaps the key assumption is that America has the resources — both in resources and wisdom — to reshape the world.  Our creditors probably doubt the first.  Probably most of the world’s peoples doubt the second.

These are, in a sense, our best and brightest.  Dreamers, most of them, wishing for a better world.  How sad that again we focus our energies on remaking a distant part of the world while critical problems build at home.  If these folks discussed so radically remaking LA or NYC, the Instapundit and conservative websites would condemn their arrogance — and tea parties organize to stop our wealth going down a rathole.

Conference highlights

Summary:  Striking a Balance, a conference the the Center for A New American Security, 11 June 2009 — Here are the transcripts, where available.  At this site are video and audio for all presentations.

(1)  Morning Keynote Address by General David H. Petraeus(Commander, U.S. Central Command)

(2)  After the Fire:  Shaping the US relationship with Iraq, panel discussion:

  • Dr. John A. Nagl (President, Center for a New American Security),
  • General John (Jack) Keane (USA Ret.),
  • George Packer (Staff Writer, The New Yorker),
  • Nazar Janabi (Washington Institute for Near East Policy),
  • Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie (Ambassador of Iraq to US)

(3)  Public Diplomacy – A national security imperative, the Honorable Judith A. McHale (Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs)

(4)  Triage: the next 12 months in Iraq and Afghanistan, by Andrew M. Exum, Nathaniel C. Fick, Ahmed A. Humayun, and David J. Kilcullen — 36 pages.  Summary:

Eight years into the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the situation is as perilous as ever and continuing to worsen. The campaign has been further complicated by a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan, where the center of gravity of the insurgency has now shifted. In counterinsurgency campaigns, momentum matters. Over the next 12 months, the United States and its allies must demonstrate they have seized back the initiative from the Taliban and other hostile actors.

This paper makes four operational recommendations – two on each side of the Durand line – which allow the new strategy articulated by the White House a better chance of success. In Afghanistan, we recommend that protecting the population take precedence over all other considerations for the time being. At the same time, however, any “civilian surge” must be used to increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government in the eyes of the Afghan population. In Pakistan, meanwhile, the U.S. government should place a moratorium on drone strikes on non-al Qaedatargets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Northwest Frontier Province until such strikes can be incorporated into a coherent strategy for separating the population of these areas from al Qaeda. And the United States should refocus its train and equip mission in Pakistan to place a greater emphasis on the police – the only Pakistani security service focused entirely on domestic security. Especial emphasis should be placed on the security services in those areas where Pakistani authority is strongest, such as in Punjab and Sindh.

In his speech in March, President Obama promised metrics and benchmarks to track his new strategy. This paper provides what we consider to be useful metrics of gauging U.S. and allied successes and failures. More specifically, this paper recommends focusing on metrics which measure outputs rather than inputs. In Afghanistan, for example, less important than how many troops we commit is how many civilians we manage to protect.

To be sure, the road ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan is long, and we predict violence in both countries to rise over the next 12 months. But with a renewed focus on protecting the population and the strengthening government agencies and security forces, the United States and its allies will be better positioned to seize the opportunities to reverse the deteriorating condition in both countries.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Here are almost complete directories of the online works by two of these speakers:

  1. The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen
  2. The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl
  3. Andrew Bacevich’s work
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15 Comments leave one →
  1. smitty permalink
    24 June 2009 11:31 am

    How accidental is this “empire”? It is possible that, as a result of the cratered world economy, we’ll soon discover whether history will permit a neo-Monroe doctrine.

    Like

  2. senecal permalink
    24 June 2009 1:50 pm

    “Project for a New American Security” — no need to read any farther. Blase re-packaging of the original PNAC.

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    Fabius Maximus replies: The best part of both projects is their ample corporate funding. What a great business to be in! All donations to the Fabius Maximus Project for a Wonderful American Future (FMPWAF) will be accepted!

    From Wikipedia:

    The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was an American think tank based in Washington, D.C. that lasted from early 1997 to 2006. It was co-founded as a non-profit educational organization by neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan. The PNAC’s stated goal was “to promote American global leadership.” Fundamental to the PNAC were the view that “American leadership is both good for America and good for the world” and support for “a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity.”

