Summary: Part one of this series described a scenario under which the new President might take office — a severe global recession — and the preparations he should initiate immediately after November 4. This is part 2, discussing what he should do first, to establish moral leadership.
The President’s authority is relatively small. Power in the United States is distributed among many types of structures– churches, businesses, non-profits, etc — in addition to the government. Governmental power is distributed among local, state, and national levels. And again divided among the three branches; even many of the Executive agencies are independent of Presidential control (e.g., the Fed and the many regulatory agencies).
On the other hand, this distributed network means that the President stands almost alone as a national leader — perhaps the only person able to speak for America. That gives his “bully pulpit” tremendous power, esp in a time of crisis when our national identity becomes somewhat malleable.
So let’s first consider what the President can do to lead America into the 21st century through moral suasion. 4GW theory suggests that this is the most powerful form of leadership, with the widest and most long-lasting effects. A later post will consider the specifics of policy so loved by government nerds.
- Change the relationship between the government and the people
- Change the relationship between America and the world
I. Change the relationship between the government and the people
A. Wean the government from its addiction to lies. Tell the truth whenever possible
Since WWII the US government has become a group of compulsive liars. After two generations of this its credibility is exhausted. As in “never believe a rumor about the government until the government denies it for the second time.” This cynicism makes effective leadership difficult or impossible.
As with alcoholism, confessing the problem is the first step to a cure. It is not as if any, here or abroad, does not know our government is addicted to lies. Confessing this would be good for the soul. Promise to try to do better.
Start by honesty about our economic situation. There is no reason for fear, so honesty need not create panic. The US economy has gone through storms before and will do so again. However painful, we will do what is necessary to mitigate our people’s suffering and prepare for a better future. Every downturn is an opportunity to learn about our mistakes and make reforms.
Another good start would be to reduce the number of officials able to classify things as secret.
B. Wean the government from its addiction to force
Domestic problem or international challenges, the government’s answer is force. Compulsion. Use of either police powers — increasingly paramilitary in nature — or the US military. Let’s rediscover the power of incentives, of diplomacy, of education.
A good first step would be to reduce the number of agencies who agents can carry guns. It’s become a prestige item, and sends the wrong message both to the agents and the American people.
II. Change the relationship between America and the world
Declare victory! Our post-WWII project has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The Red block has fallen. The third world has, with a few sad exceptions, joined the western world. Great states are popping up in every region, all professing allegiance (to some degree) to free markets and democracy.
After victory comes the next round of the game. In this case setting down our role as hegemon and taking our place at the table as one of many great powers. Success means the world has outgrown the need for America as the global parent.
Which is a good thing. To produce this almost miraculous outcome, without parallel in world history, meant exercising power without reward or remuneration. The cost has been high, and success means we need no longer pay it. This means we should act as partners with our allies. In cold terms, that means that our defense umbrella comes (like all things in life) with a price tag. No pay, we go home. That will help us see how necessary our allies find our bases.
This also means a major change in our military strategy, re-focusing it on defense of America — away from saving humanity from bad things. COIN will be needed only when nations request our help at nation-building, which I suspect will be very seldom.
I suspect these changes will be very popular both with Americans and the rest of the world. A minority of very powerful special interests will scream in pain, a sign that powerful medicine has been administered. This is the kind of bold action that establishes a political party as dominant for a generation or more.
If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these, such as the causes of the present crisis. I have been writing about these events for several years; since November 2007 on this site. As you will see explained in these posts, the magnitude of the events now happening is beyond what most Americans have — or can — imagine.
Please share your comments by posting below. 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 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:
- about the Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end?.
- about The End of the Post-WWII Geopolitical Regime.
- about America – how can we reform it?
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.
- The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
- Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
- America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
- ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
- America needs a Foreign Legion , 18 April 2008
- Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW , original September 2005; revised 30 May 2008
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008 – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
- Justifying the use of force, a key to success in 4GW , 8 July 2008 – chapter 5
- The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus , 11 August 2008
9 thoughts on “What to do? Advice for the new President, part two.”
I really like this post although I doubt much of it will happen even though it should.
One point: American laying down the role of hegemon means also laying down the hegemonic US/Petrodollar economy. Which has been the basis, essentially, of the credit bubble which only recently went parabolic but has been building steadily since WWII. So becoming a normal country will require a huge shift in the economic structure of America and therefore the world. And those now in charge do not seem to want to effect such a switch. Apart from fringe candidates like Ron Paul, nobody has even brought up such issues.
And nor, I trow (and unfortunately), will the next President or Congress.
Apart from this little quibble, I think your suggestions are absolutely the right way to go in an ideal world.
I hope someone is listening. :)
Mikyo : Are they? :)
Great post, but not for an “ideal” world. This works well in our “real” world.
It strikes me that perhaps these two items should be reversed in order, and if that is done solving the new first one (end to foreign military adventurism) will solve 90% of the new second one (the lying). Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bushes the both… what did they most lie about, with the most consequence for the Republic? The true cause of this or that war, how it actually was going, what we actually were doing, etc etc etc….
And again the choice is clear. If you look at who is around McCain his administration could be even more bellicose than the failure we just endured. With all his sanctification of the Holy Surge and freezing or reducing spending, he never mentions the borrowed trillion dollars urinated into the sands of Mesopotamia. The best chance for what is outlined here, while far from guaranteed, is Obama.
Many problems. Let’s decide, if there is and what is a single first problem! My take:
It is easy to see, without foreign credit, the US would not be nearly in the military power-position today, where it is, so to seen, our power is borrowed power, borrowed from Asia. Where Asia is heading, we don’t know, we can’t control, we are riding to somewhere. I would prefer to be a lesser power, controlling my own course.
These are all the things I have been pushing politically for a long time. The candidates who had similar idea’s did not make it to the general election though.
One of the things I think the American citizen has to get over is telling others what to do because we don’t like it. Every political stripe expects and wants the Federal government to enforce their personel preference. Roe v. Wade actually is a violation of the 10th Amendment.
Amendment X: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States rsspectively, or to the People.”
It is a state issue and is to be decided by such. Unfortunately, the Supreme seems to avoid the 10th. I would love to see us go back to a more old style republic but in today’s political climate I’m not sure it’s possible.
Fabius Maximus replies: With regret I must give you the sad news. Much of the Constitution, esp the Bill of Rights, is no longer de facto in effect. Our current form of government does not follow the text in any meaningul way. Much of the Bill of Rights is void in the only meaningful sense, that the Courts will not enforce it. An interesting study would be a search for successful use of each Amendment; the results might astonish Americans (except, of course, attorneys). See “Forecast: Death of the American Constitution” for more about this.
A wonderful article that contains much common sense wisdom, especially about the limits of US power, and the “bully pulpit” held by the President. If there is any hope that our broken institutions can be remade to better serve the present, it comes from a President who will make his case over the heads of the entrenched powers-that-be, directly to the voter and common person. This, as you know, is no easy task; it demands political courage of a kind we have not had much in our recent history. Arguably, you’d have to go back to someone like Harry Truman to find it.
As we have seen under President Bush, 4GW takes place inside our own government. One need only note the degree to which the CIA and Dept. of State worked against the policies of the Bush Adminisration. The point is what is good for the goose, is good for the gander. Unconventional political warfare can be waged by either side, depending on whose oxe is being gored. If a federal agency can work more-or-less in plain sight against a sitting GOP President, it can also be co-opted to work against a Democratic one.
Bureaucracies prefer the status quo, not innovation or changes in the way things are done. One suspects our next Chief Executive, no matter who he is, is about to find that out. The levers of power are being gripped tightly by the folks now in control, and they won’t simply walk away when asked to. Their hands will have to be pried from them, by force of will.
Is there a leader of such moral authority in either party, on either ticket? Perhaps this writer is a pessimist, but none appears to be in the offing. I’d love to be proven wrong.
I love the idea of reducing the addiction to lies, but promises about the uncertain future, promises of actions that are not taken, or results not achieved, such promises are not quite lies.
“I did not have sex with that woman” — said by a man who did know that he had oral sex with a woman, that was a lie.
“We know Saddam has WMDs, and we know where they are” — said (approx) by a man who thought he was speaking the truth, but was wrong; that’s not quite a lie.
But in both cases, the sincerity of the speech was politically more important, in the short term, than the truth or falseness of the statement. The addiction of voters for ‘sincere, certain’ politicians, in an uncertain world, means liars with certainty will continue to be rewarded over the more honest with uncertainty.
B. is totally wrong — the purpose of gov’t is to use force, or threaten to use force. What needs to happen is to end the voter addiction to quick solutions based on force, gov’t, and replace it with acceptance of (possibly) less desired solutions based on peaceful agreement, or peaceful disagreement. Whenever gov’t solves a problem, it uses force to do so.
Fabius Maximus replies: Re: “B”. Truly bizarre to say that “the purpose of gov’t is to use force.” Can you cite any philospher, expert on government theory or public policy — anyone of consequence who agrees with that? Other than Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc. I suggest taking a poll to see how many American’s agree with that statement.
Note that the preamble of the Constitution sets for a very different view: ” in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Force is a means, not a purpose.
As for the rest of your comment, I think it agrees — not conflicts — with what I said.