Category Archives: Grand Strategy

How America deals with the world’s other peoples

Is America in Retreat before a more threatening world?

Summary:  After 2 failed invasions and occupations, as we gear up to repeat the same tactics in another round of interventions, it’s time for our hawks to excite us with stories about our mad unprofitable Empire (unprofitable to us). Today we have a review of the oddly named America in Retreat: The New Isolationism & the Coming Global Disorder. Our first 2 interventions have set the Middle East aflame. He’s right; imagine what disorder we can cause in a future guided by our hawks (a species found on both Left and Right). But where’s this “retreat” and “isolationism” he speaks of?

Pax Americana

The Road from Westphalia

By Jessica T. Mathews
Excerpt from The New York Review of Books, 19 March 2015.

Review of America in Retreat: The New Isolationism & the Coming Global Disorder
by Bret Stephens (2015).

Almost from the beginning of its history, America has struggled to find a balance in its foreign policy between narrowly promoting its own security and idealistically serving the interests of others; between, as we’ve tended to see it in shorthand, Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick and the ideals of Woodrow Wilson. Just as consistently, the US has gone through periods of embracing a leading international role for itself and times when Americans have done all they could to turn their backs on the rest of the world.

… Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal, sounds a call for more powerful and more engaged US leadership around the globe. Stephens appears to worry about a return to isolationism, or at least a more inward-looking American policy, and does what he can to head it off.

… Stephens’s is a facts-be-damned polemic, designed to show that the world has gone to hell since President Obama took office. Somehow, Obama is saddled with responsibility for the success of North Korea’s nuclear program. Stephens does not say that North Korea began the program in the 1950s, succeeded in building its first bomb 22 years ago, and carried out its first atomic test 3 years before Obama took office.

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The “global commons” belongs to the world. Should America control it?

Summary: Our DoD has rolled out another master plan. We’re oblivious to how aggressive these strategies look to our rivals; perhaps we’re oblivious even to the idea that our rivals have rights . That’s appropriate to a global hegemon, a role we no longer have the power to fill. The growth of rivals makes that less feasible with each new year. Our unwillingness to accept a multi-polar world makes a fearful transition to more likely.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

Hegemon Robot

We no longer scare our foes.


  1. We’re number one and tolerate no rivals
  2. What is the “global commons”?
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information

(1)  We’re number one and tolerate no rivals

Most Americans have no idea how belligerent our government sounds, especially our military strategy. Read this 9 November 2011 Background Briefing on Air-Sea Battle as would someone in China or Iran (its edited for intelligibility). If DoD’s flacks had written Case Yellow — the Wehrmacht’s plan for the invasion of France it would have sounded something like this (“the Maginot Line is a French anti-access challenge, which we must respond to!”). Goebbels could have learned much from them.

We’re going to talk to you today about the air-sea battle — the anti-access/area-denial challenge. State, regional, and non-state actors have been developing, proliferating, and acquiring modern military technologies that enable anti-access area denial. Things like precision fires, electronic warfare and cyberwarfare, air and missile defense systems. Plus submarines, surface combatants and aircraft all of increasing capability. Combined together they could keep you out of an area or make it very difficult for you to maneuver within an area.

Our {goal} was that U.S. military forces will maintain freedom of action in the global commons. … That demands that U.S. forces be able to turn quickly from a defensive posture to one of offensive posture — to stay in place and operate within an area of the global commons. We must be able to fight in those contested environments across all domains in order to prevail.  We cannot cede a single domain in order to prevail in an environment such as that.  We’re talking about five domains: air, maritime, land domain, space and cyberspace.

This became doctrine in 2010, recently rebranded by DoD as the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC; see an early version here).  What does it mean? You cannot understand DoD speeches and documents without proficiency in NewSpeak, but the man who coined this concept spoke in clearer language…

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The Fate of Israel

Summary: As Israel has another round of conflict with one of its neighbors, we should neither overlook the toll of causalities nor focus excessively on these details. More important is the long trend. History shows the difficulty of distinguishing strong from weak players in 4GW, and that choosing the wrong grand strategy can be terminal for a state.  It could easily prove fatal for Israel. Events today show how a nation might look strong while on a path leading to bad outcomes. This is a revision of a 2006 post, chapter two in a series of articles about grand strategy when 4GW has become the dominate form of war.

