Tom Engelhard asks “Is America is hooked on War?”

Good question.  I wish I knew the answer.  This is one of the best articles to date by Englehardt, IMO one of the sharpest knives in America’s drawer of geopolitical observers.

Is America Hooked on War?“, Tom Engelhardt, posted at TomDispatch, 17 September 2009 — Posted in full with permission.

“War is peace” was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth, Minitrue in “Newspeak,” the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel 1984. Some 60 years later, a quarter-century after Orwell’s imagined future bit the dust, the phrase is, in a number of ways, eerily applicable to the United States.

Last week, for instance, a New York Times front-page story by Eric Schmitt and David Sanger was headlined “Obama Is Facing Doubts in Party on Afghanistan, Troop Buildup at Issue.” It offered a modern version of journalistic Newspeak.

“Doubts,” of course, imply dissent, and in fact just the week before there had been a major break in Washington’s ranks, though not among Democrats. The conservative columnist George Will wrote a piece offering blunt advice to the Obama administration, summed up in its headline: “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.” In our age of political and audience fragmentation and polarization, think of this as the Afghan version of Vietnam’s Cronkite moment.

The Times report on those Democratic doubts, on the other hand, represented a more typical Washington moment. Ignored, for instance, was Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold’s end-of-August call for the president to develop an Afghan withdrawal timetable. The focus of the piece was instead an upcoming speech by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He was, Schmitt and Sanger reported, planning to push back against well-placed leaks (in the Times, among other places) indicating that war commander General Stanley McChrystal was urging the president to commit 15,000 to 45,000 more American troops to the Afghan War.

Here, according to the two reporters, was the gist of Levin’s message about what everyone agrees is a “deteriorating” U.S. position: “[H]e was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.”

Think of this as the line in the sandwithin the Democratic Party, and be assured that the debates within the halls of power over McChrystal’s troop requests and Levin’s proposal are likely to be fierce this fall. Thought about for a moment, however, both positions can be summed up with the same word: More.

The essence of this “debate” comes down to: More of them versus more of us (and keep in mind that more of them — an expanded training program for the Afghan National Army — actually means more of “us” in the form of extra trainers and advisors). In other words, however contentious the disputes in Washington, however dismally the public now views the war, however much the president’s war coalition might threaten to crack open, the only choices will be between more and more.

No alternatives are likely to get a real hearing. Few alternative policy proposals even exist because alternatives that don’t fit with “more” have ceased to be part of Washington’s war culture. No serious thought, effort, or investment goes into them. Clearly referring to Will’s column, one of the unnamed “senior officials” who swarm through our major newspapers made the administration’s position clear, saying sardonically, according to the Washington Post, “I don’t anticipate that the briefing books for the [administration] principals on these debates over the next weeks and months will be filled with submissions from opinion columnists… I do anticipate they will be filled with vigorous discussion… of how successful we’ve been to date.”

State of War

Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it’s hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the United States is a war state, that it garrisonsmuch of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere at any moment. Similarly, we’ve become used to the idea that, when various forms of force (or threats of force) don’t work, our response, as in Afghanistan, is to recalibrate and apply some alternate version of the same under a new or rebranded name — the hot one now being “counterinsurgency” or COIN — in a marginally different manner. When it comes to war, as well as preparations for war, more is now generally the order of the day.

This wasn’t always the case. The early Republic that the most hawkish conservatives love to cite was a land whose leaders looked with suspicion on the very idea of a standing army. They would have viewed our hundreds of global garrisons, our vast network of spies, agents, Special Forces teams, surveillance operatives, interrogators, rent-a-guns, and mercenary corporations, as well as our staggering Pentagon budget and the constant future-war gaming and planning that accompanies it, with genuine horror.

The question is: What kind of country do we actually live in when the so-called U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) lists 16 intelligence services ranging from Air Force Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency? What could “intelligence” mean once spread over 16 sizeable, bureaucratic, often competing outfits with a cumulative 2009 budget estimated at more than $55 billion (a startling percentage of which is controlled by the Pentagon)? What exactly is so intelligent about all that? And why does no one think it even mildly strange or in any way out of the ordinary?