    Like

  3. Neilz permalink
    24 June 2009 1:59 pm

    “But with a renewed focus on protecting the population…”

    How is initiating a predator strike against innocent women and children at a funeral for people we carpetbombed earlier focusing on protecting the population?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Easy. Any killed are insurgents or terrorists (or would have become such if they had grown to adulthood). Upon proof that this is not so, we acknowledge that a few might have been innocent. Upon pressure we announce an investigation. Much later, hopefully after the incident is forgotten, we issue a partially correct analysis. Rinse. Repeat.

    Like

  4. senecal permalink
    24 June 2009 6:35 pm

    The language and the concepts below are remarkably similar to those used at one point in Vietnam. They sound terribly reasonable, even civilized, except that they have little connection to reality on the ground. In the sixties, there was a phrase for this kind of thinking: “crackpot realism.”

    From item #4 in this post:

    “… the U.S. government should place a moratorium on drone strikes on non-al Qaedatargets in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Northwest Frontier Province until such strikes can be incorporated into a coherent strategy for separating the population of these areas from al Qaeda. And the United States should refocus its train and equip mission in Pakistan to place a greater emphasis on the police – the only Pakistani security service focused entirely on domestic security. Especial emphasis should be placed on the security services in those areas where Pakistani authority is strongest, such as in Punjab and Sindh.”

    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: A major expert on 4GW said something similar to me about this discussion -

    “I suspect that if we had had an Internet in 1967, the posts and comments would have been substantively indistinguishable from what we’re reading today.”

    Like

  5. 24 June 2009 7:16 pm

    We have seen the Enemy and he is Us. Close ALL foreign bases. Return the military academies to their original purpose: training military officers instead of 2d rate colleges. Enforce ROTC on campuses, withdraw ALL funding from schools who wish to hide behind the unisex thong! Abolish NATO, reduce American support for the UN to 5% of current funding. Increase the Marine Corps by one or two divisions, reequip the US military so that it is a mix of light infantry and real Military Police — several divisions. (This is what we needed in Iraq if we were dumb enough to occupy it — we were obviously.) The Army has always disliked the MP and not utilized it properly — until today. Abolish the Air Force, return battle air space control to the Army, create a Space Command in charge of missile defense and offense as well as Space Intel and yes, space warfare. Reorganize the Navy, reestablish Naval Shipyards and take acquisition from the dreadful cabal who are destroying the basis of our power. We are a Pacific power, we need to reassert our pledge to Japan, openly debate the Chinese and the Russians about North Korea. Ask them openly if they want a nuclear Japan == they will have it in two years. Seek consensus on lessening the confrontations caused by Arab money in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh. Build friendship with India. Get real with the Arabs and stop running a policy that is in the interest of Exxon and nobody else. Drill in America and Cuba. Develop nuclear power, reindustrialize the U.S. of A. reduce buying crap from China by enforcing our labor and environmental laws. We shipped production overseas to undermine our own progress!! Then we can remake the Pentagon by developing a national security policy that is based on free trade, denuclearization, active confrontation with Islamic extremism, trotskiites like Chavez who will only leave feet first no matter what we do. Every war we have engaged in since 1945 has reduced our security, weakened our people, taught us all the wrong lessons and did nothing for the well-being of the people involved — those who lived on. This is not the place to revisit the Cold War but it was not inevitable. Personally, I believe the S.U. would have collapsed faster if we had not been so active. But its a pointless discussion since we have real time questions that need addressing. Ah yes, the Arab-Israeli question. I will pass on this for now until FM decides to address it specifically.

    Like

  6. Rick Caird permalink
    24 June 2009 7:30 pm

    As I recall, the Taliban refused to turn over Bin Laden and Al Quada. Instead, the Taliban continued to protect Al Quada and allowed them sanctuary and training camps. Are you suggesting, nothing should have been done after 9/11?
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: To repeat what I have said so many times in the past 5 years (most recently here) –

    On a personal level I have no problem with the initial invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the resulting regime changes (as I have discussed at length on this site). The first was a salutary warning to other nations — don’t even think of allying with those who might strike at America. The second was, like Panama, a nice reminder that tin-pot dictators should keep a low profile (they’re only dictator for life). If we had made our point and pulled out, that would have had OK results and been considered a perk of hegemony.

    But both morphed into occupations, attempting to install puppets, establish long-term bases, and gain colonial-type commercial advantages. In Iraq we have so far gained only 1 of these 3 (the bases). These efforts are more expensive than we can afford (in both money and diversion of both military and political resources) — and the likely gains are too small vs. the costs.