“It is not possible to found a lasting power upon injustice, perjury, and treachery.”
— Demosthenes (Athenian leader, 384 – 322 BC)





  1. Is Israel is stronger than the Palestine?
  2. Winning requires strategy, not just power
  3. Israel abandons the high ground
  4. Comparing the Strategies of Israel & Palestine
  5. Strengths of the Palestinian people
  6. How ight the Palestinian people defeat Israel?
  7. Other predictions of doom for Israel
  8. For more information


(1) Everyone knows Israel is stronger than the Palestinians. That might be wrong.

To plan a successful grand strategy the strategist must know if he has a weak or strong position. Failure almost certainly results from getting this fundamental wrong. Unfortunately, history shows the difficulty of correctly determining weak from strong during times of rapid change.

“So confident of victory were the French that many sat up late drinking, gambling and boasting about who would kill or capture whom. Some knights even painted a cart in which Henry V would be paraded through the streets of Paris!”

Description of the French camp on 24 October 1415, the night before Agincourt – the last of the 3 great English victories over the French during the Hundred Years War.

“You are now my prisoners. Let this be a lesson to you that Americans are weak. You must realize that Japan will rule the world. You are stupid for letting your leaders take you to war.”

Speech by Tetsunosuke Ariizumi, Commander of His Imperial Majesty’s submarine I-8, addressing captured Americans from the SS Jean Nicolet on 2 July 1944.

“No Viet-Minh cannon will be able to fire three rounds before being destroyed by my artillery.”

— Colonel Charles Piroth, French artillery commander at Dien Bien Phu, quoted in Hell in a Very Small Place, Bernard Fall (1966), p. 102.

Measuring strength between peoples has become even more difficult in our age — when 4GW is the dominant form of war. Hence the endless stream of surprises from the anti-colonial wars after WW2 to our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So which looks stronger: a stateless people with no modern government, economy, or army – or a developed state with its vast superiority in ideas and hardware? An occupied people or the nations that rules them?

(a)  Israel, a western industrial nation, has rationally educated elites in a modern bureaucratic government. Israel’s army and intelligence service (the Mossad) are superior to their Palestinian counterparts in every way.

(b)  Israel has wielded these advantages to win many tactical victories over the Palestinians. For example, Thomas X. Hammes (Colonel, USMC, retited) describes how Israel won the second Intifadah in chapter 9 of his book, The Sling And The Stone.

(c)  The Palestinian people have none of Israel’s advantages: stateless, politically mobilized in only a primitive manner, with severe internal fractures, and a history of weak and self-interested leadership. Each year their enclaves on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank sink further into poverty and chaos.

Who has the best odds of long-term survival, Israel or the Palestinians?

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Americans begin to learn, and change our views about our mad empire.

Summary:  We’ve built an empire, but like its British predecessor, it provides little benefit to the people who pay for it with blood and money. Recent polls suggest that we might be catching on to the con, but it’s too soon to speculation about the effects of this change on US foreign policy.

… it is a fact that Kipling’s “message” was one that the big {British} public did not want, and indeed, has never accepted. The mass of the people, in the 1890’s as now, were anti-militarist, bored by the Empire, and only unconsciously patriotic. Kipling’s official admirers are and were the “service” middle class …”

— “Thoughts on Rudyard Kipling” by George Orwell, Horizon, February 1942

Clear world


America burst upon the world in the Spanish-American War (1898), with succeeding waves carrying us into broader and deeper involvements around the world. With each wave our military grew larger.  We have become the world’s hegemon, running a mad unprofitable empire.

The cost in money has been borne by American taxpayers.  The cost in blood by America’s young men (and some women).

Each wave has fought and overcome a deeply-rooted isolationist sentiment. But a new generation has arrived, whose views might mirror the disinterest of the British mass public during the late Empire era. Decades of futile and failed wars might finally have had an effect.  Especially on fresher minds, as shown in this interesting result from “Millennials in Adulthood“, Pew Research, 7 March 2014:


Pew poll: patriotismPew poll: patriotism.