What does it mean when the most military-obsessed administration in our history, which, year after year, submitted ever more bloated Pentagon budgets to Congress, is succeeded by one headed by a president who ran, at least partially, on an antiwar platform, and who has now submitted an even larger Pentagon budget? What does this tell you about Washington and about the viability of non-militarized alternatives to the path George W. Bush took? What does it mean when the new administration, surveying nearly eight years and two wars’ worth of disasters, decides to expand the U.S. Armed Forces rather than shrink the U.S. global mission?

What kind of a world do we inhabit when, with an official unemployment rate of 9.7% and an underemployment rate of 16.8%, the American taxpayer is financing the building of a three-story, exceedingly permanent-looking $17 million troop barracks at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan? This, in turn, is part of a taxpayer-funded $220 million upgrade of the base that includes new “water treatment plants, headquarters buildings, fuel farms, and power generating plants.” And what about the U.S. air base built at Balad, north of Baghdad, that now has 15 bus routes, two fire stations, two water treatment plants, two sewage treatment plants, two power plants, a water bottling plant, and the requisite setof fast-food outlets, PXes, and so on, as well as air traffic levels sometimes compared to those at Chicago’s O’Hare International?

What kind of American world are we living in when a plan to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq involves the removal of more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment? Or in which the possibility of withdrawal leads the Pentagon to issue nearly billion-dollar contracts (new ones!) to increase the number of private security contractors in that country?

What do you make of a world in which the U.S. has robot assassins in the skies over its war zones, 24/7, and the “pilots” who control them from thousands of miles away are ready on a moment’s notice to launch missiles — “Hellfire” missiles at that — into Pashtun peasant villages in the wild, mountainous borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan? What does it mean when American pilots can be at war “in” Afghanistan, 9 to 5, by remote control, while their bodies remain at a base outside Las Vegas and then can head home past a sign that warns them to drive carefully because this is “the most dangerous part of your day”?

What does it mean when, for our security and future safety, the Pentagon funds the wildest ideas imaginable for developing high-tech weapons systems, many of which sound as if they came straight out of the pages of sci-fi novels? Take, for example, Boeing’s advanced coordinated system of hand-held drones, robots, sensors, and other battlefield surveillance equipment slated for seven Army brigades within the next two years at a cost of $2 billion and for the full Army by 2025; or the Next Generation Bomber, an advanced “platform” slated for 2018; or a truly futuristic bomber, “a suborbital semi-spacecraft able to move at hypersonic speed along the edge of the atmosphere,” for 2035? What does it mean about our world when those people in our government peering deepest into a blue-skies future are planning ways to send armed “platforms” up into those skies and kill more than a quarter century from now?

And do you ever wonder about this: If such weaponry is being endlessly developed for our safety and security, and that of our children and grandchildren, why is it that one of our most successful businesses involves the sale of the same weaponry to other countries? Few Americans are comfortable thinking about this, which may explain why global-arms-trade pieces don’t tend to make it onto the front pages of our newspapers. Recently, the Times Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, for instance, wrote a piece on the subject which appeared inside the paper on a quiet Labor Day. “Despite Slump, U.S. Role as Top Arms Supplier Grows” was the headline.

Perhaps Shanker, too, felt uncomfortable with his subject, because he included the following generic description: “In the highly competitive global arms market, nations vie for both profit and political influence through weapons sales, in particular to developing nations…” The figures he cited from a new congressional study of that “highly competitive” market told a different story:  The U.S., with $37.8 billion in arms sales (up $12.4 billion from 2007), controlled 68.4% of the global arms market in 2008. Highly competitively speaking, Italy came “a distant second” with $3.7 billion. In sales to “developing nations,” the U.S. inked $29.6 billion in weapons agreements or 70.1% of the market. Russia was a vanishingly distant second at $3.3 billion or 7.8% of the market. In other words, with 70% of the market, the U.S. actually has what, in any other field, would qualify as a monopoly position — in this case, in things that go boom in the night. With the American car industry in a ditch, it seems that this (along with Hollywood films that go boom in the night) is what we now do best, as befits a war, if not warrior, state. Is that an American accomplishment you’re comfortable with?

