One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy?

Part X of a series about America’s new Long War

First, we would have to adopt a realistic strategic goal, one that might be attainable. The present strategic goal of turning Afghanistan into a modern, secular, capitalist state with “equal rights for women” and similar claptrap lies in the in realm of fantasy.
— William Lind, On War #237 , 15 October 2007

Can America Have “Realistic Strategic Goals”?

Lind’s analysis (brilliant as usual) raises an uncomfortable question: are his recommendations reasonable, or do they too lie in the realm of fantasy? After all, when did America last have a reasonable geo-political strategy? Is this an impossible thing to ask of our current ruling elites?

A great nation needs a clear and simple geopolitical strategy. They focus one’s strengthand limited resources, and allow allies to easily coordinate their actions with ours.

  1. The British Empire sought cheap raw materials, export markets for its goods, the channel ports in friendly hands, and to prevent one state from dominating Europe. Plus a few humanitarian goals, such as eliminating the sea-borne slave trade.
  2. The Czars sought to expand Russia’s borders to the Mediterranean and Pacific, while maintaining its vast multi-ethnic Empire.
  3. Nineteen century America had its Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine.
  4. Cold war America sought to contain communism and spread free trade under the US dollar-based Bretton Woods system, both implemented though a web of alliances.

And today America, the global hegemon, guides its policy by an assortment of stars.

  1. Multiculturalism
  2. Human Rights
  3. Global hegemony

1.  Multiculturalism

We support multiculturalism, respecting the values of other cultures. That’s just good sense, as there is no universal set of values above all others. We oppose ethnocentrism, one of the major sources of hatred and war.

“Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities.”
— President George W. Bush, Speech at West Point, 1 June 2002

2. Human Rights

We also support human rights — the exact opposite of multiculturalism — believing that the values derived from western religions and philosophy are the one true set that defines the minimum standards of legal and civil freedoms to which every human being is entitled. These are stated in the 30 articles of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 30 articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (although, oddly, the 185 parties to the Convention do not include the USA).

Although many non-western educated people see the conflict between multiculturalism and human rights, most pretend to agree – knowing that these paper bullets of the mind have no force at home. But not all nations go along with the charade:

Already at the 36th session of the UN General Assembly in 1981, the representative of Iran had expressed the Iranian Government’s position, and this was reaffirmed on 7 Dec. 1984: “It recognizes no legal tradition apart from Islamic law (…) conventions, declarations and resolutions or decisions of international organizations, which were contrary to Islam, had no validity in the Islamic Republic of Iran (…) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represented a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian traditions, could not be implemented by Muslims and did not accord with the system of values recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Report of the UN High Commissioner for human rights, item #3, 17 March, 2003

3. Global hegemony

We seek to prevent the rise of competitors who might challenge our role as global hegemon. A bold goal, that tends to put us in opposition to the strongest, most rapidly growing nations with whom we share the planet (reluctantly share, it seems).

In a fit of absent-mindedness or incompetence this was explicitly stated in a draft of the Defense Planning Guidance for the 1994-99 (18 February 1992) written by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz and his deputy Lewis “Scooter” Libby – and leaked to the New York Times. Note the following:

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”

Revelation of the truth being incompatible with the operation of our government, they rewrote this in the final draft and omitted it from future documents (such as The National Security Strategy of the USA (20 September 2002). I doubt if this fooled China, towards whom our actions prove that the above goal remains effective (although officially invisible).

Something every America should read this Saturday morning

For an educational Saturday morning, read The National Security Strategyof the USA- 35 pages of delusional nonsense, all written in a soothingly bland reasonable tone. You will learn that we have many strategic goals.

  1. Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity
  2. Strengthen Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism and Work To Prevent Attacks Against Us and Our Friends
  3. Work with others to Defuse Regional Conflicts
  4. Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction
  5. Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth through Free Markets and Free Trade
  6. Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy
  7. Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power
  8.  Transform America’s National Security Institutions to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities of the Twenty-First Century

After each of these follows many equally ambitious and bold sub-goals.

To summarize, we seek to radically change the cultures and political systems for much of the world, to halt foreign revolts and civil wars of which we do not approve, to bring global peace and prosperity, to make friends (even with those states whose rise we seek to restrain), and to “transform” our so far unreformable national security apparatus. Those who thought President Bush was kidding about these learned better in the months following our invasion of Iraq.

Number 5 is especially rich as a goal of the world’s greatest debtor. Only a massive and constant flow of foreign loans (6% of our GDP) prevents America from instant descent into a downturn unlike anything seen since the 1930’s. Apparently our foreign policy elites are ignorant of the golden rule, that creditors write the rules.

Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs magazines profit from our strategic confusion, as each month skilled diplomats and academics fruitlessly attempt to reconcile this irrational, contradictory mess – lacking priorities, judgments of benefits vs. available resources, or consideration of risks (risks inevitably accompany bold actions). It is a strategy written by a superpower with delusions of Godhood.

Implications of this for our new Long War

Perhaps the United States will get competent geo-political management. The current Presidential election features little meaningful debate about foreign policy – note the debate among the major candidates as to whether we should occupy Iraq for a long time or just indefinitely – so such a change seems unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Fortunately such follies are self-correcting over long periods of time. Delusional elites usually steer their people onto the rocks, after which they can leave the saving of the world to others – focusing hereafter on simpler things, like survival and national solvency.

We need not follow these mad fools to disaster. America can have good government if we will that it be so. The Founders gave us the tools; we need only use them.

Two pointers towards more on this topic, and one more closing thought  First, for more of William Lind’s thinking about this topic see his “Strategic Defense Initiative” and the various commentaries in his On War series.  Second, for more essays on this topic, see my four part series about a Grand Strategy for America in the Fabius Maximus archive:

“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeits of our own behavior) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion.”
—   William Shakespeare, King Lear (Act I, Scene Two)

For more information

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

Some posts about America’s grand strategy:

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  3. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  4. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  5. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  7. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  8. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  9. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  10. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  11. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008

11 thoughts on “One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy?”

  1. Thank you for bringing this topic up, something all-too-rarely considered despite its overarching relevance. But then, of course, that’s exactly WHY it is rarely considered, isn’t it?!

    The main function of the empire dynamic is to be able to call the shots and therefore nudge or force one’s partners and/or adversaries in the direction you want them to go which allows your own system to expand and its elite to retain and increase further power and influence.

    The colonial-military impetus behind most empirical (?) drives throughout history is the most obvious one because it allows the leadership to get cohesive support from a threatened population who more willingly pour in their communal assets – usually in the form of taxes – giving their ‘government’ broad latitude, because it is protecting them from harm. And so power becomes increasingly centralised and develops its own class system, essentially, whose agendas are increasingly divorced from anything of substantive interest or benefit to the population whose support they still need to maintain their position.

    Put another way: the dynamic of a more peaceful modus operandi naturally allows ‘power’ to remain in diverse, inter-related loci, not unlike the natural diversity we see all around us in the animal and plant kingdoms. No one paradigm predominates. In every backyard we see extraordinary diversity in terms of microbial, plant, animal, insect, human life forms, themselves relating to planetary and other macro-environmental conditions to which they contribute inputs and outputs ad infinitum.

    So the over-centralisation of power in terms of social organisation goes against the natural order of more locally-based community structures. When the (white) populations of the European settlers in the US were still very small, even by indigenous standards let alone European ones which themselves were far smaller than ours today, they attempted to set up a system with more or less independent states and when the one-nation business finally got underway, they further attempted to ensure that over-centralisation such had already taken hold in Europe where the large nation-state system had recently gathered considerable momentum was curtailed.

    So in terms of analysing ‘America’s Geopolitical Strategy’ Fabius is right to point out that major studies on this are both hollow and rotten. Why is this? Because the underlying roots of the issue are not tackled by essentially lobbying various geopolitical TACTICAL options, all of which assume that America’s role is that of a cohesive nation state who wishes to spread her own particular system of governance, now essentially a centralised oligarchy closer in functional structure to the Soviet systems of yore than what was originally intended and still today believed, and in so doing she will increase her wealth and prosperity. This is simply assumed as a given.