    Like

  7. Talisker permalink
    24 June 2009 7:32 pm

    Fabius Maximus Project for a Wonderful American Future (FMPWAF)

    I’d contribute a few pennies.

    Like

  8. phageghost permalink
    24 June 2009 9:43 pm

    Rick,

    That’s the official history. The real history is that the Taliban made multiple offers to extradite OBL if provided with evidence against him (a prerequisite to extradition from any country), including one as early as 12 September 2001 (see “Bin Laden extradition raised“, BBC, 12 Sept 2001). Were they serious? Maybe. The only way to find out would have been to pursue negotiations. The U.S. and Britain refused to do so, as they later reneged on their promises to provide public dossiers of the evidence. For the same reason the U.S. declined to seek UN Security Council authorization for its attack, even though it surely would have gotten it.

    The idea (IMO) was to help circumvent and make irrelevant the last vestiges of international law that were an irritating constraint on the U.S.’s ability to enforce and consolidate hegemony through military action. Our “unbeatable” military meant we could now rule the world through pure force of arms without the need for diplomatic fig leaves. Afghanistan and Iraq were intended to be demonstrations of this new reality.

    For what it’s worth Fabius did support the idea of a punitive strike against Afghanistan — it’s the continuing 8-year occupation he is critiquing. I don’t agree, but this isn’t the thread for that discussion.

    Like

  9. senecal permalink
    24 June 2009 9:58 pm

    phageghost: nice point! The two wars were kind of like batting practice, or spring training for the new US military. Or so we thought.

    One slightly different point: politically, it may have been impossible to respond to 9-11 in any different way. We always talk about terrorism, and Al Q in particular, as “police” matters, but Bush may have felt that any such slow, unspectacular, ambiguous response would have spelt electoral suicide. The same reasoning evidently motivated Bush I in the case of Kuwait. Saddam’s claims/pretexts were possibly valid and negotiable, but that course was seen as politically a dead end.

    How many major military adventures, even self-destructive ones, were launched for similar reasons?

    Like

  10. dosco permalink
    24 June 2009 10:23 pm

    Rick:
    Read Jawbreaker. We could have killed OBL within a year after 9-11. Despite requests for backup troops, the CIA ground commander was blown off and OBL escaped. IMO we should have closed up shop after that and left.

    Now I can only assume that the bases established in Iraq and Afghanistan will be permanently manned affairs to assure viable “power projection” in the middle east into the foreseeable future.

    Like

  11. phageghost permalink
    24 June 2009 10:51 pm

    Senecal:

    Absolutely. Any president who failed to bomb the f*** out of somebody after 9/11 would have been dragged through the streets behind their armored limousine. Insofar as leaders of republics should be responsive to the will of the people, one could say it was appropriate for Bush to instigate a military response, although I would have voted “no” if anyone asked which of course they never did. Usually public support for wars needs to be manufactured. Of course, the administration helped whip up the public’s appetite for revenge, and used the support for their own purposes, but yes, taking a police approach in the aftermath, whatever the arguments for it, would have been political suicide.

    Of course, this had to have been taken into account by OBL and was part of the plan. I haven’t seen this discussed in detail, but from what I can infer, AQ’s plan was to put the U.S. in a “fork”. To not retaliate militarily would be politically impractical, as well as show “weakness” and to attack would drag the U.S. into the Afghan quagmire where the Mujahadeen could bleed them, as well as increase support for their cause in the muslim world. They assassinated Massoud on Sept. 9th, decapitating the strongest element of the Northern Alliance, as a means of covering their flank for the U.S. counterattack. So far so good. But then the Taliban lose their taste for B-52 strikes and head for the hills much sooner than they hoped. I think this really caught AQ off guard — they were planning to fight it out in Afghanistan for a lot longer. So the AQ leadership goes to plan B: hightail it to Pakistan, play cards, sip tea and wait for the U.S. and Pashtun to do their work for them.