On the day I’m writing this piece, “Names of the Dead,” a feature which appears almost daily in my hometown newspaper, records the death of an Army private from DeKalb, Illinois, in Afghanistan. Among the spare facts offered: he was 20 years old, which means he was probably born not long before the First Gulf War was launched in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. If you include that war, which never really ended — low-level U.S. military actions against Saddam Hussein’s regime continued until the invasion of 2003 — as well as U.S. actions in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, not to speak of the steady warfare underway since November 2001, in his short life, there was hardly a moment in which the U.S. wasn’t engaged in military operations somewhere on the planet (invariably thousands of miles from home).

If that private left a one-year-old baby behind in the States, and you believe the statements of various military officials, that child could pass her tenth birthday before the war in which her father died comes to an end. Given the record of these last years, and the present military talk about being better prepared for “the next war,” she could reach 2025, the age when she, too, might join the military without ever spending a warless day. Is that the future you had in mind?

Consider this: War is now the American way, even if peace is what most Americans experience while their proxies fight in distant lands. Any serious alternative to war, which means our “security,” is increasingly inconceivable. In Orwellian terms then, war is indeed peace in the United States and peace, war.

American Newspeak

Newspeak, as Orwell imagined it, was an ever more constricted form of English that would, sooner or later, make “all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended,” he wrote in an appendix to his novel, “that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought… should be literally unthinkable.”

When it comes to war (and peace), we live in a world of American Newspeak in which alternatives to a state of war are not only ever more unacceptable, but ever harder to imagine. If war is now our permanent situation, in good Orwellian fashion it has also been sundered from a set of words that once accompanied it.

It lacks, for instance, “victory.” After all, when was the last time the U.S. actually won a war (unless you include our “victories” over small countries incapable of defending themselves like the tiny Caribbean Island of Grenada in 1983 or powerless Panama in 1989)? The smashing “victory” over Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War only led to a stop-and-start conflict now almost two decades old that has proved a catastrophe. Keep heading backward through the Vietnam and Korean Wars and the last time the U.S. military was truly victorious was in 1945.

But achieving victory no longer seems to matter. War American-style is now conceptually unending, as are preparations for it. When George W. Bush proclaimed a Global War on Terror (aka World War IV), conceived as a “generational struggle” like the Cold War, he caught a certain American reality. In a sense, the ongoing war system can’t absorb victory. Any such endpoint might indeed prove to be a kind of defeat.

No longer has war anything to do with the taking of territory either, or even with direct conquest. War is increasingly a state of being, not a process with a beginning, an end, and an actual geography.

Similarly drained of its traditional meaning has been the word “security” — though it has moved from a state of being (secure) to an eternal, immensely profitable process whose endpoint is unachievable. If we ever decided we were either secure enough, or more willing to live without the unreachable idea of total security, the American way of war and the national security state would lose much of their meaning. In other words, in our world, security is insecurity.

As for “peace,” war’s companion and theoretical opposite, though still used in official speeches, it, too, has been emptied of meaning and all but discredited. Appropriately enough, diplomacy, that part of government which classically would have been associated with peace, or at least with the pursuit of the goals of war by other means, has been dwarfed by, subordinated to, or even subsumed by the Pentagon. In recent years, the U.S. military with its vast funds has taken over, or encroached upon, a range of activities that once would have been left to an underfunded State Department, especially humanitarian aid operations, foreign aid, and what’s now called nation-building. (On this subject, check out Stephen Glain’s recent essay, “The American Leviathan” in the Nation magazine.)

Diplomacy itself has been militarized and, like our country, is now hidden behind massive fortifications, and has been placed under Lord-of-the-Flies-style guard. The State Department’s embassies are now bunkers and military-style headquarters for the prosecution of war policies; its officials, when enough of them can be found, are now sent out into the provinces in war zones to do “civilian” things.

And peace itself? Simply put, there’s no money in it. Of the nearly trillion dollars the U.S. invests in war and war-related activities, nothing goes to peace. No money, no effort, no thought. The very idea that there might be peaceful alternatives to endless war is so discredited that it’s left to utopians, bleeding hearts, and feathered doves. As in Orwell’s Newspeak, while “peace” remains with us, it’s largely been shorn of its possibilities. No longer the opposite of war, it’s just a rhetorical flourish embedded, like one of our reporters, in Warspeak.

