Summary: This essay examines the most dangerous enemies of America. Two little known dangers appear far most serious than the usual suspects. Appropriate responses are discussed.
Threat definition is the key phase when developing a grand strategy. Especially today, as America faces many dangerous enemies. Who are our most dangerous foes? China? Islamofascism? The “gap nations”?
Billions of people, a rapidly growing economy that will inevitably replace America in both economic and geopolitical importance. One of our largest creditors, its technological theft and unfair trade practices are destroying America’s industry. A military confrontation over Taiwan is inevitable in the near future.
This mutant version of Islam combines traditional Islam, nostalgia for a long-gone age of Muslim supremacy, and Fascism. Motivated by hatred of western culture, if not stopped it will control not only the vital Middle East oil producers, but also important States such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Large minority populations of Muslims will destabilize other States (e.g., India and the EU). Even small Moslem enclaves, such as those in the US, can act as fifth columns.
(3) The “Gap” Nations
As Thomas Barnett explained in his March 2003 Esquire article “The Pentagon’s New Map“: “Disconnectedness defines danger.”
… show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and — most important — the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. … My list of real trouble for the world in the 1990s, today, and tomorrow, starting in our own backyard: (Haiti, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, former Yugoslavia, Congo, Rwanda/Burundi, Angola, South Africa, Israel-Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Indonesia).
However terrifying you find these foes, we face two much greater dangers: paranoia and hubris.
To the Greeks, παράνοια meant simply madness (para = outside; nous = mind). Early psychologists described it as a delusional condition, but without any deterioration in intellectual abilities. In modern popular use it describes
- excessive concern about one’s own well-being, and
- persecutory beliefs concerning a threat to themselves or their property.
Anyone reading the major American media daily sees the first element. Our reaction to 9-11 illustrates the second.
Many States have experienced terrorist attacks since the anarchists of the 19th Century. As the anarchist Johann Most said, “The existing system will be quickest and most radically overthrown by the annihilation of its exponents. Therefore, massacres of the enemies of the people must be set in motion.” Most’s preferred tool of social reform earned him the nickname “Dynamost.” But only 21st century America has responded to terrorism with a global war.
Paranoia is an especially dangerous illness for a superpower. We tend to see enemies to be fought, not potential allies to be won over. Our aggressive actions and hostile worldview can only incite fear and accelerate the natural tendency of other powers to ally against us in self-protection.
Paranoia has a long history in the American polity. American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. … I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. … It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.
— “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“, Richard Hofstadter, Harpers Magazine, November 1964
We saw the effect of this excessive emotionalism about threats during the Cold War. In his Long Telegram of 1946, George Kennan recommended a “Grand Strategy of Containment” to counter Russia’s expansion. This mutated to virulent anti-communism in the overheated imaginations of senior US policy makers, another instance in the long history of US leaders selective, often ignorant, misuse of their experts’ advice. The results were terrible.
- McCarthy’s witch-hunts followed the “who lost China” mania, resulting in a virtual lobotomy of the State Department — from which it has never recovered.
- We embraced the insane policy of Mutual Assured Deterrence (MAD), playing dice with the survival of the human race.
- We failed to distinguish anti-colonial movements in the Third World — with whom we should have sympathized — from expansion of the Communist global conspiracy.
The last deserves special note, as we are now repeating this mistake. Seeking to fight communism, we allied ourselves with doomed feudal and puppet regimes. We made enemies of immature regimes that we might have befriended with our vigorous culture and wealth. The history of Indochina 1945 – 1975, from French colony to unified new State, illustrates these errors.
Fear of the other, the unknown, of change– these are natural. As is it natural for a great power to see change as threatening. But political and social evolution cannot be prevented. We cannot freeze the world in a mold of American supremacy. America should not fear change. Large, rich, with the most innovative culture this planet has seen for millennia — we should of all people face the future with confidence, not anxiety.
Unfortunately, these fears are neither accidental nor quirks of fate. Perceived enemies feed the economic and political needs of our elites. The military-industrial complex converts the public’s fear into defense contracts. An array of shadowy fears encourages us to surrender our freedoms in exchange for our elites� promises to protect us.
Accompanying our paranoia is a second affliction.
To the Greeks, Υβρις meant a reckless disregard for others, resulting in one’s own degradation. In modern usage, hubris means an exaggerated pride or self-confidence resulting in fatal retribution. Our centuries of success and great wealth have led to a belief that we dominate the world. It’s a state of mind not conducive to clear thinking. Rather than describe it in abstract, the remainder of this essay will examine how it drives the thinking of our geopolitical strategists.
