Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran)

Summary:  Today we gain some insights about ourselves from Cold War uber-hawk Colin Grey.  Nations have different strategic cultures, different styles of foreign policy.  Like those of the US and Iran,  global prosperity in the next decade might depend on how these two cultures interact.  Here we look at internal factors driving US foreign policy.  We can do better.  Chapter 11 in a series; links to other chapters and more information are at the end.

Iran should say "Thank you, boss" when we head-slap them

The photo to right shows American foreign policy put to work in an office setting (on NCIS).


  1. Long-term traits of US foreign policy
  2. Example:  Iraq
  3. Example:  Iran
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For more information

(1)  Long-term traits of US foreign policy

US foreign policy strategy since WWII has displayed strong continuity, with some success during the Cold War and poor results since then.  In Henry Kissinger’s first major work, Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy (1957), he described America’s inability to use “its vast strength to accomplish reasonable policy objectives”. (p.41).  Our wars in Iraq and Af-Pak show this continues down to our time.

Colin S. Grey (Prof Strategic Studies, U Reading; Wikipedia bio) discussed the causes of this dysfunctionality in Nuclear Strategy and the National Style (1986).  He sees several persistent elements to US strategic thinking, among them:

  • Reliance on force (and tactics); disinterest in strategy and ignorance of history
  • Belief that our opponents think like us and share the same values (perhaps out of ignorance that there are other ways)

The applicability of these traits to our emerging conflict with Iran is obvious.  Excerpt:

First, the US is an insular political culture. There is an expectation of safety as the norm … to take expensive and risk actions, we must believe, rightly or wrongly, a foreign threat to be immediate. … The cultural proclivity to assume that peace is normal, when turned around by apparently unambiguous evidence of foreign threat, produces a possibly disproportionate military response.

Second, with few exceptions, US national security policy making tends to be dominated by people who have a poor sense of the value of history. … To the average US maker of “high”policy, international events occur as if by constant revelation, and they have meaning solely with reference to his personal experience. US decision-makers tend to judge each event on its merits, in isolation, because they know no better. Pragmatism without principle produces a reactive muddling-through style.

Since history provides the only possible basis for prediction, lawyers and engineers employ it in uncritical fashion — and very crudely. The US government is vulnerable to almost any professor-turned-policymaker who has a historically grounded (or apparently grounded) theory of statecraft.

Third, in part due to the ahistorical or even antihistorical training of US policymakers, US national security policy tends to be dominated by people expert only in inappropriate US domestic matters. Harvard Law, Wall Street, or state house generally do not prepare one well for coping with graduates of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930’s.

In practice the “best and brightest” of the US tend to be almost heroically ill-equipped to cope with the Soviet Union. It is unreasonable to expect prudent and judicious foreign policy assessments from an official who has little historical knowledge of Russia and no personal life experience likely to facilitate his on-the-job-education.

… The study of national style should enable Americans to understand themselves better, to understand others better, and to understand better how others interpret Americans.

(2)  Example:  Iraq

All of these traits were seen — to America’s disadvantage — in our expedition to Iraq.  Comprehensive accounts are now appearing, such as Arrows of the Night by Richard Bonin (60 Minutes producer).  For a summary see this review:  “Ahmed Chalabi: Conning America“, Barry Lando, Huffington Post, 19 December 2011.  He explains how a exile with a dubious history worked with a faction of the America’s leadership to start a war (providing lies serving their needs), hoping to get installed as ruler of Iraq.  He almost succeeded.

A little knowledge of history and political science could have allowed our leaders to avoid this disaster.

We see, then, how vain the faith and promises of men who are exiles from their own country.  As to their faith, we have to bear in mind that, whenever they can return to their own country by other means than your assistance, they will abandon you and look to the other means, regardless of their promises to you. And as to their vain hopes and promises, such is their extreme desire to return to their homes that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that, with what they really believe and what they say they believe, they will fill you with hopes to that degree that if you attempt to act upon them you will incur a fruitless expense, or engage in an undertaking that will involve you in ruin.

… A prince therefore should be slow in undertaking any enterprise upon the representations of exiles, for he will generally gain nothing by it but shame and serious injury.”

— Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy (circa 1517)

(3)  Example:  Iran

An insular people, ignorant of history  and other cultures, is easily fooled by rudimentary propaganda.  As we saw in the run-up to Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  As we see in the efforts to spark a war with Iran.  Aggressive US measures are down-played or ignored.  Iranian responses are described in hostile terms.

From “Dangerous Mix: Iranian Oil and U.S. Sanctions“, Vail Nasr, Brookings Institute, 4 January 2011:

Iran has started a 10-day naval exercise in the Persian Gulf to show off how it could use small speedboats and a barrage of missiles to combat America’s naval armada. And the U.S. Navy has responded, in the words of a spokeswoman: “Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated.”

This is a significant escalation of tension between the United States and Iran, and the start of a more dangerous phase in the West’s attempt to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.

Since 2005 the US and Israel have frequently threatened to bomb Iran.  There has been a campaign of assassinations and sabotage.  Now the US threatens to economically isolate Iran.  Iran shows that is has the capability to strike back — and that is escalation of tension.  In the eyes of US geopolitical experts the only response to US threats is “Thank you, boss.”

While our war mongers speak nonsense in a mild voice, the hordes of lay hawks are roused to fever pitch.  Like this by investment guru Dennis Gartman, from his January 4 Letter — like British editors fuming about the evil hun in July 1914:

{about Iran’s forbidding US carriers from entering the Gulf} Iran’s bluster in this circumstance is sadly comical and truly idiotic. Her entire navy is wholly inadequate to stand up to the full force of a single US carrier battle group … President Ahmadinejad and Major General Salehi do not understand the seriousness of the US resolve. … Back channel negotiations are very probably underway between the Mullahs and Washington to allow Iran to back down from this uncomfortable, belligerent and idiotic, some would say apocalyptic, stance.

Gartman and his fellow hawks have obviously not read about the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games.  Admirals in both Washington and Tehran have done so.

(4)  Other posts in this series

  1. Is the War on Terror over (because there are no longer two sides)?, 3 September 2008 — Rumors of covert ops by us against Iran, including aid to terrorists
  2. Iran’s getting the bomb, or so we’re told. Can they fool us twice?, 16 January 2009
  3. Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again), 2 January 2010 — Forecasts of an Iranian bomb really soon, going back to 1984
  4. About the escalating conflict with Iran (not *yet* open war), 4 January 2012
  5. Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel?, 5 January 2012 — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition
  6. What do we know about Iran’s nuclear ambitions?, 6 January 2012 — US intelligence officials are clear:  not as much as the news media implies
  7. What does the IAEA know about Iran’s nuclear program?, 9 January 2012 — Their reports bear little resemblance to reports in the news media
  8. What happens when a nation gets nukes?  Sixty years of history suggests an answer., 10 January 2012
  9. What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told., 11 January 2012
  10. Status report on the already-hot conflict with Iran – and the looming war, 12 January 2012
  11. Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran), 13 January 2012 — Insights about today from Cold War strategist Colin Grey
  12. What the conflict with Iran teaches us about modern State-to-State war, 16 January 2012
  13. Has Iran won a round vs. the US-Israel?, 17 January 2012
  14. Is Killing Iranian Nuclear Scientists Terrorism?, 19 January 2012

(5)  For more information

See these FM Reference Pages:

A few posts about geopolitical strategy:

30 thoughts on “Continuity and dysfunctionality in US foreign policy (lessons for our conflict with Iran)”

    1. Americans today get such a thrill from imaagining we’re about to start a war. Since we see war as bombing other people. For years every carrier grouping has generated this chaff in the news media. Excitment!

      We often often have three carriers in the region.

      • We always have one carrier from the Fifth Fleet in the region. Now that’s the U.S.S. John C. Stennis. due to return home soon — replaced by the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. Carrier groups often overlap on station for a while, working together.
      • The USS Abraham Lincoln is with the Seventh Fleet. Often carriers group together for joint operations.

      While this may be preparation for an attack, it’s not unusual.

  1. A couple of years ago, watching television, I happened to hear Mr. E. Luttwak saying the following sentence about one of the latest American-lead wars: “Peace, you say? If they want peace, they just have to submit.” In a better literary style, a couple of thousand years ago Virgilius said that Roman Empire’s mission was “parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos”, “spare who surrenders, erase who arrogantly resists”.