    However, the underlying thrust, meaning and implications of this strategy are not being fully thought through especially as they involve fundamental notions of family and community, of how to lead proper lives and from there develop truly civilised and civilising economic, educational, scientific, governmental and yes, military, modalities.

    The entire thrust of the American dynamic now evidences such a huge disparity between the vision most of her peoples believe they believe in and the policies most of her leadership – both public and private – have exercised for this past century and longer, that any meaningful analysis of America’s geopolitical strategy really first needs to take a good, long, hard look at the vision and mission of America itself as a living social entity.

    Despite reams of paper and digital pages, more than ever before in history, this is a somewhat rare topic. So thanks again for bringing it up.

  2. The impossibility of American Empire“, William Pfaff, 30 October 2007 — About the extraordinary delusions of current US geopolitical ineptitudes.

    Bio: “Pfaff is the author of eight books on American foreign policy, international relations, and contemporary history, including books on utopian thought, romanticism and violence, nationalism, and the impact of the West on the non-Western world. His newspaper column, featured in The International Herald Tribune for more than a quarter-century, and his globally syndicated articles, have given him the widest international influence of any American commentator.”

  3. Major Scarlet

    The NSS is Wilsonian nonsense.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I’ve writen tens of thousands of words on this and similar government documents about our grand strategy. Yours is the briefest possible summary, capturing one essence of our foreign policy.

  4. Re FM’s comment at #4:

    Afghanistan’s strategic importance is attested by the many attempts to invade and control it, most recently, England and Russia’s. It’s commonly referred to as the centerpiece of the “Great Game” — control of Middle Eastern (and now Caspian Sea) energy.

    Yugoslavia has a lesser but similar importance by its position on the trade route between Central Asia and Europe. Camp Bondsteel, America’s largest overseas military base, attests to our interest there. Yugoslavia’s real importance, as the last independent socialist state, was more symbolic than material — the final act in the defeat of Soviet-led Communism.

    The Cold War in general, and the domino theory in particular, provided the rational for the invasion of Vietnam. Although we laugh at this theory now, at the time US policy makers really believed it, and felt that the fall of South Vietnam to Communism meant the fall of all the states in the region. Southeast Asia has been considered a vital geo-strategic resource for the West for nearly a century.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is all nonsense, attempts to find reason in irrational — perhaps atavistic urges to expand and dominate. It’s a function of the idée fixe that our actions must have a logical cause, and working backwards from that assumption.

    * The Afghaniston energy story is IMO a crock. I’ve not seen an logical explosition of it, let alone one that gives US or US corps a serious involvement. Afghanistan has positional importance for the major nations around it. But America does not border it, and has miminal interest in whether it is dominated by Pakistan, India, China, or Russia (for example, Russia is unlikely to expand down through Afghanistan to India).

    * You must be kidding about “Yugoslavia trade routes.” Suggestion: traffic on the world’s major trade routes is carefully tracked by major consultants (e.g., Transport Trackers in Hong Kong). Try finding an estimate of traffic crossing Yugoslavia. If you can do so, how much of that even dimly involves the US.

    * Domino theory and Vietnam — The Pentgon Papers showed at the time not only that US area experts thought the concept daft, but that the “dominos” themselves considered the theory bizarre.

  5. follow up to above # 5: what other reason for invading South Vietnam was there? Certainly we never promoted a democratic form of government there, or evinced any interest in protecting “human rights.”
    Fabius Maximus replies: Consider the meaning of the word “reason”. It need not be reasonable. Perhaps the meaning is found in Martin van Creveld’s “The Culture of War”. At some level we fight because it is in our nature. Perhaps America has evolved, becoming an ever-more bellicose nation since the Spanish-American War.

  6. I know you mean something by the “issue” of the conflict between belief in human rights and belief in cultural tolerance. We argued this out once a couple of years ago by email. I think you ended by saying that a position of cultural tolerance, or moral relativism generally, makes it impossible to argue against genital mutilation in another culture.

