Why The Neutralist? The term Isolationist implies a narrow Fortress America outlook and is used as an epithet. The term Neutralist does not indicate someone hiding out from the world. No one calls the Swiss isolationists. The Wilsonian world view is old, tired and wrong. Our interventions have been less and less successful and now the failure can no longer be covered up.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Come Out of That Closet, Fab

In reading Fabius Maximus' post The Myth of Grand Strategy, it is obvious there is nothing grand about our national strategy in the world.

He quotes the late Colonel Boyd (a man who oft appears to be the patron saint of his blog) as defining grand strategy as focusing,

our nation’s actions — political, economic, and military — so as to:
• Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
• Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
• Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
• Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
• End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

One would not be remiss in thinking that we are not doing all that well on any of the above. Indeed, our great cold war victory might be explained as merely outlasting the dumbest economy that ever existed.

He then goes on to devastate the idea of an ambitious grand strategy. Thomas Barnett's esquire article The Pentagon's New Map gave a view of the hubristic FP,

LET ME TELL YOU why military engagement with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad is not only necessary and inevitable, but good. When the United States finally goes to war again in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons, or a distraction in the war on terror. Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point — the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization.

The only thing that will change that nasty environment {the Middle East} and open the floodgates for change is if some external power steps in and plays Leviathan full-time. … Freedom cannot blossom in the Middle East without security, and security is this country’s most influential public-sector export. By that I do not mean arms exports, but basically the attention paid by our military forces to any region’s potential for mass violence. We are the only nation on earth capable of exporting security in a sustained fashion … Until we begin the systematic, long-term export of security to the Gap, it will increasingly export its pain to the Core in the form of terrorism and other instabilities.

Fab's critique,

The Iraq War demonstrates the folly of Barnett’s ambitious grand strategy. We quickly floundered due to lack of accurate information. Our preconceptions, based on reports from exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi, proved erroneous. Our plans repeatedly proved specious, either unworkable or counterproductive. Our major tools, the State Department and Department of Defense, demonstrated an impressive degree of institutional incompetence.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Even more to the point,

At the end of his Esquire article Barnett lists those nations in the Gap, the “non-integrating” part of the world:

Haiti, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, former Yugoslavia, Congo, Rwanda/Burundi, Angola, South Africa, Israel-Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Indonesia.

Two Gap nations invaded (but not but not yet “integrated”), and only 16 more to go! Looking forward, he lists candidates for possible future action, the “new/integrating members of Core I worry may be lost in coming years”:

China, Russia, India.

As Carl Sagan would say, there are bil-li-ons and bil-li-ons of people waiting for us to liberate them from their culture.

Mr. Barnett is still in business as a consultant and is paid to make speeches. With Mr. Barnum's estimate of the population of his potential customers, he should be in business awhile. Oh, I know the Neutralist harps on the chickenhawk thingee, but we do not approve of someone who is okay with people dying for their vision and yet have never put themselves in that position. Suffice it to say, from his bio, it seems he has never gotten close to having to learn the joys of low crawling.
Fab then discusses,

Why do Grand Strategies Fail?

General Semantics also sees the world in terms of maps. It is a science of applied epistemology invented in 1933 by Alfred Korzybski. The “ABCs” of General Semantics explain why grand strategies tend to fail, and greater ambition increases the odds of failure.

A. The map is not the territory.

A map is an abstraction drawn from our experience and knowledge. The wider the scope of a grand strategy, the more abstract — the less granular– its map. Which makes it less reliable. Maps like Barnett’s include the world’s religions, political structures, and economies. No single person or small group has the necessary knowledge necessary to do more than a cartoon sketch of our complex and changing world; and even that will be riddled with errors.

B. The map doesn’t cover all the territory.

As Secretary Rumsfeld said so aptly, we face unknown unknowns –significant factors of whose very existence we’re ignorant. These can be like demographics, factors so large and slowly developing that they remain invisible to most of us. Or they might be of a dimension completely unknown to us, like the lead in Rome’s water and wine that robbed them of the IQ margin needed for survival.

C. The map reflects the map maker.

We all have biases, prejudices, and parochial views. These limit our ability to see and think broadly enough to shape a global grand strategy.

Nothing a neutralist would disagree with.

He then gives us a strategy that we shall annotate,

America’s Need for a Humble Grand Strategy

The point of this essay is not to compare our performance with an impossible perfect ideal, but to suggest that humility is appropriate when conceiving a grand strategy. Because, of course, we always have a grand strategy — our collective policy with respect to the external world — either by design or default. Perhaps we should consider building our grand strategy on lower, more solid ground. Consider these four principles as the foundation for our grand strategy.

1. Respect for other peoples, their values and beliefs. We speak of multiculturalism, but often act to impose our “universal values” (aka human rights). First show respect by not being near them.

2. Reluctance to use our power and awareness of our limited wisdom.

3. Defense in preference to offense.

4. Defense is inherently the stronger posture, and more appropriate for a hegemonic state like America. A kinetic and unpredictable hegemon disturbs other States — both friends and foes — exacerbating the natural tendency for other States to ally together against a it.
It will get better if we drop the hegemon pose

5. Firmness in response to clear threats. A Neutralist Foreign Policy will cut down on those threats.
We are okay with hitting back hard.

Game theory shows “tit for tat” to be the most effective strategy in many games. Our system of international law, going back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, justifies military action only in response to an attack by another state — not preemptively. The Iraq War is another lesson in the wisdom of that policy.

He quotes William S. Lind to finish,

So long as we are on the grand strategic offensive, threatening to impose our ways on every one else through military force, we will be defeated regardless of how many battles we win. Like Germany in both World Wars, we will generate new enemies faster than we can defeat old ones.

I liked his article. I just wish he would follow it to its logical conclusion and use the N (Neutralism) word.


Fabius Maximus said...

Thanks for the comments! I have a series in progress, time allowing, about the superiority of "defensive" strategies in our age. Since I first started writing about this, defensive methods have become more popular. Such as the discussion of "resilient communities" by John Robb and Project White Horse.

I agree with you, that a defensive focus is to a large degree "neutralist." This is an aspect that I have not considered, but will certainly mention in the future. Thanks for this insight!

Joseph Moroco said...

Dear Fab,

It is an honor to have you commenting here. Be assured, I monitor your sight and will watch for the defensive series.