    There’s a difference, however, (there are many, of course) between Roman and American Empires. The difference are borders. Roman Empire always thought itself as an Empire within borders, American Empire does not; in American culture, borders do not exist: just frontier do, endlessly moving on and virtually including all the world and all human beings, who can be democratically included as citizens of the Empire provided that they give up their traditional identity (national, religious, cultural, etc.) and become Americans, i.e., if they throw away all the burdens of their past and begin a new and improved lifestyle, identity, and – as Mrs. Emma Lazarus wrote as in inscription on the Statue of Liberty – step into the golden door of America.

    “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
    Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door. “

    That makes submitting a serious problem for anybody who seriously cares for his cultural and national identity (for example, myself).
    But if you are not “subjectus”, you become “superbus”, “arrogant”; and you must be “debellatum”, “bombed into Stone Age”.
    We all saw on TV the US Marines pissing on the dead bodies of Afghan resistants.

    It did not came as a surprise to me (nor, I think, to Afghans) because talking with some friends of mine who were or are serving in the Italian contingent in Afghanistan, I was unanimously told that “the Americans do not respect the enemy”. The same I was told by other friends serving in Somalia, in the Nineties.

    What does it mean, “the Americans do not respect the enemy”? It doesn’t mean that they underscore his military capability, even if it often happens, because an overwhelming superiority in weaponry, logistics, etc, always tends to make you feel safer and smarter than your miserly opponent.
    It means that usually, Americans do not understand that different ways of living, loving, worshipping, fighting, may have equal, even superior dignity than theirs.

    And the worst is, that they do not understand it when it should be more easy and more necessary to understand it, i.e. in the face of death.
    Maybe, in American culture death – the most infranchisable of all borders – is just a blind spot.

    1. We see the dynamics you mention in the TV show NCIS, top-rated for all 9-seasons. We see ourselves as Gibbs — the world’s law enforcer and an almost omnipotent & omniscience Dad. When a nation like Iran misbehave, we slap the back of its head. They’re supposed to reply “Thank you, boss.”

  2. Trenchant comment about Chalabi and excellent Machiavelli quote. The mess in Iraq all originated from the fact that the neocons assumed they could puppet Chalabi in there and skedaddle… Ayatollah Sistani shot that down, and we were off to an eight year, disastrously expensive occupation. Talk about the Pottery Barn prediction coming true…

    The utter insanity of the notion that the US and/or Israel can attack Iran, bomb out its nuke sites, and experience only controlled, predictable, easily ameliorated side effects makes this election more critical than it should be. The next step in our Likud-programmed foreign policy would produce an unmitigated military and economic disaster. While it is almost certain that the US will do nothing before the election, the Israelis could certainly do so. And if a Republican is elected, we could very well be on a countdown to ultimate disaster. Some obvious things that would happen:

    • Doubling the price of oil, causing worldwide depression
    • Further hate of the US across the Islamic world
    • Improvement in Chinese access to raw materials, diminution of US access
    • Stronger entrenchment of the dysfunctional Iranian regime as the populace closes ranks
    • More of a mess in the Palestine area, less chance of any settlement there

    It goes on and on, and yet we have the bizarre spectacle of supposedly ‘conservative’ people who claim to be ‘patriotic,’ and yet are about to bring disaster upon this country and Europe by indulging in risky behavior that flies in the face of all known and reasonable history. The neocons have already infiltrated the Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Perry campaigns, so they will be with the nominee no matter who wins. Ridiculous.

    1. Each of our wars has been preceeded by warnings of doom. In Kuwait and Iraq we faced one of the world’s largest armies. Military gurus calculated how many months would be required for the clash of armies to complete. Afghanistan was the graveyard of Empires. All wrong. Both were cakewalks, as conventional wars go. So I’m cautious about the forecasts of doom from a US-Iran clash.

      Both the Iraq and Af occupations were followed by 4th generation wars. Wars of the peoples. Wars which we barely understood, and suffered total defeat. That is, we’re having little effect on the domestic regime that takes power after we leave — and accomplishing few or none of our political objectives.

      My guess is that the primary risk we run by war with Iran are political. Loss of influence in Europe and Turkey, as they see us as an unwise — perhaps irrational leader — who risks much for little gain. Boosting China’s role as a world leader, as nations look to them as a counter-weight to the US. A nation who does business, but lets nations live their lives without interference.

