General Franks and Max Boot provide a valuable insight for all Americans

America relies on a small number of brave men — men brave enough to speak from their hearts about the hubris ruling America’s soul in the early 21st century.  Such men are scarce today.  Instead we have these…

We need not apologize for these successes.  History will record that America’s strategy for fighting terrorism was a good strategy, that the plan for Operation Iraq Freedom was a good plan – and that the execution of that plan by our young men and women in uniform was unequalled in its excellence by anything in the annals of war.
     General “Tommy” Franks, in his autobiography American Soldier (page 854)

Better yet are the writings of he who future generations might regard as the chronicler of the last days to America’s imperium:  Max Boot, Olin Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations — our own, perhaps slightly deranged, Kipling.

The United States spends more on its military than the next dozen or so nations combined. This has bought unparalleled strength in every facet of warfare — full-spectrum dominance, in Pentagon lingo — that far surpasses the capabilities of such previous would-be hegemons as Rome, Britain and Napoleonic France.
     “Doctrine of ‘Big Enchilada’“, Max Boot, 15 October 2002

The passage of time has granted no greater balance or perspective to Boot’s vision.

That the United States and its allies won anyway — and won so quickly — must rank as one of the signal achievements in military history. Previously, the gold standard of operational excellence had been the German blitzkrieg through the Low Countries and France in 1940. The Germans managed to conquer France, the Netherlands, and Belgium in just 44 days, at a cost of “only” 27,000 dead soldiers. The United States and Britain took just 26 days to conquer Iraq (a country 80 percent of the size of France), at a cost of 161 dead, making fabled generals such as Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian seem positively incompetent by comparison.
     “The New American Way of War“, Foreign Affairs, July 2003

General Frank and Max Boot act as mirrors, showing us our greatest foes:  hubris and paranoia.  This post discusses the first; we will examine the latter another day.  For more on this subject see America’s Most Dangerous Enemy and President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris.

These quotations are from “The American Military Crisis“, Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch, 11 August 2008.  This essay is well worth reading.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Prevous posts about America’s grand strategy

A related question concerns grand strategy.  Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.  Here are a few of my posts on this subject.

  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. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy  (21 February 2008)
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I  (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
  7. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II  (14 June 2008)
  8. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past  (30 June 2008)  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  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. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus  (11 August 2008)

 Click here to see a list of all posts about strategy and military theory.

10 thoughts on “General Franks and Max Boot provide a valuable insight for all Americans

  1. Bacevich expresses the illusions/dangers of US military superiority, and a foreign policy based on it, so clearly that you wonder why an opposing view of our place in the world has not appeared so far. Why are our think-tanks and our pundits incapable of thinking logically about what it will require to maintain a reasonable standard of living in a rapidly changing world. Why can’t people think about real self-interest, instead of the fuzzy concepts — like democracy, free world, terror — behind which political discourse hides.

    There are several reality factors that seem to me inescapable, and ultimately determinant, that must be included in any calculation of US strategy — the economy, and near bankruptcy of government, among the first. The failure of the neo-liberal economic model for underdeveloped world, and the formation of new regional alliances of independently developed nations unfriendly to US dominance. The overarching need to develop alternate energy technologies and the possiblity of regaining some world manufacturing leadership in these areas. The need to revitalize our own democracy, so that we can restore a balance of power in the government, diminish the imperial executive, revive the oversight function of Congress, and loosen the grip of special interests on government. These seem like obvious challenges that have to be faced if we are to survive in the future. And they are not just a basket of unrelated issues — they are surely organically related, and one of them must be a sine qua non. I dont know which is, but someone out there, some uncorrupt big thinker, must be able to tie them together.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Unfortunately, as we know, the money is all on the other side. Writing optimistically pays in the investment biz. Writing about our hegemony — and the need for ever-larger military funding (e.g., Max Boot) pays in the geopolitical business. Speeches about American exceptionalism and triumphalism win elections. This is America — and Americans (collectively) — today.

  2. Hi Fab,
    While I was on vacation a month ago, July 4, did you cover the HUGE, record breaking re-enlistment ceremony in Iraq of the US servicemen being happy to re-up?

    If not, then your implied equating of patriotism with hubris is a bit biased. You should be asking yourself, what facts would show that America is NOT full of hubris?

    Re-enlistment rates. Support, inside the military, for continued missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Support for the US by elected Iraqi leaders, in the agreements they make (more so than in the rhetoric).

    My big problem with Bacevich’s analysis is the confusion between “winning the war” against Saddam’s army, and “winning the peace” in nation building. Bush’s biggest failure was the unwillingness to be clear about how, once America went into Iraq and changed away from Saddam, it didn’t want to leave unless there was a democratic Iraq being left behind. Bush’s failure to articulate details of the alternative he was planning are echoed by Bacevich’s failure to specify his alternative course of action.

