Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Dr. Barnett, opining yesterday on the recent NYT op-ed on Kennan:

"The dearth of strategic thinking reaches a new low, or maybe this is just a Kennan scholar pre-hawking his new book.

Now we get the out-of-time argument that containment is the answer on radical Islam.

It's not much of an argument, but rather a decent rehashing of Kennan's thinking on the Sovs. The problem here, of course, is that al-Qaida doesn't translate well to an authoritarian empire already in existence.

Another problem, which I flayed at length in PNM, is that global historical forces are moving in a direction very different from that of the late 1940s and early 1950s. We're not in some bilat standoff of camps with little dynamic interchange between them. We're watching a consolidation period unfold following a massive expansion of globalization, one that's simultaneously accompanied by its further expansion thanks to the huge resource draw from rising Asia. "

We have a severe shortage of Kennans these days. While of course, there was only one Kennan writing the Long Telegram there were also the Stimsons, Marshalls, Achesons, Nitzes, Forrestals, Vandenbergs, Lovetts, Dulles', McCloys, Wohlstetters, Kahns and many others who came before and after Kennan who made their own contributions to the development of the Containment strategy. Our diplomatic and national security bench was deep in those days and often, these statesmen brought real experience in international finance, logistics and linguistics to the table ( Wohlstetter and Kahn were the cutting edge of the academic -strategist wave that replaced the Wall Street and Railroad company lawyer generation).

Today, we see most of our big picture and thinkers outside of government and often academia as well, writing books, giving speeches or building private sector companies. Tellingly, the most innovative policy of Bush's second term was developed not by a White House aide or a Cabinet secretary but by General David Petraeus - and his counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq was only accepted by the powers that be out of political and military desperation. The Democrats are no better, having had essentially no new policy ideas in almost two generations and a deep desire to ignore the existence of foreign policy altogether.

In part, this is a generational problem. Not only are the Boomers an amazingly self-centered lot, endlessly obsessing on ( and trying to re-live) the political traumas of their now distant youth, but the statesmen among them cut their teeth on the Cold War, bipolar, pre-Globalization, rigidly hierarchical world and are, for the most part, unwilling to revisit their anachronistic assumptions. There are exceptions but these people are usually outliers in some way, personally or professionally.

We may need to construct our defenses for the 21st century by retooling civil society to become more resilient, adaptive and dynamic - for the short term, our governing class may be a lost cause.

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interesting comment about how people re-live their political traumas. it's exactly right. and the media are particularly bad at this. every major event has to be a re-run of one that went before because the media are often too lazy to create a completely new story which needs a new context, new background etc. it's why iraq ia always in the context of how it's "like vietnam", why relations with russia are about "a new cold war"... this is, of course, worst in political journalism - they always write anout campaigns having "sister souljah moments", "swiftboating" etc etc... again, everything in the context of a big event that happened before....
The longest, most heated political debate I ever got into was me arguing that Third Wave was not realistic in a Guerilla world, and a friend arguing that the foot soldier was obsolete. I was young and it took me hours to realize that my companion wasn't capable of hearing what I was actually saying for the static of what he thought I was saying.
This same friend can't discuss politics without questioning "But who's the new Kennedy?" and referencing Watergate. An otherwise brilliant man who I have given up debating.
Yeah, I can see that myopic world view stretching throught the political world.

Perhaps a bit pessimistic but given the narcissism of todays youth I think we may well see only half the solution in the near future. Certainly Generation Me will be brilliant and globally connected. But they may lack the mystical or philosophical qualities, the ability to think beyond convention to complete the puzzle.

I've had similar experiences which sort of plays into my above comment. It's amazing how brilliance can be effectively undone by ideological tunnel vision.
Hi Chy

" An otherwise brilliant man who I have given up debating"

I have an uncle much like this - two PhD's in completely unrelated scientific fields, of whom my Aunt says " When starts going on and on I usually start thinking of something else"

Hi Anon,

I think the MSM has only a limited number of schemas in which to fit the facts. :O)

Hi Sub

"But they may lack the mystical or philosophical qualities, the ability to think beyond convention to complete the puzzle."

