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.

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.

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