Polls show the effects of this evolution of pubic opinion, as in “America’s Place in the World 2013” by Pew Research, 3 December 2013:


Pew:  Mind Our Own Business


Our hawks screech, learning nothing by our expensive defeats since 9/11, but see that he public no longer follows. As in Condoleezza Rice’s (Secretary of State 2005-2009) op-ed in the Washington Post (7 March 2014): “Will America heed the wake-up call of Ukraine?” The always-insightful Ta-Nehisi Coates gives a rebuttal:  “As Though Iraq Never Happened – The short memory of Condoleezza Rice“, The Atlantic, 11 March 2014:

Condoleezza Rice was an important member of an administration that launched a war on false pretense and willingly embraced torture. … It takes a particular historical blindness to claim that such actions should have no effect on all our crowing over “democracy and human rights.”

War-mongering is self-justifying. If you bungle a war in Iraq, it does not mean you need to sit back and reflect on the bungling. It means you should make more war, lest Iraq become a base for your enemies. If Vladimir Putin violates Ukrainian sovereignty, it is evidence for a more muscular approach. If he doesn’t, than it is evidence that he fears American power.

If there are no terrorist attacks on American soil, then drones must be right and our security state must be effective. If there are attacks, then our security state must increase its surveillance, and more bombs should be dropped.

Violence begets violence. Peace begets violence. The circle continues.

David Brooks gives a more sophisticated analysis than Rice’s straightforward war mongering in “The Leaderless Doctrine“, David Brooks, op-ed in the New York Times, 10 March 2014. Conor Friedersdorf gives a powerful rebuttal in “The Decline of the American War Hawk“, The Atlantic, 11 March 2014 — “There’s been a backlash in the United States against foreign interventionism — but David Brooks and others just don’t get it.” He explains what’s happening.

What Americans are actually sensing, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan reminded them about the limits of military force, is that the law of diminishing marginal returns holds, even if, left to its own devices, the Pentagon would spend without limit.

… Americans who want the U.S. less engaged in world affairs are saying no more than what Brooks, for reasons I can’t fathom, finds “amazing”: that there are limits to the changes that American politicians and soldiers can bring about, and that those limits ought to be obvious to anyone looking at Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Ukraine.

This point is being made with increasing insistence by the American public because they perceive, correctly, that there is a cadre of Washington, D.C. insiders — bureaucrats, military contractors, think-tank fellows, editors like Bill Kristol, writers like Max Boot — so oblivious to America’s limits that they can’t even see the last military intervention that they successfully advocated as a mistake, even though, in that case, the catastrophic results have already played out.

It might be a new day in America — if we put to work our new, more-sophisticated view of the world. The funds squandered on foreign adventures can help rebuild our rotting infrastructure and better prepare America to compete in the 21st century.

Clear vision

Clear vision is power

For More Information

If you find this post useful, consider hitting the tip jar (in the right-side menu bar).

About our foreign policy:

  1. Mitt Romney and the Empire of Hubris. Setting America on a path to decline., 10 October 2011
  2. Advice from one of the British Empire’s greatest Foreign Ministers, 18 November 2011
  3. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012
  4. Look at America’s grand strategy. Why do we believe this nonsense?, 5 March 2013



About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.

Summary:  It’s another world crisis. As usual quite obvious things remain invisible to US geopolitical experts and even diligent readers of the US news media. Here is an attempt to fill in the blanks around the conflict in the Ukraine (putting it in a larger context), with links to useful sources of information about specifics of the conflict. Part one; see part two.

Grand Strategy


“You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

— Secretary of State John Kerry displays awesome hypocrisy on Face the Nation, 2 March 2014

It’s sad to watch the belligerent, often ignorant, US hawks again go hysterical. Before enlisting yourself or your children, please read these useful things to know about the conflict in the Ukraine:

  1. Our weak response to this (strong rhetoric, weak actions) results from an incoherent grand strategy.
  2. History suggests that we (American public) don’t know what’s going on. Key facts are hidden from us, or lost amidst the propaganda barrages of both sides.
  3. Russia is acting according to historical norms. They violate the post-WW2 laws established by the United Nations Charter, …
  4. just as we have done so many times — and even more frequently since 9-11. Our betrayal since 9-11 of the post-WW2 order we built gives us little credibility in conflicts like Ukraine.

