Dan Twining (and Gvosdev and me) at USIP

I wrote yesterday about Dan Twining, the State Department official who was one of my two co-panelists at the event at USIP yesterday morning, that he made a number of points that I’d found interesting though I didn’t agree with all of them. The MP3 audio of the 2-hour event is here.
The two things Twining said that I found most thought-provoking were the following:
1. He talked quite a lot about the US’s “free-riding” allies and how the US was doing– and paying hard cash for– nearly all the heavy lifting in global policing. That’s an observation that has some validity to it from a strictly US-bounded point of view. But it points to further immediate questions. When did the rest of the world actually designate the US to be the world’s policeman? (It didn’t.) If the “burdens” of global policing were more rationally and equitably shared, wouldn’t the other burden-sharing powers demand the right to co-direct the project? Surely so. In other words, the US would thereby lose the right the Bushists arrogated to themselves of deciding who in the global system gets to be punished and who rewarded in the global system…
Actually this argument of Twining’s about “burden-sharing” also points to the deeper underlying truth, first laid out to me many years ago by my good friend the Sovietologist Mike MccGwire, to the effect that since around the end of WW-1, the “burdens” of maintaining global empires have outweighed, by an ever-increasing margin, the “benefits” to be had from ripping off the natural resources of whole countries, controlling trade routes, etc. It took the Brits a further 25 years, and the absolute draining and exhaustion they suffered during WW-2, to understand that truth; and the French and Portuguese quite a bit longer. But that was what underlay their successive retreats from empire.
The US– okay, well, the Bushist portion of the political elite– never learned that truth. (Or a bunch of other things, either?)
2. Twining talked, in a fairly satisfied way, about the growth of US relations with a whole range of countries in Asia, Africa, etc, under the Bush administration. Including, he mentioned with some satisfaction the military-to-military relations the Bushists have been building with China. I am happy to recognize and to applaud the general content of that accomplishment (though I would not really applaud the emphasis on mil-to-mil in many of these relationships.) But undoubtedly, having such relationships of cooperation, especially with potential challengers like China, is considerably better than keeping tensions high with Beijing… which had, of course, seemed to be the Bushists’ first approach, back at the beginning of their term in office, with the whole issue of the provocative flights near to Hainan Island, etc…
I was interested to read this little account on Tim Johnson’s “China Rises” blog yesterday, of a visit the US Navy aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan (!) and portions of its accompanying carrier battle group made to Beijing-controlled Hong Kong last week. Seems a typhoon arose while they were there, so for the safety of the vessels they were immediately taken out to sea to ride out the storm… but around 100 sailors had been on shore leave and got left behind.
Johnson quoted the South China Morning Post as writing about the event that some sailors woke up the next morning in whatever dive they’d slept in and wondered: “Dude, where’s my carrier strike group?” Good line, huh?
On a more serious note, though, this building of good working relations between Washington and Beijing– which has occurred at many levels, and has been a longterm project since Nixon’s momentous 1972 visit to China, interrupted mainly by the blips of 1989 and 2001– underlines the way that the current shift in the global balance is occurring. It is occurring generally without conflict, and with the rising powers playing within the “rules of the game” that were long ago established by the dominant status-quo power, the US.
This phenomenon of the global power balance undergoing a deep structural shift in the absence of armed contestation and war is quite notable. (I wrote quite a bit about it here on JWN after hearing Kishore Mahbubani make this exact point at the IIUSS conference in 2005.)
I was about to write that it’s an unprecedented way for the global power-balance to shift; but a moment’s reflection reminded me that the shift from the big colonial European powers to the US during the middle of the 20th century was similarly not accompanied by armed conflict between the status-quo and the emerging powers. It was accompanied by massive armed conflict in WW-2. That conflict ran along significantly different fault lines, but it certainly did have the effect of draining the energies and treasuries of the British and French (and thereby revealing to the publics in those countries the degree of imperial overstretch they were already engaged in, even prior to 1939); and it left US power essentially uncontested on the world scene, except by a never terribly robust– and also war-drained– Soviet Union.
This issue of power-shifts occurring in the absence of major armed conflict between the status-quo and emerging powers also relates, too, in interesting ways that I don’t have to time write about here, to one of the major points I made in my presentation at USIP, namely that the winnability of foreign wars is approaching asymptotically toward zero.
I guess that’s a fancy way of saying I think it may well already be zero but I’m not quite prepared to say that outright yet… I also need to do some further exploration of what we all mean by “winning” in war. I have explored what we mean by it with regard to Iraq, a little bit here on JWN in the past. Maybe I need to go back and re-read those two or three posts.

6 thoughts on “Dan Twining (and Gvosdev and me) at USIP

  1. JohnH

    Great discussion. If you look at winners and losers over the past few years, it’s the country with the bloated military that is suffering. Those with smaller military budgets (Europe, Japan, China) are those that are prospering. A friend who travels frequently to Poland told me last night that when he comes back to the US from Poland, he feels like he is returning to the poorer country.
    Europe may be free-loading, but the strategy has been clearly successful. And who can argue with success? Maybe the US should try balancing the federal discretionary budget by cutting military spending and seeing what happens to economic prosperity.
    Also, the most convincing argument against foreign wars is to point out the fact that the US success rate in fighting them is ZERO for the past 60 years (Korea, Vietnam, Iraq). Sure, the US whipped Trinidad and Panama, but they also left Lebanon unceremoniously (twice).
    Yet it took Iraq to show the world the limits of US hard power, something the Bushies refuse to realize. The US military can kill a lot of people and create immense destruction, but it can’t enforce the US’ will (whatever that is).
    The sad part is that the world is stuck with a Washington political elite in total denial about the effectiveness of military power, and a lot of nifty and over-priced military gadgets that need to be used so that they can buy more from the companies that prop up their regime.

  2. Bernard Chazelle

    Sorry to be harsh on Twining, Helena. But he struck me as a twit.
    It does take a certain amount of hypocrisy, ignorance, callowness, gall, nerve, chutzpah (or all of the above) for him, a Bush appointee, to lecture the Europeans on climate change and on not doing their share on “global policing.” I quote his boss: “Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.”
    The talk about democracy promotion was lovely, too. I bet he had in mind the Venezuela coup the US supported, or Mubarak, or Musharraf, or the Central Asian dictatorships we support. Why isn’t the world helping us promote democracy? Why must we doing it all by ourselves? This is comedy club material. It’s George Carlin without the bad words.
    Policing means what? Dropping bombs over Kandahar and Anbar? Is that what he means by global policing? Since he called himself a Middle East expert, he is no doubt aware that the US has not been policing much of anything in the region (Doha? Hamas truce, Turkish-mediated Israel-Syria track, etc). Who’s been doing the heavy lifting there? Not his boss, that’s for sure.
    Then he talks about Asians clamoring for more US leadership. Maybe he should step out of the US embassy in Beijing and talk to real people. I was in China two months ago and I can tell you that the last thing they want is more US leadership. I go to Japan, South Korea, and Thailand regularly and I hear the same refrain. Only in India do they seem not yet entirely fed up with us.
    His boss has successfully turned the US into a pariah and a rogue nation, and this little twit whines about burden sharing… Funny, indeed.
    But I am sorry that got me distracted. Helena was a welcome voice of reason in that panel. More power to her.

  3. Don Bacon

    1. The US doing “nearly all the heavy lifting in global policing?” With police like the US, who needs criminals? Perhaps some of the four million displaced Iraqis, and the poor souls who have been subjected to US rendition, detention and torture would have a different view.
    But what should we expect from Twining? “From 2001-4, he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator John McCain and was his legislative aide for defense and foreign affairs from 1997-2000.”
    2. US foreign relations, as you suggest, is now predominately the purview of the Pentagon. One can cite any number of cases where this is true, from China to Africa to Iraq. For example, in Iraq the US has been fighting resistance forces for over five years. While Pentagon doctrine states that political factors have primacy, and may account for as much as four-fifths of the struggle, and they were a primary objective of the “surge,” it is Petraeus not Crocker who calls the shots (literally). The US State Department on Iran (through Burns, now departed) was merely a denigrator of Iran, and there has been no diplomacy. In Africa we see the new AFRICOM and the US Navy trying to establish mil-mil relations.
    Bernard is seldom wrong. Twining is a whiny jerk.

  4. Don Bacon

    Bush on victory (Nov 30, 2005):
    Victory will come when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq’s democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.
    Bush also said in this speech that the primary enemy in Iraq were ordinary Iraqis, but in this quote he has Iraqis threatening democracy while they are in need of security. This is typical of the twisted government logic which is seldom questioned by the stenographic media.
    Essentially, victory has gone undefined because the real objective is everlasting war and immense profits, both of which are being realized while the US Sate Department babbles. If the SecState talks, and nobody listens, is there a sound?

  5. bevin

    For Trinidad read Grenada?
    As to Twining: reason #987 not to vote for McCain
    “Former aide Dan Twining is in line for a big job in the State Department, if he can find it on a map.”

  6. JohnH

    Yes, Grenada. My mistake. An even less impressive US victory. Grenada is a major exporter of nutmeg, and has a population of around 100,000.

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