What a world might be like in which we began not just to withdraw our troops from one war to fight another, but to seriously scale down the American global mission, close those hundreds of bases — recently, there were almost 300 of them, macro to micro, in Iraq alone — and bring our military home is beyond imagining. To discuss such obviously absurd possibilities makes you an apostate to America’s true religion and addiction, which is force. However much it might seem that most of us are peaceably watching our TV sets or computer screens or iPhones, we Americans are also — always — marching as to war. We may not all bother to attend the church of our new religion, but we all tithe. We all partake. In this sense, we live peaceably in a state of war.

Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt

About the author

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.


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For more information about this topic

To see all posts about our new wars:

Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  3. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  4. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  5. “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
  6. “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
  7. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
  8. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
  9. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
  10. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009

19 thoughts on “Tom Engelhard asks “Is America is hooked on War?””

  1. Pure gibberish. America is an empire, and empires must needs be at war at all times. Granted, America cannot afford to police its empire any longer, given a government that oppresses its own productive private sector in the name of redistributive justice.

    Still, in the absence of American policing of the seas, frontiers, and skies, the world is a crumbling piece of excrement. It cannot last, of course.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Can you support your last paragraph? Can you cite anyone else outside of the US (and perhaps UK) who agrees with you?

  2. Give the people basic utilities, bloodsport and victories abroad and they will not revolt against us. As long as the people are busy and entertained with victories, then we can stay in power and do as we wish. Using democracy to rule a willing population has been proven before. And history repeats itself, again.

  3. I don’t see how we are “entertained with victories.” In actuality, the wars hardly penetrate the consciousness of the average American. Think about how many folks are upset with the economy versus the aimless slaughter. More people are entertained by professional wrestling.

    From my perspective, there was a long peace between Vietnam and Desert Storm when the U.S. was circumspect about using force, mainly because of the dreadful experience of Vietnam. “Never again” would we go to war without clear aims and an exit strategy. In an odd way, the incidents – Mayaguez, the Desert One fiasco, Grenada, and Panama – served as additional cautions. So the Desert Shield decision was a big deal, and Bush I actually went to the U.N., which had been ignored since the Korean War.

    After Desert Storm, the U.S. had its “self-confidence” again and started sticking its big nose everywhere. We told the Saudis we would leave and never did. The Cold War had ended and with it the rationale for a worldwide network of garrisons, but hey, the Republicrats want more, more, more.

    Insanity is voting for the same old power-mad Republicans and Democrats and expecting a different result.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for this interesting comment! As for the two parties, I said much the same thing here:

    One virtue of the FM site is its clear position about the politics of 21st century America: I stand against them. Choosing a party today is like cattle at the stockyards choosing a pen. They (being smarter than us) don’t bother with party identification. They don’t cheer the “left-side” pen: the virtue of its prisoners, the beauty of the fence, the free food. Those in the “right-side” pen don’t wear logos or bumper-stickers, or trumpet their superior intelligence over those in the other pen.

  4. Re: Arms Merchant #3: “I don’t see how we are ‘entertained with victories.’”

    I don’t either- so I guess that makes us the minority. I was just rehashing the Roman Empire’s outlook on staying in power, and noticed a similarity between then and now/us and them. Americans will rally behind a winner, even if he/she is morally corrupt and ignorant- rather than rally behind a loser who is morally just and wise. We need our victories and accomplishments to prove that we are superior. When they told us that it would be a quick and decisive victory, we jumped on it. As long as the sheeple are happy our ruling elite will do as they please.

  5. Yesterday six Italian soldiers have been killed by a car bomb in Kabul. They were from my old brigade, “Brigata Folgore”, so that I tried to make a phone call to the son of a late comrade of mine, who is doing his service over there, in the same brigade as myself and his late father. I was very lucky, and I could briefly speak with him.

    When he asked me, “What are they saying in Italy?” I answered, “They say that we can’t go away until we’ll have defeated the baddies”.

    He laughed for a long time.

    Then I asked him, “How do they fight?”; and he answered, in a respectful tone: “They are good. See, they do nothing ‘per fare bella figura’, ‘just for show'”.”

    “And the Americans?” I went on asking.

