Summary: Lost amidst the details and blather about our proposed attack on Syria is the possibility that we might get hurt. More accurately, that our grand strategy makes a severe defeat highly likely. If not in this crises, then in one of the future crises our policies seek out — and even create as needed.
“Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”
— Edmund Burke to the House of Commons, 11 May 1792
“Fear cannot be without hope nor hope without fear.”
— Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677)
- What could go wrong?
- A note from the past?
- About our military
- For More Information
(1) What could go wrong?
“Fear is sharp-sighted, and can see things underground, and much more in the skies.”
— Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605-1615)
US foreign policy has been one of bellicose response to all challengers, trusting on the support of our allies, the weakness of our foes — and their inability to work together. We consider it a winning formula in the sense that the only serious blowback was 9-11. So far.
On the other hand, our contempt for diplomacy has quickly escalated many confrontations into military conflicts — most of which we lose (see section 3). We lose in the sense of achieving no national goals, paid for by dead and crippled soldiers and wasted resources. These loses are tolerable for a nation of our size and vigor, and domestic political dynamics keep this system running despite its 50+ years of failure.
This policy is the equivalent of Russian Roulette with a revolver of many chambers. The odds of disaster are small for any individual intervention. If continued long enough we will find a chamber with a loaded cartridge, starting a chain of events with large, unpredictable, and probably unpleasant results. We need not speculate at how events in a small nation can shake the world. The last century provides a clear example with the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo by six Bosnian Serb assassins.
(2) A note from the past reminding us of what can happen
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
— John F. Kennedy, inaugural address on 20 January 1961
In hindsight WWI was the inevitable result of growing tensions in Europe — tensions that the great nations not only failed to resolve, but repeatedly played upon. William Lind explains …
One pebble touched off an avalanche. It did so because it occurred, not as an isolated incident, but as one more in a series of crises that rocked Europe in its last ten years of peace, 1904-1914. Each of those crises had the potential to touch off a general European war, and each further de-stabilized the region, making the next incident all the more dangerous.
- 1905-06 saw the First Moroccan Crisis, when the German Foreign Office (whose motto after Bismarck might well be “Clowns unto ages of ages”) pushed a reluctant Kaiser Wilhelm II to land at Tangier as a challenge to France.
- 1908 brought the Bosnian Annexation Crisis, where Austria humiliated Russia and left her anxious for revenge.
- Then came the Second Moroccan Crisis of 1911,
- the Tripolitan War of 1911-1912 (Italy actually won, against the tottering Ottoman Empire) and
- the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.
By 1914, it had become a question more of which crisis would finally set all Europe ablaze than of whether peace would endure. This was true despite the fact that, in the abstract, no major European state wanted war.
The tragedy is that the great powers were not alarmed by these crises, but took comfort from their resolution. Signs that their foreign policies were destabilizing Europe were interpreted as success (or at least tolerable patchwork).
Harvard historian Niall Ferguson found a measure of their complacency: the prices of UK bonds (gilts). The Archduke was assassinated on June 28. Slowly the diplomatic tensions grew through July. But gilt prices remained undisturbed until City investors read of the mobilization orders. Then they panicked, and markets imploded. For details see “Political risk and the international bond market between the 1848 revolution and the outbreak of the First World War“, Economic History Review, February 2006.
We see the same today, as the US plans to attack yet another small country embedded in the complex cross-cutting alliances of the troubled and economically vital Middle East. Politicians squawk, but Americans remain apathetic and unconcerned. As they will be about the next crisis, and the next. Until one spirals out of control. An insane policy remains so even as it is repeated without disaster.
(3) A note about our defense policy, and about our foreign policy (but I repeat myself)
“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)
The short answer is that 4GW is the dominant form of war, and we have not learned to play. We are the 1940 French preparing to fight the jihadists blitzkrieg (ie, 2GW vs 3GW). if we continue to attack nations while they’re minding their own business, interfering in their civil wars, eventually we will spark a the world’s first global 4GW. Like the great wars of 1GW, 2GW, and 3GW, it will shake the world in unpredictable ways.
Fred Reed gives a more entertaining analysis in “Disordered Ramblings on Martial Prowess“, 18 August 2013. He’s not looking ahead. Almost nobody looks ahead, which is why the future so often surprises when it arrives. Excerpt:
As a student of abnormal psychology, or psychology that ought to be abnormal but lamentably is not, I´m listening to PJ O´Rourke´s Peace Kills on American foreign policy. I think PJ needs his head examined, as regards military policy anyway, which is pretty much the only foreign policy we have.
… Like so many of our parlor ferocities at National Review (PJ is not one of these, being an actual overseas correspondent), he believes that America is an international Charles Atlas, a motingator, astonishous, gleaming military monster such as the world has never seen (and did not ask to). This is because he equates military expenditure with martial capacity. He refers proudly to the size of the military budget.
… He doesn´t understand the American military — that it is in the position of one of those toothy late-Cretaceous humongo-lizards, Tyrano-whatsit or something, uneasily eyeing a thin film of ice forming on the home swamp. “Something is happening,” thinks the big fellow. “I wonder what? Will I like it? Can dinosaurs wear sweaters?”
… You gotta understand the ice on the swamp, and what it means. When you need a sweater, you need a sweater and not some other thing. The Pentagon has the wrong things. It is glorious and glitters and has many buttons and screens. It is just the wrong military. The great Chinese strategist Fred Tzu once said, “Never use a broadsword to fight a swarm of pissed-off hornets.” Exactly. You have to understand the enemy. Otherwise you are in trouble and can´t understand why. If you are a behind-the-times sort of dinosaur, the rats are going to eat your eggs. If you are an American infantry battalion, sneaky little guys behind rocks are gonna blow hell out of your up-armored Humvee with the revolving IR heads.
… The world´s most magnificent budget got run out of Nam like a scalded dog … The same highly trained martial codpiece got run out of Lebanon with 241 Marines dead, run out of Mogadishu by teenagers with armed pickup trucks, performed a comedy routine trying to rescue hostages in Tehran, lost in Iraq, and works diligently at losing in Afghanistan.
… Multibillion dollar ratpacks of hugely expensive fighter planes are splendid fun, and say “Varoooooom!” Good stuff, that. They really are the best in the world, and nothing can stay in the sky with them. Ah, but they are fighters with nothing to fight. The Pentagon’s problem is Ahmet the Wiley Wog who hides behind a rock with his RPG and keeps blowing up trucks full of GIs. Ahmet isn´t too flashy. He doesn´t have a conformal phased-array radar and isn´t supersonic. But he has clanking brass balls and wads of determination Oops.
That´s the story of our whole military shebang: gaudy but mostly irrelevant. North Korea does something that upsets Washington´s digestion, so we send the aircraft carriers. These float fiercely offshore, doing nothing, because there is nothing they can do. They either
- attack, risking all-out war on the Peninsula, not a particularly bright idea since Pyongyang has all the artillery in the world within range of Seoul, or
- float in puzzlement and circles while North Korea ignores them.
See? Wrong tool. Washington hasn´t figured this out, so it always sends the bathtub toys.
… Current Pentagonal thinking, if that is quite the word I want, is to impose Full Speculum Dominance, I believe it´s called, and control the world. A Full Speculum is full of very pricey fighters of little military use, marvelous warships of little military use, and glorious tanks of little military use. They chiefly serve to get us in trouble in places where we should not be in the first place.
(4) For More Information
“One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (1878)
Posts about Syria:
- The Syrian dominos, Tom Hayden, 25 October 2012
- Some questions as we march to war in Syria, 17 June 2013
- The first question to ask about our war with Syria has nothing to do with Syria, 28 August 2013
- Q&A on the extraordinary aspects of the Syrian War, 4 September 2013
Posts about 4GW:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
- About the 4GW between India and Pakistan, 6 January 2009
- 4GW in India – more people who want to watch the world burn, 19 January 2009
- The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009