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Beyond Containment

“But there was also a big difference here. Reagan’s arms buildup, together with his refusal to accept the Brezhnev Doctrine of “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is up for grabs,” signified a return to containment and deterrence. Bush, however, believed that this very strategy had been rendered obsolete by 9/11. To cite the relevant passage again:

For much of the last century, America’s defense relied on the cold war doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence—the promise of massive retaliation against nations—means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend…. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons or missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.”

Excerpt From: Podhoretz, Norman. “World War IV.” Doubleday, 2007-09-11. iBooks.

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Inexperienced Foreign Policy Advisors

Bret Stephens writes The Meltdown in the September Commentary.


None of these fiascos— for brevity’s sake, I’m deliberately setting to one side the illusory pivot to Asia, the misbegotten Russian Reset, the mishandled Palestinian–Israeli talks, the stillborn Geneva conferences on Syria, the catastrophic interim agreement with Iran, the de facto death of the U.S. free-trade agenda, the overhyped opening to Burma, the orphaned victory in Libya, the poisoned relationship with Egypt, and the disastrous cuts to the Defense budget—can be explained away as a matter of tough geopolitical luck. Where, then, does the source of failure lie?

For those disposed to be ideologically sympathetic to the administration, it comes down to the personality of the president. He is, they say, too distant, not enough of a schmoozer, doesn’t forge the close personal relationships of the kind that Bush had with Tony Blair, or Clinton with Helmut Kohl, or Reagan with Margaret Thatcher. Also, he’s too professorial, too rational, too prudent: He thinks that foreign-policy success is a matter of hitting “singles and doubles,” as he put it on a recent visit to Asia, when what Americans want is for the president to hit home runs (or at least point toward the lights).

Alternatively, perhaps he’s too political: “The president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics,” recalled Vali Nasr, the academic who served as a State Department aide early in Obama’s first term. “Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play out on the nightly news.”

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A Gun and a Grudge


From Daniel Greenfield at The Sultan Knish, Where the Black Flags Fly


About the only reliable source of wealth comes out of the ground and the countries that have it are usually too lazy to get it themselves. That’s what the armies of Western engineers are for. They don’t build their own skyscrapers with the oil money. That’s what the disposable Asian workers are for.

Killing is the easiest solution to most problems. Men kill over honor. Women kill themselves out of desperation. Children grow up torturing animals.

Clerics settle religious questions with murder. It’s just easier that way.

Theological debates are complicated and impossible to settle, but fly the black flags, seize a village, kill the men and force the women to convert to the true faith of the machine gun and the sword and the debate is over.

ISIS is how Islam has been settling questions of theology since the 7th century. Why stop now just because you can order takeout from your smartphone? Westerners are innately fascinated by new technology. For the Middle East, technology is a tool for settling medieval disputes. Twitter is just a way of showing off your latest crop of severed heads. The pickup truck substitutes for a camel.

Politicians settle political debates with more murders. Elections are complicated. Democracy is messy. It’s easier for a colonel to take everyone out back and shoot them. And then spend the next twenty years building palaces with his people’s wealth. And the people mostly like it that way too.

When life is worthless, everyone has a gun and a grudge, it’s easier to kill than not to kill. You can see that phenomenon as readily in Chicago as in Iraq. Why not shoot the guy next door because he owes you money, because your daughter looked at him twice, because he’s on your turf or because he’s a Kurd.

Or because it’s Thursday.

Under crowded conditions, life is cheap but honor is expensive. Fights start over the pettiest things and escalate into relentless violence. You can see it in Yemen or in Ferguson. Everyone is just waiting for an excuse to be angry about something and to take it out on someone else.

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The Space Between War and Peace


from The Wall Street Journal Notable and Quotable:

Defense analyst Nadia Schadlow writing at, Aug. 18:

President Obama’s commitment to reducing America’s reliance on the military instrument of power is well-known. It has been a constant theme of his presidency—from his first presidential campaign through his major speech on foreign policy at West Point earlier this year. It is therefore paradoxical that the administration’s foreign policy outlook and operational style have made use of the military instrument almost unavoidable. By failing to understand that the space between war and peace is not an empty one—but a landscape churning with political, economic, and security competitions that require constant attention—American foreign policy risks being reduced to a reactive and tactical emphasis on the military instrument by default. . . .

The tactical mindset that dominates national security decision-making prioritizes military means over political ends and confuses activity (such as the bombing of enemy positions) with progress. Because the use of military force is not connected to operational plans for subsequent political consolidation, the United States vacates the space between war and peace. And because they cannot match American military power directly, it is in this space—battlegrounds of perception, coercion, mass atrocity—that America’s enemies and adversaries prefer to operate.

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Armed Liberalism

Excerpt from America’s Dangerous Aversion to Conflict by Robert Kagan in The Wall Street Journal

So the liberal powers tried to reason with them, to understand and even accept their grievances and seek to assuage them, even if this meant sacrificing others—the Chinese and the Czechs, for instance—to their rule. It seemed a reasonable price, unfortunate though it might be, to avoid another catastrophic war. This was the realism of the 1930s.

Eventually, however, the liberal powers discovered that the grievances of the “have-not” powers went beyond what even the most generous and conflict-averse could satisfy. The most fundamental grievance, it turned out, was that of being forced to live in a world shaped by others—to be German or Japanese in a world dominated by Anglo-Saxons.

To satisfy this grievance would require more than marginal territorial or economic adjustments or even the sacrifice of a small and weak state here or there. It would require allowing the “have-not” powers to reshape the international political and economic order to suit their needs. More than that, it would require letting those powers become strong enough to dictate the terms of international order—for how else could they emerge from their unjust oppression?

Finally, it became clear that more was going on than rational demands for justice, at least as the Enlightenment mind understood the term. It turned out that the aggressors’ policies were the product not only of material grievances but of desires that transcended mere materialism and rationality.

Their leaders, and to a great extent their publics, rejected liberal notions of progress and reason. They were moved instead by romantic yearnings for past glories or past orders and rejected Enlightenment notions of modernity. Their predatory or paranoid rulers either fatalistically accepted (in the case of Japan) or positively welcomed (in the case of Germany) armed conflict as the natural state of human affairs.

By the time all this became unmistakably obvious to the liberal powers, by the time they realized that they were dealing with people who didn’t think as they did, by the time they grasped that nothing short of surrender would avoid conflict and that giving the aggressors even part of what they demanded—Manchuria, Indochina, Czechoslovakia—only strengthened them without satisfying them, it was too late to avoid precisely the world war that Britain, France, the U.S. and others had desperately tried to prevent.

This searing experience—not just World War II but also the failed effort to satisfy those who couldn’t be satisfied—shaped U.S. policy in the postwar era. For the generations that shared this experience, it imposed a new and different sense of realism about the nature of humankind and the international system. Hopes for a new era of peace were tempered.

American leaders and the American public generally if regretfully accepted the inescapable and tragic reality of power. They adopted the posture of armed liberalism. They built unimaginably destructive weapons by the thousands. They deployed hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, in the heart of Europe and along the rim of East Asia, to serve as forward deterrents to aggression. They fought wars in distant and largely unknown lands, sometimes foolishly and sometimes ineffectively but always with the idea—almost certainly correct—that failure to act against aggressors would only invite further aggression.

It is as if, once again, Americans believe their disillusionment with the use of force somehow means that force is no longer a factor in international affairs.

In the 1930s, this illusion was dispelled by Germany and Japan, whose leaders and publics very much believed in the utility of military power. Today, as the U.S. seems to seek its escape from power, others are stepping forward, as if on cue, to demonstrate just how effective raw power really can be.

Once again, they are people who never accepted the liberal world’s definition of progress and modernity and who don’t share its hierarchy of values. They are not driven primarily by economic considerations. They have never put their faith in the power of soft power, never believed that world opinion (no matter how outraged) could prevent successful conquest by a determined military. They are undeterred by their McDonald’s. They still believe in the old-fashioned verities of hard power, at home and abroad. And if they are not met by a sufficient hard-power response, they will prove that, yes, there is such a thing as a military solution.