    “Well, you see: they’re good, but they do not understand that here, being poor does not mean being stupid or weak.”

  6. It’s very noticeable that those nations that were never occupied in WW2 are basically all pro-war. Despite the historical record showing that the vast majority of wars are a negative sum game, those countries still believe in the good war – the war that improved things.

    But Americans have a very particular view of themselves which makes war likely:

    Firstly they believe themselves to be a hyper-power. Which means wars will be conducted on their terms, they will ultimately decide how many lives to invest and what the outcomes will be. Coupled to this is the sense of impunity. A Hyper-power acts with impunity the enemy can never attack the homeland.

    Most important is American exceptionalism. Americans deeply believe that they are morally exceptional. That American values are universally shared and seen as good. Americans cannot do evil they can only make mistakes. The debate is never about whether American values should be spread, but how – soft power vs military power. It’s taken for granted across the political spectrum that resisting it is inherently immoral.

    Exceptionalism is not uncommon. But the problem with moral exceptionalism is that it must be spread. The French can look down their noses at the rest of us idiots without impinging on their sense of intellectual superiority. But not to spread moral superiority is immoral in itself.

    Part of the exceptionalism comes from justifying an empire and part from Americas religious history, but a great part also comes from the cold war. A ideological struggle where maintaining ones own moral superiority was necessary no to lose.

    So there are three solutions to stop the next wars: give the broad population a taste of war, disarm, or change the culture. The bad news is that of the three the first is already the easiest and getting easier.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a powerful observation! As for your 3 solutions, let’s try #3. Part of this is no longer politely tolerating folks recommending that we routinely “kill all our enemies”. When such views are considered in poor taste (or better yet, delusional), our society will be far stronger.

  7. Very powerful observation! It is true that American values are exceptional and have changed the world for the better since the 1780s!

    And you are correct that there is not stopping war, except for the mindless fantasists! The much more intelligent question is how do you limit war? How do you prevent the great world wars as they had in the 1900s???

    The grassfire wars are one form of prevention of the great wars, true! But even there, the suffering and loss is regrettable, and possibly even preventable!

    Yes, I agree that decapitation strikes of dictators and their support staff may become necessary. But what form of organization will be responsible for doing this, for stopping even the small brushfire wars?

    Not the UN of course, the corrupt incompetent trash! But there may be a way of stopping most wars after all, with sufficiently focused violence!

  8. Englehardt is exactly right, we have become what Orwell described in 1949, a mass society where truth is what the state says it is. Guy Debord, a french journalist of the seventies, expands the concept in “Society of the Spectacle”, in which he says that not only state propaganda, but all forms of news, entertainment, advertising and commentary blend together in a continuous hum of distracting images and information, or Spectacle, which alienate us from real experience keep us from knowing who we really are. Harpers Mag writer Thomas de Zengotita brings the notion up to date in an entertaining book “Mediated”.

    Two thousand years ago, Plato said the same thing in the “Allegory of the Cave”, where citizens of the state live chained to their seats, facing the rear wall, on which the guardians display fantastic shadow figures which the citizens mistake for images of their real lives. Contemporary man, plumped down on his couch in front of the tv, is not much different from Plato’s citizen.
    FM Note: You can download a copy of Society of the Spectacle from here.

  9. I’m back to my definition of an asshole as the guy who rips out your 600 dollar car stereo and sells it for ten bucks. Here, it’s guys who rip 600 billion dollars out of your economy and personally pocket ten billion. Aside from the number of zero’s the definition holds.

  10. Following Hobbes, the state gains its legitimacy from the need to protect its citizens against themselves and against foreign enemies, and in other ways, to provide for their safety and wellbeing. Hence, there must always be a threat — of scarcity, or crime, or natural disaster, or civil disorder, or attack by foreign enemies. The equation works both ways, too — the state needs these threats in order to maintain its authority, and citizens tend to believe in them, rather than admitting the bad bargain they may have made in giving up their liberties, and paying taxes.

    Many Americans are proud of their military, think of it as a sign of our industrial/civilizational superiority, and may even recognize it as the main reason for our global hegemony. It’s a stupid dream, comparable to the dream of four-car families, bigger and bigger tvs and greener lawns. The only thing that might wake us from this dream is a draft.

