National Journal Blog – 11 August 2009


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25 Responses to National Journal Blog – 11 August 2009

  1. par4 says:

    It can’t go on much longer.Bernanke can’t create anymore digital dollars.

  2. Cieran says:

    Anyone noticed that the most meaningful commentary on the National Journal’s blog gets written by folks with the word “Colonel” somewhere in their titles?
    I found this goal remarkable:
    He replied that we want to see an end to the ability of the takfiri jihadi groups to plan and train in the country.
    Wouldn’t a much better goal be that we want to insure that said groups cannot effectively attack our interests, and our nation? Training and planning are one thing, but actually executing those plans is quite another.
    And in the end, it’s the execution that’s the problem, not the training and planning.

  3. I don’t know much about military strategy, but in chess you begin by studying the pieces actually on the board.
    Whatever our grand strategy may be, it apparently will involve getting along without a navy.
    Ronald Ault. President of the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on July 30, stated our infrastructure to build shipping, including navel vessels, is in a “death spiral:”

    The U.S. shipbuilding industry has been caught in what some have called a death spiral for more than a generation as a result of policies of not-so-benign neglect. In the 1970s, with few exceptions, politicians of every stripe embraced the notion of unfettered world trade and disparaged concerns over the loss of domestic manufacturing capacity as “archaic” or “quaint.” The steepest drop came during the Reagan Administration with cuts in operating and construction differential subsidies. As a result of this continuing trend, the U.S. shipbuilding industry and the network of industries that provided components began to wither along with the tens of thousands of jobs that network provided. The result today is a shipbuilding base that includes a mere six yards capable of producing large vessels supported by four U.S. Navy shipyards that perform repairs. As a point of comparison, China has one shipyard with a larger capacity than all U.S. yards combined.
    Virtually the only customer that the nation’s six private shipyards have is the U.S. Navy and, today, we are down to delivering around eight Navy vessels a year. The current situation is not sustainable.

    Without a navy to get there, the esoteric tribal dimensions of Pakistani society are in more than one sense farfetched.

  4. Kieran says:

    Brilliant comment. Incredible how few people bother to question their assumptions.

  5. N. M. Salamon says:

    Unfortunately there were only two exposes of the reality:
    yours: we do not know what we plan to do, for we do not have any realistic assessment of the problem; and,
    another contributor who indicated that the economic reality does not allow imperialistic attempts.
    It is notable that all contributors have failed to even refer to the elephant in the room: END OF CHEAP OIL, the cornerstone of industrial economies.
    I find it sad, that the pseudo nationalism of all the other [aside from you and the other referred above] contributors completely befuddled their minds to any and all aspects of economic reality, military wherewithal [the nuclear powers whom are sancrosant versus USA glorified imperialism], and the reality that the Earth is a finite resourse, where WAR only destroys that which is irreplaceble without cheap energy.
    I ma sorry to say, but if the above is the reflection of the best minds in USA, then it is inevitable that the USA is facing an economic collapse similar to the USSR, but more painful to the citizens, for there is no public transport, no compact cities [exurbs and suburbs] and to a large a spoiled generation, used to getting its wants at the expense of tomorrow [debt to the eyeballs and more].

  6. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Interesting reading with virtually all the experts agreeing that we don’t know what we’re doing, where we’re going or why. Many even suggest that this is so because we are caught up in a functionally autonomous, self-reinforcing system that has become virtually unresponsive to common sense. And, that the only thing that might even remotely shut it down is a lack of funds. Given this level of consensus one wonders who Obama is listening to?

  7. Cold War Zoomie says:

    These guys that rah-rah for America scare me. We need a “grand strategy” to start recognizing that we ARE NOT the greatest nation on the planet, ever in the history of the universe, rah-rah-siss-boom-bah go team, yay! There’s no such thing as the greatest nation on earth! And that we should continue our “dominance” in the world, and exercising our power in the name of our “values.”
    Obviously these people have never lived anywhere else with an open mind, ready to make an honest comparison between our country and others. They would never understand how my campesina maid in Honduras really believed that growing up in a dirt floor shack with one water spigot out back, and no electricity, was just hunky dory! And I’m being serious – she had no desire to live like an American.
    It took a long time for my American view of the world to be stripped of its most basic assumptions. When that happens, it’s easier to come up with some national strategy that may actually be better for the country in the long run, rather than maintaining some sense of dominance and power.
    Here endeth my incoherent rant.