    As for Gulf War I, in this case I disagree. I think Saddam’s overtures were only a political dead-end because Bush I made it so. The U.S. public didn’t give a rat’s ass about Kuwait in August 1990, and would have been happy with a negotiated settlement (those who could even find it on a map). As usual, it was only after months of sustained government propaganda (with eager MSM participation) that sufficient war hysteria was whipped up, including fake stories about babies tossed from incubators and endless comparisons of Saddam to Hitler, poised to take over the entire middle east with his mighty armies and plunge the world into a new Dark Age.

    Like

  12. Oblat permalink
    25 June 2009 10:57 am

    One wonders what problem FM has with PNAC, certainly not with their ethics. Part of PNAC job is to funnel oil money to scientists that debunk Climate Change. They are a one stop shop for propaganda.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t have a “problem with PNAC.” I am curious how they obtain funding, and what their corporate sponsors are buying. I am confident it is not charity.

    ” Part of PNAC job is to funnel oil money to scientists that debunk Climate Change.”

    Can you provide an example of a scientist that “debunks climate change”? Look at the FM reference page “Science & nature – studies & reports.” Most of the skeptical of antrhopologic global warming recieve little or no corporate funding. Among those studying solar influences, one of the major competing theories, the government is by far the largest funding source (esp NASA).

    Like

  13. 25 June 2009 4:43 pm

    Sorry FM, love your site, and it does seem true that that US free markets/ free people/ capitalism (inevitably corrupt & cronyistic)/ human rights … have been imposed by us “doing it largely by killing.” However, ALL rule, throughout history, has been imposed by the rulers, “largely by killing.”

    In particular, in my own lifetime, the anti-war folk won the political battle about Vietnam after Nixon’s 1973 Paris Peace Treaty. What followed the success of the anti-war withdrawal of funding for our corrupt but capitalistic S. Viet allies? Hundreds of thousands of boat people fleeing the Soviet commie sponsored N. Viet rulers, taking over “largely by killing” in far greater numbers. Killing in far greater numbers than in 1973. In Cambodia, China commie sponsored Khmer Rhouge rulers took over “largely by killing” — 25% of the people. You and most of your anti-war commenters fail to compare the US supported rulers and their killings, to the anti-US rulers and theirs. In fact, in Iraq the anti-US terrorist murders are usually wrongly added to the deaths the US is considered responsible for.

    Your far stronger point is the cost in cash that the US is paying for doing mediocre occupation / nation building in Iraq. But most anti-war folk don’t really care about the costs, except as a way to show how they’re right to be anti-war … and every death or problem is used likewise as a club in an attempt to win the ‘we were right to be anti-war’ argument. And most pro-Iraqi Freedom folk, even if they do care about the costs, get sidetracked on the above death/ moral issues of how American killers kill far fewer than the anti-American killers do.

    “the key assumption is” that patriotic Americans really belive the Declaration: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. And we patriots really believe that most Iraqi people, if living in a fairly secure, free society, will want democracy. Enough to fight for, die for … kill for.

    “…he won the war by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country” GC Scott as Patton.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: A remarkably delusional comment from a usually level-headed, intelligent, and well-informed person. I am lifting this into a post for detailed analysis. I believe there are larger lessons from this.

    Like

  14. mike j permalink
    25 June 2009 8:13 pm

    re: comment 13, ““the key assumption is” that patriotic Americans really belive the Declaration: that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. And we patriots really believe that most Iraqi people, if living in a fairly secure, free society, will want democracy. Enough to fight for, die for … kill for.”

    Mr. Grey, a simple question: Recall that one of the reasons for America’s split with Gr. Britain was the lack of adequate representation. Sir, who appointed or elected the United States to represent the rights of everyone on Earth?

    Like

  15. Captain Ramen permalink
    25 June 2009 9:13 pm

    FM: “All donations to the Fabius Maximus Project for a Wonderful American Future (FMPWAF) will be accepted!

    I can’t decide if this site is going to kill me by making by boiling my blood or though ROLFMAO to death.

    Tom, if we’re going to kill, that is fine. For what? A Palestinian acquaintance of mine told me once, ‘you invaded Iraq and now are killing a bunch of civilians. For what? You are not even taking the oil!’

    Patriotic Americans believe the first half of what you say, as do I. But “most Iraqi people, if living in a fairly secure, free society, will want democracy.” is horse crap. That is not even true of Americans. Far too many of us are content to let these cockroaches in Washington ride us like mules as long as we get to watch American Idol. If you don’t believe me, why did they delay the transition to digital antennas?

    Like

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