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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Great Man-History may not be bunk as Henry Ford said, but historians are

Toward the end of his presidency, Bill Clinton was looking to his legacy, or so it was reported in the press.  According to Larry Kudlow, Clinton had governed as a supply sider on the economic front.  That is not a record to warm the cockles of the hearts of his party faithful.  By many, he is remembered as the goatish fellow serviced by an intern.  What does a guy have to do to go down in history?

Bill knew what a man needed to be considered great, war.  Outside of killing a few Serbs with bombing, Clinton never had one.  Too bad for him.  His claims about balancing the budget are not going to get him on a top ten list, cause that’s the way it is.

Yup, according to historians, to be considered a great president, you have to have a war.  To really hit the big time, you need deaths.  Death and war are go together for great pres. rankings.  Not just any death, but deaths of American soldiers really gets you noticed.  According to Patton no one won a war by dying for his country.  It was making the other poor bastard die for his that did the trick.  Not if you want to build a rep as a towering figure.  First in war, is better than first in peace.

Two economists, David Henderson of the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School and Zachary Gochenour of the Department of Economics at George Mason University have studied how presidential scholars do the rankings.  Of course, everyone already instinctively knows how it works.  Remember the movie, Young Millard Fillmore? Poor sap didn’t have a war.

Henderson and Gochenour’s work is valuable as it studies the positive correlation between war and US servicemen’s death.  Now on the face of it, this might seem perverse.  The historian might answer that the rankings are deserved because the great man successfully overcame a challenge.  It is a difficult argument, and in truth, if a war is foisted on a president and he brings it to a successful conclusion, even with a high kill rate, is that not greatness?  But what if the war could have been avoided without harm to the nation.  A president who could have kept us out of war and still needlessly got us into war is the opposite of great.

The Neutralist has in other places stated that Wilson was a villain for getting us into World War I.  I’ve heard the new Hoover book makes the case that Roosevelt did us no favors by sparking our entry into World War II.  

People say, what about Lincoln?  Well, he might have made the South the offer of reducing the tariff to the level that they could have lived with.  Instead he increased it.  It may not have averted the war, but he never made it.

That is the point.  A war president could only be a truly great man if war was unavoidable.  In truth, most of our wars were wars of choice.  It says much about historians as a class that there is so much worship of men who were by a valid measure failures.

You’ll have to excuse the Neutralist, I’m working on setting up a War of 1812 re-enactor group.

Link to the Henderson paper here.

Hat tip to John Glaser at Antiwar.com.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Myth of Grand Strategy-Fabius Maximus 2006

The Fabius Maximus website is indispensable for anyone considering the problems America faces today.  The article, The Myth of Grand Strategy, was pubished in 2006.  It is just as timely today.  In fact is is of more resonance than almost anything you will see at Stratfor or similar sites.  It will be so a hundred years from now, but today its relevance comes from the fact that we are flailing about in a so called War on Terror with no resolution in sight.  Whatever our strategy is, It does not seem to grand.

After the introduction, there is a discussion of what is Grand Strategy.  We quote the following:

As one of Boyd’s closest associates, Chuck Spinney, summarized Boyd’s concept:
… grand strategy is the art of pursuing national goals in a way that improves our nation’s fitness to shape and cope with the conditions of an ever-changing international environment. A nation’s grand strategy is about its organic vitality and growth … or in Sun Tzu’s words, it is the “road to survival or ruin” over the long term.

This is not bad.  so if we were to issue a report card on our Grand Strategy since 911, what would it be graded on the standard set above.  The bogeyman OBL is gone, Al Qaeda is puported to be near gone, but the fighting them over there strategy has worked so well that Americans have to be felt up at airports.

The next section discusses Primal Grand Strategies:

We often see something like a grand strategy in the early years of some societies, when the people have a single-minded commitment to a goal, often just a drive to grow. A primal strategy is an expression of this people’s core beliefs. It is non-intellectual, with no need for theories and plans.

This could be expressed simply in terms such as Romulus did not lay out a system by which Rome would conquer the world.  It was just get these hills and go from there.  That primal drive took off, but it was not intellectualized.

The next section, Ambitious Grand Strategies – a Chimera for a Global Power discusses how, after the primal is over, a nation continues.  The attempt to recapture the primal is impossible and the result is a system that cannot succeed.  The words below summarize the problems a grand strategist faces.

It is hubris to believe that any person or small group has sufficient information to develop a plan on a global scale. There are too many complex, unknowable factors. Social factors, such as ethic and religious dynamics. Plus economic, military, and political factors. We lack the understanding to process the data into accurate patterns — a plan. That requires a science of sociology developed to the degree of modern chemistry, so that we could reliably predict results of our actions. Unfortunately sociology is at the stage of chemistry in the Middle Ages, when it was called alchemy. In fact, the yearning for a grand strategy is the equivalent to the search for the Philosopher’s Stone.