  8. Actually there is a defined National Security strategy. Enable the FIRE sector of the economy and the Wal-Marts to provide the industrial muscle necessary to protect and promote our economy. What you say? They cannot do so! Of course they cannot which is why they are just eating away at the system in order to ‘get theirs’ before someone “gets them”! Again the assumption underlying the National Journal blog and comments is that WE (US)is in control and can determine our own destiny! As FDR stated “we as a generation have a rendevous with destiny” and oh my how right he was just postponed 75 ears tos see its reality. Again as always WARS have NO winners. We did not WIN WWII nor the Cold War as measured by the audit of time and events will show.

  9. jamzo says:

    john brenan – assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, got some headlines last week
    his speech describes a strategy such as the one you warn of
    Obama Aide Declares End to War on Terrorism New Approach to Focus on Root Economic and Social Causes
    Obama Aide Declares End to War on Terrorism
    New Approach to Focus on Root Economic and Social Causes
    “Brennan used that insight to explain the basis for the Obama administration’s approach to global governance, stability and development assistance. “Any comprehensive approach has to also address the upstream factors — the conditions that help fuel violent extremism,” Brennan said. Military, intelligence or law-enforcement actions are unable to confront those conditions, which he said include the “basic needs and legitimate grievances of ordinary people” for prosperity, education, “dignity and worth,” and security. “If we fail to confront the broader political, economic, and social conditions in which extremists thrive, then there will always be another recruit in the pipeline, another attack coming downstream,” Brennan said.
    While Brennan said it would ultimately be up to governments and civil-society institutions in the Muslim world to “isolate” al-Qaeda, he said the role of the United States was to help strengthen “the capacity of foreign militaries and security forces” and judiciaries; to make “substantial” increases in foreign aid to fight poverty and promote global health and food security; and to demonstrate the ability of “diplomacy, dialogue, and the democratic process” to solve “seemingly intractable problems.””

  10. I hope you get rewarded handsomely for associating with people who write such … such … what are the two words I’m looking for ??? … ah yes!!!
    “Banal dreck”
    Those are the two words I’m looking for.
    I hope you get rewarded handsomely for associating with people who write such banal dreck.
    Ye Gods! I’m not sure which is worse about that National Journal quasi blog the questions they put or the replies they receive. Either way what you’ve got going here at “Sic Semper” and “The Athenæum” way outclasses them.

  11. optimax says:

    We do have a Grand Strategy–to bomb Afghanistan, deplete our wealth (done) and natural resources (soon), until we are living once again in the Dark Ages. The common people can fight over the refuse the elite dump over the walls of their fortified cities.
    What happened to the informed and vigilant citizenry a democracy depends on?

  12. Jackie says:

    It’s nice we are finally having this conversation eight years later. What a bunch of wasted resources, etc. What is the plan? Could we just use the money on the U.S. and quit killing foreigners? Predator drones aren’t particularly manly, they look like the wimps way out.
    We’ve had the war within the war. This is just nuts!
    This nonsense has to stop some day. If our military is for the protection of the United States, maybe it’s time they all came home. Put them on the northern and southern borders to protect us from all those rascals.
    I am sick of all this war madness. Sorry for the rant, but we have really important issues to address.

  13. Fred says:

    Leave it to the heritage foundation: America needs to be strong! Strength comes from strategies, policies and programs? What the heck does this mean? Since the poor are definitely not prosperous we would have to assume that America, by the Heritage Foundation Fellow’s conclusion, has either never had poor people or is a failure.
    “For five decades during the Cold War, there was a rough consensus around a strategy…” Yes, rough being the key word; the fear of being soft on communism allowed for the rise of McCarthy and a long delayed broadening of civil rights to include all Americans. (Some thought that would definitely limit America’s strength and prosperity!). Where does that – civil rights – play out in a definition of ‘national strategy’? It is certainly in the Declaration of Independence, but it is not to be found in Guantanamo Bay. Are we fighting for freedom, or for ‘prosperity’; and for whom?
    “We are blundering around in the dark, making assumptions about the motivations and affiliations of strange folk far away, people that live and die by rules only dimly perceived (and often misunderstood) by us in the “progressive” West.” Sadly, this echoes of Santayana.

