America’s hawks sing a song of national decline

Summary: The calls for war ring again from American pundits and geopolitical experts. No cause is too small, hopeless, or irrelevant to us — threatening war is always the right response, says a loud and influential number of Americans, to maintain our credibility and reputation. They sign a siren song of national decline. No nation, however great, can so dissipate it resources (both physical and political). And eventually they will get the disastrous war they seek. This is a follow-up to About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.

Nuclear Kraken
Release the Kraken!   (Art by lchappell.)

A flood of books published this year help us commemorate the centennial of WWI and remember its lessons. A common theme is the stupidity of Europe’s peoples — and their leaders — in 1914, so carelessly sliding into a calamitous war for so little reason.

To see how this happens, read your newspaper. America’s papers overflow with cries for America to threaten (or use) economic and military force in response to Russia’s increasingly assertive actions in its “near abroad” (their version of the Monroe Doctrine zone) — their aggressive moves into other nations (like ours into Afghanistan and Iraq).

These people’s screeds seldom balance risk with the potential gains, or measure the danger of escalation. They seldom assert that US national interests are at stake (that’s seen in the frequency of their calls for belligerence : in Iran, in Yemen, in Sudan, in Libya, in Syria, in Ukraine).

Rather they would deploy US power in pursuit of chimeras like prestige and credibility. In fact no nation can gain such things by routinely threatening force over issues in which it has no substantial interest — except through Nixon’s “Madman Theory” (based on a sentence of advice by Machiavelli), which would bring its own shattering blowback if believed (e.g., forfeiting Western leadership).

These people are the unwitting agents of national decline for America, in two ways. Even when unable to influence policy, they push leaders to greater belligerence in order to avoid “looking weak” (a bad thing in the eyes of foolish people) and losing domestic political support. And occasionally they will get their way, leading America into a new cycle of pointless conflict — diverting our limited resources from pressing domestic needs.

If left unopposed — and they are largely unopposed on the public stage (another parallel with 1914) — they might eventually get the war they seek. I doubt that will turn our well for America (It didn’t work well for Athens).

A quick look at a few of the hawkish squawks

Formally recognize Ukraine, prepare NATO troops“, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Nathan Gardels, op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, 3 March 2014 — Brzezinski was Carter’s National Security Advisor. Money paragraph; very coy:

The strategy of the West regarding Russian aggression in Ukraine should be to complicate Vladimir Putin’s planning. He should be given options to avoid conflict. But he should also be made aware of the negative consequences for Russia that would follow armed conflict.

What is to be done? Putin’s aggression in Ukraine needs a response“, Zbigniew Brzezinski, op-ed in the Washington Post, 3 March 2014 — A very 1914 recommendation. What could go wrong?

NATO forces, consistent with the organization’s contingency planning, should be put on alert. High readiness for some immediate airlift to Europe of U.S. airborne units would be politically and militarily meaningful. If the West wants to avoid a conflict, there should be no ambiguity in the Kremlin as to what might be preciptated by further adventurist use of force in the middle of Europe.

Misreading Putin, and history“, George F. Will, op-ed in the Washington Post, 3 March 2014 — Unspecified “enormous US interest in Ukraine”! And assertion that if Carter had more effectively used his Green Lantern Ring, the Soviet Union would not have invaded Afghanistan. Even for George Will, this is unusually feckless.

Barack Obama, who involved the United States in seven months of war with Libya, perhaps because the project was untainted by U.S. national interest, is seeking diplomatic and especially economic leverage against Putin’s ramshackle nation in order to advance the enormous U.S. interest in depriving him of Ukraine. Unless Obama finds such leverage, his precipitous slide into Jimmy Carter territory will continue. As an expression of disdain for a U.S. president, Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula is symmetrical with Leonid Brezhnev’s invasion of Afghanistan late in Carter’s presidency.

These op-ed’s also remind us that the Right’s belief that the Washington Post is a liberal newspaper demonstrates their disconnect from reality. But even the New York Times chants the “peace through aggressiveness” theme that worked so well in 1914. This is the opposite of Realpolitik. Only children and fools so elevate “toughness” in the conduct of foreign affairs, considering the long history of futile wars that this has caused in the past.

The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin?

Now let’s look even further to the Right, deepen into madness: “How to invite war? Equivocation“, Editorial of the Washington Times, 3 March 2014 — “Red lines and vague warnings are no substitute for leadership”. Bold condemnations of Obama for failing to take unspecified aggressive steps (similar advice to that in yesterday’s Washington Post editorial).

President Obama, like Jimmy Carter before him, is finally getting a late education in how the world works. It’s not how he wants it to be. The world is a dangerous place, where history and greed trump good intentions. Words are cheap. Red lines and vague warnings to bad actors mean little to men who scheme for power, strategic advantage and territory. Vladimir Putin, communist or not, is one tough Russian.

… Americans are war weary, have little stomach for the democratic adventurism that led to the nation-building wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with real leadership they would understand the important role this country must play.

Ronald Reagan believed in “peace through strength, knowing that if America was strong enough, evil and ambitious men would not be tempted to test American resolve. Mr. Carter learned that hard lesson when it was almost too late. But he learned it. Mr. Obama works on a much steeper learning curve, but learn he will, too. The American people and those who rely on us for their very existence must know that we are there for them. Dithering and weakness lead to war that could have been avoided.

Sheep watching TV

We can take advice from one of Britain’s great foreign ministers, insights as useful today as when he said them.

Or we can follow these people, building an Empire of Hubris, setting America on a path to decline.

Here is a sketch of a foreign policy, a grand strategy for engagement in the world, more likely to succeed in the 21st C.

But America’s policy will not be affected by potato-citizens watching affairs, but by those (for good or ill) who get involved in working the political machinery bequeathed us by the Founders.

The Dogs of War

The artwork at the top was by Ichappel., a tribute to Pink Floyd’s “Dogs of War” (1987).

Dogs of war and men of hate
With no cause, we don’t discriminate
Discovery is to be disowned
Our currency is flesh and bone
Hell opened up and put on sale
Gather ’round and haggle
For hard cash, we will lie and deceive
Even our masters don’t know the web we weave
One world, it’s a battleground
One world, and we will smash it down
One world … One world

Invisible transfers, long distance calls,
Hollow laughter in marble halls
Steps have been taken, a silent uproar
Has unleashed the dogs of war
You can’t stop what has begun
Signed, sealed, they deliver oblivion
We all have a dark side, to say the least
And dealing in death is the nature of the beast
One world, it’s a battleground
One world, and we will smash it down
One world … One world

The dogs of war won’t negotiate
The dogs of war don’t capitulate,
They will take and you will give,
And you must die so that they may live
You can knock at any door,
But wherever you go, you know they’ve been there before
Well winners can lose and things can get strained
But whatever you change, you know the dogs remain.
One world, it’s a battleground
One world, and we will smash it down
One world … One world

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5 thoughts on “America’s hawks sing a song of national decline

  • I’ve been ignoring the commentariat on Ukraine but this quote from the WaPo is ridiculous:

    “… Americans are war weary, have little stomach for the democratic adventurism that led to the nation-building wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with *real leadership* they would understand the important role this country must play.”

    In the first half of the sentence the writer admits that the US has been ground down by the last 13 years of constant low-intensity conflict. But they advocate intervention in the second half of the same sentence on the basis of *real leadership(tm).*

    So why didn’t the Bush or Obama administrations offer *real leadership* during the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and many other places? Why does the writer think that this time we would get different leadership from Washington?

    An equally absurd opinion was offered on Yahoo Finance by an appallingly clueless journalist:

    *”Putin blinks, stocks rally: Ukraine crisis shows power of global markets”*

    Putin didn’t blink, he smiled because he got what he wanted. And there’s no indication that he’s not going to keep it. The thought that future political decisions by dictators may be controlled by the “power of global markets” is laughable. It’s far more likely that Putin noted that he might be able to control US actions through a series of inflammatory comments that unnerves those same “powerful global markets.”

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    • Pluto,

      I agree on all points.

      Also the point about “global markets” is typical conservatism delusionalism. Policy makers do not act on small (vs historical variances) one- day moves in markets.