The next session discusses Barnett’s Grand Strategy.  Thomas P. M. Barnett wrote and article for Esquire an age ago in  March of 2003 outlining an ambitious grand strategy.  The article, The Pentagon’s New Map   begins,

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.

Barnet outlined a plan as to how US power would change a lot of countries.  The two we have gone into have not heralded success for his vision.  One only a fool would want to stay in and the other we snuck out of in the dead of night.

In the last two paragraphs of the section, Fabius Maximus has a good critique of the Barnett thesis.

Barnett’s vision failed in Iraq in many ways, but perhaps mostly in his assumption that they wanted to be like us. Liberating them from Saddam was good, but the recent elections demonstrate that most of the Iraqi people(s) reject our economic and cultural systems.

Is there a plan to conquer the world? Yes, of course. You could conquer the world with 150,000 men. Provided, the rest of the world wanted to be conquered. Hah. You see, it takes the cooperation of the losers. A brilliant plan that was impossible. Generals like those sort of thing.
— Death Check, page 510.

After ages of nations and empires, one would think an educated man would be incapable of writing Barnett’s article.   One wonders if Mr. Barnett has changed his mind.  That would be a sanity test.  We learn from a quick perusal of a wikipedia page about him, he still appears to be desirous of managing the world and is making a living out with a sinecure or two, if not actually doing it.

The next section, Why do Grand Strategies Fail? has a lot of common sense stuff as to why the grand vision does not work.  It is best summed up by quoting two parts,  

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.

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

So, if you’re thinking about running the world, that’s what you’re up against.

The Seventh Section is worth quoting in its entirety.

(7)  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).
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.
5.            Firmness in response to clear threats.
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.
As William Lind said, “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” (“Election Day“, 29 October 2004)

When I first read the article title, The Myth of Grand Strategy, I thought the author was suggesting that Grand Strategy does not exist.  In the sense that most ideas of Grand Strategy are not so grand, it would seem so.  At best the attempt would be better called, Big Ideas About Strategy That May Work For Awhile, But End In Failure Usually, or BIASTMWFABEIFU for short.

But, Fabius does believe in Grand Strategy, 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.

I disagree in calling what he suggests a “Grand Strategy.”  As he is suggesting, a humble policy, not a mange the world concept, it would be better called “National Strategy.”

Stretch it out a bit and one can see it fits in with a Neutralist foreign policy.  If you aren’t out there looking like a drunk in a bar and soberly are aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths, you cut down the need to get in a fight by more than orders of magnitude.  Not a bad policy for the individual as well as the country.

In the odd case where someone is coming at us absolutely unprovoked, the policy of firmness (part 5) works as well.

Harry Browne said America has a strong offense, but no defense.  That is as true today as when hes said it.  Harry said it before 911 and the event proved his point.  A Neutralist grand strategy may not mean we never have an enemy, but it will mean we would have a lot less of them.  After a number of years of not trying to be the indispensable jerk nation, maybe we can do away with some of our overwrought security theater.  Maybe do away with the department of Homeland Paranoia.  In all honesty, the Neutralist is not optimistic, but lives ever in hope.

I just wish Fabius could say the other N word.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Times have changed, World War I no longer a holy war

There was a back and forth between Humanities Professor Paul Gottfried and Sean Gabb The Professor’s started with an article at Takimag about how the Brits were anxious to start a war, and got one in the early 20th Century.

Mr. Gabb is an English libertarian and director of the Libertarian Alliance across the pond.  He admits the Brits were not blameless, but has a few points in defense.  

It was all interesting, but what struck me was how things have changed since my childhood.  I am a boomer and when TV was new, they were constantly showed old movies while they were getting up to speed on providing constant vapid programming. There were a lot of flicks shown showcasing our involvement in World War II.  There were less, but still a number doing the same for “The Great War.”  Yankee Doodle Dandy, about George M. Cohan glorifies his role in stirring up patriotism with “Over There.”  The Fighting 69th was about how a unit of New York Irish made the Kaiser Howl.  Dawn Patrol had Errol Flynn as a Brit hero.  They never showed the Gary Cooper version of A farewell to Arms though.  There was a film that was hagiographic about Wilson.

The point is, nobody then said anything against World War I.  It was a right and just crusade to make the world safe for democracy.  A war to end all wars, blah, blah blah.
How times have changed.  neither Gottfried or Gabb thinks the war was anything but stupid and US involvement mistaken.  All thinking people have to believe that their nations’s participation unfortunate at best and buffoonery at worst.