    No alternatives are explored, tho simplistic (a) is implied: a) Not invade in 2003, or b) after the invasion, more quickly support Iraqi democracy (e.g. use ration cards as voting registration, allow immediate votes for local leaders, funnel security & reconstruction cash thru these Iraqi elected local leaders rather than Bremer, etc.)
    or c) rather than Rumsfeld’s Light Footprint (liberation), confront and retire to big bases, use some more active COIN immediately and BE an active Occupation.

    My own vision of a grand strategy was Bush asking for a declaration of war against Sudan to save Darfur, and increasing the pay of military recruits while reducing the US presence in Germany, especially, but also in many other bases. (also b, rapid elections in Iraq, above) But I want a World without Dictators … even if that elects locals we don’t like. We shouldn’t give those locals as much cash (none for Hamas, for instance), but we should allow them to be locally in control if they’re not threatening us directly and imminently.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus: Where did you get “your implied equating of patriotism with hubris.” I do not see any connection between the two things. The large, staged re-enlistment event is nice PR but irrelevant to this discussion.

  3. On the economic ruin, which I agree is the biggest long term problem, I’d claim it’s a problem of addicted voters, voters addicted to OPM – Other People’s Money.

    Voters want gov’t benefits that Other People pay for — or that the future pays for. When gov’t cash actually DOES go into investment, the long term effects are often positive. But most gov’t cash, all over the world but especially in poor countries addicted to “aid”, goes for current consumption, and thus has no big return on investment.

    Health care $ spent on people over 70 in the last year of their life is some large amount of the health cost — pure, non-invested, consumption. People should be free to consume all they have, but it shouldn’t be so easy to consume more than they have, nor force others to pay for pleasure consumption.

    It’s not the lack of knowledge of this general idea, it’s the unpopularity of it. Much like Greens avoid suggesting a $1/gal gas tax, even tho that has always been one of the best ways to change behavior — because it’s unpopular with greedy, current consumption oriented voters.

  4. Fabius Maximus: Where did you get “your implied equating of patriotism with hubris.” I do not see any connection between the two things.

    Therein lies a major endemic problem. If you do not “Believe” in the invincibility of the United States Military, and it’s weapons development and procurement, or otherwize question the infalable judgement, and honest motivation of our politics, or the “system” in it’s checks and balances, you are branded unpatriotic.

    I’m so sick to death of that retoric.

    “The large, staged re-enlistment event is nice PR but irrelevant to this discussion.”

    Agreed wholeheartedly. Moreover, US military and security interests have increasingly become
    an economic & gamefull employment crutch for many in these toughening economic times.

    Finnaly the US has noone to blame but our won for the whole sorry mess, but instead we blame Pakistan, Iran, the Russians, N. Koreans, etc.

    M

  5. What would you say to the proposition that, as a result of globalization, the US has outsourced much industrial capacity to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has outsourced stability to the Pax Americana?

    IOW, what other choice does the US reasonably have but to fund “Team America, World Police”?
    This question has additional importance WRT Georgia: if the US lets Russia reconstruct her Empire, why should anyone continue to buy US debt to pay for stability?
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Interesting comment to make in the early stages of a massive US exporting boom. US exports faded due to the overvaluation of the US dollar. Now that the US dollar has declined vs. so many currenices, exports are growing again. One of the great mysteries is why so many folks ignore the effect of relative currency valuations.

  6. “What would you say ”

    Are you trying to be funny?

    Not workable, breeding hatred and resentment across the world at practicaly every turn. Not even practical, in the sense that current events continue to illustrate. Such a system would infer competent administration, design and mangement. Out the question in today’s US politcal enviroment.

  7. This is nice. Kinda gives one an extra shot of confidence in US Leadership prospects and an unlimited future.

    McCain adviser got money from Georgia AP

    WASHINGTON – John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
    The payments raise ethical questions about the intersection of Randy Scheunemann’s personal financial interests and his advice to the Republican presidential candidate who is seizing on Russian aggression in Georgia as a campaign issue.

    WASHINGTON – John McCain’s chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: No need to worry. If you are good, after death you will go to a place whose leaders are not corrupt. This is, to varying degrees, the rule down here — in most places, in most times.

  8. “While I was on vacation a month ago, July 4, did you cover the HUGE, record breaking re-enlistment ceremony in Iraq of the US servicemen being happy to re-up?”

    That’s great news isn’t Tom? Really great ! Inspiring, brings teer to my eye and that certian feeling in my chest. And bodes so well for the future of those involved, and those who will live with and care for them. Not to mention those who will be paying for it, so I’m with You partner, I say bring it on, stay the course, failure is no an option for America!

    Scientists: Brain injuries from war worse than thought
    Disabled US veterans rising
    Drinking Problems Greater Among Returning Combat Veterans” — “Mental health issues also more common after war, studies show”
    US budget deficit seen about $400 billion for fiscal 2008

    Veterans’ Care Costs Skyrocket“, AP, 13 May 2008
    WASHINGTON – Increasing numbers of U.S. troops have exited the military with damaged bodies and minds, an ever-larger pool of disabled veterans that will cost the nation billions for decades to come – even as the total population of America’s veterans shrinks.

  9. Fab, your post says:
    our greatest foes: hubris and paranoia.
    But Grant talks about the injustice of Americans going to Mexico Texas, violating the slave laws, and succeeding so as to become a US state. I don’t equate complaints about injustice with hubris.

    And I think elitist anti-capitalism, secular anti-Christianism, and hypocritical anti-American pseudo-pacifism are all bigger foes — not to mention Islamic terrorists who are actually killing US soldiers in far greater numbers than hubris or paranoia.

    The Long War is certain to have long term costs on many veterans — of course there will be increasing numbers of damaged vets.

    Maxi: Therein lies a major endemic problem. If you do not “Believe” in the invincibility of the United States Military, and it’s weapons development and procurement, or otherwize question the infalable judgement, and honest motivation of our politics, or the “system” in it’s checks and balances, you are branded unpatriotic.
    No, actually, I’d call you unpatriotic if:
    you believe the US military WILL fail, can NOT succeed, and/or has already failed in Iraq;
    if you believe most judgments of the the politicians are wrong;
    if you believe there are only dishonest motivations of our politicians (or of every Rep politician), and then analyze actions based on this belief of dishonest, if not evil, motivations.

    Yeah, then I’d say you might be suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, but more likely you are not very patriotic.

    Imperfect, but basically good, America is far better than any alternatives I see on the world stage.
    I think that makes me patriotic. Even tho I know the US can lose, a battle or a war. I don’t like some judgments of Bush, nor Clinton (either), and certainly not of Obama. The honest motivations of all seem clear to me — mostly vote on policies the way to be most popular. Actually Bush is more “honest” about having policies he believes are right, no matter what the polls say. Putting in Bremer and taking out Gardner in 2003, right after the regime change, was one of his bad policies. (Rumsfeld’s Light Footprint is less clear — McCain/ Shinseki 300 000 k troops earlier might have reduced 2004/2005 terrorism, but at the cost of Iraqis not taking any responsibility to stop a weaker but more endurable Al Qaeda.)

    Oh, I forgot — Leftist totalitarian types often argue as if support for Bush overall means support for each policy, belief in his infallibility. Few Bush voters are really like that, but it’s not worth most conservative folks’ time to explain this truth to the unpatriotic who are looking for one-sided reasons to denigrate the effort of America to help Iraq build a human rights respecting democracy. No other country is doing so much to support real, but imperfect, democracy promotion.

    Of course, so many of these Leftists claimed it would be impossible to do that, so in order to avoid being proven wrong, they are changing the criteria (i.e. no corruption, ha! like in the UN?), and mostly spinning recent good news with ominous predictions about a bad future.

    In fact, I’d even claim the more real threat of hubris is primarily from the America-distrusting elites, who seem to prefer to sabotage success of Op. Iraqi Freedom, rather than be shown to be wrong about their claims of US failure.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: The following is IMO one of the most absurd comments I have seen in a while.

    “I’d call you unpatriotic if: (1) you believe the US military WILL fail, can NOT succeed, and/or has already failed in Iraq; (2) if you believe most judgments of the the politicians are wrong;”

    The first refers to disagreements about the current geopolitical situation. This sounds like you believe that only your judgements on such things are legitimate, ruling disagreement as unpatriotic. The second goes to the heart of republican government, which you appear not to understand very well.

    “Imperfect, but basically good, America is far better than any alternatives I see on the world stage. I think that makes me patriotic.”

    There is no agreed-upon touchstone for patriotism, so we can only disagree. This seems to me a weak definition of patriotism, contingent on things on which patriotism should not depend. If some better alternative arises, or America (us, collectively) does bad things, will you leave? It is also IMO cheap, the self-esteem version — with no reference to the usual formula of something like “zealously and unselfishly devoted to the service of one’s country.”

  10. BOTH CANDIDATES, AS WELL AS CONGRESS, MIGHT DO WELL TO LISTEN TO ANDREW BACEVICH… NOT JUST HEAR HIM

    Only rarely does someone surface with qualifications as well as insights and a delivery that stimulate thinking. Even more rarely does an individual stimulate the very personal mental articulation of self observation.

    http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/2008/08/andrew-bacevich-rare-sobering-voice.html

    Bacevich deserves as broad an audience as can be exposed to his thoughtful analysis.

Leave a Reply