  14. greg0 says:

    The comments that make the most sense are from the sceptics, like Luttwak. Do we have an opportunity for a course correction? Perhaps the American Empire is too entrenched for any.
    The toughest job is asking the right question. Muddling along in Bush’s footsteps is not a good answer.

  15. David Habakkuk says:


    Rather than becoming fixated on absurd notions of ‘nation building’ in Afghanistan, it would certainly seem to make sense to focus on those factors making possible effective attacks on the United States — and other countries — on which we can realistically expect to have some purchase.

    And here, a matter of some importance is the possibility of the acquisition by terrorists of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular nuclear weapons.

    As you have quite rightly stressed — and I am course aware that you speak with authority on these matters — the problems faced by terrorists attempting to acquire the capability to use such weapons are very commonly ignored by scaremongerers.

    Particularly with the experience of post-Soviet Russia in mind, however, I think there is good reason to fear that sooner or later the proliferation of nuclear weapons may lead to these becoming available to terrorists. So an effective counter-terrorism policy would certainly greatly benefit from an effective counter-proliferation policy.

    And here, a simple error made in the introductory remarks by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. is material. The headline begins ‘Containment Succeeded’, and according to Greenberg, throughout the Cold War there was ‘a rough consensus’ around the containment strategy.

    This is however, to put it mildly, misleading. Central to the strategy of ‘containment’, as generally understood, was nuclear ‘deterrence’ — in the sense of the threat to respond to Soviet conventional offensives with nuclear weapons. When people say that ‘containment succeeded’, they commonly mean that nuclear ‘deterrence’ has been vindicated: that it prevented a third world war, and inhibited what the doctrine’s supposed founder, George Kennan, described as Soviet ‘expansive tendencies’.

    But of course, this naturally raises the question as to whether, if indeed nuclear ‘deterrence’ was such a security panacea for us, it should not also be a security panacea for the inhabitants of other countries: including, of course, the Iranians. The question was raised some while back on this blog by Babak Makkinejad. It is clearly a very fair one, and I do not think my efforts to persuade him that the conventional view that nuclear weapons were a security panacea for the West in the Cold War was poorly founded were very successful.

    In this situation, it might at least be worth reflecting on the fact that — with or without justification — George Kennan repeatedly disassociated himself from ‘containment’ as it developed from the summer of 1948 on. On this, some remarks he made to the historian John Lukacs in 1985 are of interest:

    ‘There was, by now, a widespread understanding among Americans that Soviet intentions with regard to Europe were irreconcilable with, and in that sense inimical to, our own. But how did they intend to implement those intentions? Many Americans jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes. But if one had tried to look at this assumption from Moscow’s standpoint, particularly from Stalin’s, its unsoundness would have become immediately visible. Stalin had very good reason for rejecting any such course of action.

    ‘For one thing, it would have involved the unification of Germany under a single Communist government. But this was the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about. A German Communist regime, presiding over the entire population and commanding all the resources of the German state, could not have been expected to remain for long a puppet of Moscow. Such a Communist regime presiding over all of Germany would eventually occupy a position in world communism at least the equal of, or perhaps even superior to, that of any Russian Communist regime. But Stalin never forgot that to lose his pre-eminence in the world communist movement would be to endanger his position at home. He never doubted that the loyalty to himself professed by a great many senior Soviet Communists rested not in any great love for him personally but in the fear of him that he had himself inspired. And he had never been free of the fear that men of this ilk, chafing under the humiliations and dangers that attended their subordination to Stalin’s tyranny, might find means of playing the international communist movement off against him, thus extracting themselves from his power and even occupying positions from which they could successfully oppose him.’


    Concluding the exchange with Lukacs, incidentally, Kennan insists that his views had not changed — which if one thinks of it is a claim with very odd implications.

    Whether Kennan was justified in making it — and whether his reading of Stalin’s thinking was right — are of course complicated matters. But I think it might help rescue both your country and mine from the dead end into which our non-proliferation policy has got, if people reflected more seriously on some of the complexities involved in the development of post-war Western strategy, and in particular some of the ambiguities surrounding the conception of ‘containment’.