At least the Euros and claim that they drifted into the war and mistake brought mistake.  A statesman, if we could resurrect him today and ask him why he did what he did, could only give the defense I give over all my bad choices in college, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Wilson, however has no excuse.  A war an ocean away did not call us.  We dialed it up.  The question as to why he did it has only one of two answers.  Either he was the pawn of the American financial interests or he was an idiot.  Or maybe both.

That was another century.  So to our own age.  The Neutralist was of course against both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Iraq was dopey on the face of it.  As to Afghanistan, we had been wronged and were going to have a war because, well, we had been wronged.  Dr. Gottfried has the best words on the subject, writing about WWI,  “The Germans should have restrained the Austrians even after Serb agents killed Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand.”  One would think the descendants of both the Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns wish he had.  Yet to go to war probably seemed like a good or least worst idea at the time.

We shall think about Afghanistan in the same way someday.

There is the Wilson Quaterly and probably some Wilsonians, but the Wilsonian doctrine is so patently foolish, that one wonders how anyone could believe it.  Yet most everyone did.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Over at the Global Economic Anaysis blog, as usual, Mish is talking sense. As usual, no one is going to listen.

Mish Shedlock has an analysis of Ryan and Romney's fiscal and defense delusions.

When I was a boy, and TV was new, there was a perfume commercial that has stayed in my mind.  The words went, “Promise her anything, but give here Arpege.”  Change only the last word in that ad, and you have the Republican policy.  The only problem is that last word.  I was thinking that the Neutralist might have resort to  a word that should be avoided in polite company.  We have settled on mush.  Suffice it to say the Republicans are promising stuff they can’t deliver.

You remember the old headline from the Boston Globe, “Mush from the Wimp” to describe some policy of the hapless Carter administration.  Okay, maybe you don’t.  Lucky you.  For the purpose of this discussion, let us settle on a definition of Mush as some rearrangement, but no real change.  That Mr. Ryan is being villified as a scrooge is what might be expected from the Dems, but, not much will change.

The two paragraphs from Mish below say it all,

Mr. Ryan (R., Wis.), who heads the House Budget Committee, said his plan would put the U.S. on a sound economic path by spending $5.3 trillion less than Mr. Obama recommends over 10 years, resulting in a budget deficit that would be $3.3 trillion narrower.
Let's pause right there for a second. The deficit is about $1.4 trillion. If the US lapses back into a recession at any time, (something I think is highly likely) it will worsen. Cutting $5.3 trillion over 10 years, is $530 billion a year, still leaving deficit spending at $900 billion a year, not counting the odds of a recession.

Let's continue with a few more snips ...
Congressional budgets by nature lack specifics—those are provided in spending bills that come later—and this one was no different. Still, Mr. Ryan made some things clear. Most dramatically, he proposed repealing Mr. Obama's health law.

Yup, ending the healthcare law would be a dent, but even so, it would be little more than a tonsilectomy in the greater picture.  

The Neutralist is more concerned with the point Mish made about the defense budget.  House Republican budget supremo, Rep. Paul Ryan is reneging on a deal to cut $55 billion from defense.  Now this is an amount Mish accurately describes as “measly.”  We are drowning in a defense budget that is bloated enough to cause trouble in the world, but is not helping to defend the nation.

The Neutralist has not read the debate or proposals in depth.  What never seems to come up is the proper force structure of our military.  

The second part of Mish’s article is about Mitt Romney’s defense plans.  Now Mitt does have some ideas about force structure.  From what I have heard in debates and from the campaign, the Mittster’s ideas are the military needs everything and more.  Mish’s words, “When it comes to the American military, the leading Republican presidential candidates evidently only learned to add and multiply, never subtract or divide.”

The administration is planning some tiny cuts after years and years of growth.  Mitt “has staked out the “high ground” in the latest round of Republican math with a proposal to set Pentagon spending at 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That would, in fact add up to an astonishing $8.3 trillion dollars over the next decade, one-third more than current, already bloated Pentagon plans” according to Mish’s article.

This will certainly allay the fears of management at Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing who are always worried where the next meal is coming from, not.  And what will those of us who are not stockholders in defense contractors get for all this largesse? Taxes and/or deficits one would guess.

Missle defense against the non-existent Korean threat, big winner.  Nine to fifteen more ships for the navy each year.  Sadly, what Mitt and just about everyone seems to forget, the naval threat to homeland ended in 1942 at Midway.  There has been no carrier fleet since then that could challenge ours.  The Soviets built a credible submarine force, but it probably was not enough against all our ships and subs, though themissles might have burnt some cities.  So, just what are we defending against?