Paranoia + Hubris = Thomas Barnett
The writings of neo-conservatives “Pax America” advocates, and 4GW experts all offer examples combining paranoia and hubris, but space allows analysis of only one in this article. So we will consider the proposals of Thomas Barnett. (To critique the neo-conservatives is too easy, almost cruel. The 4GW literature has nothing so well developed as Barnett’s work). Barnett outlines his proposal in two brilliant and provocative books: The Pentagon’s New Map (2004) and Blueprint for Action (2005). (His 2009 book, Great Powers: America and the World after Bush, is not discussed here.) These set forth three key propositions.
First, that globalization — and military interventions by America and its allies — will remake the world into something like our image (more precisely, that of the developed “Core” nations). Nations must join or be considered part of the “Gap” nations — subject to preemptive strikes at our pleasure, acting as the “system administrator in the realm of international security” (New Map, p 168).
“So we cannot be safe until everyone has been invited into a global economy in a deeply integrating manner that reflects not just order but likewise (our) justice.”
— Blueprint, page 208, bold emphasis added
Second, offensive war is a legitimate tool to achieve national goals. He refers to a “Benevolently Warring America” (Blueprint, p 140) and says that “pragmatism isn’t just warranted, it should be ruthlessly applied wherever circumstances demand” (Blueprint, p 140). We will often act unilaterally as we need no UN approval (New Map, p 177).
Third, preemptive war is a legitimate tool for America as the “global cop” in the Gap regions, beyond the traditional justification of immediate self-defense. (New Map, pp 167-179).
These are the most radical recommendation for use of American power since the Air Force adopted nuclear genocide (up to and including suicide) as our preferred form of combat (also know as Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD). Like MAD, these proposals violate a thousand years of western moral codes from the medieval definitions of a “just war” to the UN Charter.
The moral dimension of Empire
Perhaps it is appropriate that the birth of the American Empire begins with adoption of a Roman practice, that of inter arma silent leges (in time of war, the law falls silent). More recently this has been expressed as Kriegsraison geht vor Kriegsmanier (“the necessities of war take precedence over the rules of war”). At Nuremberg we hung quite a few people claiming this as a defense.
These proposals ignore the moral dimension of warfare. This should have generated much discussion by 4GW experts, as the 4GW literature places great emphasis on the moral aspects of war. But in practice it appears difficult for 21st century America strategists to go beyond the basic considerations of military morale. Americans raised on moral relativism, trained to be non-judgmental, might be ill suited to understand or even apply this aspect of 4GW theory. For example, the 4GW expert Chet Richards’ presentation Conflict in the Years Ahead, which briefly reviews Barnett’s recommendations. In its 164 slides the word “moral” appears 89 times, but with no discussion of the morality of Barnett’s proposals.
In his review of Barnett’s books William Lind goes the heart of this: “What Barnett’s books end up revealing is the combination of moral blindness and international political hubris that characterizes the whole quest for American world empire.”
However, there is a positive moral aspect to Barnett’s proposal: many Gap Nations need our help.
Colonialism, the Gap Nations and a Pax America
The great “isms” never disappear. They fade away, only to reappear in new form. So it is with colonialism. Who among us has not wondered, secretly, if some African State might not be better off if run by a benign colonial regime — like Great Britain, at its peak? Their suffering encourages this well-meant dream. We see their pain from recurring cycles of wars, plagues, famines — and the repeated failure of our efforts to help. Surely our wealth and power should be more directly applied to their needs.
But it is a dream. We are not the British Empire, and the time of colonialism has passed. If these nations want our help, they will ask. If we force help upon them, they will fight. As we have seen in Iraq, even a medium-sized nation is too large for our forces to pacify. Worse, 4GW methods make untrained insurgents the equals of our Knights — despite their body armor, armored mounts, high-tech sensors and weapons.
It always was a dream. Barnett and all other neo-colonialists should read Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden.” It was written for us, after our conquest of the Philippines. Look through the racist attitudes of his time to the enduring wisdom, dearly purchased.
“The savage wars of peace bring all your hopes to nought.”
Hubris at Work: Imagining a New World Order
Barnett proposes a loose form of global government, the most important and visionary aspect of his work. It was summarized as follows by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. in his Washington Post review of Blueprint on 15 January 2006 (Nye only sketches our Barnett’s thinking. For example, the first step is wrongly stated. On page 177 in New Map Barnett clearly says that UN approval is not needed before military action.)