Excellent point. They were the first generation to introduce mass conformity into rebellion.
Thank you the link to Barnett’s latest. I expected a reasoned rebuttal to containment-as-an-alternative-to-war against al Qaeda. Instead he grandly asserts that “waiting strategy that makes sense”, containment is “very reckless” and “isolationist thinking”. All quite absurd statements about containment, which is neither passive nor isolationist – and the opposite of reckless.

How apt that Barnett’s lead is so apt, as he personally demonstrates that “the dearth of strategic thinking reaches a new low.”

Having helped lead us into one disastrous war, I hope he’ll excuse us for not enrolling our children in his next – probably larger and longer – war.

Fortunately, there are more useful things to read before we lurch into a new long war.

Like this brilliant and funny dissection by David Rees of Michael Ignatieff's essay in the NY Times Magazine (yet another of Barnett’s pro-war cohort partially recants):

Also, not so funny, is this article contrasting Kennan’s “start” of the Cold War with our feckless lurch to fight al Qaeda (or Islam, or whatever we’re fighting):

America takes another step towards the “Long War”
Correction: the Barnett quote should be "there is no waiting strategy that makes sense".
There are at least five (complimentary?) explanations for the strategic deficit--at least in and around the government elite.

1) They are, in fact, so self-centered that they can't think creatively.

2) They are so career-centered that they are afraid to think clearly.

3) The institutions in which they operate punish creativity (see Barnett's description of his time in Pentagon, in PNM, or Richard Russell's description of his time in the CIA, in SHARPENING STRATEGIC INTELLIGENCE. I've also had a little experience with this myself, which is one reason I'm working in a rural university instead of D.C.)

4) They are so committed to an ideology that they literally can't think outside of it (see Stephen Kull's work on late Cold War nuclear strategists, or a recent speech by VP Cheney).

5) They are aware that their ideas are bad for the country, but more afraid of what will happen to them personally if a paradigm were to shift. In a world of decentralization and redundancy, what use is there for a ruling class? If you've invested your life in learning how to do things one way, why would you want to throw it all away?
Hi Fabius,

Tom has it right on globalization's magnitude and being the factor of causation. The 4GW school needs to come to grips with the reality of geoeconomics. It can't be waved away.

Barring the advent of something like cold fusion, there's no low cost " disconnection" strategy in an era of rising global energy demand. China could not disconnect if they wanted to - the regime has a wolf by the ears which it continues to ride only with 8-9% growth rates and an export or die economy.

Hi Daniel,

Long time no hear from you. Is your avatar a coelecanth ?

I like all of your explanations but favor 2, 3 and 4.

I think you might have this backwards. War, no matter how well-intended, is the great disruptor, the #1 foe of globalization.

Non-aggressive strategies -- except in the face of an evident and major threat -- are the logical default option for those willing to play nice in the global sandbox. Hence, the Barnett-style cruaders have the burden of making the case for use of force.

And, please, after the next war, ask them to spare us the "Oopps, I didn't notice that our real-world capabilities differed from the imgaingary super-forces I dreamed of in my books." They need new and better excuses.

At the risk of provoking a "chicken vs. egg" discussion, the record does not bear out your assertion, however logical.

War is certainly a purely destructive force in economic life as Hazlitt related but it's not what killed earlier waves of globalization. Free trade was killed off by special interests before men started dying from bullets and bombs.

Great Britain was the great advocate of free trade from the time of the repeal of the corn laws to the ascent of Joseph Chamberlain, who reacted to the economic challenge of America and Germany with a protectionist system later called imperial preference.

The United States, which was not dependent on exports to grow, always had a strong, Hamiltonian, protectionist faction, responded by steadily raising already high tariff rates. Even by 1900, it was obvious to many commenters that protectionism was causing friction with states like Germany; Brooks Adams even predicted that without a retrurn to "reciprocity", tariff wars would lead to world war - and he was right.

In the 1930's globalization could not have been more dead - the US had passed Hawley-Smoot and Nazi Germany and the USSR openly pursued autarky, imitated to a lesser extent by Japan. Cordell Hull tried chipping away with bilateral free trade agreements but global trade was not revived until WWII swept away the entrenched political logjam in most of the great powers, paving the way for Bretton Woods and the GATT.
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