Again, the question is, what is the proper defense structure to defend the United States, as opposed to projecting power everywhere simultaneouly?  Calling Obama weak just because he does not throw money at the military is absurd.

Mish posits that the result of the Romney spending orgy will be two wars,

1.  A war with Iran
2  A trade war with China.

This spending should forestall an invasion from either entity.

I consider myself a low tax type of guy.  The idea that high spending and high taxes can lead to prosperity does not work.  Neither does low taxes and high spending.  Making the Pentagon an entitled welfare case in either scenario is hardly the road to fiscal sanity.

After a decade of throwing money at defense, we have little to show for it.  Some folks say the country is war weary.  Can anybody not be cynical about Romney’s campaign promises?  Whoever is Mitt’s real constituency, Mr. and Mrs. Average American, it ain’t you, Babe.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NPR, your tax dollars at war.

NPR,which is Fox News for the cool people had a show on Sunday March 14th about Syria.  The Antiwar.com blog discussed it here.  In reading John Walsh’s account, one is easily reminded of a Monty Python sketch.  John Cleese introduced three prominent dead people to debate life after death.  One is a churchman, another an atheist and I forget the third.  They were all propped in chairs.  Cleese finishes by saying words to the effect, there you are, three dead people offering no opininon, there is no life after death.

The three NPR panelists may not have been dead, or even brain dead, but they were not too lively.  There was no divergence from the party line that Syria is the biggest meany since......  Take your pick, we have had a lot of bogeymen in the last several years.

The panelists were longtime government functionaries so it would be a surprise if they said something that was not the position of one of the two parties.  There was no surprise.

The panel was hosted by NPR sinecurista, Melissa Block,  Walsh called the first guest, “the aptly named Anne-Marie Slaughter, former “director of planning” at the State Department.”  Her take,  she is for intervention the right way.  No kill zones, defensive arms.  all terms that will be meaningless once intervention actually starts.  Melissa would have at least shown herself to be something more than just a shill, if she could have mouthed the words any sane person knows are true, “Anne-Marie, you’re full of it.”  That, of course, was not on.

Next up was one of the architects of the failed Iraq policy and a failed World Bank honcho, Paul I always fail upward Wolfowitz.  He had some words, and Mr. Walsh duly noted their import, but who cares.  The management of NPR and its audience have to be vapid to give that man a listen.  Rumor has it, he hope to ascend to the chair of Saint Peter at the next Papal Conclave.

Third guy was an antiwar voice of dissent.  Nah.  Daniel Serwer is a former U.S. “special envoy” and “coordinator” for the Bosnian Federation.  He feels we should go in big time but can’t because no political will exists.  No kidding.

So no real opposition to war from the three, but the last guy having some slight connection to reality.  

One gets the feeling the difference between Fox and NPR is that Fox is fight them so they behave and NPR is fight them so they behave well.  Neither works and it is a distinction without a difference.

Update: Russian troops are reported in Syria. It will be fun to watch the commenters start saying no fair!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Nature of our Army

Maybe it is not such a good idea to enlist people to fight for a cause rather than each other or "the regiment."  Disillusionment comes eventually to those who have illusions about causes.

The words of Colonel Pat Lang, of Sic Semper Tyrannis went off like a bombshell when I read them.  He had posted about Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the NCO who killed 16 Afghan civilians.

His insight is both correct and disturbing.  Bales was ten years younger upon enlistment.  Maybe he just needed a job, but as it was just after 911 so patriotic fervor might have been at work.  Ten years later, the men who came in to right the nations wrongs have to be disillusioned.  One would guess that to have stayed so long, he would have transferred his feelings for the country to his comrades, but who knows?  Analyzing the soldier is not the purpose here.

What needs to be looked at is the nature of our force and do we want a military of patriots or mercenaries?  Our army is a mixed force.  Some do join do for love of country.  Others, because some opportunity exists.  the patriot may end up a time server or the mercenary, a devoted soldier.  the truth is, the long serving man will leave if the pay benefits are not adequate.  Get rid of the pension and put a 401k in place and see the rush for the exits.

Gibbon is often mentioning the “donatives” necessary to keep the army compliant.  the Neutralist has always thought that the semi-mercenary nature of our armed forces would be a contradiction that could not be resolved.  An imperial forces, all over the globe will have to be completely mercenary even if the patriotic fig leaf persists for a while.  You don’t really want zealots for what is just a job.
That is, if we don’t go bankrupt first.

The Neutralist has written before about our belief in the best force structure.  In the current political climate, it cannot happen.  We will never see a hair out of place on one of the Romney boys.