  3. The difference between Iran and the others mentioned is Iran has the ability to hit back when attacked.

    America likes the unconditional surrender, one of the reasons for GW2 was the lack of satisfaction at the end of the first. The psychological damage resulting from being fought to a standstill in Vietnam, is telling, I imagine if it had been America fighting the Falklands war, it would only have ended with Argentina’s unconditional surrender/regime change. Its this uncompromising approach to war that makes me think that if it is a covert war now being waged, that the end game is not destruction of Iran’s nuclear capacity, but the removal of its regime.

    1. That’s an ex ante, ex post difference.

      Before the First and Second Gulf wars people attributed many abilities to Iraq’s military. The wars showed them to be false.

      Before the (conjectural) Iran-US/Israel war people attribute many abilities to Iran’s military. Perhaps this is so. Perhaps not. We’ll see.

  4. My dear Fabius Maximus,

    I am Sid Harth. I don’t want to rain on your parade. It is your show. Are you the smart-Alec type? So, shall I say, full of it? You know and I know, we agree, that, Mulla controlled or not, Iran is not in the same league to mess around with big boys, like the Great Britain, Israel, Turkey, Germany, France, China and Russia.

    All these sovereign countries are packing the heat. Threatening, day in and day out. Intimidating with sanctions and industrial strength, boom-box lowd sanctions. Judging from the mere decibel level, even the GOP candidates are throwing sucker punches. It is getting so funny, I have zipped my lips. I am not cheering rednecks nor am I jeering “Nuke-Iran,” scandalous loose talk.

    It took India, a much larger country, than Iran, thirty long years to blast a small atomic device, underground, in the Rajasthan desert, Pokhran-I. This ought to be an example for the morons, Oops, bunch of idiots, running around without their heads in America.

    I don’t like Iran, period. It does not translate into my cruel and irrational behavior in wiping Iran out of the Middle East map. Thata is exactly what Americans are doing, Oops, about to do, just in case, Iran plays with their (toy) bomb.

    …and I am Sid

    1. I do not understand the specifics of your comment. What are your disagreements with the specifics in this series of articles? From reading your comment, it’s not obvious that you’ve even read them.

      Also, much of your comment is not correct. I’ll just mention two specifics.

      (1) “big boys, like the Great Britain, Israel, Turkey, Germany, France, China and Russia. All these sovereign countries are packing the heat. Threatening … intimidating with sanctions …”

      Turkey, China, and Russia are not doing these things.

      (2) “took India, a much larger country, than Iran, thirty long years to blast a small atomic device”

      India started its development program aprox in 1967, and detonated its first device in 1974. That’s 8 years. A better comparison is Pakistan (roughly 2x the population as Iran, half the GDP). They started in 1972, first detonation in 1998: 26 years.

      The extreme case is tiny North Korea, who did it in 56 years (1956-2006).

    2. I think he just wants to show off how many over-used American expressions he can use in 4 paragraphs. You know, like, I’m not saying that pigs are gonna fly, but I don’t think the chickens are gonna come to roost until the cows come home. I mean, it may just be a black fly in your chardonnay but what are you, Fabius? A smarty-pants? Or do you just have ants in your pants? Are you packing the heat?

      ….I am Elvis Presley.

  5. Fabius Maximus wrote: “Each of our wars has been preceeded by warnings of doom. In Kuwait and Iraq we faced one of the world’s largest armies. Military gurus calculated how many months would be required for the clash of armies to complete. Afghanistan was the graveyard of Empires. All wrong. Both were cakewalks, as conventional wars go. So I’m cautious about the forecasts of doom from a US-Iran clash.”

    I think that you are right: somehow, everybody around the world is anxiously or eagerly waiting for a major defeat on the field of USA, a military and political turning point. Grudge against the world hegemon, fears about its reckless policy, etc,; but I wonder what meaning has got the word “victory” for the American elites, in these times.

    Sometimes I think that they consciously want to dominate over chaos, i.e., that for them “victory” means to destructure as much as possible all political forms and institutions all over the world, keeping their enemies (and their allies) in a permanent state of semi-controllable anarchy and lack of sovereignty. Or maybe this does not result from a conscious effort, but from an inner destructuring quality of the American system plus capitalist globalization, which is American-lead but does not identify itself with the USA.