    You may be right on this point, but I don’t understand what it has to do with foreign policy in the real world, where “human rights” (or its relative, “humanitarian assistance”) are only window dressing for self-interested inteventions. Cultural tolerance has never been advanced as a reason for or against relations with another country, as far as I know.

    All of your writings on military and geo-strategy seem to recommend a more realistic appraisal of our interests and resources. In this critical frame of mind, I dont see how you can still believe that US policy has been primarily driven by ideals.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Considering the history of our foreign relations, I don’t see how you can say they are based on any rational sense of self-interest. It’s a confused and changing mixture of private interest combined with moderate and delusional aspirations. IMO it requires much filtering through a fixed ideology to see this in terms of any single factor explanation.

  7. So, what you are saying is that multiculturalism works just fine OUTSIDE ones’ own borders (when in Rome…), but causes chaos and social entropy inside ones’ borders. The opposite is then true with humanitarianism- it works just fine INSIDE ones’ borders (because one can set their own definitions), but causes conflict and resentment outside ones’ borders. Is that right?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Nope, I said no such thing. I believe than any of these ideologies can work internally or externally, if applied with moderate skill and modest goals. What is lethal is our combination of folly in execution attempting to acheive incompatable goals.

  8. I agree and now understand. I am a chemistry and mathmatics whore- everything must balance and zero out. Geopolitics fascinates me because of the inconsistancies and/of the approaches. These ideologies can work if applied with moderate skill and modest goals, but must not they also be received with moderate skill? Forgive me, it’s just that my background commands me to observe and simplify. I may not be able to add anything of value, but this site is a must read for me every night. I always bring up the FM site on mensa night.

  9. Listening to a Haydn symphony on Sunday morning and continuing an old debate with the Professor — life is good!!

    “It’s (US foreign policy) a confused and changing mixture of private interest combined with moderate and delusional aspirations.” (FM)

    Let’s cut to the chase (the biggest example): was the Cold War a delusional exercise not related to national self-interest? I might agree with that; it was certainly wasteful, leading to an overstuffed, grandiose military at the expense of programs that actually benefited our citizenry, and unnecessary as well, if you believe that the Soviet military emphasis was mainly defensive (and reasonable), not expansionist.

    But something can be delusional and at the same time in one’s self interest. The US empire, such as it is, is certainly an expression of US power, and the wonderful standards of living US citizens enjoy. You often point to this as a defense of the capitalist system generally. Yet, in the long run, these standards of living, and our global hegemony, are unsustainable, already fraying, and in that sense belief in them, in preserving them at any cost (the fantasy of the neo-cons) is delusional.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The Cold War is a bit too large to evaluate in comments. We can look at its major components after 1960, to give a feel for the thing.

    * The Cuban Missile Crisis, bringing the world too close to atomic war — with the end deal probably attainable without the crisis (trading the USSR missiles in Cuba for ours in Turkey).
    * Kennedy’s missile gap — US delusions sparking a new round in the cold war.
    * Vietnam — Neither American area experts nor the dominos were ever worried, and events proved them correct.
    * The long demonization of Red China, ending only in 1972 — insanity on wheels.

    For a more detailed evaluation of the Cold War by one of its architects, read George F. Kennan’s work in the 1950’s. He saw that the project was going off the rails, driven by US paranoia and militarism (my summary, not his).

    Nothing in this served America’s national interests. A more interesting question is the degree to which it served the interests of America’s ruling elites. While the economic effect was clearly negative over the long-term, a diversion of resources that allowed competitors to catch up, the cultural effects might have been beneficial in terms of maintaining or even extending their control over the American people. Fears make good reins.

  10. FM: “Delusional elites usually steer their people onto the rocks, after which they can leave the saving of the world to others – focusing hereafter on simpler things, like survival and national solvency.”

    How prescient. This was written a year and a half ago. And it has come true now.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This has been a long-standing theme on this site, giving these posts coherence and meaning. An earlier statement of this problem is in America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006.

  11. anna nicholas

    Geopolitical ? Zinc exports from the US must be booming , as Petraeus is reported to have said he’s glad to see the Pakistani populaion galvanising .

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