      The only major market (loosely speaking) with a large move was Russia’s. And Putin has repeatedly shown he could not care less about Russian equity prices.

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  • Oh these idiots (neo-cons and their fellow travelers), full of hubris and ignorance will get us all killed one day if they get their way.

    In one sense this is hilarious, watching the US (and the arch hypocrites the EU) tearing down a democratically elected Govt (at the cost of $5B no less) funding nut job neo-nazis and then claiming it ‘is all for democracy and freedom’.

    Nearly as funny as reading that a referendum is ‘illegal’ and, somehow, seemingly undemocratic.

    This is living ‘1984’, where wrong is right and war is peace and hate is love.

    Meanwhile the US/EU/IMF are already right in there to impoverish, the already impoverished Ukrainian people. On the table already .. pensions halved, energy prices up, cuts to health, welfare, education … all the usual neo-liberal stuff (the other side of the neo-cons).

    But again, same as in 1962 and 1983, we will have to depend on Russia to be reasonable and rational … because we sure are not going to be. It is this endless ‘push’ (which i have referred to previously several times) to domination, threats, control and violence that is the dominant trait in western actions, particularly the US, these days. And, one day, maybe near days, it will get us into a real war … and all you people in the Northern Hemisphere can enjoy watching your atoms all bounce in the sky.

    Can you imagine Hillary or (shudder) McCain in charge in the US at the moment, heck the Russian naval base would already be being bombed.

    You becry a ‘grand US strategy’, but it has one. The neo-con ’21st century’; one (full-spectrum dominance and all that) it is the dominant ideology of the US military, ‘intelligence’, foreign affair and (when it suits them) economic elites. In the sense that the World is a playground for them, to with what they want (and if it makes gobs of money for the economic elites so much the better).

    The fact that is insane and, carried to its logical level, will end up with the US being at war with everyone sooner or later … including it’s own people… and almost certainly will end up with those bouncing atoms.

    So it is not incoherent (stupid yes), but within the mind set of that ideology it is perfectly logical and all the actions (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Georgia, etc, etc, etc and China and Russia) are perfectly reasonable.

    For the economic elite it is a windfall, one of the reasons why, by and large, those elites support the neo-cons (and throws them some money bones now and then). The US destroys any other possible model of society and economy except the one they favour, they make huge amounts of money out of it both during the process and after and it costs them, personally, nothing. Of course if their atoms get bounced around they might be a bit pissed off, but they are so single focused on making more money that I doubt it ever crosses what passes for their minds, except in the sense of quick trip in the Gulfstream to Switzerland and grabbing one of their great shelters.

    It, in the end, is a self referential system that is also totally self destructive. And it is going down, but, unlike the UK and USSR elites, they, if they can, will pull everything down as they go.

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  • I should add, there is no ‘national decline’ for any of those military, foreign affair, ‘intelligence’, economic elites. Never, ever, have they been so well off, so strong, so rich, so powerful. Within their self referential system, everything is not just ‘good’, it is ‘great’.

    It has never been so good and, in their minds, it will become even greater… at least for them, everyone else is ‘the enemy’ (that includes YOU mr/ms ordinary western person).

    The bit I love is (and you FM crew come from this background) is when those military/foreign/’intelligence’ elites find out there is no money for them. Because they have worked and fought for (and protected, etc) the economic elites but been paid by ordinary people (that enemy).

    But the economic elites don’t pay any taxes and, if they have their way, never will do. In fact they get gobs of money from taxpayers, biggest ‘welfare queens’ around.

    So they, in their endless greed, will kill ordinary police, soldiers (etc) money (though maintain the things that give them even more gobs of money, eg the F-35).

    So in the end, the M/F/I elites will get the shaft just as much as the ordinary people that they have spent their careers on oppressing. I love the thought of all those wonderful NY police people(and the rest) working hand in glove with the Wall St banks to smash the Occupy movement .. think your job and pension is safe … moron … it is gone.. taken by the same people that you went out bash ordinary people’s heads in for……. Whoops.

    Well no one has ever accused those M/F/I people of being intelligent. Oxymoron in fact.

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