    From a purely military point of view, if my outdated and scant informations about Iran’s military have some validity, a conventional war with the USA is a no contest win for USA, because of the overwhelming superiority in aircraft and naval power of the latter. On open field, in a conventional warfare style, I think that today no medium sized power can resist the full force of the American military, and in Iran there is no jungle. As always the problem is, when you’ve won on the field, what are you thinking to do with the occupied country? Buy them cable TV, build a large military base, install a puppet government and go away?

    Serious problems (i.e,, a lot of losses among US troops on the field and an escalation of war towards abysmal heights of cruelty and fearful massacres of civilians by US forces) for the USA could arise if

    • Iran decided to retaliate unleashing a real State backed terror campaign on US and/or Israel soil
    • Iran were concretely prepared to fight a State-organized guerrilla on its own soil, after a mock engagement with conventional forces followed by the morphing of the best part of their troops into a partisan army; i.e, if they are ready for a “people war” like that which was official military doctrine in Marshal Tito’s Jugoslavia.

    I do not know if any of these hypothesis might become reality. In Shia religion, martyrdom and exaltation of the sacrifice of the weaker party is a structuring feature; but of course, that’s not enough to forecast what could really happen.

    1. If one were to accept your interpretation, Roberto, then one might also observe that it is a common feature of imperial systems to try to keep potential rivals off-balance and be disproportionately jealous of unsubordinated power structures. So if, again, we accept your interpretation, this would not be a unique feature of the American system.

  6. But aren’t many worried about an Iranian EMP attack on America with a disguised freighter if they get nuclear weapons. “Iran already has nuclear weapons“, Reza Kahlili (“a pseudonym for a former CIA spy who is a fellow with EMPact America”), op-ed in the Washington Times, 27 October 2011 — “Western intelligence has known it for years”

    Or at least this guys says so. Dont know if he is credible or not.

    1. My goal for the FM website is to educate you to the point at which you no longer believe every bit of doomster nonsense that crosses your path. This will give me hope that America can be saved.

      “Dont know if he is credible or not.”

      Let’s look at this by the numbers.

      • Source: an op-ed (not even an article) in the Washington Times, a rag owed until 2010 by the Unification Church (since them by members), feeding readers with a steady stream of proaganda.
      • Author: unknown, employed by a fringe single-issue group
      • Content: contrary to every authoative source

      On what basis can anyone playing with a full deck ask “if he is credible?” You could just as well ask that after watching The Matrix.

  7. We know how Iran will fight its war, we saw a pre-play In Lebanon in 2006.

    Re the Straights what they will do is sacrifice a number of boats with anti-ship missiles (ah lah Millennium Challenge), that is strike 1. There will be some successes and lots of them destroyed, but that is not the real game, just the opener.

    Missiles, which will be a mix of ship killers and simple ballistic, will rain down at the narrowest points of the Straights. Lots of them. Hezbollah managed 100+ every day (often far more) and admitted that they could keep it up for 3 months. I expect Iran will do a bit better. Plus add in mines, lots of mines.

    Some tankers and very importantly cargo ships will be hit of course. But the constant rain will stop all shipping.very quickly. But the missiles will keep falling, just in case. Now everyone talks about tankers going out being the issue (usual west centric thinking) , but there is another side, all the cargo ships coming in, without which the other Gulf nations will grind to a halt, even start to run out of food pretty quickly. The aim is to put pressure on them.

    Now Iran in one sense is predictable, they will give the other Gulf states a chance to stop any attacks coming from them..After that then they will be hit by missiles (and possibly some kamikaze plane attacks). But again we in the west just think of oil that we need. Actually the best way to attack (say) Saudi Arabia is their desalination plants, very easy targets and well within range. Add in a (supported) Shiite arising in SA and then you have some real issues.

    Iran will use measured responses, only hitting the Gulf States that actively allow attacks from them and stopping when (say) they stop US air attacks.coming from their territory. Otherwise they will ratchet up the pressure bit by bit. And frankly shut down them until they make a deal.

    Now look at a map of Iran and the surrounding areas. With the carriers pushed well back out of the Gulf then their planes are going to be close to their range limits. Yes ship, air and sub launched cruise missiles will be the order of the day. And, as usual, Iranian cities and civilian infrastructure will take a fearful pounding. With no ability to hit the missile launch sites the US will go for everything else (as per Kosovo, Iraq, Lebanon, etc, etc). Iran will take it, it did before and will take it again. While concentrating on the main issue which is the Gulf.

