Gift ideas – Books to get or give

I like books that challenge my views, as in the saying attributed to Mark Twain

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So here are two recommendations of books that challenge our views, esp about the things we know for sure.

The Culture of Defeat – On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery, Wolfgang Schivelbusch (2001) — Esp Chapter One, about the successful counter-revolution by the post-bellum American South.  The regained dominance over their black neighbors, at a high cost — slow modernization, economic inferiority vs. the North and West.

The Culture of War, Martin van Creveld (2008) — About the truth that American cannot face:  we love war.

The following are useful books, timely lessons and insights for America.

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Let’s blow the fog away and see what General McChrystal really said

Summary:  the McChrystal’s Assesment consists of layers of absurdity, piled high.  Future generations will study it as a prime example of early 21st century madness, when such a thing was taken seriously.

Essentials of the McChrystal’s Initial Commander’s Assessment of the Af-Pak War, released 30 August 2009.

  1. Amnesia is the essential requirement
  2. The key strategic element is that we have no strategy.
  3. Hope is the plan, cost is no object.
  4. Nation-building in Afghanistan today.  Mexico next?
  5. For more information from the FM site, and the Afterword

(1)  Amnesia is the essential requirement

Amnesia is the essential requirement to be an American geopolitical guru — or Amerian journalist covering geopolitics.  As described in How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan? (15 September 2009), we are closely following the military’s playbook for escalating a small war — perfected in Vietnam.  This remains invisible to many experts, as in this excerpt from Stratfor’s “McChrystal and the Search for a Strategy in Afghanistan“, 22 September 2009:

This is a statement by an officer of the modern U.S. Army, an institution with a broad disdain for the legacy of Gen. William Westmoreland. As first commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam (1964-1968) and then Army chief of staff (1968-72), Westmoreland’s legacy has come to be seen as that of having asked for more and more American troops without a winning strategy. In other words, he continued to commit more American soldiers to a conflict without a strategy that had any real chance for success. While one can debate the history, many in the U.S. Army’s officer corps today consider Westmoreland an officer who did the ultimate disservice to his country — and perhaps more importantly, to his men — by allowing a failed political and military strategy to continue to consume American lives. … With this report, McChrystal has clearly differentiated himself from this path.

Absurd.   For example, the report’s language on page 2-20 could come from DoD report about Vietnam written up to the very end:

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Blowback – could our military become a threat to America?

Expansion of a nation’s armed forces when its internal cohesion is weakening (i.e., in an era of State decline) risks an autoimmunine response.  Read closely, because this is too hot to spell out. 

Update:  The 3 excepts give describe the most likely danger as individuals turning against our regime, not the military as a whole.  Here’s a biological analogy:

Autoimmume Disease:  Failure of an organism’s defenses to recognize its own constituent parts as self, resulting in an immune response against its own tissues.  See Wikipedia for more information.

Yes, it can happen to us.  Slight indications of early symptoms are already in the news.  We can look forward to more articles like these.  And even more if (when) we demobilize from our Middle East wars.

  1. Oklahoma City war veteran accused of selling bombs to gang members“, The Oklahoman, 25 December 2008
  2. On War #290: Blowback Revisited“, Defense and the National Interest, 3 February 2009
  3. Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW, this site, 31 May 2008

Another powerful aricle, but subscription only:  “Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military“, By Jeff Sharlet, Harper’s Magazine, May 2009.

This is one of a large number of posts on the FM site exploring the decline of the America political regime, of which this might be one aspect.  Links to others appear at the end.


(1)  Oklahoma City war veteran accused of selling bombs to gang members“, The Oklahoman, 25 December 2008 — Excerpt:

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Recommendation to read – “Blinders”, a new essay by William Lind

Lind describes a DOD policy which is moronic.  Not only does this close our system (in terms of information flows) — making it less agile — but it also illustrates the institutional rigidity of our military that makes their adaptation to a new world so difficult.  A world in which 4th generation methods have become the dominant form of warfare.

Zenpundit provides some additional color to this story, with some great links (and graphics).

What Tom Barnett should have told Congress about America’s 21st century Navy

Thomas Barnett is one of our foremost geopolitical visionaries, so his presentations are always worth attention.  His latest is insightful and elegantly expressed, as always.  However, I have a few suggestions — minor changes to make  it better suit the current situation and needs of America.  (I have a draft post in the pipeline describing the implication of the revised Barnett speech for our naval forces.)