  11. Unfortuneately, The Daily Show’s John Oliver had the only explanation of why we must stay in Afghanistan that makes any sense. After explaining that Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great and the British Empire all lost in Afghanistan, he said it was like the highest level on a video game and that we had to stay, even though we would get nothing of value, just because it was bragging rights like have your initials on the games high score. It really bothers me that this makes as much sense as any other explanation given.

  12. Talbo wrote {comment #7}: “And you are correct that there is not stopping war, except for the mindless fantasists! The much more intelligent question is how do you limit war? How do you prevent the great world wars as they had in the 1900s???”

    I think that if history – that great professor who always teaches in an empty classroom – teaches us anything, it is that you can limit war when you respect your enemy. I.e., when you do not consider your enemy a savage, a terrorist, an infidel, an Untermensch, etc.

    After the terrifying carnage of the Thirty Years War, in Westphalia the European powers decided that religious wars had to be stopped. From now on, any state should be a sovereign state, and religious matters should be politically decided (“cujus regio, ejus religio”). States should be sovereign, equals and peers at least in principle, and fight each other in order to attain limited objectives, by limited means. It didn’t work so bad for a century and a half, did it?

    Unfortunately, U.S. of America, with theirs ingrained exceptionalism and messianism, are not likely to take such a way. It should be Europe to show the way, if there were any Europe left, after its two-phases suicide, and sixty years lacking independence.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Westphalia was 1648, so it worked well (as such things go) for over 300 years. The rise of mass warfare between States occured within the Westphalia framework, so the horror of WWI and WWII was not a violation of it.

    The Westphalia order was an expression of a larger evolution, the rise of the State. Now we enter the era of the State’s decline, inevitably accompanied by the rise of non-state actors — and the dominance of 4GW as the primary mode of war.

    This is not Bush’s fault. Or America’s fault.

  13. With the leak of McCrystals strategy for Afgahnistan it’s clear that such a treasure should not be wasted on the Afghans, he should be immediately recalled to America to fix all of the problems there.

    Endemic corruption, huge unemployment, Pashtun xenophobia, even the disinterest of US marines in learning a second language will be solved – all simply by putting him in charge of everything. He has the COIN magic and he can see that it will be so.

  14. FM: “Westphalia was 1648, so it worked well (as such things go) for over 300 years. The rise of mass warfare between States occured within the Westphalia framework, so the horror of WWI and WWII was not a violation of it. The Westphalia order was an expression of a larger evolution, the rise of the State. Now we enter the era of the State’s decline, inevitably accompanied by the rise of non-state actors — and the dominance of 4GW as the primary mode of war. This is not Bush’s fault. Or America’s fault.

    First of all, errata corrige: I meant to write that the Westphalian order “didn’t work so bad for TWO centuries and a half”, and not “for A century and a half”, i.e. it worked well until the first act of the European Civil War, WWI. I apologize for my pen slip, and thank you for correcting it.

    Of course you are right: such a historic turn as “globalization” and the “decline of the State” are not somebody’s fault, not even the President of the United States of America.

    Sketching my thought in a few words, I’ll say that:
    1) “globalization” and the “decline of the State” are not simply a historical description, but a political and cultural prescription: “globalize, or else…”
    2) the main actor of the above said political and cultural prescription are the USA, who do not simply reply the globalizing policy implemented by another great Sea Power,the British Empire in XIX century, but
    3)inevitably express it in their own peculiar cultural heritage, which is exceptionalism, messianism, individualism; presently declined in the ideology of “humanitarian interventions”, “human rights”, etc.; just like British Empire declined it in its peculiar ideology of “white man’s burden” and/or “preaching of Christianism to the Heathens”, liberalism, etc.
    4) the boosting of the “globalizing” movement taken by USA’s imperial policy after the implosion of URSS affects and destabilizes even the United States as a Republic, i.e. as a sovereign state, created in the mindframe of the Westphalian order by its Founders: which justly worries the most farsighted American patriots (among whom, our kind host).
    5)Theorically, the task of reframing a cultural and political order allowing each community to regain its (spiritual, psychological, political) borders should be on Europe, because European tradition was born in Greece, whose culture is based on the concept of limit, “metron”.
    6) But Europe is spiritually dead, and will not come back from Hades – where the dead use to say that “it’s better being a living slave than a dead Achilles” – until she will not try to regain identity, i.e. independence.
    I beg everybody’s pardon for my longish reply.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Quite a thought-provoking reply!

    “”globalization” and the “decline of the State” are not simply a historical description, but a political and cultural prescription”

    Would globalization have occured without US sponsorship? Counterfactuals are impossible to prove, but I believe it would have — in some form. Improvements in communications and transportation technology are the drivers, with irrestable economic implications.

    Who prescribes the “decline of the State”? Some folks on the political extremes — left and right, looking for a return to a more decentralized order. Some on the left, seeking a one-world political order. Some Islamic fundamentalists. None of these are politically powerful, or unique to the US. I believe most people fear the State’s decline.

  15. “Still, in the absence of American policing of the seas, frontiers, and skies, the world is a crumbling piece of excrement. It cannot last, of course.”

    I can cite a taxi driver in Taiwan who agrees with this. I.e., he wants the USA to continue policing the South China Sea, Japan, etc., and providing a counterbalance to China. If China were to take Taiwan, he would be an extremely unhappy camper, and he would indeed compare the world to a crumbling piece of excrement.

    Of course, that may not be the kind of endorsement Fabius was hoping for.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Israel and Taiwan both require US support. Esp the former, as Taiwan is slowly integrating economically with China. Still, the existance of those 2 US IMO dependencies hardly justifies such a broad statement.

  16. FM: “That’s a powerful observation! As for your 3 solutions, let’s try #3. Part of this is no longer politely tolerating folks recommending that we routinely “kill all our enemies”. When such views are considered in poor taste (or better yet, delusional), our society will be far stronger.

    I almost agree with you – except that precludes the idea that in rare cases, there could truly be enemies worthy of eradication. The problem is the slippery definition of term “enemy”….which has more and more been conflated with the term “obstacle”, or “nuisance”. If the culture can get back to a proper working definition of the word “enemies”, we may find that we have far fewer of them than we thought.
    FM reply: Note I specifically said we should not “routinely kill all our enemies.” This does not “precludes enemies worthy of eradication.”

  17. A chap I know from blogging mentioned to me that each New Year he gets together with some mates and part of the fun is to answer a bunch of standard questions about what things might be like in 5 years time (and review their sealed guestimates from 5 years back with a nice prize going to the winner.) Apart from things like what What will the price of a loaf of bread be?, What will such and such a stock index be?, one of the standard questions is Who will America be at war with?

    To me, # 6 by Oblat seems as if it should be largely self evident? And if Americans don’t see America that way then I can only guess it’s propaganda machine is doing a jolly fine job. (A true believer being # 7 Talbo perhaps?)

    Either way, as things are, whenever I hear the likes of Obama say stuff like “… we are ready to lead once more” (from his inaugural speech), I feel considerably less than enthusiastic. Regarding military and other matters.

    And sometimes the things that America’s leaders say seem to indicate that even they believe their own propaganda – Hillary Clinton telling the Chinese that “The United States has a well deserved financial reputation” was one of the funniest things I’d heard in ages! But I genuinely wonder how many Americans appreciated what a ridiculous thing it was to say under the circumstances – Given that Hillary obviously didn’t?

  18. Geopolitics – I’ve seen just enough of the world and its peoples to be an especially good citizen of any one nation perhaps? I have Chinese family members. And a American lady who regards herself as my second mum. And a Russian lady who regards me as her son. I had an invite to visit Iran in 2005 – Didn’t go – At least in part because things were a bit unstable there at the time (aren’t they always) and as an Australian (born and bred, true blue through and through with my earliest traced ancestor on these shores being an English crim who was deported for life in the 1800s blah, blah, blah … ) I figured I just might be mistaken for an American on the streets if I opened my mouth. Which all makes me a bit confused when it comes to geopolitics. But I actually see that as a very, very good thing – People who are a bit confused about who the goodies are and who the baddies are, probably aren’t in a particularly big rush to kill anyone at all?
    Does that mean there are NO baddies? Not at all – In fact I’m very, very sure there are. But let’s go softly, softly as we feel them out I think.

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