The Fourth Generation Warfare Reason to Ditch the “War on Terrorism” Analogy

Gulliver and the Lilliputians

After the underwear bomber incident, all together too many people are talking about how Yemen is now the central front of the war on terrorism and preemptive action is necessary and if Yemen’s dysfunctional government can’t do what needs to be done then the U.S. should step in and do it for them (as usual, Senator Lieberman can be counted on as the go-to guy for idiotic pronouncements here). To me the events of recent days really show what’s wrong with the U.S. reaction being dominated by the notion of a “war on terrorism,” and the superiority of the strategy of treating terrorism as an issue of law enforcement as enunciated by, among others, John Kerry throughout 2004.

What we’re facing is the classic squeezing a balloon problem: the United States can deploy 112,000 solders to Iraq and another 98,000 to Afghanistan, and thousands more throughout Central and Southeast Asia and in the Pacific Islands and the terrorists just pick up their laptops, sell their Range Rovers and relocate their operation to the Horn of Africa, or the outer reaches of the Arabian Peninsula. Meanwhile the U.S. is stuck for the next decade in whatever country owing to the weight of tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tones of heavy metal.

We are engaged in a fourth generation-type struggle with an opponent employing the classical tactics of asymmetric warfare. The object for the opponent on the presumptively disadvantaged side of the asymmetry is to adopt a strategy whereby the seeming advantages of the preponderant power are transformed into weaknesses. The war on terrorism is a contest of strategic dexterity and in this case the very weight, size and overwhelming capability of the U.S. military has become its greatest liability.

The game that has been played by al Qaeda et al. is that of miring the U.S. in regions of declining strategic importance. Terrorists are Lilliputians and the U.S. Gulliver. Only in this story Gulliver ties himself down. The Lilliputians only have to indicate where he should sink the stakes and he applies the lashes to himself.

While I am deeply skeptical of black ops, secret programs, plausible deniability, assassination, et cetera, I generally agree with the idea that the only time counter-terrorist actions should make the news is when something has gone wrong. The Predator drone and special forces operations that are being conducted along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border seems correct in conception, if still problematic in execution, to me. And of course this level of militarization is still awfully high. The FBI is the U.S. government agency with the largest presence abroad after the Pentagon and the State Department. Treasury is quickly following suite. Counter-terrorism should only become subject to special forces means under extreme circumstances. The rest of the time it should be dealt with by the various legal investigative agencies.

Whatever the case, our reaction to terrorism needs to be in kind: nimble, dynamic, human not territory oriented, multifaceted.

A strategic studies acquaintance commented the other day that he can’t wait for the reigning generation of the foreign policy establishment to retire, because they are a bunch of Cold War relics, mired in the mindset of a bygone era. The idea of stateless actors is beyond their comprehension. In this regard one of the most seminal moments in the U.S. reaction to mass-casualty terrorism was Paul Wolfowitz’s 13 September 2001 press conference, where he said the following (DoD News Briefing, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA):

I think one has to say it’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism. And that’s why it has to be a broad and sustained campaign. It’s not going to stop if a few criminals are taken care of.

I believe that in some ultimate sense Paul Wolfowitz has been right about Islamic extremism: that it is not our war, that we cannot fight it, that it is not a war that can be won in the realm of strictly materialist forces, but that it is a struggle of ideology, that it can only be settled among those most immediately concerned, that the most the U.S. can do is indirectly effect this outcome through the opening of a space where moderate, modernist, liberal Islam can flourish. This was Secretary Wolfowitz’s idea for Iraq: that it would become the Islamic “city on the hill.” That he could simultaneously have been so wrong makes Paul Wolfowitz one of the tragic figures of the post-11 September period.

But this idea, that states and territory are what is important, this was the commanding idea of the early Bush administration. But the strategy of militarily occupying every square mile of lawless territory on the Earth and engaging in nation building in every failed state is beyond our capability. It is how the strength of a great power will be sapped.

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Michael Lind’s Unified Theory of U.S. Political-Economic Grand Strategy

On Friday, 24 July 2009 I went to see a New America Foundation panel discussion of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free, by Christopher Preble, the Director of Foreign Policy Studies at CATO. Mr. Preble is, along with Andrew Bacevich, Robert Jervis, Christopher Layne and others, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. It was a very Coalition-y event, with a panel comprised of ideological misfits amidst our ill-representative bipolar political spectrum. At one point Mr. Preble felt it necessary to state that people think he’s a Republican because he works at CATO, but that he is not.

I’m a fan of Mr. Preble, and a swath of other of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy thinkers. I have previously made Preble’s point with respect to Gareth Porter’s book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (“Militarism: Loose It or Use It,” 3 February 2008). Mr. Porter’s book is a specific case study of Mr. Preble’s point with respect to the Vietnam War era.

What interested me most about this discussion was Michael Lind’s comments. When his turn came, off the cuff Mr. Lind spun one of the most trenchant, compelling and unified analyses of the last century of U.S. grand strategy I’ve ever encountered. Without saying it in so many words Mr. Lind shows how the present economic crisis is a systematic crisis resulting from the evolutions of an international system that is the product of a U.S. grand strategic and international political-economic bargain decided upon coming out of the interwar crisis years and the outbreak of the Second World War.1

A transcript of the relevant sections of Mr. Lind’s comments, as well as editor’s notes, follow (Mr. Lind’s comments are 0:43:03-1:00:15, I excerpt his comments starting at 0:45:11):

Michael Lind, Gordon Adams, Christopher Preble, Michael Cohen, The Power Problem, New America Foundation, Washington, D.C., 24 July 2009

I think if you look at both our national security policy and our global economic strategy — and there is one — these two things are not completely unrelated even though they’re usually discussed as though they’re on separate planets — you can understand both by referring to four countries, which happen to be the other four great powers or greatest powers: Germany, Japan, Russia and China. You can’t understand out national security strategy or our trade policies without thinking about these countries in particular.

First our national security strategy. As many people have pointed out — this is simply the standard interpretation2 — our foreign policy during the Cold War was one of dual containment. We were containing four countries, not just two. We weren’t just containing the Soviet Union and communist China, but we were also containing post-1945 West Germany and post 1945 Japan. And the reason the U.S. adopted this hegemonic global military strategy — which was not what it had intended in World War II. In the course of World War II the Roosevelt Administration in its planning assumed you would have a three power world, essentially the British, the Soviets and the Americans and that Chan Kai Check would govern China as a satellite of the Americans.

But in the Cold War this all broke down. And what evolved was a system in which the Germans and Japanese would be permanently demilitarized. Their security would be provided unilaterally by the United States. You can call it NATO, but it would essentially be a unilateral offer of guarantee for this disarmed Japan and this disarmed West Germany. At the same time the Soviet Union and China — which late in the Cold War became a geopolitical ally of the U.S. — would be contained, they would be outside of the system. And we would be protecting Japan and Germany — Japan from both China and the Soviet Union and Germany from the Soviet Union.

Now, what does that have to do with economics? There was a deal implicit in this strategy, which is, okay Germany and Japan you have this massive military industrial complex and unlike after World War I we’re not going to have punitive reparations and so on to bring about some future Hitler as a result of humiliation. We want to rebuild you and integrate you into this American-led system, including a global free trade system, or managed trade system. So the deal is, you don’t make tanks, you make cars, you don’t make guns, you make radios. So you will become civilian manufacturing superpowers and this is in the interest of the United States, at least according to American strategists because this will avert the reemergence of an independent Japanese military great power and an independent (even) West German military great power and the emergence of a multipolar world, with multipolar rivalries, like those of the 1930s.

So the deal, which was taken up more by Japan than by West Germany, which has had fairly liberal trade relationships, both with us and with its neighbors in Europe, was that you export to us and we will turn a blind eye to the fact that you, Japan, use non-tariff barriers to keep our products out of your markets, to the fact that you’re targeting particular industries in the U.S., to the fact that you’re hiring lobbyists in Washington to promote your industrial strategy in the 70s and 80s. We will turn a blind eye because we’re willing to sacrifice certain American industries — and here the libertarians part from my interpretation — we will sacrifice certain American industries in order to keep you part of the U.S. Cold War coalition and we will tolerate things that if we were not military allies and protectors we would never put up with. And so that was basically the pattern.

Now, the end of the Cold War comes along. There was a fascinating debate. I was sort of on the sidelines of it as executive editor of The National Interest, Irving Kristol’s foreign policy magazine by the way, back in the early 1990s, late 1980s. And you had the America first isolationists, you had the balance of power school, there were the liberal internationalists and so it was a fascinating debate. It was all shut down in the aftermath of the Gulf War and we’ve had the de facto basic same strategy under both Clinton and Bush and now under Obama — with the exception of the more aggressive neoconservatives slant.

And the decision was made — it sort of evolved, you know, it’s not a conspiratorial thing, but this became the new consensus after the Gulf War in 1991 — the decision was made we will continue the policy of dual containment. In other words, we’re not going to rethink it. We’re not going to say oaky, NATO, we’re going to admit Russia and turn it a concert of power, or we’re going to get rid of it, we’re going to come up with a new system and bring in the Chinese. No, basically we will continue to be Japan’s protector nation and South Korea’s, we will maintain these Cold War alliances and we will maintain NATO, which will be expanded, for fear — and I’m simply reporting, I’m not endorsing this because I agree, I think, with everyone on this panel that a certain paranoia has driven all of this — for fear that after reunification Germany would emerge as a Fourth Reich, this sort of lose canon neo-militaristic power. And so the geostrategic purpose for the expansion of NATO, it served both of the goals of dual containment after the Gulf War. You push NATO all the way up to the borders of a weakened, post-imperial Russia so you’re still containing Russia, no longer the Soviet Union, but the Russian Republic. And at the same time, you’ve embedded Germany even more deeply in this system of U.S. alliances, of hegemonic alliances.

It’s not a traditional alliance system. Traditional alliance system is more like the allies in World War I, World War II. … The American alliance system is a hegemonic system. We expect nothing, really, in return. They’re essentially client states and protectorates, most of our so-called allies. They’re not actual equal partners. We will protect them for what we perceive as out interest in a world order that’s beneficial to us. They really don’t have to do anything in return to protect us. But we don’t see this as charity, at least the establishment. This is promoting a world order.

We maintain this dual containment system after the Cold War. Paul Wolfowitz and others had a name for it in the early 1990s some of you may recall from stories in the New York Times and elsewhere.3 It was called Reassurance. That was the initial [name] during the first Bush administration. This was called the Reassurance Doctrine. We would reassure the other great powers of the world that because we would look after their geopolitical interests, they would not need to rearm and they could continue to devote their economic energy — in fact, George W. Bush said this at Westpoint in [2002].4 He said the other countries should concentrate basically on trade and we will maintain these enormous strengths [crosstalk]. My point is, this is not a crazy idea. I think all of us would agree that this is flawed and ultimately doomed, but there is a system here.

My final point in analyzing this consensus system is the economic counterpart since the Gulf War. And this is a system called Bretton Woods II. Bretton Woods II is the term that economists use for this very strange global economic order that evolved in the last twenty years. In which American consumers went into debt in order to purchase goods from primarily China. China has, at least up until the crash, 90 percent of the non-oil trade deficit with the United States. But even before China moved up in this decade, it was East Asian countries,5 to a lesser extent Germany in Europe. So you get this very odd system where the United States is the consumer market of first resort for the other three leading market or quasi-market economies of the world, which today are Japan, China and Germany. Japan, China and Germany all have substantial merchandise trade surpluses. The United States has had an ever growing merchandise trade [deficit].

When you read these discussions taking place on economy planet and national security planet, without the frame of reference to the bargain here it’s just kind of missing the point. There was a geopolitical bargain underlying America’s offer of unilateral access to U.S. markets, particularly to Japan which practices a fairly sophisticated form of mercantilism at the expense of U.S. exports. And then after the cold war the elites in the United States decided to extend this to China.

This brings us up to the present and why this system is collapsing before our very eyes. What worked for Japan, a country much smaller than the United States, they could trade with us while protecting their markets from American exports. This cannot work, that export-oriented model was doomed the moment China, the world’s most populous nation adopted it. There are simply not enough first word consumers in the U.S., or in the U.S., the E.U. and Japan put together, to accommodate all of the stuff that first China and now India are capable of doing. In that sense this bargain is doomed. This is one of the underlying reasons for this crash, because China would not have had these enormous dollar surpluses — some of the oil-exporting countries would have, but China would not have — had it had a more demand-oriented domestic consumption driven policy. It’s this export-oriented policy that allowed it to accumulate these dollar surpluses and indirectly, through purchasing American debt, for reasons we need not get into, but that also helped their exports, enabling American consumers to go on this binge which then helped build up what is really gross overcapacity in Chinese manufacturing.6 So this system has crashed now. It’s not coming back. … It’s run into its limits. So Bretton Woods II is dead as a global economic system. There is no other domestic consumer market, apart from the U.S., that is capable of accommodating all of the export capacity, not only of China, but of Japan and even Germany, which has trade surpluses with all its European neighbors.7

So how does this effect security policy? Well, my prediction is that the costs of digging our way out of this collapsed 1990s, 2000s post 1992 global economic system, which again rested on this geopolitical bargain between the U.S. and these potentially threatening great powers, except for Russia, which is becoming more and more of a resource power, but it was the other three major industrial great powers: China, Japan and Germany. We’re simply not going to be able to afford a military that’s at four of five percent, particularly a military which had as its actual purpose — and let me wrap up just by saying this — the actual purpose if you read Michael Mandelbaum, who wrote a very good book setting forth what I think is the establishment position,8 I’d recommend it to everybody, if you want a view from the inside. [crosstalk]

But he says the real reason we have this giant military is not because we need all these aircraft carriers in order to prevent jihadists from sneaking into the U.S. and getting on airplanes. We don’t actually need this giant army to deal with the North Koreans or this or that rogue state. Rogue states and terrorists — which are real problems I’m not diminishing this I may take them more seriously than some of the other people up here, I mean they’re problems.

If you look at the structure of our military, it is designed to intimidate China, Germany and Japan and Russia if they even think about rearming. That’s why we have the size of the military. Because it’s grossly oversized if you actually want to fight jihadists and AFPAC. But when people come out and say — as President George W. Bush is — that’s the purpose of our military: no one should even think about competing with our capabilities. Well, who’s thinking about competing with the capabilities of the U.S. military? A bunch of guys in suburbs or a cave in Afghanistan, Pakistan? No. We know what the countries are, the ones that can never be named as objects of U.S. Strategy: China, Germany, Russia, Japan.

I’ll end with a prediction. The collapse of Bretton Woods II is going to bring down this Reassurance strategy by creating a fiscal crisis for the American state, of which we are in the early stages because of the enormous debt from the bailout, combined with, if we avoid future bubbles, a fairly slow rate of growth. And this is going to create enormous political conflict in the United States. The defenders of the Pentagon — of whom I am one — I don’t want to cut to dangerous levels — but there’s going to be a battle between the Pentagon and the American Association of Retired Persons over if we’re going to cut government spending by two or three percent, is it going to come out of the Pentagon budget or are we going to slash Social Security … or are we going to slash and reform Medicare. And so my money is on the old people.

Editor’s Notes

  1. A thumb-nail sketch of this history: The formative political experience for the Second World War and early post war foreign policy establishment was the failure of Wilsonianism in the Interbellum years: the Great Depression, the downward spiral of beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies, the rise of fascism and militarism, the intensification of great power competition leading to a repeat of “the war to end all wars” and the eventual need for the United States to return to Europe for a second major war within 25 years. The post-war international system that these people — Harry Truman, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Paul Nitze, Harry Dexter White; in Europe: John Maynard Keynes, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Ernest Bevin — created was only partly spurred by suspicions of the Soviet Union. Its other motivating force was the avoidance of a third repeat of the pattern of world war that dominated the first half of the Twentieth Century. That system consisted of the suppression of great power competition under the political-military preponderance of the United States as the just guarantor of international order, combined with with market — and market only — based access to resources under a pseudo-legal international economic order in the IMF, the IBRD (World Bank) and GATT, eventually WTO. Already by 1960 this system was being challenged by a world recovering from the devastation of World War (Arthur Schlesinger reported that President Kennedy often said that “the two things which scared him most were nuclear weapons and the payments deficit”). For a decade the United States fought a rear-guard action to uphold its obligations, until the strain of guns and butter (the Vietnam war era inflation and current account deficit) lead the Nixon administration end the Bretton Woods policy of dollar-gold convertability on 15 August 1971.

    What followed was a period of monetary instability and a number of ad hoc attempts to remedy it — the Smithsonian Agreement (1971), The European Snake (1972), The Exchange Rate Mechanism (1979), the Plaza Accord (1985) — as well as a period of financial crises of increasing of increasing size and scope — the Latin American Debt Crisis of 1982-1985, the June 1982 ERM realignment and François Mitterrand’s liberal turn in the face of intense dollar-Deutche mark pressure on the franc, The Mexican peso crisis of 1994, the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98. All of these developments are evolutions of a system of dollar hegemony. Throughout this period the current account deficit grew in fits and starts, leading to the current crisis, whose primary cause is the faltering of the United States in its attempts to prop up the world economy by turning its consumer base into the buyer of last resort and mopping up the worlds excess money in its current account, consumer and fiscal debts.

    For my part, whatever its failings, this system has obvious competitive advantages over what came before it. Mr. Preble ends the session saying, “Power held by others is something to be welcomed, not feared.” I’m not so sure about that. There is, however, one failing with which I cannot argue: as Mr. Lind’s said, that of its being doomed.

  2. E.g. this is the interpretation of the reigning standard work on the early Cold War formation of U.S. grand strategy, Melvyn Leffler’s A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992).

  3. Tyler, Patrick E., “U.S. Strategy Plan Calls for Insuring No Rivals Develop,” The New York Times, 8 March 1992, p. A1. The document in question was the Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, early drafts of which were leaked to the New York Times. At the time, the Secretary of Defense was Dick Cheney. Mr. Wolfowitz was Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Pentagon. Secretary Wolfowitz had delegated the job of writing the document to his deputy, Scooter Libby, who had in turn delegated it to Zalmy Khalilzad. Participants in the discussions surrounding the Defense Planning Guidance included DOD Office of Net Assessment head Andrew Marshall and independent defense intellectuals Richard Perle and Albert Wohlstetter. These are the usual suspects. A subsequent, whitewashed Planning document omitting the language of dual containment was released as the official, final version, Tyler, Patrick E., “Pentagon Drops Goal of Blocking New Superpowers,” The New York Times, 24 May 1992, p. A1. See Mann, James, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004), pp. 208-215.

  4. Bush, Jr., George W. “Commencement Address at the United States Military Academy at West Point,” West Point, New York, 1 June 2002, http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/06/20020601-3.html (accessed 26 July 2009). The key passage would be as follows:

    Competition between great nations is inevitable, but armed conflict in our world is not. More and more, civilized nations find ourselves on the same side — united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos. America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge (applause) thereby, making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.

    While overt talk of the strategy of hegemony was originally suppressed in the Defense Planning Guidance of 1992 (supra, note 1), after September 11th, 2001, the neoconservative element in the administration was ascendant, peoples’ sensitivities to bald talk diminished and the strategy became overt in the September 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States. Sanger, David E., “Bush to Outline Doctrine of Striking Foes First,” The New York Times, 20 September 2002, p. A1.

  5. Mr. Lind is here telling the long history of the present crisis. The intermediate history goes back to the dot-com bubble and the developing nation foreign direct investment bubble, precipitating the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, on which I have previously commented (“The Committee to Save the World, Ten Years On,” 26 March 2008).

  6. The idea that capitalism has entered a phase of overcapacity and hence perilously declining profit margins can be found in its most Marxist “propensity of capitalism to crisis” version in the two works of Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence (Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2006) and The Boom and the Bubble: The U.S. in the World Economy (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), both based on his special issue of New Left Review, “The Economics of Global Turbulence,” series I, no. 229, May-June 1998. Similar theories can be found in more mainstream versions in Robert Reich’s Supercapitalism (New York: Knopf, 2007) which draws heavily upon John Kenneth Galbraith’s The New Industrial State (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin, 1967).

  7. The unnamed theory behind Mr. Lind’s reasoning about the current crisis is that of the “savings glut” (or alternately, demand dearth) advocated by, among others, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke “The Global Saving Glut and the U.S. Current Account Deficit” (Virginia Association of Economics, Richmond, Virginia, 14 April 2005) and Financial Times economic correspondent Martin Wolf, first in his special comment and analysis column, e.g. “The Paradox of Thrift: Excess Savings Are Storing up Trouble for the World Economy,” Financial Times, 13 June 2005, then in his book, Fixing Global Finance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). I’m tempted to say something to the effect that in these articles you have the “economy planet” whose orbit never crosses that of “national security planet,” of which Mr. Lind spoke — that the grand-strategic bargain underlying the savings glut is never addressed — but in the 2005 piece, Mr. Wolf writes:

    True, the huge current account deficit gives the US the happy combination of guns and butter in the short run. Since the external deficit is bigger than the fiscal deficit and also bigger than the amount that the US is spending on its armed forces, either of these can be regarded as a free lunch, if only for the moment.

  8. Mandelbaum, Michael, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005)

Photograph, left to right, Michael Lind, Gordon Adams, Christopher Preble, Michael Cohen; courtesy of the New America Foundation; used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Playing Into bin Laden’s Hands

Last week President Bush (remember him?) took his message somewhere that people might listen without creating a media spectacle, the Israeli Knesset, where he made his now infamous, implicit criticism of Barack Obama (“President Bush Addresses Members of the Knesset,” The Knesset, Jerusalem, Israel, 15 May 2008):

Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Yes, yes, appeasement has been discredited, except in all those other instances where its opposite, belligerence or intransigence has been discredited too (“The Contradictory Lessons of the Twentieth Century, smarties, 28 August 2004). The fact is that there is no diplomatic panacea — firm resolve always works — and what is required is that ever so subtle virtue, judgment, exactly what this administration has been lacking.

This all reminds me of the passage from Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine in which he describes the assessment of the CIA as to the meaning of Osama bin Laden’s 29 October 2004 statement , made just days before the 2004 presidential election:

Inside of the CIA, of course, the analysis moved on a different track. They had spent years, as had a similar bin Laden unit at FBI, parsing each expressed word of the al Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons — and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership. …

Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.

At the five o’clock meeting, once various reports on latest threats were delivered, John McLaughten opened the issue with the consensus view: “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.” (p. 335-336)

The fact is that the policies of President Bush and his administration have been an irreplaceable gift to al Qaeda. As Osama bin Laden himself said in the afore mentioned statement,

[It is] easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note …

Osama bin Laden essentially told the world that he loves George Bush for playing right into al Qaeda’s hands.

Barack Obama and the left more generally have responded to the President’s implicit criticism, but it’s been entirely meta. It’s beyond the bounds of fair politics, the President shouldn’t make such criticisms while abroad, etc. The left should deal squarely with this issue. Appeasement — were it even true — would be one thing, but George Bush is America’s gift to Osama bin Laden. Senator Obama is not bin Laden’s candidate: George W. Bush is. For seven years now the West has danced to bin Laden’s tune. On 20 January 2009 that ends.

The Bush Debt

The Fiscal Year 2007 Financial Report of the United States Government was released on 17 December 2007 and accompanying the report was a letter in summery prepared by the Comptroller General of the United States, Mr. David Walker, in which he highlights the following:

the federal government’s fiscal exposures totaled approximately $53 trillion as of September 30, 2007, up more than $2 trillion from September 30, 2006, and an increase of more than $32 trillion from about $20 trillion as of September 30, 2000. This translates into a current burden of about $175,000 per American or approximately $455,000 per American household.

Later that day Mr. Walker told the National Press Club (“Some Progress on U.S. Government’s Financial Statements But Significant Problems Remain,” YubaNet.com, 17 December 2007),

If the federal government was a private corporation and the same report came out this morning, our stock would be dropping and there would be talk about whether the company’s management and directors needed a major shake-up.

So, just in case you missed that, the total debt of the United States, all that had been racked up through the years of Great Society, guns and butter, stagflation, the Reagan arms buildup and the corrections of the Bush, Sr. and Clinton years was $20 trillion. Since that time President Bush has managed to pile a whopping $32 trillion on top of that. In a scant seven years he has managed to increase the debt of the United States by 160 percent. That’s nearly a half-a-million dollars per household.

The right lauds the Bush tax cut, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. There has been no Bush tax cut. Deficits are future taxes. There has merely been the Bush tax deferral. George W. Bush looks good at the expense of one of his successors having to play the adult. “[T]alk about whether the company’s management and directors needed a major shake-up,” indeed. And yet, still one more year of the Bush administration with nothing to be done.

Some Other Books that Bush Should Read

The White House press office and has periodically made it known what books the President is reading. On a few occasions even the President himself has staged a mini publicity stunt to show off the same, for instance when he very deliberately paraded around with a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s book Bias to demonstrate his low opinion of the press or Eliot Cohen’s Supreme Command to signal to the military that the administration wasn’t about to be pushed around by a bunch of generals with their dictates of military requirement.

I am currently reading Adam Zamoyski’s Moscow 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that a work was not written with an eye to current events. And sometimes they are. Robert Massie has specifically said that he wrote Dreadnought, his book about how the naval arms race between Britain and Germany precipitated the First World War, in part to illustrate the dangers of the Regan nuclear arms buildup.

When I read passages like the following, it is hard not to think that Mr. Zamoyski doesn’t have a certain contemporary swashbuckling world leader in mind. With the La Grande Armée fully ensconced in Moscow, harried by marauding Cossacks, Napoleon contemplates his next move:

Napoleon was far too astute not to realize that his strategy had gone badly wrong, and that Caulaincourt had been right all along. But he did not like to admit it. And he recoiled from the only logical next step, which was to withdraw. He liked neither the idea of retreat, which went against his instincts, nor the implications of such a withdrawal on the political climate in Europe. He also had an extraordinary capacity for making himself believe something just be decreeing it to be true. “In many circumstances, to wish something and believe it were for him one and the same thing,” in the words of General Bourienne. So he hung on, believing that Alexander’s nerve would break or that his own proverbial luck would come up with something.

He had studied the weather charts, which told him that it did not get really cold until the beginning of December, so he did not feel any sense of urgency. What he did not realize, in common with many who do not know those climates, was just how sudden and savage changes of temperature can be, and how temperature is only one factor, which along with wind, water and terrain can turn nature into a viciously powerful opponent.

The unusually fine weather at the beginning of October contributed to his complacency. He teased Caulaincourt, accusing him of peddling stories about the Russian winter invented to “frighten children.” “Caulaincourt thinks he’s frozen already,” he quipped. He kept on saying that it was warmer than Fontainebleau at that time of year, and dismissed suggestions that the army provide itself with gloves and items of warm clothing. …

With every day Napoleon spent in Moscow, the harder it was to leave without loss of face, and the usually decisive Emperor became immobilized by the need to choose between an unappealing range of options on the one hand, and a stubborn belief in his lucky star on the other. He fell into the trap of thinking that by delaying a decision he was leaving his options open. In fact, he only really had one option, and he was reducing the chances of its success with every day he delayed. (pp. 351-352)

For the outcome of this story, one need only consult Charles Minard’s famous chart portraying the destruction of the French Army. Substitute a few terms and this sounds strikingly like the current situation of the United States in the Middle East. For those of you who object to the comparison in the first sentence of the excerpt, “Napoleon was far too astute not to realize that his strategy had gone badly wrong,” I ask, do you really think that CIA director Michael Hayden told the Iraq Study Group that the “instability” in Iraq seems “irreversible” and that he could not “point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around,” (Woodward, Bob, “CIA Said Instability Seemed ‘Irreversible’,” Washington Post, 12 July 2007, p. A1) but that he has been telling the President in his daily briefings that everything is coming up roses? President Bush has been told the situation in Iraq, and in some dark corner of his mind he knows what it is — altogether too often one can see this in his broken, impromptu remarks to the press where his pleading, too strident by half tone seems addressed as much to himself as anyone else in the room. He just doesn’t have the strength of mind — and that is what it takes — to come to terms with the truth.

David Brooks Through the Looking Glass

When David Brooks first began writing for The New York Times editorial page, I thought that a better selection could not have been made. Brooks is funny, cleaver and unorthodox1 — exactly the sort of conservative that should be writing for this country’s “newspaper of record.” As his output has begun to pile up, though, I have begun to think that he will need a star chart to locate the current state of debate.

His latest editorial, “Looking Through Keyholes” would be more aptly titled, “Through the Looking-glass.” He argues that D.C. commentators, rather than focus on the critical events in Najaf and Falluja, are a’chatter about the books and testimonies of Richard Clarke, Condoleezza Rice and Bob Woodward — all dealing with events prior to 2004. “This is like pausing during the second day of Gettysburg to debate the wisdom of the Missouri Compromise.” Time spent preparing for hearings and defending the administration against the myriad accusations is time not spent on solving the problems of Iraq. He dismisses criticisms of Bush as mere Washington conceit. “The first duty of proper Washingtonians is to demonstrate that they are smarter than whomever they happen to be talking about. It’s quite easy to fulfill this mission when you are talking about the past.”2

The fact is that for nearly two years now, Washington insiders have been trying — to no avail, but in the worst case, to their peril — to contribute to the debate over how to handle the situation in Iraq.

Regarding troop levels, General Tommy Franks initially planned to go into Iraq with a force comparable to that of the first Gulf War, but, under pressure from Rumsfeld, continually whittled it down. General Shinseki told congress that a few hundred thousand soldiers would be required in Iraq for up to five years. Retired military personnel voiced concern about troop levels.3 John McCain and even General Abizaid have both called for additional soldiers and for a more international force.4

Pentagon personnel were prohibited from, or reprimanded for, participating in CIA war games that simulated the disorder of the aftermath of invasion.5 In the Pentagon sponsored war games, those acting the role of the enemy were specifically prohibited from employing tactics similar to those used by Iraqi irregulars during combat. Hence Lt. Gen. William Wallace’s controversial remark, “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed gainst.”6

A parade of Iraqi exiles met with administration officials, including Bush, to warn about the dangers of a lapse in order.7 Reports by the Army War College, The Council on Foreign Relations and the James A. Baker III Institute for Foreign Policy also warned about the dangers of a breakdown in civil administration and the disbanding of the Iraqi army.8 French officials warned Rice about an insurgency and ethnic tensions.9 Former Central Command chief Anthony Zinni telephoned a general inside his old command to remind him of planning and simulations for an occupation of Iraq that Zinni had conducted in 1999.10 The State Department’s Future of Iraq project spent nearly a year producing a thirteen volume report11 and Powell circulated among the National Security Council a fifteen page memo on the history of U.S. occupations that argued that troop strength and postwar security would be critical factors.12

The administration was still maintaining that oil revenue would pay for Iraq’s reconstruction, when Lawrence Lindsey gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal in which he estimated that the cost of the war would be $100 to 200 billion.13 Throughout the FY2004 budget negotiations, Bush stuck to his original budget for Iraq despite close Congressional questioning. Even after the $87 billion had been authorized, the Chiefs of the Army, Marine Core and Air Force warned that it only covered about eight months of operations.14

The rewards for this diligency have been few. Shinseki was severely dressed down about his estimates with Wolfowitz calling his estimate “wildly off the mark” and Rumsfeld reiterating the same.15 Zinni has gone from special envoy to Israel and Palestine to personae non grata. Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya, whose book, Republic of Fear was closely read in administration circles, has gone the same way since voicing his concerns.16 Rumsfeld specifically told Jay Garner to disregard the Future of Iraq report and that the project’s chief, Thomas Warrick, was to be removed from his staff. Garner resisted the disbanding of the Iraqi army, but it went ahead after he was replaced. Lawrence Lindsey was fired for his forthrightness on the costs of the adventure in Iraq.17 Retired army personnel who spoke out on force levels were slandered as “Clinton generals,” “armchair generals” and the like.

Of course, I am skipping over the reams of excellent commentary in the media because, as Bush has said, “I rarely read the [news] stories.”18 One could have a bang-on solution for our problems in Iraq and may as well leave it tri-folded in one’s jacket pocket for all the impact it will have. Even interventionist extraordinaire Max Boot is saying that the administration is in “a political cocoon where they cut themselves off from outside criticism, just dismiss it as being naysayers.”19

But there is something more fundamental here. We live in a democracy and are approaching an election. The president is up for his quadrennial review. President Bush is continually saying, “I look forward to talking to the American people about why I made the decisions I made.”20 Conservative pundits defend Bush’s use of September 11th as a campaign issue saying “Sept. 11, its aftermath and the response…are central to deciding the fitness of George W. Bush to continue in office.”21 What people like Brooks who complain about the criticisms of Bush miss is that this is exactly what a discussion of Bush’s record looks like. All the hullabaloo that Brooks derides is about “deciding the fitness of George W. Bush to continue in office.” Brooks and other defenders of the administration are frustrated that the “discussion” is two sided, not merely the Bush campaign — sole owner of all information and opinion regarding its record — talking at a pliant audience.

I think Bush would agree with me that the presidential campaign ranks at least as high as our problems in Iraq, because after neutralizing (not solving) the Falluja problem, the man overburdened with Iraq jumped on a campaign bus for a tour of battleground states.

As for Brooks, despite the deployment of French culture as window dressing, he is merely repeating the Republican boilerplate of “You cannot criticize the president. He is a war president.” That sort of intellectual thugery has about as little place in the “newspaper of record” as Jayson Blair.

Notes

  1. Do you doubt me? Though some of his political writings for The Weekly Standard are perhaps more true to form, I judged him on the cultural work such as BOBO’s in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2000; “The Organization Kid.” The Atlantic Monthly. April 2001. http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2001/04/brooks-p1.htm; or “Patio Man and the Sprawl People.” The Weekly Standard. 12-19 August 2002. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/531wlvng.asp
  2. Brooks, David. “Looking Through Keyholes.” The New York Times. 27 April 2004. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/27/opinion/looking-through-keyholes.html.
  3. E.g. Hoar, Joseph P. “Why Aren’t There Enough Troops in Iraq?” The New York Times. 2 April 2003; McCaffrey, Barry. “Gaining Victory in Iraq.” U.S. News & World Reports. 7 April 2003. p. 26; McCaffrey, Barry. “We Need More Troops.” The Wall Street Journal. 29 July 2003.
  4. Schmitt, Eric. “General in Iraq Says More G.I.’s are Not Needed.” The New York Times. 29 August 2003; McCain, John. “Why We Must Win.” The Washington Post. 31 August 2003. p. B7. Schmitt’s article was given a misleading title. Abizaid did say that additional American troops should not be sent, but because he worried about “the public perception both within Iraq and within the Arab world about the percentage of the force being so heavily American.” He did however say that more soldiers from other countries were needed and that the training of native Iraqi forces should be hastened.
  5. Fallows, James. “Blind Into Baghdad.” The Atlantic Monthly. January/February 2004. p. 58. http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2004/01/fallows.htm.
  6. Kaplan, Fred. “War-Gamed.” Slate. 28 March 2003. http://www.slate.com/id/2080814.
  7. Brinkley, Joel and Eric Schmitt. “Iraqi Leaders Say U.S. Was Warned of Disorder After Hussein, But Little Was Done.” The New York Times. 30 November 2003.
  8. Fallows. p. 68; Elliott, Michael. “So, What Went Wrong?” Time. 6 October 2003. p. 34.
  9. Mann, James. The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet. New York: Viking. 2004, p. 349; Burrougil, Bryan, Evgenia Peretz, David Rose and David Wise. “The Path to War.” Vanity Fair. no. 525. May 2004. pp. 288-289.
  10. Ricks, Thomas E. “For Vietman Vet Anthony Zinni, Another War on Shaky Territory.” The Washington Post. 23 December 2003.
  11. Fallows. pp. 56-58.
  12. Packer, George. “Letter from Baghdad: War After the War.” The New Yorker. 24 November 2003. pp. 61-62. http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031124fa_fact1.
  13. Davis, Bob and David Rogers. “Bush Economic Aide Says Cost of Iraq War May Top $100 Billion.” The Wall Street Journal. 16 September 2002.
  14. Schmitt, Eric. “Service Chiefs Challenge White House on the Budget.” The New York Times. 11 February 2004.
  15. Schmitt, Eric. “Pentagon Contradicts General on Iraq Occupation Force’s Size.” The New York Times. 28 February 2003.
  16. E.g. Makiya, Kanan. “The Wasteland.” The New Republic. 5 May 2003. pp. 19-21. http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20030505&s=makiya050503; Makiya, Kanan. “Hopes Betrayed.” The Observer. 16 February 2003. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/iraq/story/0,12239,896611,00.html.
  17. An administration insider confirms that this was the specific reason for his firing. Allen, Mike, David Von Drehle and Jonathan Weisman. “Treasury Chief, Key Economic Aide Resign as Jobless Rate Hits 6 Percent.” The Washington Post. 7 December 2002. p. A1.
  18. Bush, George W. Interview with Brit Hume. Fox News Chanel. 22 September 2003. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,98006,00.html.
  19. Boot, Max. Lou Dobbs Tonight. CNN. 30 April 2004. http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0404/30/ldt.00.html.
  20. E.g. Bush told Tim Russert that he was “looking forward” to a discussion seven times. Bush, George W. and Tim Russert. Meet the Press. NBC News. 8 February 2004. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4179618/.
  21. Krauthammer, Charles. “Why 9/11 Belongs in the Campaign.” Time. 15 March 2004. p. 100.