Statement submitted By Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, Senior Managing Director, Enterra Solutions LLC to the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, House Armed Services Committee, United States Congress, 26 March 2009 (Hat tip to the always-interesting Zenpundit).

I fully agree with the opening of Barnett’s presentation:

I appear before the subcommittee today to provide my professional analysis of the current global security environment and future conflict trends, concentrating on how accurately–in my opinion–America’s naval services address both in their strategic vision and force-structure planning. As has been the case throughout my 2 decades of working for, and with, the Department of Navy, current procurement plans portend a “train wreck” between desired fleet size and likely future budget levels dedicated to shipbuilding.

I am neither surprised nor dismayed by this current mismatch, for it reflects the inherent tension between the Department’s continuing desire to maintain some suitable portion of its legacy force and its more recent impulse toward adapting itself to the far more prosaic tasks of integrating globalization’s “frontier areas” — as I like to call them — as part of our nation’s decades-long effort to play bodyguard to the global economy’s advance, as well as defeat its enemies in the “long war against violent extremism” following 9/11. Right now, this tension is mirrored throughout the Defense Department as a whole: between what Secretary Gates has defined as the “next-war-itis” crowd (primarily Air Force and Navy) and those left with the ever-growing burdens of the long war — namely, the Army and Marines.

Let’s skip ahead to the money paragraph:

As someone who helped write the Department of Navy’s white paper, …From the Sea, in the early 1990s and has spent the last decade arguing that America’s grand strategy should center on fostering globalization’s advance, I greatly welcome the Department’s 2007 Maritime Strategic Concept that stated:

“United States seapower will be globally postured to secure our homeland and citizens from direct attack and to advance our interests around the world. As our security and prosperity are inextricably linked with those of others, U.S. maritime forces will be deployed to protect and sustain the peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance.’

I suggest a few tweaks to the remaining text.  Better yet, let’s throw it out and substitute the following text.

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Lind explains why Obama’s foreign policy will fail

Another brilliant essay by William Lind:  ” If Wishes Were Horses. . .”, #285 in his series On War, 8 December 2008.  The FM site has many articles on the two themes he discusses.  Of esp import now is reform of the State Department — the necessary element for success of Obama’s policies.  Links to 4 posts about this appear after the excerpt.

Excerpt (bold emphasis added):

Panglissading through reality, the New York Times recently offered the sort of thoughtlessly sunny picture of the Obama administration’s security policy that lulls children to sleep but leaves adults restlessly wakeful. In a front-page story on December 1, “A Handpicked Team for a Foreign Policy Shift” by David Sanger, the Times reported that the new administration’s key national security policy appointees were selected in large part because they have embraced a sweeping shift of resources in the national security arena.

The shift, which would come partly out of the military’s huge budget, would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the coming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.

Whether they can make the change…”will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisors said recently.

In the best Christmas spirit of my old friend Mr. Scrooge, I will spoil the story by spilling the ending up front. The “great foreign policy experiment” will fail. It will fail for two reasons, one practical and one theoretical.

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Liberal reflections on the causes of the Republicans’ defeat at the polls

The previous post described some conservatives’ reflections after their defeat at the polls.  Liberals have also given some thought to the matter.   Here are a few of their more creative suggestions.

So far most conservative analysis sticks with traditional explanations for defeat, like “insufficient purity” and “inadequate candidate and campaign staff.”  Ann Coulter’s latest article gives us both:

They adored McCain at the Times! Does anyone here not see a cluster of bright red flags? … According to Brooks, the reason McCain lost was — naturally — that he ran as a conservative. If only presidential candidates would spurn polls, modern political history, evidence from campaign rallies, facts on the ground and listen to the wishful thinking of Times columnists!

If McCain lost because he ran as a conservative, then how come I knew McCain was going to lose before Brooks did? About the same time Brooks was touting McCain’s uncanny ability to attract independents, I was writing, accurately: “John McCain is Bob Dole minus the charm, conservatism and youth.”

Rush Limbaugh spoke more explicitly during his 24 October show: ”Good Riddance, GOP Moderates.”   (For more on this subject see What happens to the Republican Party after the election?)

A few liberals attempt to help by suggesting that conservatives adopt a stronger explanation.  Those quoted below provide creative variants of the Dolchstoss, the post-WWI German myth of betrayal.  McCain’s reputation as an honorable man makes the standard “stab in the back” myth difficult to sell, so they devise a story to reconcile these two otherwise incompatible plot elements.

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