“Striking a Balance: A New American Security”

“Striking a Balance: A New American Security” was a conference held by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) on 11 June 2009.  You can see the transcripts and related reports here.   If opera is money set to music, then events like this are the equivalent for political power.


  • The Honorable Dr. Richard Danzig (Secretary of the Navy 1998-2001)
  • Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns (senior US diplomat 1997-2008)
  • Dr. John A. Nagl
  • General David H. Petraeus
  • Thomas E. Ricks
  • General John (Jack) Keane
  • George Packer (The New Yorker)
  • Nazar Janabi
  • Samir Sumaida’ie, Ambassador of Iraq to the USA
  • Lieutenant General David W. Barno
  • Andrew Exum
  • Nathaniel C. Fick
  • Dr. Andrew J. Bacevich
  • Colonel Christopher G. Cavoli
  • Dr. Kristin M. Lord
  • The Honorable Judith A. McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

For a brief review of this event, I recommend reading “One-Sided COIN – The military-industrial complex surges Washington“, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, The American Conservative, 1 August 2009 (hat tip to Antiwar.com).  It is too good to excerpt.   Vlahos uses this event — and the rise of the CNAS — to show that Obama has brought no serious foreign-policy change in Washington, just different people carrying the flags for perpetual war. 

Both parties share the hubris of America’s global hegemony — built on money borrowed from foreigners.  We need not consult the ghost of Clausewitz to know this is insane.  The fancy slides, the gather intellectual and military elites, the millions of fine words — nothing can disguise this bitter truth.

It’s incredible that such an event occurs while the foundations of America’s prosperity — the ultimate source of military power — wash slowly away.  The combination of geopolitical hubris and ever-rising debt tells us much about the intelligence of America’s elites.

Rome’s elites fell victim to lead in their water and wine, a illness they lacked the tools to see or understand.  What is our excuse?

Update:  this is a 2nd post about this conference.  The first was A wonderful discussion about the American Empire on 24 June 2009.

6 thoughts on ““Striking a Balance: A New American Security””

  1. Rome’s elites fell victim to lead in their water and wine, a illness they lacked the tools to see or understand. What is our excuse?

    Xenoestrogen and other byproducts of the chemical industry contributing to subtle hormonal imbalances, general malaise, and a population contraction.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The hubris of our elites is not a likely result of xenoestrogens in our food and water. However, I agree that these are a serious concern. For more about this see A serious threat to us – a top priority shockwave – a hidden danger! (30 January 2009).

  2. “So while one well-connected think tank gets top billing in Washington, the people of Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as the American men and women serving dutifully there—remain “long-term” guinea pigs.”

    The above quote taking in connection with the lastest from TomDispatch – Refusing to Comply. The Tactics of Resistance in an All-Volunteer Military by Dahr Jamail raise the interesting question if the lower ranks of the armed forces will continue to play their part in the plans of the best and brightest.

  3. I attended the conference in question, and the Iraq and Afghanistan panels concerned themselves with tactical concerns. They acknowledged that there were broader strategic issues regarding why America was in Iraq and Afghanistan, but did not discuss them in interests of brevity (their opinions on the matter would have been enlightening). The recommendations made were not strategic, although Bacevich received an ovation when he asked exactly what was gained by continuing the battle in Afghanistan, and why we were staying in the first place. Petraeus’ presentation was applauded because it was him doing the presenting; he didn’t lay out any sort of grand strategic vision for America.

    It’s fair to question America’s geopolitical role, and how much of it should be lead by the military, and at what cost. However, as long as we don’t go rushing off on “pre-emptive wars” to “save America”, then I’d say we have some pretty significant political change right there. Getting ourselves out of the current mess isn’t going to be as easy as getting in.

  4. I believe you posted something on this conference earlier. I recall commenting that the name itself (CNAS, blatantly hinting its similarity to PNAC) is all you need to know. Scanning the list of participants, the only one I recognize as skeptical of this general view is Bacevich.

    Why be surprised at this continuity in US foreign/military policy? It’s been bipartisan consensus since the end of WW II. When the original rationale for it — expansive Russian communism — failed, those who expected a “peace dividend” were quickly disappointed. “Empire” is not an abstraction — it’s the sum of all the business interests who need resources, markets, investment opportunities, overseas. And since those activities are generally not intended to be beneficial to local populations, they inevitably produce resistance, and hence have to be supported by the threat of military force.

    The weird thing is that many of these transnational businesses have almost no allegiance or necessary connection to the US population any longer, and yet the US population pays for the military establishment that protects them.

  5. KSR is striking truth, seems to me, talking about the limited scope of the CNAS conference. IIRC Andrew Exum linked Vlahos’ article on Abu Muqawama, and said that he “had sympathy” (or to that effect) for Bacevich’s view.

    The people who set the strategy have decided they’d face too much political backlash for setting the correct strategy. The Obama administration seems to be making that calculation in regard to a great many policies, actually.

  6. First, the true cost of the American military-industrial complex is around 1.4 trillion, not 700 billion. I have a detailed breakdown in a text file on my hard drive, culled from many different sources, but it would take several kbytes to post. The 1.4 trillion dollar number is independently confirmed from several other sources. However, it does include CIA, NSA, NRO, the VA, Pentagon black projects, the Air Force military space program, Sandia Labs and other defense-oriented DOE expenditures, as well as military pensions, etc. It’s not use claiming “these aren’t direct war costs,” since if we continue with our current war machine, we must pay them.

    Second, few people seem to grasp how genetically intertwined the military has become in U.S. R&D and industrial development. The Pentagon is like a retrovirus: it has become part of American industry’s DNA. Several examples — while R&D funding declines across the board in American industry, R&D spending is ramping up only in the Pentagon. As a result, American industries have realized that if they want research funding, they must slant their products toward military applications. Another example: Nathan Myrvhold, the former Microsoft VP, started a patent trolling group several years back. He’s minting money by dreaming up blue-sky ideas and selling the patents on ’em…but when you read between the lines, you realize he’s selling essentially all the patents to the U.S. military. Third example: the Pentagon is now driving state-of-the-art medicine. Limb regeneration, stem cell spinal cord regrowth, futuristic brain-controlled robotic protheses, these are all being heavily funded by the Pentagon now. Why? Because modern body armor has gotten so good that the number of U.S. casualties with severe brain injuries and lost limbs has skyrocketed. Many thousands of U.S. soldiers who in earlier wars would ahve died now get shipped home without arms or legs, or with massive brain damage — especially IED casualties in Iraq.

    When you look at the U.S. military-industrial complex objectively, you realize that it performs a valid function, but at absurd cost and with wild inefficiency. The Japanese have MITI to stimulate R&D and set national industrial policy; the South Koreans have their chaebols directed by the government. The French and Germans have national ministries charged with setting industrial policy and developing new technologies. America doesn’t have anything like that as an official cabinet-level department because we’ve wound up letting the Pentagon perform that function. For example, the Pentagon is the only voice in government now raising concerns about outsourcing because of worries that foreign-made chips used in U.S. weapons systems might have secret “kill switches” built in. But the Pentagon is performing a Japanese-style MITI function with ludicrous inefficiency, burning up insane amounts of dollars to produce relatively little useful R&D.

    It’s not clear how the U.S. military-industrial complex can be disentangled from American industry. If we succeeded, American industry would collapse because it depends so heavily on the Pentagon for R&D funding and to set national industrial policy. It’s like trying to remove HIV from every cell in the body after infection — I don’t think it can be done.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I would like to see your analysis of the true cost of the US military. I include all of DoD, the nuke warfare parts of DoE, and the foreign intelligence parts of DNI — giving a far larger total than the usual number. But, as you note, parts are scattered elsewhere in the government.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: