Thursday, July 31, 2008

Putting things in perspective

Steve Forbes:

In fact, between 2003 and the summer of 2007, the growth alone of the U.S. economy exceeded the entire size of the Chinese economy. In other words, we grew the equivalent of the economy of China in little more than four years.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Key tenets of American grand strategy

NOTE: The original links to the paper quoted in this post is no longer active. However the paper has been published in a pdf document here: Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy (link no longer active)

I've been reading through some papers from the American Grand Strategy Solarium over the past few days and have been posting some excerpts about grand strategy that I found worth thinking about. I find it interesting that I haven't seen a single reference to Tom Barnett in any of these papers. From Frederick Kagan comes a list of what he identifies as the key tenets of American grand strategy that have achieved general consensus since the end of WW2. So if we agree on, as he says, "90% of America's grand strategic requirements" then what is it that constitutes the contested 10%?

"The purpose of this historical excursion has been to show the tremendous continuity of American
grand strategy over the past six decades, from which it is possible to deduce a number of core
grand strategic objectives on which there has been general consensus. American grand strategy
focuses most heavily on protecting vital interests from perceived threats. Ideology and moralism
infuses the perception of those threats by American decision-makers (as with all decision-
makers), but it rarely defines them. Americans do feel moral obligations to help the victimized, to
support democracy and oppose tyranny, and a variety of other things, but rarely act on them on a
large scale unless doing so coincides with the defense of a perceived vital interest.
...
The key tenets of American grand strategy over the past sixty years are thus both clear and
widely embraced:
• The US must protect its homeland and citizens from attack;
• American political and economic interests are fundamentally threatened by serious
instability in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia;
• Maintaining global free trade is critical to the well-being of the American economy;
• The promotion of democracy in non-democratic states is generally seen as both morally
right and as supporting American interests;
• Helping the helpless and stopping bloodshed have broad support in general, but usually
motivate American action only when they coincide with other vital interests;
• The US desires no increase in territory and aims for no particular gain in relative
economic power beyond that which it believes will accrue naturally from the superiority
of its system;
• Americans want to preserve their civil liberties and way of life;
• Americans desire the support of allies, alliances, and international organizations,
although they do not feel constrained to inaction by the absence of such support;
• Americans like the idea of international law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, but
also see themselves as holding a unique position that transcends both (and this view
has been shared equally by Democratic and Republican internationalists--NATO
operations in Kosovo were conducted without international sanction or support and were
thus technically violations of international law despite the fact that our European allies
joined us in the endeavor; both Democratic and Republican administrations have
insisted upon provisions in many treaties giving the US special status);
• The US aims to maintain its current relative advantage in military power and fears the
rise of "peer competitors," hostile alliances, or the development of "asymmetric" threats
that might erode that relative advantage;
• The US seeks actively to deter the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction
of all varieties;
• Many Americans see expanding gender equality and eliminating racial and religious
discrimination as positive goals; and
• Americans increasingly believe that the US must act unilaterally and in conjunction with
the international community to address climate change.

These goals and desires, which have had broad bipartisan support for decades, define around
90% of America's grand strategic requirements when examined within any particular international
context. Debates about American grand strategy have generally focused on the relative priorities
and, above all, means used to achieve these aims rather than on the aims themselves.
Confusion about the nature of those debates, particularly over the past seven years, has led
many to see a much greater divide over US grand strategy than exists, as well as to see a much larger gap between the basic goal of the Bush administration and those of its predecessors and likely successors."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Four basic options for grand strategy

NOTE: The original link to the paper quoted in this post is no longer active. However the paper has been published in a pdf document here: Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy (link no longer active)

In this introductory paper to a symposium on grand strategy, Shawn Brimley asserts four options:


In general, there are four basic options or ideal strategic types
when conceiving of a nation’s grand strategy: isolationism or restraint, selective engagement,
cooperative security, and primacy. Each of these competing strategic visions has a robust history
in both academic and policy literature and each contain significant individual strands that are
unique in history and in practice.31 Each school has modern advocates, and in general American
national security strategies tend to contain elements from several of these schools.32

First, neo-isolationism holds that America’s only true vital interest is national defense - defined as
securing the liberty, property, and security of the homeland. The United States should not
attempt to maintain world order, and the promotion of democracy around the world only serves to
generate additional enemies and risk strategic exhaustion.33 Isolationists are highly skeptical of
the use of American power abroad, and retain a deep animosity toward international institutions
and international law. Contemporary arguments seldom use “isolationism,” but rather terms like
“restraint” or “offshore balancing.” In The Peace of Illusions, Christopher Layne argues that
“offshore balancing is a multipolar – not unipolar – strategy, and therefore it would accommodate
the rise of new great powers while simultaneously shifting, or devolving, to Eurasia’s major
powers the primary responsibility for their own defense.”34 In a November 2007 article in The
American Interest, Barry Posen concluded that 16 years of post-Cold War strategy had failed,
and the United States should thus “conceive its security interests narrowly, use its military power
stingily, pursue its enemies quietly but persistently, share responsibilities and costs more
equitably, watch and wait more patiently. Let’s do this for 16 years and see if the outcomes aren’t
better.”35 In the context of the likely strategic inheritance in early 2009, a strategy of restraint will
have some salience in America’s domestic politics.

Second, selective engagement represents a hybrid strategy that is firmly rooted in the realist
goals of security and prosperity, but also includes liberal goals such as expanding free markets,
human rights, and international openness.36 Unlike most neo-isolationist ideas, engagement
strategies posit that a precautionary or forward posture seeking to prevent significant threats
from materializing is preferable to one employing offshore-balancing. Therefore, selective
engagement strategies would maintain core American alliances such as NATO and bilateral
alliances with Japan and South Korea. In order to actually be selective, advocates of selective
engagement would employ a tiered hierarchy of national interests, differentiating between the
vital interest of defending the homeland, with the highly important goals of maintaining Eurasian
great power peace and access to Gulf oil at reasonable prices, and important interests such as
international economic openness, growth of democracy and human rights, and preventing severe
climate change.37 In A Grand Strategy for America, Robert J. Art argues that selective
engagement is both politically feasible and affordable, steering “a middle course between not
doing enough and attempting to do too much; it takes neither an isolationist, unilateralist path at
one extreme nor a world policeman role at the other.”38 Critics argue that a forward military
presence and focus on alliances tends to result in balancing behavior and a persistent temptation
toward “mission creep.”39

Third, advocates of cooperative security strategies are typically liberal internationalists who
argue that America has a vital interest in pursuing a “world of liberty under law.”40 For this school,
a post Cold War-era defined by growing interdependence and deepening connectivity demands
that American interests be defined broadly, that wars anywhere stand a greater chance of
spreading and expanding, and that the United States must therefore pursue liberty both at home
and abroad.41 Others argue that in a world where transnational threats such as non-state
nuclear proliferation are likely to increase, the international community has a so-called “duty to
prevent,” which rejects the proposition that sovereignty is absolute.42 A globalized world in which
threats proliferate and multiply underwrites a logic that connects the pursuit of security in
America to festering problems everywhere. Advocates of cooperative security thus place a great
deal of instrumental value on the creation and effective performance of multilateral institutions
and international law. But more fundamentally, advocates of collective security such as G. John
Ikenberry have argued, that “American power may rise or fall and its foreign policy ideology may
wax and wane between multilateral and imperial impulses – but the wider and deeper liberal
global order is now a reality to which America itself must accommodate.”43 To wit, it would be
foolhardy and counterproductive for America to disengage from a world order that it helped
create.

Finally, advocates of American primacy argue that only sustained hegemony ensures continued
global stability. From this perspective, the rise of a peer competitor in Eurasia would pose a
dramatic threat to international order and significantly increase the risk of war. Most advocates of
primacy argue that the United States is, on balance, perceived to be a benign hegemon, and
thus significant balancing behavior that would undermine America’s strategic position is unlikely
to occur.44 Moreover, even if there is growing resentment of continued American primacy,
Michael Mandelbaum in The Case for Goliath, argues that American abdication from its current
role would “deprive the international system of one of its principal safety features, which keeps
countries from smashing into each other, as they are historically prone to do. In this sense, a
world without America would be the equivalent of a freeway full of cars with no brakes.”45
According to this view, the so-called “unipolar moment” must be sustained, and thus China and
other rising powers should be viewed as strategic competitors rather than partners.46 Critics of
perpetual primacy often argue that an insistence on hegemony is a recipe for strategic
overstretch, national exhaustion, and a decline of power and influence.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

For reference

Here are links to the three major foundational documents of our cold war grand strategy:

Kennan's Long Telegram

The Sources of Soviet Conduct -- Kennan's "X" article

NSC-68

"Grand Strategy as Liberal Order Building"

Here's another paper by John Ikenberry on grand strategy (PDF):

The grand strategy I am proposing can be called “liberal order building.” It is essentially a 21st
century version of the strategy that the United States pursued after World War II in the shadow of
the Cold War – a strategy which produced the liberal hegemonic order that has provided the
framework for the Western and global system ever since. This is a strategy in which the United
States leads the way in the creation and operation of a loose rule-based international order. The
United States provides public goods and solves global collection action problems. American
“rule” is established through the provisioning of international rules and institutions and its
willingness to operate within them. American power is put in the service of an agreed upon
system of Western-oriented global governance. American power is made acceptable to the world
because it is embedded in these agreed upon rules and institutions. The system itself leverages
resources and fosters cooperation that makes the actual functioning of the order one that solves
problems, creates stability, and allows democracy and capitalism to flourish. Liberal order
building is America’s distinctive contribution to world politics – and it is a grand strategy that it
should return to in the post-Bush era.
...
The United States should seek to
consolidate a global order where other countries bandwagon rather than balance against it – and
where it remains at the center of a prosperous and secure democratic-capitalist order which in
turn provides the architecture and axis points around which the wider global system turns. But to
reestablish this desired world order, the United States is going to need to invest in re-creating the
basic governance institutions of the system – investing in alliances, partnerships, multilateral
institutions, special relationships, great power concerts, cooperative security pacts, and
democratic security communities.

Two types of grand strategy:

It is useful to distinguish between two types of grand strategies – positional and milieu-oriented.
A “positional” grand strategy is where a great power seeks to counter, undercut, contain, and
limit the power and threats of a specific challenger state or group of states. Nazi Germany,
Imperial Japan, the Soviet bloc, and perhaps – in the future – Greater China. A “milieu” grand
strategy is where a great power does not target a specific state but seeks to structure its general
international environment in ways that are congenial with its long-term security. This might entail
building the infrastructure of international cooperation, promoting trade and democracy in various
regions of the world, establishing partnerships that might be useful for various contingencies.
The point I want to make is that under conditions of unipolarity, in a world of diffuse threats, and
with pervasive uncertainty over what the specific security challenges will be in the future – this
milieu-basic approach to grand strategy is needed.

Four arguments:

This paper makes four arguments. I start with an argument about the character of America’s
security environment in the decades to come. The United States does not confront a first-order
security threat as it has in the past. It faces a variety of decentralized, complex, and deeply
rooted threats. It does not face a singular threat – a great power or violent global movement –
that deserves primacy in the organization of national security. The temptation is to prioritize the
marshaling of American resources against a threat such as jihadist terrorism or rogue states, but
this is both an intellectual and political mistake.
...
Second, these more diffuse, shifting, and uncertain threats require a different sort of grand
strategy than those aimed at countering a specific enemy such as a rival great power or a radical
terrorist group. Rather, the United States needs to lead in the recreation of the global
architecture of governance, rebuilding its leadership position and the institutional frameworks
through which it pursues its interests and cooperates with others to provide security. Above all, it
needs to create resources and capacities for the collective confrontation of a wide array of
dangers and challenges. That is, America needs a grand strategy of “multitasking” – creating
shared capacities to respond to a wide variety of contingencies. In the 21st century threat
environment, a premium will be placed on mechanisms for collective action and sustained
commitments to problem solving.

Third, America does have a legacy of liberal order building – it knows how to do it and doing it in
the past has made America strong and secure. It needs to rediscover and renew this strategy of
liberal order building. During the decades after World War II, the United States did not just fight
the Cold War, it created a liberal international order of multilayered pacts and partnerships that
served to open markets, bind democracies together, and create a trans-regional security
community. The United States provided security, championed mutually agreed upon rules and
institutions, and led in the management of an open world economy, and in return other states
affiliated with and supported the United States as it led the larger order. It was an American-led
hegemonic order with liberal characteristics. There is still no alternative model of international
order that is better suited to American interests or stable global governance. But there are deep
shifts in the global system that make it harder for the United States to act as it did in the past –
as a global provider of goods and a liberal hegemon willing to both restrain and commit itself.
Unipolarity and the erosion of norms of state sovereignty – among other long-term shifts – make
the American pursuit of a liberal order building strategy both more difficult and more essential.

Finally, the new agenda for liberal order building involves an array of efforts to strengthen and
rebuild global architecture. These initiatives include: building a “protective infrastructure” for
preventing and responding to socioeconomic catastrophe, renewal of the Cold War-era alliances,
reform the United Nations, and the creation of new multilateral mechanisms for cooperation in
East Asia and among the democracies. In the background, the United States will need to
renegotiate and renew its grand bargains with Europe and East Asia. In these bargains, the
United States will need to signal a new willingness to restrain and commit its power,
accommodate rising states, and operate within reconfigured and agreed upon global rules and
institutions.
...
Grand strategy is about setting priorities but it is
also about diversifying risks and avoiding surprises.
This is where the pursuit of a milieu-based grand strategy is attractive. The objective is to shape
the international environment to maximize your capacities to protect the nation from uncertain,
diffuse, and shifting threats. You engage in liberal order building. This means investment in
international cooperative frameworks – that is, rules, institutions, partnerships, networks, standby
capacities, social knowledge, etc. – in which the United States operates.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Three grand strategy links

Some links to grand strategy papers I've come across recently:

Strategic Leadership: Framework for a 21st Century National Security Strategy (via SWJ)

Forging a World of Liberty Under Law: U.S. National Security in the 21st Century

Why Export Democracy?: The 'Hidden Grand Strategy' of American Foreign Policy

Report on Taliban Propaganda

Here's a new report from the International Crisis Group (executive summary) on the Taliban's communications operations.

PDF: Taliban Propaganda: Winning the war of ideas:

The Taliban has created a sophisticated communications apparatus that projects an increasingly confident movement. Using the full range of media, it is successfully tapping into strains of Afghan nationalism and exploiting policy failures by the Kabul government and its international backers. The result is weakening public support for nation-building, even though few actively support the Taliban. The Karzai government and its allies must make greater efforts, through word and deed, to address sources of alienation exploited in Taliban propaganda, particularly by ending arbitrary detentions and curtailing civilian casualties from aerial bombing.

...
Out of power and lacking control over territory, the Taliban has proved adept at projecting itself as stronger than it is in terms of numbers and resources. Despite the increasing sophistication of some of its propaganda, however, it still puts out contradictory messages that indicate internal rifts and the diffuse nature of the insurgency. These reveal a cross-border leadership and support apparatus striving to present a unified front and assert control even as various groups maintain their own communications networks. Maintaining relations with transnational jihadist networks, which have a more global agenda, is a potential problem for the Taliban, which has always been a largely nationalistic movement.

A website in the name of the former regime – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – is used as an international distribution centre for leadership statements and inflated tales of battlefield exploits. While fairly rudimentary, this is not a small effort; updates appear several times a day in five languages. Magazines put out by the movement or its supporters provide a further source of information on leadership structures and issues considered to be of importance. But for the largely rural and illiterate population, great efforts are also put into conveying preaching and battle reports via DVDs, audio cassettes, shabnamah (night letters – pamphlets or leaflets usually containing threats) and traditional nationalist songs and poems. The Taliban also increasingly uses mobile phones to spread its message.

The vast majority of the material is in Pashtu, and a shortage of language skills in the international community means much of this either passes unnoticed or is misunderstood. English-language statements are relatively crude, but the Taliban is able to put out its story rapidly. More effort is devoted to Arabic language output, aimed at soliciting the support of transnational networks and funders. The overriding strategic narrative is a quest for legitimacy and the projection of strength. Use of tactics such as suicide bombings – previously unknown in Afghanistan – and roadside bombs, as well as such audacious actions in 2008 as a prison break in Kandahar city, an attack on a military parade attended by President Hamid Karzai and an assault on a five-star hotel demonstrate that grabbing attention lies at the core of operations.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Have a nice day, yeah right

I'm watching Bon Jovi on Donny Deutsch's "The Big Idea" and he's talking about his song "Have a Nice Day" and he says that Americans just listen to the chorus but it's the Europeans who listen to the lyrics and they really get the ironic message of the song. And so I looked up the lyrics and it turns out to be yet another left-wing propaganda product. I've never been a Bon Jovi fan, but it is a shame that you can't just enjoy a song anymore. Is it really necessary to push politics into every aspect of our lives?


My daddy lived the lie, it's just the price that he paid.
Sacrificed his life, just slavin' away.
...
Take a look around you; nothing's what it seems
We're living in the broken home of hopes and dreams,
Let me be the first to shake a helping hand.
Anybody brave enough to take a stand,
I've knocked on every door, on every dead end street,
Looking for forgiveness,
what's left to believe?

Not very spectacular but on TV he spoke as if there were some deeper social-political meaning to all this. That "Have a Nice Day" doesn't mean what it says, but rather the opposite. That this offers some darker vision of society and the chorus is deception. Why can't the arts just exist to explore the vast untapped realm of aesthetic possibility? Why do too many artists believe that their work must serve some political purpose? We need to rediscover aesthetics as a separate field of endeavor from politics.

It's all lies, nothing's what it seems, it's all a sham, there's nothing left to believe--whatever.

Deutsch asks him what he regrets and he says nothing everything worked out fine. So here's a guy who has been phenomenally successful and has no regrets and yet he doesn't write a song expressing his joy of life and his appreciation of a society that offered him the opportunity for great achievements and happiness. What a clown.

California Dreaming

I've been reading Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History by Frederick Merk and came across this example of a vintage 1840s information operation:

"Moreover, he [Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft ] gave Californians a suggestion as to the means by which freedom could be attained. He sent Sloat, by some conveyance not yet identified, copies of the Texas Constitution translated into Spanish, for distribution at Monterey and at San Francisco. Thus, in the season when Oregonians were being sent the President's December message and the rifles to hearten them, Californians were being offered the heady wine of the Texas compact as incentives to seek freedom.

"Commander John B. Montgomery, of the sloop of war Portsmouth, was detailed to distribute this literature to Californians. He was told:

"When on that coast you will communicate frequently with our consul in Monterey and will ascertain as exactly as you can the nature of the designs of the English and French in that region, the temper of the inhabitants--their disposition toward the U. States and their relations toward the central Government of Mexico. You will do every thing that is proper to conciliate towards our country the most friendly regard of the people of California

"When at Monterey and San Francisco you will distribute the accompanying constitutions of the State of Texas printed in Spanish.
"

What's interesting is that a republican constitution was perceived to be powerful enough to capture people's imaginations and thus could be used as part of a persuasion operation. Texas of course provided the model that many had hoped California would follow. The 19th century was a time of establishing the institutions that we now take for granted. For us a constitution is not enough. And so our idea operations have to be based on something else. What is the character of our time? What is it that we are challenged to do? How do we articulate and manifest the ideals and vision that they saw in a constitution in terms that are in harmony with our time?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Counter-jihad 2.0

Tom Barnett links to an op-ed by RFE/RL's Daniel Kimmage on countering Al Qaeda's media operations:

It’s also an indication of how a more interactive, empowered online community, particularly in the Arab-Islamic world, may prove to be Al Qaeda’s Achilles’ heel. Anonymity and accessibility, the hallmarks of Web 1.0, provided an ideal platform for Al Qaeda’s radical demagoguery. Social networking, the emerging hallmark of Web 2.0, can unite a fragmented silent majority and help it to find its voice in the face of thuggish opponents, whether they are repressive rulers or extremist Islamic movements.
...
But Al Qaeda’s online media network is also vulnerable to disruption. Technology-literate intelligence services that understand how the Qaeda media nexus works will do some of the job. The most damaging disruptions to the nexus, however, will come from millions of ordinary users in the communities that Al Qaeda aims for with its propaganda. We should do everything we can to empower them.

The most powerful means for countering radical Islamist propaganda is simply mobilizing thousands even millions of ordinary citizens using available technology to speak freely. A decentralized, leaderless, self-organizing meme-generating cacophony would overwhelm and drown out Al Qaeda's propaganda.

Kimmage points out that the efforts of authoritarian regimes to stifle Web 2.0 activity actually helps Al Qaeda and its associates by preventing alternative voices from arising.

Unfortunately, the authoritarian governments of the Middle East are doing their best to hobble Web 2.0. By blocking the Internet, they are leaving the field open to Al Qaeda and its recruiters.
...
There is a simple lesson here: unfettered access to a free Internet is not merely a goal to which we should aspire on principle, but also a very practical means of countering Al Qaeda. As users increasingly make themselves heard, the ensuing chaos will not be to everyone’s liking, but it may shake the online edifice of Al Qaeda’s totalitarian ideology.

Freedom of speech and the press whether online or off are essential tools in fighting the war of ideas. But it is not just authoritarian regimes in the Middle East who are the problem here. There is an ongoing campaign within the West to stifle free speech and press via hate crime laws, "human rights" commissions, fairness doctrines, and the PC culture that demands that individual rights should be suppressed to ensure that no one is offended. All of which makes it more difficult for us to wage the kind of open, freewheeling campaign of ideas to counter Islamist propaganda and recruitment activity. There is an appropriate role for government in encouraging some of these regimes in the Middle East that are producing many of Al Qaeda's recruits to open up internet access. But the US government also must stand by freedom of speech and press when radical Islamists and Muslim governments seek to force Western countries to abandon their hard won freedoms. Unfortunately the Bush administration has proven to be extremely weak in this area, falling back on meaningless diplo-speak in response to the cartoon jihad.

The Daily Show on cartoons

I haven't laughed so hard in a long time:

Klavan: We're a country of the imagination

Andrew Klavan on the imagination deficit:

Okay, so the Army isn’t Universal Studios. But the failures here are symptomatic of a larger imaginative deficit. From its tongue-tied commander in chief to its “information operations”—which even the military admits are regularly outdone by al-Qaida propagandists—down to the public-affairs people who deal with the local press, the military has so far been incapable of putting its urgent mission into narrative form. An insulated culture of taciturn heroism may work against them here, but there’s also the usual governmental cluelessness about dealing with the public. Even at Fort Bragg, when a sympathetic journalist—namely me—tried to get permission to join the training, I was at first given the sort of stone-faced runaround you usually associate with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Now you may say that capturing the imagination isn’t the job of our fighting forces. But this is America, remember: we’re a country of the imagination, a living state of mind. We’re not connected to one another by bloodlines or any depth of native memory. We’re the descendants of an idea that every generation has to learn to hold in its collective consciousness. More than in any other country, it matters in America who we think we are and what we believe we’re doing.

Our academies, the news media that train in the academies, and the entertainment industry that’s informed by the news media have become, to my thinking, a sort of alternative state of the imagination, a kingdom of lies founded in the muck of hysterical guilt, historical distortion, and philosophical solipsism. In their fantastic and labyrinthine narrative, our fascist foes are Nemesis, the emanation of our own sins, and therefore our military can only be the mad or foolish servants of evil.

The real story is simpler, and it should be simple enough to tell: we’re up against another generation of the ever-present enemies of the American idea, and they have to be stopped by the sort of men and women who are training at Fort Bragg.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A few books

Picked up a few used books this week:

The Far West and the Great Plains in Transition 1859-1900 by Rodman Paul
I've been wanting to find a larger overview of this time period in the West that goes beyond storytelling about cowboys and gunfighters and looks at the social, economic, political development.

Rebuilding Brand America: What we must do to restore our reputation and safeguard the future of American business abroad by Dick Martin

I'm not a big fan of the "America as brand" approach but this focuses on how businesses can contribute to changing views about America and that fits into my interest in non-governmental approaches to strategic communications.

Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History by Frederick Merk

The history of political ideas isn't always about the great philosophers. Many ideas, visions and memes come and go and have short term or long term influence and become part of the landscape of ideas. But the underlying idea of spreading the ideals, culture, and institutions of democratic republicanism had been a feature of American culture for decades before the emergence of Manifest Destiny in the 1840s and long after it faded away at the end of the 19th century. Tom Barnett's "shrink the gap" grand strategy fits in very comfortably with this longstanding meme of spreading the institutions of liberty.

Rise of the Vulcans: The history of Bush's war cabinet by James Mann

This last one I started reading and could not put down, it was very interesting. Over the past few years I've been reluctant to read some of the accounts of decision-making in the Bush administration because there are so many things that we won't know until they leave office and start writing memoirs and opening up access to documents at the presidential library etc. Plus I was skeptical that people could be objective given how contentious the politics have been over the past few years, but this book is fair and a good read.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Locke vs. Rousseau

One of my main areas of interest is in understanding the landscape of political ideas, their history and how the ideas and movements based on them have interacted and competed over time, and in getting an eagle's eye view of how they all fit together. Jonah Goldberg breaks it down into Locke vs. Rousseau:

Readers of this blog, the book or, in particular people who've heard me speak about the book at length, know that I think political philosophy, or more accurately, political visions can be boiled down to Locke versus Rousseau. The Lockean vision holds that man is the captain of his soul, that his rights come from God, the individual is sovereign, that the government exists because men of free will cede certain authorities to it in order to best protect  their lives and property.

The Rousseauian vision holds that the collective comes before the individual, our rights come from the group not from God, that the tribe is the source of all morality, and the general will is the ultimate religious construct and so therefore the needs — and aims — of the group come before those of the individual. 

Fascism, like Communism, Socialism, Progressivism and all the other collectivist isms are all based on the Rousseauian vision of the group, the tribe, the class taking precedence over the individual. 

I've also been writing for years that "transnational progressives" are trying to take the Progressive project to the world stage. This was the dream of HG Wells —originator of the phrase Liberal Fascism — who often proclaimed that FDR was the living embodiment of the "world brain." It's the aspiration of Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village, in which the logic of everything inside the village, nothing outside the village is eventually extended, in Clinton's telling,  to the global village. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Global strategic framework entrepreneurship

The transition period we are in right now offers us a unique opportunity to reform our institutions. We have the opportunity to contribute to the founding of the next liberal order, both domestically and internationally. This will require us to free ourselves from old ways of thinking and to imagine new possibilities. There are some people who see the old institutions and conceptual frameworks being challenged by new forces and perceive only some dystopian dissolution of the existing order and imagine all kinds of nightmare scenarios. But I look at our time and see endless opportunities for creativity. This is why I am drawn to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are the creators of institutions. They are innovators. Their vision of the world is one that is optimistic, one that is intentionally seeking out opportunities because they know there are opportunities to be found. In a recent post Stephen DeAngelis linked to an op-ed of his from a couple of years ago that is worth reading. One of the reasons I like reading Barnett even though I don't always agree with him is that he thinks about grand strategy like an entrepreneur and not as some bureaucrat. Perhaps we can think of DeAngelis and Barnett as "global strategic framework" entrepreneurs:

Liberal democracy, thought to be on an unobstructed roll across the globe, is under assault across a large swath of territory that stretches from Afghanistan across Africa and into Central and South America...
These are all extraordinarily complex issues, but the underlying cause for each can be traced to the same failure: lack of vision and leadership following the collapse of the global strategic framework established after the Second World War.

What we need is a new framework for an entirely different era, a vision like that provided by the Wise Men - Dean Acheson, George Kennan and others - in the late 1940s. These leaders promulgated a governing framework for dealing with the postwar "third wave" of globalization, one that led to the development of institutions (the United Nations, the World Bank, etc.) and concepts (such as mutually assured destruction) that helped establish and maintain global stability for more than 50 years. That framework and those institutions, however, no longer address today's global environment.

Today, few organizations - and this includes everything from companies to nation-states - understand how to align themselves with the times. No governing framework exists to help organizations array their resources properly. As the fourth wave of globalization unfolds, new Wise People have not yet stepped forward to create a next-generation grand ordering set of principles. Instead, today's leaders are trying to adapt old concepts and institutions to emerging challenges - which is why Western liberal democratic principles seem to be in retreat on so many fronts.

Aligning ourselves with the times requires that we recognize the unique qualities of the times. As Carl Schramm and Robert E. Litan write we are transitioning from the era of "big-firm" capitalism to the era of "entrepreneurial" capitalism. The old "third-wave" was an era of big firms, big institutions and the old "concepts and institutions" were aligned with the times resulting in the big-firm style institutions like the UN, World Bank, IMF, NATO etc. But our time, the "fourth-wave" era of globalization, is an era characterized by entrepreneurship, decentralized, bottom-up institution building and so aligning ourselves with our time will yield very different kinds of "concepts and institutions" both globally and domestically.


The central task for policymakers is to ensure that our entrepreneurial revolution continues, and that we do not revert to anything like the Big Firm economy we once had.
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Of course, government does not generate growth. But the private sector’s success, and thus the pace at which the economy advances, depends heavily on the rules, incentives, and basic infrastructure that government sets and provides.
None of our long-run challenges or the opportunities afforded by faster growth will be achieved in the future without continued innovation—new products, services, technologies, and ways of doing things. Indeed, given the challenges ahead, we submit that in each case radical innovation is called for.
A quick look back through American history reveals that many of the most important radical innovations in the past—the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, automobiles, airplanes, computers and the software that operates them, and many of our current Internet-based successes (Google, Amazon, eBay)—have been introduced and commercialized first by entrepreneurs. What all of us, regardless of our political affiliation, should want in our next presidents and in our other governmental officials, therefore, is an understanding of the need to promote policies that will best foster the entrepreneurial spirit that drives radical innovation.
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The answers that immediately come to mind are companies like Microsoft, Apple, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Oracle, and Google, firms that did not exist or were in their infancy as recently as 30 years ago. But the success of these entrepreneurial enterprises made it possible for the rest of us to change the way we live and for the firms we work for, or run, to churn out more products and services with ever fewer people.
It has not always been this way. Coming out of World War II and continuing through the late 1970s or early 1980s, the U.S. economy was very much driven by the success of large firms—Big Steel, the “Big Three” auto companies, and the old AT&T. Ours was a system of “Big Firm” or “managerial” capitalism, much like the capitalisms of Western Europe and Japan even today.
For the first quarter century after the war, managerial capitalism worked: the economy advanced, with ups and downs to be sure, at a relatively rapid annual rate of 3.5 percent. But then the economy began to run out of gas—figuratively, if not literally—once the oil shock hit. The strength of large firms, their efficiencies in mass production and enviable records in continued innovation, became their weaknesses. In a new economic environment of higher energy costs and increasing globalization, large firm bureaucracies had difficulty adapting. The Big Firms here lost ground to their overseas competitors.
We were told by some that unless we copied the industrial policies that favored large firm growth in Western Europe and Japan, we would soon lose our economic preeminence.
The pessimists were wrong. They completely missed the rise of entrepreneurial capitalism, which renewed America’s strength by ushering in the innovations that have transformed our economy. Meanwhile, the economies we were told to copy struggled.

The next generation of "Wise Men" whose ideas will establish the new institutional framework will be those who have recognized the opportunity and have taken the time to develop detailed plans and to champion them so that they are "in the air". The forces that are transforming our current order are challenging every aspect of our society. Government will probably be the last institution to change. The champions of the status quo will resist as long as they can but eventually the incompatibility of the old institutions with the needs of the times will create a crisis situation and at that point whoever is on the scene with a plan will establish the new institutions. If you want those new institutions to be aligned with your ideas and worldview, then you have become involved in their development now. Will Wilkinson:

In a complex system with countervailing interest groups, the status quo is generally a kind of relatively stable equilibrium. So more than super-marginal policy change is exceedingly difficult. However, every now and then, some kind of salient failure or breakdown in the system breaks the stalemate and people around look for new answers. The coalition that wins is going to be one that has some well-thought-out answers prepared and ready for the airwaves. That’s why it’s important to do serious work on possible policy reforms that aren’t politically feasible in the current climate. A brief “policy window” just might open up, and if you’re ready with a good idea, you might be the first one to jump through.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Today's quote: Always love your freedom

My final message is to always love your freedom, and fight for it with all you can. It is the rarest, and most precious, possession on earth. Without freedom, no other joys are meaningful; no victory is worthy; no riches are wealth; no tomorrows make a future. The right to speak and think and believe and study and work and earn and keep and buy and sell and be what you are, as you want, on your own terms, as an individual worthy to make choices, are beyond any treasures that so-called benefactors might offer you in trade. Do not let people tell you that freedom means moral chaos or poverty. This is not true. Do not let people tell you that folks in other parts of the world don’t long for freedom. This is not true. Do not let people tell you that it is all too late, and that talk of freedom is all speculation divorced from the real world. It is not true. Do not let people tell you that the Constitution is outdated, and that our lives must be governed, governed, governed, as the price for living in society. This is not true. And do not let people tell you that maturity consists of giving up your idealism, or that responsibility means giving up on your freedom, or that wisdom consists of accepting illogical arguments.

Common Sense

How the game is played:

Mr. Obama's true audacity (and accomplishment) thus far has been to rebrand liberal goals on health care and economic security as "common sense" reforms behind which all Americans can unite.

That is the key. You need to brand your ideas as "common sense" so that they just become normal beliefs that normal people hold and thus your ideas achieve hegemony. Gramsci would be proud.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Getting there...

From Mountainrunner:

Understanding the value of shaping and managing perceptions is critical today just as it was critical throughout history.  The difference is today fewer people are needed to mobilize for strategic effects, arguably making the precision and result of influence activities that much more important.  We can’t afford to ignore this or get it wrong, but then we don’t have to get it absolutely right on the first cut.  We must move ahead and realize that everyone is a strategic corporal and everything we do has information effects, some more than others.

Yes and so now that we recognize that, how to we organize, train, and implement a persuasion/influence strategy based on this?

"Each man was trying to accomplish what he knew had to be done"

Highly motivated people, who understand the objectives, are willing to take the initiative and create ad hoc organizations can achieve great things.

Pointe du Hoc, June 6, 1944:

Though the climbing of the cliffs has captured the imagination of the public, it was the manner in which the Rangers conducted themselves on reaching the top that best shows their uniqueness. Ranger tactics stressed rapid movement by small groups. From the first man up the rope, the aggressive spirit of the Ranger was demonstrated. There was no hesitancy, no waiting until all the men of their squad, platoon, or company reached the summit; as men came up the ropes, they went over the edge, formed into small parties, and moved out. An estimated twenty separate parties of Rangers quickly assembled at the top of the cliff and headed toward their objectives.

This initiative on the part of the Rangers compounded the problems for the German defense. Though not haphazardly, the Rangers were attacking everywhere. Each man was trying to accomplish what he knew had to be done. As the small groups encountered one another, they merged together, flowing inland ahead of everyone else.

From The Battalion: The Dramatic Story of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in World War II by Robert Black.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Today's quote: "Art is a means by which your experience is processed into aesthetic statement"

From one of my favorite essayists: Albert Murray: From the Briarpatch File: On Context, Procedure, and American Identity:

What you're dealing with is chaos, you're dealing with nada, you're dealing with entropy, and that's what makes the blues central to my work. The blues puts a form on you and enables you to cope with entropy.
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In your society, in your lifestyle which is based on your survival technique, there are these things that you have to come to terms with in order to have a satisfactory existence. That's how music, painting, and other art forms, for example, come into existence in a particular idiom. In the idiom I grew up in, music played a big role. Music actually functioned to enable people to survive. It is about what is around you.
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The music is a basic part of the ritual that enabled people to survive in whatever predicament they found themselves. We might be talking about a primordial tribe or another group of people here or there. Whatever the case, people would evolve something equivalent to what I am trying to establish in my writing as something symbolic of American behavior. Improvisation, frontier exploration, resilience--these are the basic elements of American behavior. One of my favorite quotations from Constance Rourke about our objective is this: "to provide emblems for a pioneer people who require resilience as a prime trait." You can't get a better definition of swinging than that. Resilience. So art symbolizes lifestyles. Dance is an art. How do they dance? They know that there is a formalized dance, but they dance a loose, resilient, improvisational dance. That's American behavior. That's why I say there is a quintessential American music. We're talking about that group of Americans who synthesize the American experience in a way that really represents the American attitude toward experience. The frontiersman, the early settler--the spirit of that is what is in jazz.