    Russia and China will definitely come into play, mainly as blockers and supporters. They will block certain approaches and set certain ‘red lines’ (such as certain pipelines) which will make the Navy’s and USAF’s plane issues much more difficult. China will (100% definite) provide lots of missiles (every carrier sunk is one less for them to worry about), 90% definite that Russia will do the same (don’t forget oil shortages play into Russia’s hands, lots more money and more influence especially in Europe which it is desperate to become integrated with. Note the ‘integrate’ word Russia doesn’t want to dominate Europe it wants to be European and if anyone in the EU had a quarter of a brain then they would be organising membership).

    So it will go on for months. Yes Iran will be hideously bombed, but nothing will go through those Straights in or out and someone will crack. SA or Bahrain or even Kuwait. Once one crumbles (and they will) then in one sense it is over … for the US that is. And the EU will crumble, with Russia prodding of course. Not for a while but in the end it will make a deal (oh where is a Schmidt when we need him, because he might have been able to stop this nonsense).

    So, unless the US does something really stupid (50:50 on that) we will get a post Lebanon situation .. except that some (or even most) Gulf nations will have ‘realigned’, SA as the Western ‘stronghold’ very weakened possibly gone (20% chance) most other Gulf nations ‘dealing’ with Iran. And of course the huge oil price rises will kill Western economies even more. Bit like clubbing someone in intensive care. Time is on the Iranian side, all they have to do is hold out.

    So a win for Iran, admittedly they will have 100,000+, possibly a lot more, casualties (nearly all civilian), the regime there will be strengthened, China will make a lot of money out of the reconstruction of their destroyed infrastructure, Russia will be even closer to Europe (and even those dunderheads will finally wake up). The US will be marginalised even more and Israel will be hated even more.

    1. For thirty years I’ve read these confident “it’s obvious” forecasts — and read many from the past. They have one common element: they are usually wrong.

      War is among the least predictable of human activities. Many participants, often acting unexpectedly (called “irrationally”, aka differently than I would). Each with many alternative policies. Often new and poorly understood military technology.

      This unpredictability is seen in the “the troops will be home by Christmas” forecasts. Bush’s and Kennth Adelman’s forecasts that the Iraq War would be a “cakewalk”. To get a feel for this watch the opening five minutes of Gone with the Wind — concluding with the cheering that greets the news of war.

    2. “90% definite that Russia will do the same”

      Change that to “90% definite that Russia will _not_ provide lots of missiles to Iran”.

      After all, Russia dithered and finally refused to deliver the S-300 missiles that Iran desperately wanted to buy.

      Nobody was ready to die for Danzig, and if there is war with Iran, Russia and China will look from the sidelines (with plenty of public diplomatic gesticulation and behind-the-scenes maneuvering of course), carefully avoiding to be involved in any way in the action itself.

  8. Oldskeptic wrote:
    “…Note the ‘integrate’ word Russia doesn’t want to dominate Europe it wants to be European and if anyone in the EU had a quarter of a brain then they would be organising membership).”

    I enthusiastically agree. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that what is lacking in Europe’s elites is not so much brains; it’s courage: political, moral, intellectual, and even physical courage (pshysical courage, because if a European politician were seriously pursuing such a strategy, his life expectancy would drop among the percentile of the terminally ill persons).
    There are, of course, voices who claim for an Eurasian integration, an Axis Paris-Berlin-Moscow; for example, M. Alain de Benoist in France, Mr. Alexander Dughin in Russia. Of course they are not heard in the mainstream media. Politically, in France sovereignists are steadily growing: M. Philippe de Villiers, for example, and Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National (which in the polls for the next presidential elections is thought to gain a good 20% of votes).

  9. Matt D. wrote:
    “… it is a common feature of imperial systems to try to keep potential rivals off-balance and be disproportionately jealous of unsubordinated power structures. So if, again, we accept your interpretation, this would not be a unique feature of the American system.”

    I agree with you. The U.S. of A. did not invent the dynamics of Empire, especially of Seapower Empires. To dominate you must divide your enemies AND your competitors, i.e. allies. It has to be seen when this dividing dynamics get their bathos, and finally backlash on the divider, whose behaviour becomes to be so totally untrustful and intolerable that it endangers the consistency of its alliances.
    If you remember Thucydides, this destructuring dynamic of Athenian democratic Empire on its allies is almost the same (cfr. also the Melian Dialogue, which Thucydides probably did not write as a report on a real historical event, but as a theatrical exemplary dialogue about the final, catastrophic end of Athenian Empire-lesser powers political dynamics).
    The difference is, that now we have no counterbalancing great power: since the collapse of USSR, we have no Sparta. A new counterbalancing great power is probably rising in those years (Russia? China?) and the political turmoils which we are experiencing are its birth throes.

  10. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery – and Fighting Back is ‘Aggression’“, Kevin Carson, Center for Stateless Society, 13 January 2012 — Opening:

    The US Department of Defense recently promulgated a new “defense” guidance document: “Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” I use scare quotes because it just doesn’t seem quite right to use “defense” to describe a document that — like its predecessors — envisions something like an American Thousand-Year Reich.

    The greatest shift in emphasis is in the section “Project power despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges.” The “threat” to be countered is that China and Iran “will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities.”

    That refers to a long-standing phenomenon: What Pentagon analysts call “Assassin’s Mace” weapons – cheap, agile weapons that render expensive, high-tech, weapons systems ineffective at a cost several orders of magnitude cheaper than the Pentagon’s gold-plated turds. In the context of “area denial,” they include cheap anti-ship mines, surface-to-air missiles, and anti-ship missiles like the Sunburn (which some believe could destroy or severely damage aircraft carriers).

    Thus the Pentagon defines as a “threat” a country’s ability to defend itself effectively against attack or to prevent an enemy from putting offensive forces into place to attack it. Yes, you read that right: to the American national security establishment, it’s considered threatening when you prepare to defend yourself against attack by the United States. It’s the perspective of a Family Circus character: “Mommy, he hit me back!” That kind of double standard is pretty common in the National Security State’s assessment of the world.

    What can one say of a situation in which America runs a military budget equal to the rest of the industrialized world put together, maintains military bases in half the countries around the globe, routinely intervenes to overthrow governments, rings China with military bases — then solemnly announces that China’s military establishment is “far larger than called for by its legitimate defensive needs?”

    Considering that the US considers its “legitimate defensive needs” to encompass outspending the other top ten military powers in the world combined and maintaining the ability to preemptively attack any other country in the world, it’s hard to guess what the Pentagon’s criterion is for determining China’s “legitimate defensive needs.”

    1. But but but… We have a big military because we have to, China is building up because they want to! Why do they all defy us? Can’t they see that we’re on the right side of history? Oh, ennui… Maybe if they had democracy, then… THEN! Once they have their freedom, they must surely agree with us! Yes?


      1. All we ask is that they say “Thank you, boss” when we smack them on the back of the head. For their own good, of course. Is that too much to ask? /sarcasm

  11. Ah yes, exiles. “How vain the faith and promises of men who are exiles from their own country.”

    Were you thinking of the exiled Lenin, stuck in Switzerland in 1917? He couldn’t get back to Russia without the direct assistance of the German government – then at war with Russia. They gave him a “sealed train”. And how did he pay them back? By pulling Russia out of the war against Germany, signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and making massive territorial concessions to… err, Germany. The Germans should have known better than to back him. I guess that’s what Machiavelli would have said (And he’d have been wrong).

    Or maybe you were thinking of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, stuck in Neauphle-le-Château? He finally returned to Iran a frail old man aged 77. And what happened next? Ah yes, he ruled the country for 10 years, and 24 years after his death, Iran is still, politically, “Khomeiniland”.

    Or maybe you were thinking of the exiled Charles de Gaulle, installed into power in his own country on the back of American and British firepower? I notice that the current president of France is a… Gaullist.

    It makes you wonder. Maybe with Chalabi an American foreign policy advisor knew too much history – especially about Lenin/Russia, Khomeini/Iran, De Gaulle/France?

    1. Great point about Lenin, a counter-example of Sun Tzu’s point. But then no geopolitical (or social science rule) is 100% accurate. As for the other two, I don’t see your point.