The last point deserves more attention. It’s the “clean hands” doctrine, which provides a useful lens through which to see this conflict:

A person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of the claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. (from The Legal Dictionary)

First, there have been ample rumors of covert US involvement in the Ukraine — another chapter in the long list of US programs to destabilize or replace governments hostile to US political or corporate interests. Needless to say, these give us “dirty hands” when complaining about Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

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How America can survive – even prosper – in the 21st century

Summary: This is one chapter a series about America’s grand strategy, ways America can survive – even prosper – in an age of new rivals, where 4th generation warfare (4GW) is the dominant mode of war. Ideas that have worked in the past might guarantee failure today. See links at the end for the full series to date. This is a revised version of a post from 14 June 2008. It’s still useful, since our geopolitical strategy has not changed since then.

World in the palm of my hand

Madness. We do not hold the wold in our hand.



  1. Can we do a grand strategy?
  2. The baggage in our minds
  3. Simple recommendations
  4. More friends; fewer enemies. Strengthen friendships; weaken enemies
  5. Don’t gamble. Adopt slow but sure tactics.
  6. Survive until we win.
  7. For more information

(1)  Can we do a grand strategy?

Perhaps American cannot successfully implement large and complex geopolitical strategies, as discussed in “The Myth of Grand Strategy.” Perhaps this is weakness inherent to democracies. Athens also had difficulty executing complex long-term plans, even in the face of catastrophic defeat.

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Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on America to win

Summary:  The world is wracked by a clash of civilizations. America is the aggressor. The rest of the world is on the defensive. Today we discuss why America is winning, with eventual victory almost certain. And why that means empathy should be part of our grand strategy. This series is an updated version of posts from June 2008.

“In War: resolution. In Defeat: defiance. In Victory: magnanimity. In Peace: good will.”
— Good advice from Winston Churchill’s The Second World War, Volume I : The Gathering Storm (1948)

Contents of this series

(a)  How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game., 18 September

(b)  We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning., 23 September
Crusade vs Jihad

  1. A spectre haunts the world
  2. Islam vs. America

(c)  Today’s post:

  1. Who is playing offense? defense?
  2. Can they win against our culture?
  3. Who is at fault? Us or them?
  4. The military dimension
  5. Recommendations
  6. For more information


(3)  Who is playing offense? Who is playing defense?

From one perspective, we see that Islamic jihadis have suddenly decided to retake their lost lands, such as Spain, and declare war on the Great Satan (i.e., America, or perhaps western civilization). But why attack now? Why attack the USA, rather than (for example) Israel? Such questions have been the subject of fascinating and often fevered speculation, mostly without much evidence or even logic. Here’s one of the better answers:

Ideologically, Salafism is to Jihadism what Marxism is to Leninism, even though psychologically, the jihadist disease appears closer to Nazism (i.e., pathological fear of, rather than faith in, modernity, along with virulent anti-Semitism). Just as the communist project of yesterday was summed up by the proverbial slogan “the Soviets, plus electricity,” the jihadist project today is best captured by “the sha’ria, plus WMD.” Like the Communist International, the Salafist International has its Bolsheviks and its Mensheviks, its Bernsteins and its Kautskys, and even its Leninesque What Is to Be Done? (Qutb’s Milestones).

As for the debates over what priority to give to the “far enemy” vs. the “near enemy,” they are but the equivalent of yesterday’s clashes between Trotskyite partisans of “permanent revolution” and Stalinist supporters of “socialism in one country.”

— Tony Corn, “World War IV as Fourth-Generation Warfare“, Policy Review, January 2006

Another and simpler explanation is that the jihadists are defending themselves. American culture threatens to wash away some key values of Islamic societies, as it is doing to so many other societies. The difference between their values and ours — and hence the danger — is greater for them than, for example, our western cousins (e.g., the French). So they seek self-preservation, an instinct both ubiquitous in practice and enshrined in the law of nations. Whether America’s cultural “aggression” is deliberate or inadvertent is not relevant.  We don’t care, nor do they.

Let’s check this conclusion by another line of logic. One objective of modern war (i.e., of the past few centuries) is to gain the moral high ground, usually by portraying the other side as the aggressor, a decisive advantage in wars from the American Revolution to the USSR-Afghanistan War. In today’s global community what nation consistently appears among the most likely to disturb the global peace? America.

(4)  Can they successfully defend against American culture?

Probably not.

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