Category Archives: Grand Strategy

How America deals with the world’s other peoples

Will we repeat our mistakes in the Middle East & lose, or play defense & win?

Summary:  The West’s post-9/11 wars in the Middle East have run down, but our involvement in Syria’s civil war and the attacks by radical Islamists in American — and the far larger Paris attacks — have begun a new phase in this clash of civilizations. Before we attack, repeating the mistakes of the past 15 years, let’s consider an alternative strategy: play defense, and win.

Nike, goddess of victory

Goddess of Victory. Emanuel Lakozas at DeviantArt.

 

Contents

  1. A hegemon’s dilemma.
  2. How to eat soup with a knife?
  3. Who is attacking? Who is defending?
  4. Our response: attack!
  5. A better way: defend.
  6. Other posts in this series.
  7. For more information.

(1)  A hegemon’s dilemma

In chess, a zugzwang means that you believe that all moves weaken your position. It often results from a lack of imagination, an inability to break free from one’s patterns of perception and analysis.

Hegemons often see themselves as in a zugwang, where change itself threatens to their status as #1. For example, Britain responded poorly to Germany’s aggressive aspirations in the decades before WWI, rather than seeking to integrate them into a growing and prosperous multi-polar 20th century.

America’s major 21st century challenge might be cultural as well as geopolitical, as fundamentalist Islam challenges not just American dominance in the Middle East but the West’s cultural supremacy. We’ve reacted to the resulting insurgencies by waging war — treating fundamentalist Islam as an evil ideology, like the NAZI’s. With the usual perversity of events, we’ve succeeded only in toppling secular regimes (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and perhaps Syria), who are replaced by Islamic regimes) — and setting the region afire.

To find a better solution let’s look at T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922), a handbook for insurgents written during the Arab Revolt of WWI.

“The Turks were stupid; the Germans behind them dogmatical. They would believe that rebellion was absolute, like war, and deal with it on the analogy of war. Analogy in human things was fudge, anyhow; and war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.”

We have been “stupid and dogmatical” in our wars since 9/11, dealing with these insurgencies “on the analogy of war.” We are like the pitiful fool “eating soup with a knife”, spilling most of each attempt.

Does America have so few strategic options that we must, in effect, attempt to eat soup with a knife? Lawrence wrote about his experience fighting with locals waging a successful insurgency. American hawks see it as advice for doing the opposite — fighting insurgencies in foreign lands.

The hawks ignore the simple truth of Lawrence’s insight: you cannot eat soup with a knife unless you first change the situation.

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Is America in Retreat before a more threatening world?

Summary:  After 2 failed invasions and occupations, as we gear up to repeat the same tactics in another round of interventions, it’s time for our hawks to excite us with stories about our mad unprofitable Empire (unprofitable to us). Today we have a review of the oddly named America in Retreat: The New Isolationism & the Coming Global Disorder. Our first 2 interventions have set the Middle East aflame. He’s right; imagine what disorder we can cause in a future guided by our hawks (a species found on both Left and Right). But where’s this “retreat” and “isolationism” he speaks of?

Pax Americana

The Road from Westphalia

By Jessica T. Mathews
Excerpt from The New York Review of Books, 19 March 2015.

Review of America in Retreat: The New Isolationism & the Coming Global Disorder
by Bret Stephens (2015).

Almost from the beginning of its history, America has struggled to find a balance in its foreign policy between narrowly promoting its own security and idealistically serving the interests of others; between, as we’ve tended to see it in shorthand, Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick and the ideals of Woodrow Wilson. Just as consistently, the US has gone through periods of embracing a leading international role for itself and times when Americans have done all they could to turn their backs on the rest of the world.

… Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist for The Wall Street Journal, sounds a call for more powerful and more engaged US leadership around the globe. Stephens appears to worry about a return to isolationism, or at least a more inward-looking American policy, and does what he can to head it off.

… Stephens’s is a facts-be-damned polemic, designed to show that the world has gone to hell since President Obama took office. Somehow, Obama is saddled with responsibility for the success of North Korea’s nuclear program. Stephens does not say that North Korea began the program in the 1950s, succeeded in building its first bomb 22 years ago, and carried out its first atomic test 3 years before Obama took office.

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The “global commons” belongs to the world. Should America control it?

Summary: Our DoD has rolled out another master plan. We’re oblivious to how aggressive these strategies look to our rivals; perhaps we’re oblivious even to the idea that our rivals have rights . That’s appropriate to a global hegemon, a role we no longer have the power to fill. The growth of rivals makes that less feasible with each new year. Our unwillingness to accept a multi-polar world makes a fearful transition to more likely.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

Hegemon Robot

We no longer scare our foes.

Contents

  1. We’re number one and tolerate no rivals
  2. What is the “global commons”?
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information

(1)  We’re number one and tolerate no rivals

Most Americans have no idea how belligerent our government sounds, especially our military strategy. Read this 9 November 2011 Background Briefing on Air-Sea Battle as would someone in China or Iran (its edited for intelligibility). If DoD’s flacks had written Case Yellow — the Wehrmacht’s plan for the invasion of France it would have sounded something like this (“the Maginot Line is a French anti-access challenge, which we must respond to!”). Goebbels could have learned much from them.

We’re going to talk to you today about the air-sea battle — the anti-access/area-denial challenge. State, regional, and non-state actors have been developing, proliferating, and acquiring modern military technologies that enable anti-access area denial. Things like precision fires, electronic warfare and cyberwarfare, air and missile defense systems. Plus submarines, surface combatants and aircraft all of increasing capability. Combined together they could keep you out of an area or make it very difficult for you to maneuver within an area.

Our {goal} was that U.S. military forces will maintain freedom of action in the global commons. … That demands that U.S. forces be able to turn quickly from a defensive posture to one of offensive posture — to stay in place and operate within an area of the global commons. We must be able to fight in those contested environments across all domains in order to prevail.  We cannot cede a single domain in order to prevail in an environment such as that.  We’re talking about five domains: air, maritime, land domain, space and cyberspace.

This became doctrine in 2010, recently rebranded by DoD as the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC; see an early version here).  What does it mean? You cannot understand DoD speeches and documents without proficiency in NewSpeak, but the man who coined this concept spoke in clearer language…

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