      • The allies did not “install” de Gaulle; he resigned as prime minster in 1946. He became prime minster in 1959 the regular way, not “installed” by the UK or US.
      • Although Khomeini lived in exile in the West, the Western nations preferred the Shah — and opposed Khomeini’s revolution.
  12. Khomeini didn’t return to Iran until after the Shah was gone.

    He could only return because the French government allowed him to leave France. This has led many anti-Khomeini groups to speculate – wrongly, in my opinion – that “the West” wanted him back in Iran to be a break on the Communists active in the revolution.

    The main point about Khomeini is that everyone – especially Iranians – massively underrated him. He was old and frail in 1979. Everyone assumed he’d be no more than a national unity figurehead. And everyone was wrong. So an American trying to “learn from history” using the Khomeini example would be more likely to overestimate Chalabi rather than underestimate him.

    A.J.P. Taylor famously said that we can’t learn from history; and the worst blunders of all are made by people who think we can. As an example he cited Neville Chamberlain, who thought the Czech crisis of the 1930s was a replay of the Belgian crisis of the 1830s.

    There have been politicians schooled in Thucydides or Gibbon, and there have been politicians born into ignorance. Sir Anthony Eden was fluent in French, German and Farsi, and also spoke Russian and Arabic. Ernest Bevin was an illegitimate child who ceased all formal education at age eleven. Which made the better British Foreign Secretary? I’d say Bevin.

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance, has very ignorant views on the history of World War II. My Iranian friends tell me that when he speaks, he’s basically an Iranian Archie Bunker. Diplomats who interact with him probably don’t get to discuss the Achaemenids or the Safavids much. But clearly he’s got what it takes to stay on top in the current Iranian setup.

    1. I think what Fabius is trying to say that one example of support for an exile that yields dividends does not disprove the general rule that such individuals should be handled with extreme caution. In fact, if we more closely examine the cases of Lenin, we will see that his case actually supports the “beware exiles” theory.

      In Lenin’s case, it would seem almost certain that the Germans had read Machiavelli’s warning and took it to heart. For what investment did they make in Lenin? Almost zero. They gave him safe passage and told him “good luck”. So if he had decided to betray them, the Germans would have lost exactly nothing– they had spent nothing on him to begin with, and Russia was already a deadly enemy, a situation which Lenin could not possibly make any worse. So the risk that Germany took with Lenin was exactly the kind of risk that Machiavelli recommends one should take with exiles– absolutely no risk at all.

  13. When we stop thinking of the American military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex as a system that tries to attain rational foreign policy goals by means of military strategy and tactics, and instead recognize it as a giant parasite which has engulfed the American economy, we quickly realize that the American military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex has no interest in identifying valid threats or winning wars.

    Indeed, actually winning a war represents disaster for America’s military-police-prison-surveilliance-security Keynesianism system. The goal is to maintain the source of food for the parasite. Hard cash, and plenty of it.

    Delusional claims about alleged threats that aren’t represent a win-win. If the so-called “threat” (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Tierra Del Fuego, whatever) turns out to be no threat at all, the military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex announces it was because America pisses away spends more than a trillion dollars a year on “security.” If the alleged threat turns out to be real, the military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex proclaims that it needs even more money.

    A dysfunctional and pathological foreign policy is a big plus for America’s military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex. Endless gushers of cash, endless unwinnable wars…what’s not to like? And now that the U.S. army is manned entirely by volunteers, the human kleenex who get wadded up and thrown away so contemptuously by our glorious leaders can now be blamed for having their lives wasted to no purpose (“After all, he volunteered!“).

    The American military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex recognizes only one real enemy: the American people. If the American people figure out that “war is a racket” (in the words of marine corps major general Smedley Butler), the Big Con is over and the gusher of cash stops. Can’t have that. So the U.S. military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex spends most of its time and efforts in psyops and disinformation aimed at the American people. Anyone recall the first operation mounted by the CIA? Rigging the elections of one of our allies (Italy) to make sure the communists didn’t win.

    Regarding the U.S. military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex as a mechanism designed to fight wars or protect America or pursue sensible foreign policy goals is foolish and entirely counterproductive. Those activities have nothing to do with the real purpose of America military-terror-prison-police-surveillance complex, which is consume money and provide employment and careers for people who would otherwise find themselves in street gangs shooting one another over baggies full of controlled substances or setting cats on fire in juvenile detention facilities. Or in prison for rape or criminal fraud.


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