Everybody calm the hell down

Discussion in 'Staff College and Staff Officers' started by alib, Nov 6, 2010.

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  1. On FP Everybody calm the hell down -- and while you are at it, turn off your TV by Tom Ricks
    From that essay:
    Back in the 90s we used to talk about the enemy deficit, this century brought the solution: enemy inflation. Stoking up small threats into existential firestorms e.g. ramshackle AQ as a greater threat to the UK than the Luftwaffe that flattened much of urban England.

    Expensively constructing the worlds greatest standing military also has its own momentum of course. The procurement beast must be feed so new threats and roles must be conjured to justify the sausage factory. Sincere belief in this warped view of the world follows. This military becomes the default policy instrument and other more subtle tools are neglected. Expensive policy pratfalls become inevitable. Easily drawn into the error of trying to defend everywhere before you know it a fundamentally isolationist nation has turned itself inside out, has quasi-imperial basing all over the globe and a fistful of debilitating small wars often with little idea how the hell it got into this thankless world's policeman malarkey. The Founders were wise to that threat to their Republic, they would be very surprised to see London as camp follower to this unwieldy juggernaut.

    Perhaps boomers are peculiarly prone to collective panic. We've lived through soft times. In the US they've been privileged to live through the fat years of delusional affluence, in real terms incomes have dropped and healthcare cost of gone of the grid but fueled by debt on easy terms and ever cheaper Chinese trinkets in Wal*Mart its been very comfortable. Now as the chickens are coming home to roost and many are confused or angrily crying for their country back. That happy fiscally feckless place of magical markets is gone forever of course and much of it is fast turning Latino. It's a suddenly a new frightening world that challenges what once were certainties, the understandable rage at TARP is a symptom of something deeper. One of my Californian Teaper mates has flitted to oh so stable Buenos Aires in a fit of Barry induced despair.

    Still it's odd that the generation that grew up with the very real threat mushroom clouds above its cities was so easily spooked by the happily modest threats we face today. It's not just that they were being hoodwinked, there was genuine panic among policy makers who really should have known better, I include here not just the US Congress but Dick Cheney rushed to the bunker beneath the Whitehouse on 9-11 and even the tag along trickster Tony Blair.

    The UK under Team Dave seems to be shrugging this fear filled moment off. It never had the same grip on the collective cojones on this side of the pond, terrorism was old news. Now despite the talk of austerity London is pouring most of the UK PLC's remaining wealth into the welfare state to support its graying boomer voters while cutting defenses they clearly feel little need of. I'm beginning to wonder if the UK policy elite has swung too far away from the jittery paranoia of the Blair's last years. Lulled by a world were the greatest threat is a succession of self-igniting Takfiri away from it always being 39 to not realizing events like 1914 came upon the similarly spoiled Edwardians with little warning.
  2. Yep, I read all that.

  3. Not quite sure how a lecturer at a military college managed to miss the parallels of dominant global powers and vigilance/threat dynamics. Elements of Pax Americana are a product of fear of decline.

    I hope I am not the only one who could imagine him scoffing at Britain worrying about Prussia in the 1890s when it was clearly the dominant global power....
  4. The thing about talk of US decline, though, is that it strongly depends on whether you're talking about relative or absolute. The second is a Hell of a lot easier to answer: are you drunk?

    The US is still indisputably the wealthiest and most militarily powerful nation on earth by some considerable margin and it's key role in the international system helps to ensure that it'll stay that way for some time to come. It's too expensive and waaaay too much trouble for other nations to assume the mantle of world leadership the way the US has and Britain before her. Why should they, when they get all the benefits of a stable world order guaranteed by someone else at that someone's expense?

    Relative decline is a trickier one and depends on how you measure it and what yardstick you use to measure the 'does it matter' point. Sure, other nations' militaries are closing the gap with the US but does it matter that the Yanks can only trounce any other nation 4 times over instead of 6? Does it matter that they're only producing 3 times as many patents as any other nation instead of 5 or 6 times the number of PhDs instead of 10? It depends on where the benefit winds up and in our modern interconnected world it's really rather difficult to contain the benefit of your activities within national boundaries.

    Perhaps it's that sense of not being comfortably isolated from the rest of the world by power and distance that's causing short-circuits in their collective calm-the-****-down chip. 'The other' is different and scary: 'change' is frightening beyond all proportion to its actual effects or even any objective analysis of its reality.
  5. Not quite sure where you think I am drunk comes from given I was not actually commenting on relative or absolute metrics of american decline.

    The point is most constructs and narratives of decline are internal - just as Britains reactions to Prussia were largely bowing to domestic middle class pressure in the 19th Century. My point was that in his piece he ignores these fears when they are markedly apparent as an explanation of why America freaks the **** out and they are endemic of the dominant power of the time so not quite sure as an academic who would clearly know this is actually trying to say.
  6. It was a generic response to a hypothetical generic question. The narrative of US decline seems rooted in the US psyche but I'd be prepared to bet it's been so in more than just our own day. I personally think it's ludicrous when the US is far wealthier, healthier, secure and militarily more powerful than ever before to talk of absolute decline. That's not to say I don't want a more diffuse system of international power if just to keep them honest.
  7. I think their fear is just in how quickly the chicoms are catching up (psychologically). We never really appreciated our relative dominance over the European powers until it was nearly gone they seem to be getting stuck in early. The actual power discrepencies -especially the spare capacity in the US are still atmosphreic.

    The entire narrative of the Plan for the New American Century was to affirm US dominance essentially for the extreme long term not through military dominance but through proving that democracy was the best system of government and the US is guranteed to be the greatest democratic power.

    Shame that fucked up for them over iraq - I think they do really need to clam down over china because it and to a lesser extent india are a house of cards.

    The Romans and Spanish had very similar periods of worry but no one has occupied a position of absolute dominance like the US.
  8. Not having access to the full article I can't say if he does or not.

    I'd have to point out that by the 1890s the Deutsches Reich was becoming like France a peer competitor with the British Empire and simultaneously an increasingly vital trading partner. Chimerica does come to mind though the power differential is much greater. There more to British worries than simple fear of decline, it had always been necessary to be vigilant about the balance of power across the Channel and London was if anything too distracted by its imperial possessions for its own good. This of course is being wise with hindsight, the apocalyptic wars of the 20th century were hardly predictable and the La perfide Albion had got by with devious and relatively modest interventions in Continental affairs.

    The decline narrative has been part of US politics ever since I can remember, American optimism and soaring confidence has always trumped it. Americans, if anything, over estimate their nations power to shape the world. The US may have left the hubris of the unipolar moment behind it but still enjoys a level of superiority across a wide spectrum of fields over any other nation or likely grouping of nations that's unprecedented. With the USSR gone and linked at the hip with Red China the US really has no peer to be seriously concerned about. This is qualitatively different from late Victorian Britain.

    Fettweis's main point seems to be this level of security does not lead to a rational assessment of risks but quite the reverse. What we do see is a dangerous leveling of threats and a quite paranoid assessment of their severity. A modest terrorist threat morphing into a WWII style clash of civilizations. His Georgian example isn't well chosen, after years being distracted in small Middle Eastern countries, the Kremlin flexed its mussels and a lot folk in DC suddenly realized they had taken it's eye of the geo-political ball, the old predators were still out there in the shadows and might actually be more dangerous than the latest bogeyman. Reality check over, they then went back to talking a few cave dwelling Arabs into an existential threat, it's what they do.
  9. Yes there are substantive differences but dont forget its the British public who led the response to Prussia (we want eight and we wont wait) - not government policy.

    Similarly the non-army Pentagon ranks have been straining at the bit to move onto the new air sea conflict build up but negligable value COIN ops seem to still hold a dominant lustre for a significant proportion of the US voting public. I would argue because they as the capitalist nation expect to see a return on investment that will never arrive.

    In the end its the critical fault of all elite citizen led powers, the British, Spanish (clergy), Romans and Americas all focussed on the wrong threat in hindsight but they still drove the narratives in a way that the publics of the more autocratic also rans France, USSR etc. could never have dreamed of.

    I get that was his thrust of his argument but it seems relatively pointless, especially the self serving histrionic title that hes been bounding about to drum up attentiuin (and he has been rightly shot down over it on JSTOR/ATHENS).
  10. Discussion of the Great Game is widespread these days and academic commentators enjoy mental gymnastics as much as the next man. Christopher Fettweis' treatise reminds me of the debate about the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin.
    I would contest his assumptions that Americans are "fearful", "so conscious of threats" and "insecure". He is right that bad news sells newspapers, but pre-supposing that the public swallows every story whole is a mistake.
    His interpretation of the American mid term criticism of President Obama where "Only in a deeply pathological society is reason a synonym for weakness." is wide of the mark. It certainly wasn't his reason that upset so many voters.
    Fettweis' sanguine acceptance of the Russian invasion of Georgia is illuminating. Just "A minor flare-up of a long-standing regional grievance", well shucks and it's so far away.
    And then the heroic summary: "The tendency for insecurity to expand with power is not merely paradoxical, it is pathological, an irrational aspect of international politics that, like individual psychopathologies, might be corrected if identified and brought into the open". This from a man whose resume does not include any clinical expertise or medical qualification to validate his opinions regarding the pathology of the human psyche.
    Tom Ricks calls the essay "provocative", that is the same as calling your minister's decision "brave".

  11. Aha have just heard that its drumming up attention for an oncoming book, would explain why it reads like an incomplete chapter with a trite tacked on conclusion.

    Still massively disagree with the piece, my last comment on it would be that he seems to be arguing that if you are the local magistrate you dont have to lock or alarm your house?
  12. I fell over this last night while reading something else (OT: Hitchen's account of his terminal cancer is well worth a look) that is along the same 'don't panic' lines:

    I think the jesters still have the edge on bringing redemption though:[video=youtube;FNKUPvzAkFY]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNKUPvzAkFY[/video]
  13. I think you are racing after a narrative fallacy, so are the chaps at JSTOR. You're comparing three failed empires with the US, a couple of which lacked the staying power of the Ottomans. Powerful states that behave astrategically are often slow to be punished by history but their fall can be as swift as that of the USSR, both classical Athens and Sparta come to mind, finally easy meat for the patient Persian superpower. But still, I'm interested, which citizen led Romans do you actually mean? The contrast with the suddenly empowered technocratic citizens of revolutionary France would be revealing.
  14. I must say this is a fascinating thread--I just wish I understood half of it. I did note the IMHO idiotic assertion that the mid-trerm elections reflect a collective paranoia that confuses His "reason" with weakness. If He and his confidantes actually believe that we are in for a ver y interesting next 2 years indeed.