- the U.N. Security Council acts as a grand jury to indict countries
- the Core’s biggest economies issue ” ‘warrants’ for the arrest of the offending party”
- the United States leads a “warfighting coalition”
- a Core-wide administrative force (with the United States providing 10 to 20 percent of its personnel) puts things back together with the help of the fifth element
- a new International Reconstruction Fund;
- followed by a sixth step, criminal prosecution of the apprehended parties at the International Criminal Court in The Hague
“That’s it, from A to Z,” Barnett notes cheerfully. “Bad states go in, better states come out.” Is this pure hubris or just vigilantism? America and its allies become judge, jury, and executioner for all the peoples of the world. Wielding our economic and military force, our verdict of “failed state” justifies its invasion and massive murder of women and children. Our values, however alien to other societies, become dominant over the entire globe.
That assumes we succeed. The Iraq Expedition, launched with Barnett’s praise, does not create confidence in our ability to conquer other states, failed or otherwise. Also note the ludicrous picture of American social engineers, whose efforts at home have consistently failed, successfully re-making other societies. To rephrase Barnett, “Show me a mature A-to-Z rule set on how to process politically bankrupt states and I will show you (its creator, a super-genius greater than Newton).” (Blueprint, page 208)
Another detail: imagine the potential for this well-intended machinery to become a corrupt servant of western economic interests.
Barnett’s vision is not bleak for all. Manufacturers of weapons will enjoy booming sales in Barnett’s new world.
In effect Barnett challenges Gap nations to “Arm yourselves, or grovel before us!” Some people will reply to us, “Live Free or Die.” If we follow Barnett, by 2020 each Gap nation’s embassy and consulates in America will house an array of WMDs — second-strike weapons ready to fire if America decides that they need our “help.”
What advice would Washington give us?
No need to guess. Consider Washington’s timeless advice to us in his Farewell Address.
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that in the course of time and things the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?
Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur.
Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation prompted by ill will and resentment sometimes impels to war the government contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes � makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations has been the victim.
Let us look again at one of the threats described above, but this time in the light of Washington’s advice.
Many Americans see large elements of the Islamic community as implacable enemies of America. Must this be so? The role of Islam in our world is complex and subtle. Unfortunately, many of the articles describing Islamofascism are works of imagination, unsupported by either strong evidence or scholarship.
Few experts see evidence of a global anti-western Islamic conspiracy. Note the diversity of thought among the real centers of Islamic scholarship and authority: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Equally diverse are the practices of the Sunni and Shiite groups in the Middle East, with an even larger range between their practices and that of the largest Muslim State — Indonesia. As with the spread of communism to different nations, it is likely that these groups will each evolve in their own way. Just as we did when fighting communism, we are allying ourselves with fading elites of other peoples and making enemies of their most dynamic elements.
“Under Mr. Rumsfeld’s plan, special-operations forces would work in small teams, fanning out to remote corners of the globe to live with, train and advise indigenous security forces battling terrorists. Troops also would gather intelligence and build relationships with locals over the course of months and years.”
— Wall Street Journal, 19 February 2006
Mr. Rumsfeld sends out our best military forces in the hopeless task of preventing the natural evolution of these societies. We can use more imaginative and likely-to-succeed strategies.
Islam is probably the future for many of these peoples. It is the most vital part of their societies and hence growing rapidly. From an Islamic perspective, they are establishing a new and better order, and making considerable progress along many dimensions. Considering this as “disorder” misses its significance, a major strategic error. Let us find a way to deal with the rise of Islam with both strength and respect. We do not have to like Islam, but what religion others follow is not our decision.
Why do they hate us? Who is the aggressor?
Islam is in fact under attack by western culture, perhaps the most dangerous enemy it has ever faced. We — by our existence, the normal working of our societies — undermine the basis of their religion, devaluing what they consider highest. We are the Pied Piper, stealing their children. Is it a surprise that they do not like it?
We need not change to accommodate Islam. This is their problem, not ours. But our strategies might prove more effective if made with greater understanding of the other cultures on this globe. What we call a “failed state” others might consider a revolution in progress, which they hope will create a better society.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
— Pogo, from a 1970 poster made for the first Earth Day by Walt Kelly.
America has many enemies, but our greatest danger comes from ourselves. Superpowers often die of self-inflicted wounds, as did Rome, Spain, Napoleon’s Empire and Hitler’s Third Reich. A strong defense is essential, but let us also strive to master our fear, pride, and rashness. After doing so, we might find the world a less threatening place — or at least one we can more easily manage.
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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest these days:
- About Military and strategic theory
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- About the End of the post-WWII geopolitical regime
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Some posts about 4th generation warfare:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Why We Lose at 4GW – the two types of 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics