Is America fighting the tide of history? Are we like the Czars in the 19th century?

Summary:  Speculation about the long-trends at work in our world, and America’s relationship to them.  To see the future better, we look to the past.  History does not repeat itself, but it does provide examples from which we can learn.

States, which have undergone a change of government due to revolution, the result of which threaten other states, ipso facto cease to be members of the European Alliance, and remain excluded from it until their situation gives guarantees for legal order and stability. If, owing to such alterations, immediate danger threatens other states the powers bind themselves, by peaceful means, or if need be, by arms, to bring back the guilty state into the bosom of the Great Alliance.

This sounds like something in the Pentagon’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  Our military strategy has slowly evolved from defense to expeditionary warfare.  Hence the emphasis on COIN, helping illegitimate governments beat down insurgencies (governments with some legitimacy seldom need foreign soldiers to defeat insurgencies).

This quote is from the Protocol from the Congress of Troppau (Wikipedia), signed on 19 November 1820 by Austria, Russia and Prussia — the Holy Alliance.  Their goal was to suppress the movement towards representative government and personal freedom.  Their goals were described by Lord Castlereagh as “the governments contracting an alliance against the people … a league of which the sole object ist he absurd pretensions of absolute power.”  The goals were to preserve “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationality” (said in 1833 by Sergey Uvarov, Russia’s Minister of Education).  As “champions of despotism”, Russia’s Alexander I became the “gendarme of Europe” (gendarmes were Russia’s uniformed security police).

Why so many interventions?  Especially in support of governments with little support among their own people.  That is, by America since WWII.  In Latin America and the Caribbean.  In Vietnam.  In Iraq.  In Afghanistan.  And perhaps next  in Pakistan or Yemen or Iran. 

Why the determination to prevent the rise of new great powers?  As seen in the alternative QDR obtained by Defense News, which advocates increased military spending to oppose China.  Apparently US military and intelligence spending roughly equal to the entire rest of the world combined is not enough.

Worse, a large fraction of America has become actively hostile to one of the world’s major — and fastest growing — religions.  As we see in the recent controversies about building mosques in New York City and Temecula, CA.  And our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and alliance with Israel against its neighbors.

 This time is different (as always); we’re not the Holy Alliance.  Of course we fight for truth, justice, and freedom.  And a global order in which the US sits at the top, and our cultural values are preeminent.   Still, perhaps we should consider for a minute if America has moved into a similar position — opposing the currents of history?  How do we look to others.  For an example see “The noble, criminal Western democracies“, Rami G. Khouri, columnist for the Daily Star (Lebanon), 27 July 2010. 

History shows the need for scepticism about the rightness of one’s actions, and humility about their moral rightness.  Especially in the era of the State’s decline,when people’s loyalties shift from the State to greater (religion or ideology) or lesser (regional, ethnic, clan) entities.  We don’t want to find ourselves, like the early Roman Emperors, killing people in the reasonable belief that we’re defending the best possible social order.  That might be true (Gibbon seems to have thoughts so, and IMO the consequences of Rome’s fall suggest he was right).  But this seldom works, and will look bad to future generations.


Bernard Finel of the American Security Project provides some additional analysis, well worth reading:  “Islamophobia and the Conservative Mind“, 29 July 2010.

Other 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. Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
  4. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  5. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  6. ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy , 21 February 2008
  7. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  8. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  9. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  10. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  11. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  12. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  13. The world seen through the lens of 4GW (this gives a clearer picture) , (10 July 2008 — chapter 8
  14. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
  15. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
  16. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009

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