Category Archives: Strategic studies

Mike MccGwire on the Iraq war

One of my dearest friends and most esteemed mentors in the field of strategic studies is Mike MccGwire, a veteran analyst of (then-)Soviet military affairs who started out life as an officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. Or maybe His Majesty’s Navy, since MccGwire is now 85 years old.
I’m on a brief visit to England, and today I had the immense pleasure of going down to the MccGwires’ home in southern Dorset to visit Mike and his wife Helen. He always makes such good, succinct sense. We talked a little about the mega-lethal debacle of the US-led invasion of Iraq. One of his judgments ran something along these lines: “It was doomed to fail, anyway. Cheney wanted to use it to project a fearsome threat against Iran, along the lines of ‘Look, see, this is what you’ll be facing very soon.’ That involved pummeling Iraq very hard; pulverizing it. But Wolfowitz wanted it to be a little island of pro-American democracy in the region; an example of a completely different sort to the whole region. Their goals were at complete odds with each other.”
He also said, with his characteristic air of amazement, that he couldn’t understand why, whenever the American government is faced with a tricky problem on the international scene, “Its first instinct is to reach for the gun.”
Anyway, it was great to see him. Sorry this is all I have time to blog tonight.

The Year of the Ox II

First, going back to the year of the Golden Snake (nothing personal, George) — April 26, 2001:

    REPORTER: Do we have an obligation to defend the Taiwanese?
    GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes we do. And the Chinese must understand that. Yes I would.
    REPORTER: With the full force of the American military?
    GEORGE W. BUSH: Whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself.

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Why A Military?

Government programs normally have an objective, a goal. There are funded programs to educate children, help the elderly, provide housing for the poor, build bridges and highways, etc. These programs normally have recognized, specific goals and are funded commensurate with the goals.
The government also has programs to provide security. Currently “homeland security” is a program to secure the ports and borders of the country, and there is also a program, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, as much as all other countries on the planet spend combined, to provide what are called conventional military forces.
The question is, do these very expensive military programs have an objective, a goal?

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Divide and Conquer

Success in foreign affairs, where domination is the goal, is often accomplished withn a divide-and-conquer strategy.
Conn Hallinan, 2004:

    It was “divide and conquer” that made it possible for an insignificant island in the north of Europe to rule the world. Division and chaos, tribal, religious and ethnic hatred, were the secret to empire. Guns and artillery were always in the background in case things went awry, but in fact, it rarely came to that.
    The parallels between Israel and Ireland are almost eerie, unless one remembers that the latter was the laboratory for British colonialism. As in Ulster, Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories have special privileges that divide them from Palestinians (and other Israelis as well). As in Ireland, Israeli settlers rely on the military to protect them from the “natives.” And as in Northern Ireland, there are political organizations, like the National Religious Party and the Moledet Party, which whip up sectarian hatred, and keep the population divided. The latter two parties both advocate the forcible transfer of all Arabs — Palestinians and Israelis alike — to Jordan and Egypt.

And in Iraq, there was the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006.

    The world-famed Golden Mosque, a Shiite religious shrine located in Samarra, Iraq, was bombed Feb. 22. The mosque’s golden dome was blown off in the explosion, which touched off a round of Sunni-Shiite discord across the country.

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Israel, deterrence, and self-referentialism

Israeli leaders and analysts have proclaimed that one of the main goals of the ghastly, extremely inhumane war on Gaza was to “restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence”– a credibility that had, they felt, been badly damaged by the outcome of the 33-Day War against Hizbullah in 2006.
But some influential Israelis, it now turns out, have a very weird and self-referential understanding of what “deterrence” is. It turns out that their version of deterrence has much more to do with their own machismo or testosterone level than it does with the attitudes or feelings of non-Israeli others who are or might become their opponents in war.
In traditional strategic thinking, deterrence is quintessentially a phenomenon that is interactive between two parties: I succeed in deterring you from attacking me if I am able to convince you that if you should do so, the retribution I would enact on you would make you far worse off than ever; and therefore, you decide not to attack me.
It is hard to absolutely prove the existence of successful deterrence, since government decisionmakers are understandably reluctant to admit openly either that they have been deterred in the past from taking actions that they might otherwise have taken or, more importantly, that they remain susceptible to such deterrent pressure in the present and the foreseeable future. (So yes, there is an element of machismo– or more simply, face-saving– involved in that reluctance of the deterree to admit to having been or still being deterred.)
But the reciprocal deterrence between the world’s two hyper-nuclear-armed ‘superpowers’ was the central strategic fact of the Cold War. During those decades it provided a degree of strategic stability to what otherwise would likely have been a chaotic, violent, and possibly speciescidal era. And luckily, as the decades of the Cold War progressed, strategic thinkers and national leaders in both the US and the USSR became increasingly able to think about, map, and even talk with each other about the– necessarily interactive— psychological dimensions of the whole phenomenon of strategic deterrence.
But now, inside Israeli society’s extremely self-referential little bubble of a political elite, a whole new understanding of ‘deterrence’ seems to have been incubating. I first got wind of this when I was reading a report from Israel in The Economist in London yesterday, in which the as-always-anonymous Economist reporter wrote this about the Gaza war:

    In the short term, the [Israeli] government claims already to have restored its deterrent power. Favourable sentiment in the southern towns under rocket fire and among the reservists massed along the border bears this out.

Excuse me? The attitudes of Israelis being used as evidence about the restoration of Israel’s deterrent power? Um, Economist-people, deterrence has to do with affecting the attitudes of those others who are or might be your adversaries, not with affecting your own attitudes…
Well, I thought maybe it was just that reporter (or her or his editors) getting sloppy on a fast-moving story. And yes, there certainly seems to have been editorial sloppiness or at least deep ignorance involved there. But perhaps the reporter was picking up something significant in the Israeli zeitgeist within which she or he moves. Because today, in the NYT, Steven Erlanger wrote this:

    While the details are debated and the dead are counted, a critical long-term issue is whether the Gaza operation restores Israel’s deterrent. Israel wants Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Arab world to view it as too strong and powerful to seriously threaten or attack. That motivation is one reason, Israeli officials say, for going into Gaza so hard, using such firepower, and fighting Hamas as an enemy army.
    The answer will not be known for many months, but the key to the Muslim world’s reaction is actually that of the Israeli public, said Yossi Klein Halevi, of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies in Jerusalem. “The Arabs take their cue from Israeli responses,” he said. “Deterrence is about how Israelis feel, whether they feel they’ve won or lost.”
    Mr. Halevi cited the 1973 war — which Egyptians celebrate and Israelis mourn, though it ended with a spectacular Israel counterattack — and the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
    Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, apologized for the 2006 war on television, “but he quickly reversed himself to declare a wonderful victory when he saw the Israeli public declaring defeat,” Mr. Halevi said.

This quote is so revealing! According to Halevi, Arabs have little agency or cognitive capability of their own, but are completely reliant on “getting their cues” from Israel… So if they see Israelis feeling downhearted and defeated, Arabs will feel strong and undeterred, whereas if they see Israelis feeling strong and self-confident they will be fearful and deterred…
It is all about Israel! It is all about Israelis being able to feel machismo, strutting their stuff as they watch the smoldering ruins of Gaza schools and mosques and watch sad Gaza families counting their dead and tending their wounded.
I shan’t even dwell on the moral sickness of such attitudes. I’ll just point out that if Israelis really do believe that their deterrent capability is only a matter of how they themselves feel about the world, then they are are being sorely mislead.
This business about Nasrullah “apologizing for the 2006 war” that Halevi raises is another non-trivial canard that has drifted into the Israeli discourse in recent months.
First off, it’s important to note that Nasrullah was not for a moment apologizing to the Israelis for Hizbullah’s actions during the war as a whole. He was apologizing to the Lebanese people for the error of tactical judgment he made when, as he said, he and his advisers had not expected that their cross-border POW-capture operation of July 12, 2006 would spark such a truly disproportionate and damaging Israeli response. But at a broader operational/strategic level, Hizbullah proved itself quite able to respond to and withstand the Israeli blitzkrieg unleashed on July 12 and emerged with its core strategic goal of preserving the organizational integrity, independence, and counter-strike capability of the Hizbullah movement well realized.
As I wrote here shortly after that war, the war had been about two things: firstly, the desire of each side to “restore” the credibility of the deterrent it projected toward the other side, and secondly, the desire of the Israeli (Olmert) government to win a significant change in Hizbullah’s political and organizational standing inside Lebanon. In the first of those contests, both sides won— in that each was in fact able to reassert the credibility of the deterrent it projected toward the other. But in the second contest, Israel failed, since it had had the ‘transformational’ political goal in Lebanon, which it failed to realize.
The underlying durability of the mutual even though highly asymmetrical form of deterrence that was re-established between Israel and Hizbullah in 2006 is the explanation why the Israel-Lebanon front never heated up during this latest Gaza war. Both sides were presumably active and attentive, to make sure it didn’t. Both sides had something of value to lose in the event that it had opened up. The mutual deterrence relationship held.
So what, now, of Gaza?
Do Israelis feel jubilant and invulnerable? Maybe so.
But is that good for peace?
Do Gazans feel extremely sad and to some extent “defeated”? I am sure they feel very, very sad. But I doubt if they feel “defeated” in the way Halevi and many other Israelis would like them to feel. There is, after all, very little evidence that any of the following has happened:

    1. The Hamas leadership has been destroyed.
    2. The Hamas leadership has surrendered.
    3. Hamas’s rocketing capabilities– primitive though they are– or its capacity to build more rockets, have been destroyed.
    4. Gazans and other Palestinians have started to turn against Hamas

The latest news is that Hamas has announced that it will observe a one-week cessation in hostilities, in response to Israel’s announcement yesterday of a unilateral ceasefire, and with the expectation from the Hamas side that during this coming week all the IDF troops who reinvaded Gaza during the past three weeks will withdraw.
The situation on the ground has improved somewhat today after Israel and Hamas started holding their fire, and after at least some of the IDF troops in Gaza started withdrawing.
But the Gaza situation remains very tenuous indeed. The ceasefire has been essentially un-negotiated, and as I blogged yesterday important elements of it have yet to be agreed.
Today Condi Rice, most of whose previous actions regarding this war have been extremely unhelpful, finally made a statement that looks fairly constructive.
Here’s the report of what she said,

    “The goal remains a durable and fully respected ceasefire that will lead to stabilization and normalization in Gaza,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after Israel called off its three-week offensive in the area.
    “The United States commends Egypt for its [mediating] efforts and remains deeply concerned by the suffering of innocent Palestinians,” she added. “We welcome calls for immediate coordinated international action to increase assistance flows and will contribute to such efforts.”

So now, let’s hope the ceasefire does get made a lot more durable over the days ahead– and that this can help pave the way not just to the “normalization” of the situation in Gaza but to the speedy securing of a final-status peace Israel and all its Arab neighbors.

Israeli analysts prepare next war against Lebanon

In the latest issue of its quarterly journal, Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) carries two (or three) articles debating in some depth whether– in the event of a new war against Lebanon that one writer describes as “inevitable”, Israel should actively target institutions and facilities of the Lebanese state, or just “restrict” itself to targeting Hizbullah.
The plainest case for targeting Lebanese national institutions directly is argued in The Third Lebanon War: Target Lebanon (PDF), by Maj.-Gen. (Retd) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser to PMs Sharon and Olmert and before that head of the IDF’s planning and operations branches.
A more nuanced view– but one that concludes that launching a large-scale, and possibly also lengthy, ground operation in Lebanon is “inevitable”– is argfued by Yossi Kuperwasser in The Next War with Hizbollah: Should Lebanon be the Target? (PDF). Kuperwasser is a former head of the IDF’s intelligence research division.
Now, I understand that it’s the job of planners within the active-duty military to “plan for the worst.” But it’s fairly depressing that a publication that aims at a broad portion of the international political elite should give so much space to people making arguments completely based on the premise that Israel “has no alternative” but to go to war against Lebanon (or Hizbullah) sometime in the (possibly near) future. In addition to those two technical-military articles, the issue also contains one by Israeli exerts arguing– especially in light of Israel’s experiences during the 33-day war of 2006– that Israel should spearhead an attempt to get the laws of war changed to be more in its favor. (Surprise, surprise.)
Nowhere in this journal is there any hint that actually, within the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace settlement, there is a strong scenario whereby Israel might never “need” to go to war against Hizbullah or Lebanon ever again. (Ah, but if there’s not a salutary little war from time to time, how on earth can all the Israeli military companies that these men doubtless consult profitably with, ever keep their sales and profit figures up?)
Actually, the arguments both men make are really weak. They exhibit strategic short-sightedness, tactical idiocy, and severe historical airbrushing (mendacity.) Perhaps that’s because they’re writing here for an “international”, English-language audience that they expect– based on the rock-star welcome they get in most US think-tanks– will ignore the facts and just lap up every word that they write?
Strategic shortsightedness: Neither Eiland nor Kuperwasser can provide a convincing answer to the question, “Yes, but then what?” regarding all their arguments about how (not whether) to fight another war against Lebanon.
In his piece, Eiland makes a couple of arguments. He notes that Hizbullah has become stronger within the Lebanese state than it was at the time of the 33-day war. (Note, though, that he completely fails to explain that it was precisely the ferocity of the assaults Israel made on Lebanon during that war that spurred, that outcome…) So he concludes from that that, to fatally weaken Hizbullah it will be necessary to damage the Lebanese state a lot, too.
He also argues from the “precedent” of the massive, destructive campaign Sharon waged against the PA in June 2002. He writes that there, the real target was Hamas, but Hamas had won a lot of support from the PA, which had strong political support from the west.
“The US sanctioned an Israeli operation against Hamas,” he writes,

    but had a hard time accepting the operation as Israel planned it – an operation against the Palestinian Authority.
    The US at first demanded that Israel leave all West Bank cities (area A) within forty-eight hours. Notable Israeli steadfastness maintained that this time it was impossible to return to the familiar rules of the game whereby only the terrorists are targeted, and the sponsors (the Palestinian Authority) remain immune. Israel’s firmness, which stemmed from a lack of other options, was successful. Israel had to concede on one matter only, stopping the siege of the muq’ata in Ramallah, home to Arafat at the time. On the other hand, the new policy (Israeli control over all Palestinian areas) was well received and commended by the international community.

So, he writes, it would probably be similar with an attack on Lebanon. The “west” might complain a bit at first… but “Israeli firmness” in pursuing its own goals would win the day and even become “well received and commended” by the international community.
His conclusion:

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah. Such a war will lead to the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population. There will be no recurrence of the situation where Beirut residents (not including the Dahiya quarter) go to the beach and cafes while Haifa residents sit in bomb shelters.
    Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behavior more than anything else…

Yes, Gen. Eiland, but then what??
So Israel succeeds in completely or substantially destroying the entire physical infrastructure of the state of Lebanon… (Assuming that the post-2008 model “international community” allows it to do this, which I actually doubt.)
And then what?
Israel has a failed state on its northern border and substantial portions of the international community up in arms… And that’s going to “solve” your Hizbullah problem, how?
I believe that Gen. Eiland is urging coordinated use of air and ground force attacks against Lebanon. In which case we could assume that the ground troops might be in control of substntial chunks of Lebanese territory.
Which takes us Back to the Future! Israeli troops bogged down in Lebanon, for 22 long years after 1978, 18 years after 1982.
The very conditions that created and incubated Hizbullah in the first place.
Why should anyone buy your crazy, inhumane, and go-nowhere arguments?
And then there’s Gen. Kuperwasser, who is much more explicit about the need for the “large scale ground operation” in Lebanon, even if he questions whether all the facilities of the Lebanese state as such should be targeted along the way.
Here’s what he writes about the ground op that he argues for:

    If there is another round between Israel and Hizbollah, Israel will not be able to make do with standoff counter attacks on Lebanese targets, and will probably have to launch a large scale ground operation. While Hizbollah will be able to exact a not inconsiderable cost from Israel for such an operation, the IDF has the ability to take control of the organization’s operational territories in southern Lebanon, including north of the Litani River, and if necessary, also in Beirut and the Bek’a valley. Such an operation, together with inflicting damage on infrastructures that serve Hizbollah, is the only one that will stop the firing, create a new reality in the field, and enable examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.

So, you “stop the firing” of Hizbullah’s rockets onto northern Israel. Okay. And you “create a new reality in the field”… which is one in which Israel is left in control of very large chunks of Lebanese territory…
And then what?
(See my note about the IDF’s post-1978 and post-1982 occupations of south Lebanon, above.)
All Kuperwasser tells us about the political-strategic goal to be sought through this operation is “examination of the possibility of establishing a different arrangement with regard to relations between Israel and Lebanon in general and the Shiite community in particular.” Whatever that means. May 17 agreement, anyone?
These guys are strategic-thinking kindergartners, honestly.
Regarding their tactical skills, they don’t seem much better, either. Eiland writes,

    There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hizbollah.

Yeah, well. The military planning required to prevent a war (through deterrence) is quite different from that required to fight one. Actually, Eiland doesn’t seem terribly interested in trying to prevent the next “Lebanese War,” at all. Only, perhaps, the one after that. (See note on the Israeli military industries, above.)
And then, from Kuperwasser we have this truly hilarious and ahistorical explanation of how “the next war” against Lebanon that he favors could actually work out, politically, to help realize the fuzzily defined political-strategic endpoint that he seeks:

    the Israeli goal might be to weaken Hizbollah and strengthen the moderate parties in Lebanon, while damaging the organization’s ability to rehabilitate itself and continue controlling southern Lebanon and presenting itself as the defender of Lebanon, similar to Israel’s strategic objectives in the Second Lebanon War (even if they were not explicitly defined as such). Other objectives in this context could be strengthening moderate elements in the regional system and increasing Israeli deterrence, in part to increase the chances of achieving a favorable peace treaty with Syria and to weaken the extremist elements in the Palestinian system.

Note how he’s effortlessly adopted the misleading and content-free US label of “moderate” to describe what are, actually, pro-US forces within Lebanon. But then see how he is advocating an almost exact replay of what the Israeli leadership attempted to do in 2006: Namely, to attack Lebanon’s civilian state facilities with the aim of turning as many Lebanese as possible against Hizbullah… while “strengthening” Israel’s general deterrent p;ower throughout the region.
It backfired badly in 2006, didn’t it?
Why on earth should anyone assume it might work better next time?
And this brings me to the whole question of these two mens’ extreme historical airbrushing (mendacity).
Actually, from Willem Buiter, I just learned a new word that’s very handy in this context: Publikumsbeschimpfung, which means insulting the intelligence of your audience.
Both Eiland and Kuperwasser insult our intelligence primarily through their reliance on a crucial but completely false assumption about the 33-day war, namely that Israel did not, actually, target any non-military facilities pertaining to the Lebanese state during that war, and, by clear implication, that that very ‘restrained’ approach to warfighting helped deny Israel the victory it could otherwise have won. But just look at the record of that war, including both the roster of the sites that Israel attacked during it– road systems, bridges, civilian factories, a power station– and the extremely bellicose statements from military and political leaders spelling out that “Once it is inside Lebanon, everything is legitimate“, “we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years,” etc.
So Eiland and Kuerwasser are asking us to forget all that… Asking us to forget, too, that Israel’s use of massive overkill tactics against Lebanon backfired badly in [’06, and that after 33 days of assaults they were still unable to impose their will on the Lebanese people or their political system.
This, though the war occurred less than 30 months ago.
Publikumsbeschimpfung, indeed. (Taking the public for chimps, perhaps?)
At one level, I suppose we could read these two guys’ fevered and ill-informed writings as further evidence– if evidence still be needed– of the sterility of what passes for Israeli strategic “thinking” in the present era. After all the INSS, formerly the Jaffee Center, is not chopped liver. It’s the flagship of Israeli strategic-affairs think-tanks.
The problem for these guys, and for all their counterparts in the military-industrial complex throughout the western world is that the world has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Foreign wars have become just about unwinnable. Israel’s performance in Lebanon in 2006 is Example A in that regard. They had overwhelming superiority over Hizbullah at every single step on “the escalation ladder.” But still, they were unable to achieve their strategic goals!
So if foreign wars are unwinnable, then people– taxpayers, conscripts’ families, and others– might soon start to ask, “Why wage them? And why invest such a lot of our country’s treasure in the military industries that help us prepare for them?”
But if that were to happen, what on earth would happen to the military industries and their hordes of nicely paid consultants??
A problem, I think, not just for Israel but also for the US, Britain, and the rest of NATO…
But here’s the good news: There are many, many better ways to resolve conflicts and address fears of insecurity than through war.,

Realism, war, and pacifism

Is pacifism the new Realism? Or is Realism the new pacifism? I’ve been toying with both arguments for a while now, including back in June when I made the first of them in connection with the panel discussion I did at USIP on ‘Foreign Policy and the next US administration.’ That was linked to my growing, evidence-based conviction that foreign wars have been become growingly unwinnable.
Okay, so then came the Russian-Georgian War. Russia to a great extent (though not wholly) “won” that war. So if we judge that Georgia is “foreign” for Russia–as by and large I think we must– then they had waged a foreign war and won it.
(Some Russians might perhaps argue that Georgia is not actually foreign for them, and/or that they engaged in the war to save the lives of the Russian citizens– both Ossetians and Russian peacekeeping troops– who were getting badly attacked in Ossetia. Neither is a trivial argument, but on balance I don’t think either of them holds up sufficiently.)
What is much more the case, it seems to me, is that long-distance foreign wars have become very nearly or wholly unwinnable. I argued one part of this when I blogged about ‘The Return of Geography’, a couple of weeks ago.
I would like to note now, though, that some of the most serious and cautious thinking about the Georgia-Russia war– as, earlier about the US invasion of Iraq– has come from pillars of the Realist and “Old” (paleo-)conservative movements in the United States. That, while Obama and many other Democrats have been bending very strongly toward a McCain-like level of pro-Georgian partisanship and anti-Russian outrage over the whole Georgian issue– and while Obama and many other Democrats have been worryingly belligerent in arguing for escalations of US force deployment and use in Afghanistan and also against Pakistan..
In this recent article (PDF, and registration required) in The American Conservative the paleocon former CIA officer Philip Giraldi wrote candidly that,

    The fighting between Georgia and Russia is yet another foreign-policy disaster in which Washington might have encouraged a war where there was no conceivable American interest. It is also, by all accounts, the latest intelligence failure…

(He also wrote that when the Russians invaded, the 130 US military advisers– serving soldiers and DOD-financed contractors– who were in Georgia immediately regrouped to Tbilisi, while the many US-paid Israeli mercenaries working as ‘trainers’ there were evacuated back to their country so rapidly “that they abandoned their classified training manuals.”)
Giraldi’s piece is well worth reading. We should remember, too, the excellent and very constructive role that he and other paleocons have played for some years now in running the Antiwar website and making other contributions to the battle of ideas against neocon militarism.
In that same issue of The American Conservative Pat Buchanan’s take-down (PDF, registration also required) of McCain’s lead foreign-policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann is also worth reading. Scheunemann is the same man who, as a well-paid lobbyist for Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili, has had as one of his primary missions the winning of US support for Saakashvili’s reckless war venture into South Ossetia.
Buchanan doesn’t mince his words when he writes about Scheunemann:

    He is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man…
    Scheunemann came close to succeeding. Had he done so, U.S. soldiers and Marines from Idaho would be killing Russians in the Caucasus and dying to protect Scheunemann’s client…
    Now Scheunemann is the neocon agent in place in McCain’s camp. The neocons got their war with Iraq. They are pushing for a war on Iran. And they are now baiting the Russian Bear. Why would McCain seek foreign-policy counsel from the same discredited crowd that has all but destroyed the presidency of George W. Bush?

It is possible to argue that Buchanan and his colleagues at The American Conservative are more paleocon than they are ‘Realist’… and that perhaps their flavor of paleoconservatism comes with more than a dash of isolationism. (Though compared with the bellicose zeal of the neocons and their friends among the liberal hawks, isolationism looks like a distinctly preferable alternative these days.)
So the main place where Washington’s Realists hang out is at, guess where, the Nixon Center. And there, too, there has been some good, solid thinking going on about the Georgia crisis. For example, in this (Word doc) testimony that Center director Paul Saunders delivered to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe September 10, he shared the following lessons:

    First, the Bush Administration has profoundly over-personalized U.S. relations with Georgia…
    Second, U.S. officials must be much more careful when and how they put American credibility on the line…
    Thirdly, it is now clear that Russia’s commitment to and interests in Georgia and other former Soviet Republics along its southern frontier exceed our own… [Return of Geography, anyone?]
    Fourth, we should learn a powerful lesson about “precedents” and “vetoes”. American officials and others argued vociferously that NATO military action against Serbia without approval of the United Nations Security Council, and American and European recognition of Kosovo’s independence without Serbia’s consent, did not establish a precedent because Kosovo was a unique case. The problem with this is that we are not in charge of what others interpret as a precedent. We decide on our national interests, the best policies to advance them, and the best arguments to explain them. We don’t get to decide how others see what we do or how they decide to respond…
    Finally, we should remember what NATO did right during previous rounds of enlargement: insist that prospective new members resolve internal problems with their ethnic minorities…

Well, there’s a lot more good sense in Saunder’s testimony, as well. And I see that The National Interest, which is the Nixon Center’s flagship publication, has a lot of other good analysis of the Georgia crisis, too.
So what I want to note here, firstly, is that all this good sense from the Realists is pushing clearly toward a much less belligerent and more diplomacy-focused policy toward Russia than either McCain or Obama is currently espousing. Secondly, I’d note that many of these same people were also against the invasion of Iraq, back in the day.
Historically, in this country, the ‘Realists’ have been people who took a big-picture look at the balance of power in world politics and argued for robust– often very belligerent– action by the US government, using all its many levers of power, in order to maximize a version of “the US national interest” that was chauvinistic and was generally dominated by the interests of US corporations, not necessarily the US citizenry.
Looking at the “global balance of power” in the way they did most often meant that they respected the traditional, post-Westphalian view of national sovereignty, which is more or less that whatever a government does inside its own country is its own business and not that of anyone else.
The neocons and their allies among the liberal hawks broke clean away from that view, arguing that the US could and should use all the elements of its national power (including, if necessary, military power) to end dictatorships and to “bring” human rights to populations formerly denied them.
How “rights” could ever meaningfully be “brought” to long-oppressed populations by outsiders, and on the tips of cruise missiles, was a conundrum they never satisfactorily solved.
Personally, having lived for six years in a situation of active war, in Lebanon, I have quite a bit more sympathy with the Westphalian model than most of my colleagues in the western rights movement. I have seen at first hand the degree to which warfare is itself a massive motor for the abuse of the rights of all persons living in its path. The idea that westerners might fairly easily go to war in an effort to improve the rights situation of others is one that could only be dreamed up in salons thousands of miles distant from any actual war zone.
Also, though it is true that, under the Westphalian model, there are high “walls” of sovereignty around each country that protect the ability of dictators to carry on oppressing the subjects trapped behind them, throughout history those walls of sovereignty have also– much more significantly– protected the ability of settled and more liberal-minded populations to progress toward greater democracy, and respect of human rights, without the various despots who were their neighbors having any recognized “right” to intervene to abort their liberal project. Too many of the neocons and liberal hawks have forgotten that aspect of Westphalia’s history.
So personally, I see some things of value in the position of the Realists– historically, and even more so today, when the raw pragmatism and respect for empirical ground truth that underlie their approach has brought them to a situation of extreme caution in their attitude toward war.
So maybe pacifism is becoming the new Realism, as well as the other way around?
I think what my form of Quaker pacifism adds to the traditional Realist way of looking at things, though, is that it adds a commitment to caring about and according equal respect to every one of the world’s people, not just those who happen to be my compatriots, and a commitment to undertaking the kinds of nonviolent mass actions and other nonviolent initiatives that by themselves, without the use of arms, can actually transform political realities towards a greater respect for everyone’s rights.
I like to think that these are very pragmatic, or one could even say ‘Realist’, ways to look at the world, too…

Defining ‘winning’

I’ve been writing quite a bit recently about war and its unwinnability. I’ve been thinking a lot more about this, and I want to clarify that in those writings I was referring primarily to wars being won or not won in the traditional military sense of “winning”– that is, that the victorious country is able to either destroy or defeat (that is an important distinction, right there) the armed forces of the opposing side and thereby to impose its own political will on the defeated country.
It is that “thereby” that seems increasingly– or perhaps in some cases, completely– unattainable these days.
Destruction– yes, that has certainly occurred. In Iraq in 2003, the Saddam-era armed forces were first defeated and then completely disbanded. In Lebanon in 2006, the Israelis were never able to destroy Hizbullah– but they were able to sow massive amounts of destruction on the country’s vital infrastructure, including on an entire, quite sizeable chunk of the South Beirut Dahiya.
But despite* that level of destruction, Israel was unable to defeat Hizbullah– which it had sought to achieve by imposing its will on the government of Lebanon, and forcing Beirut to crack down on Hizbullah.
And in Iraq in and since 2003, even though the US was able to defeat and enitrely disband the Saddam-era armies it has still been incapable of imposing its will on the Baghdad government.
So traditional, military kinds of victory have not been attainable in these two cases.
That’s why I want to shift the policy discussion to a different, much richer and more human-centered definition of “victory”. This is one that would flow quite naturally from the principles of human security, which include, crucially, the two principles that:

    1. True security in the modern age is people-centered, rather than addressing the needs/desires of nation states to defend their territory against aggression from outside (or from competing national claims to the same terrain,) and
    2. The human security of all the peoples of the world is interdependent: increasing the human security of any one group of people increases the human security of all others; and decreasing the human security of any one group decreases the security of all others. That is, unlike in the traditional, “nation-state” model of security, human security is a matter of win-win synergies, rather than a zero-sum game.

Therefore, to “win” in human-security terms in Iraq or Afghanistan would involve looking primarily at the human security situation of the Iraqi and Afghan peoples, and certainly not at the narrow national interests of any outsiders. And if the human security situation of the peoples of those two countries can be significantly and durably improved, then that helps increase the true security of everyone else, from close neighbors to people in distant countries like Europe or the United States.

    (By the way, I wanted to provide a link here to the 2003 final report of the UN’s “Commission on Human Security.” But it looks as though someone forgot to renew the Commission’s domain name, http://www.humansecurity-chs.org/, so you can’t find it there any more. Can anyone tell me where else this report might be lodged and thus available to the web-prowling public?… Update August 1: Thanks to commenter Charles Cameron who told us that the text has been archived here. It’s a pretty large PDF file. Ch. 1 strikes me as particularly crucial, since it lays out the theoretical approach of HS.)


* Although I wrote “despite” that level of destruction, it also seems clear to me that, in the case of Lebanon 2006, it was precisely because of the level of destruction that the IDF sowed throughout Lebanon that Israel was unable to impose its political goals on Beirut. In other words, the “Shock and Awe” aspects of Israel’s attack proved actively counter-productive…

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.

Are foreign wars winnable? and other big questions

This morning I took part in a panel discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Foreign Policy and the Next U.S. Administration The other panelists were Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest, and Dan Twining, a youngish analyst with the present State Department’s Bureau of Policy Planning who previously worked for a while as a foreign-policy aide to Sen. John McCain. The session was ably chaired by Abi Williams, Vice President for Conflict Prevention at USIP.
It was an interesting and rich discussion. As I had expected, Gvosdev and I agreed about a lot of things. He is a very intelligent Realist. My view is that pacifism is the new realism. (Not sure if I managed to persuade him of that; but hey, he might become convinced of it some day!) Twining made a number of observations that I found really interesting, too, though we disagreed much more.
Wow. USIP’s a/v and web-editing staff have done a great job and have gotten an MP3 version of the discussion up onto their website already. Easy to find my main presentation: I was on first.
If you don’t want to listen to the audio, here’s a rough outline of what I said:
I started by describing three momentous consequences of the globalization the world system has seen in recent decades:

    1. Foreign wars have become nearly unwinnable. This for two reasons: (a) compared with, say, the situation in the 19th century, the global information environment has become much more transparent; and (b) the norm of human equality has become much more widely (and deeply?) acknowledged, even if still not by any means always respected.
    2. The US is no longer the Uberpower it seemed to be back in the 1990s, but we are now really in what Richard Haass has called the “non-polar world.”. This was a quick reprise of some of the analysis from Ch.6 of my Re-engage! book.
    3. Climate change has emerged as an issue of core importance in world politics.

I went on to say how these three big developments structure the global environment in which the new president will be operating, and made a few other points… I concluded by noting that we need to develop a new, much more people-centered definition of “the national interest”, and laying out my list of the three top things the next president should do within his first 100 days in office.
These are:

    1. Announce a date certain for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq, and invite the UN to convene the negotiation(s) which will allow that to happen in an orderly way.
    2. Close Guantanamo; and
    3. Announce that he is committed to participating in good faith in the post-Kyoto global negotiations on climate change.

Those of you who’ve read my Re-engage! book will probably recognize how this presentation built on some of the book’s key themes.
More on the increasing unwinnability of foreign wars, and on the “Top 3 Things for the new president”– later. Right now, I’m pretty tired.