  16. Redhand says:

    FWIW, last night I stumbled across a 1993 1/2 hr TV piece on Afghanistan called “Bear Trap” that described, in somewhat triumphalist terms, the defeat of the USSR in this hell hole after 10 years of protracted guerrilla war.
    Are we setting ourselves up for the same thing? Looks like it to me. Maybe the people planning this belated, post 9/11, post-Bush “COIN” extravaganza should look at that TV show and ask themselves, “WHAT are we doing here, and why?”

  17. Bill Wade, NH says:

    “Bear Trap” is on YouTube, watching it now myself.

  18. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    One counter terrorism strategy to pursue is one of the creation and maintenance of strong states. These states may not be friendly to US, EU, and others but they will have the ability to strongly fight proliferation to non-state actors.
    The policy of weakening other states in order to make them more malleable is the road to ruination.

  19. Patrick Lang says:

    David Habakkuk:
    As always, it’s a pleasure reading those thoughts you post here.
    You are certainly asking all the right questions, including the all-important ones regarding whether the containment doctrine that supposedly “worked” in a world dominated by two rival superpower camps can make any sense in a multipolar environment where non-state actors might come to possess nuclear weapons.
    I wish I had some answers to give, but I don’t. The Kennan interview you linked (which is a magnificent document, so thanks for that) begins with an important phrase, characterizing the Soviet view as “impervious to logic of reason”. I would suggest that such a view is not limited to Moscow, and in fact is an apt description of the human condition.
    So we find humanity in a position where its culture is pre-modern (e.g., in the US, we prefer to deny most tenets of modern biology), but for some states, weaponry is very, VERY modern. We have the ability to reduce cities to rubble, but we haven’t yet figured out how to make the economies of those cities work in any sustainable manner.
    Thus I’ve never been convinced that mankind will back away from the brink of the wide use of WMD based on any sort of collective logical inference. We simply aren’t wired that way.
    One might hope that some other countervailing cultural force could be summoned, but here in the US at least, I don’t see much evidence that this would happen. Two of the world’s largest religions are increasingly moving towards the view that eschatology is all-important, and when many millions of people start believing that end times are here, while possessing the weaponry to insure that self-fulfilling prophecy, I doubt that spirituality will get us out of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
    My best hope for reducing the risk of nuclear war (of the limited or all-out varieties, via state or non-state actors) used to be the belief that if we put “our best people” on this front, we might have a chance. But after seeing what a professional dolt like John Bolton could accomplish in terms of goofing up this all-important venue of human enterprise, I’m not exactly full of hope on this front any more.
    (or as one of my engineering colleagues likes to say: the difference between intelligence and stupidity is that there are limits to intelligence)
    I think we all know that the mass-production of WMD (of any variety) is a Faustian bargain. The spiritual implications of the “MD” part of the acronym alone should give pause to any human being with a functioning heart or mind.
    But to borrow Kennan’s phrase again, our actions and motivations are “impervious to logic of reason”, so we try to build Jeffersonian democracies (that we cannot afford) in the highlands of Central Asia, and we largely ignore the potential for broad proliferation of the most dangerous technology that mankind has ever devised.
    So who needs a drink?

  20. Jackie says:

    After what Richard Holbrooke said today (we’ll know it when we see it), I would think we all need a drink.

  21. David Habakkuk says:

    Babak Makkinejad,

    ‘The policy of weakening other states in order to make them more malleable is the road to ruination.’

    Broadly speaking, I agree. Both in Washington and in London, people commonly grossly underestimate the danger that the alternative to regimes they dislike may not be some happy U.S.-friendly democracy, but anarchy.

    With the Islamic Republic of Iran, it seems to me likely that the relations both of the United States and of the European powers are likely to be difficult. But that said, there are some very significant common interests — one of which is combating the takfiri jihadists. It would be a good thing if we could handle this kind of ambiguous relationship, in which people are partly antagonists, partly collaborators. But we do not seem very good at it.

    Something similar goes for Russia. The inability of people in Washington and London to realise the magnitude of the dangers created by the kind of Leninist ‘withering away of the state’ that happened in that country in the 1990s — and was certainly greatly encouraged by Western-sponsored ‘shock therapy’ — is a continuing source of bafflement to me.

    Some useful insight comes in the 2007 article ‘Primed and Ready’ by the former Minuteman launch control officer Bruce Blair, who is one of the leading world experts on nuclear command and control. For several years, he recalls:

    ‘everyone I met in the nuclear forces in Moscow was moonlighting, driving a taxi or performing some menial job on one shift, and on the next shift standing nuclear duties or manning early warning sites all blinky-eyed from lack of sleep.’



    I wish I could find more reasons to be more optimistic than you.

    What your engineering colleague says about the lack of limits to stupidity is certainly to the point. At the moment, however, what terrifies me is not simply the amount of stupidity around — but the amount of sheer craziness.

    Some remarks made in a discussion of contemporary tyrannies in 1941 by the British philosopher-historian R.G. Collingwood have increasingly come to resonate uncomfortably with me. There were, he remarked, two ways of being a fool:

    ‘You may be foolish to stupidity, so that your mental hands grasp nothing of what they try to grasp; or you may be foolish to craziness, so that your mind creates illusions sor hallucinations about the things of which you are trying to think. These two kinds of foolishness occur in practice much confused together. The stupid fool, in politics as elsewhere, creates nothing; the crazy fool crease much; although this much, being crazy, comes to nothing ….

    ‘The crazy type of fool can pretend to be wise. The fertility of his diseased mind gives him an initiative, futile it is true, over his fellow men. He has just as much initiative as a man who is really intelligent; in one sense even more, for he has less to fear. The intelligent man offers himself up to an equal wrestling bout of minds; he stands up to all comers, and faces criticism; he does not know from which side criticism is going to come, or that it will not prove him to have made a mistake. The crazy type of fool with his psychological hold on his audience will easily convict him of being a fraud; which, strange though it may appear, is rather a feather in his cap than a thing to be ashamed of.’

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    David Habakkuk:
    I think that if one desires stability and security – along the lines that you have outlined – we need to have the Austro-Hugarian, the Ottoman, and the Perisan Empires resurrected to Eastern Europe, the Levant & Anatolia, and the Middle East & South Asia.
    In Africa, I should think, Nigeria and South Africa are to be built up to create and to enforce some sort of generalized peace interest across that continent.
    South America has Brazil, North America has US, and East Asia has China & to some extent Japan.
    We need more integration and less dis-integration.

  23. Pat Lang,,
    This conversation on strategy, ranging beyond the NJ subject, is just what a good discussion should be. In that respect it rather resembles a Socratic dialogue, beginning in the consideration of a narrow point and proceeding to the discussion of basic meaning. I particularly enjoyed Habbakkuk”s bit on Cold War strategy and your reply. Lukacs, by the way, is a favorite historian and I can recommend “The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age”.
    I think that many would agree that The Viet-Nam War and the invasion of Iraq have been the pre-emminent strategic blunders in our history. I’d like to put forth the notion that those strategies were, at their heart, and behind a smokescreen of purported rational decision-making, adopted for the personal reasons of the two presidents. The first because of LBJ’s overwhelming fear of being accused of “losing Viet-Nam. Iraq because George Bush saw a chance to conquer Iraq, overthrow the government and, thus, to out-do his father. In both cases there were interests and constituencies advancing the cases for,or against, war, but both Bush and Johnson had the final say,having been given the authority(under false pretenses) by congress.

  24. Gautam Das says:

    Hello all!
    Greetings from Delhi, India.
    I greatly appreciate the learned commentary on display. From here, it looks as if US military policy in Afghanistan-Pakistan is on the wrong track. (1) Is being in Afghanistan actually helping American homeland security now? (2) It is impossible to garrison Afghanistan with enough foreign troops to have an adequate counter-insurgency (CI) grid, adequate for effective CI ops. If so, what is the point of a policy supposedly meant ‘to protect civilians’? (3) If the US feels the need to be in Afgh, then the answer is counter-terrorist (CT) ops with full vigour (ie, ‘Bomb ’em into the Stone Age’ type) They don’t love the US now, and a few will only dislike/hate the US more. But they will fear reprisal if the policy is ‘punitive ops’.
    The present miltiary policy, surge and all, seems guaranteed to achieve nothing except more foreign casualties to no effect.
    Col. Gautam Das (retd.), Indian Army, infantry
    (Yes, yet another Col; sorry about that)

  25. Hi…
    The Viet-Nam War and the invasion of Iraq have definitely been the pre-emminent strategic blunders in our history. I’d like to put forth the notion that those strategies were, at their heart, and behind a smokescreen of purported rational decision-making, adopted for the personal reasons of the two presidents.

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