Tag Archives: grand strategy

Thinking Carefully about U.S. Power

Another reason to read the NYT: where else will you get a full half-page, above-the-fold analysis citing top scholars on the underlying reasons why Syria is a such a strategic, military and diplomatic conundrum:

It is an urgent problem that has consumed foreign policy discussions for the last few years. But much more is involved than the fate of a single country in the Middle East. Underlying the Syria issue is a set of questions that have animated every major debate over foreign policy for a century: What is America’s role in the world, what are its obligations, and what happens if it falls short of meeting them?
One strain of thought holds that America has a mission to champion democracy and human rights, granting it a unique role in the world, along with special powers and obligations. But that idea has always been controversial, with skeptics arguing it is an alluring myth — and a potentially dangerous notion.
via NYT

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Could we Sleepwalk into a Big War?

What does the end of the West’s military superiority mean for great power politics, peace and stability around the world?

When explaining the need to prepare for a major war against a high-end enemy, US and European analysts usually point to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea (9). Western military moves, it is claimed, are an undesired but necessary reaction to provocations by others. But probe more deeply into the thinking of senior leaders and a different picture emerges. Running throughout this discussion is a pervasive anxiety that the world has changed in significant ways, and that the strategic advantages once possessed by the West are slipping away as other powers gain increased military and geopolitical leverage. In this new era — ‘a time of renewed great power competition’ as Carter put it — the US’s military might no longer appears as formidable as it once did, while the m

Source: Sleepwalking into a big war, by Michael T Klare (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, September 2016)

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Another Take on Obama’s Worldview

We are still talking about what past U.S. Presidents meant to national interests and strategy and how their decisions shaped the world (or failed to do so). Consider this new take on Eisenhower or Nixon or Wilson. And so, we will still be talking about the Obama Presidency for a long time. He told Doris Kearns Godwin that he “didn’t want to be Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce”. He seems to be reshuffling the deck, rethinking the game–even dissing the Special Relationship. So what will be Obama’s legacy?

If you want to read the latest  round of journalism-to-maybe-become-history longform, head over to Jeffery Goldberg’s lengthy piece in The Atlantic.

But if you want a shorter take, Max Fischer does a nice job on Vox. He breaks down the notion of Obama as a “Hobbesian optimist” and someone who sees long-term historical thinking as a key part of U.S. strategic interests–contrary to a foreign policy establishment that is focused on quick wins, especially by use of military power:

This spoke to how Obama sees challenges as well as opportunities: as a matter of encouraging that global progress toward peace and prosperity, while also acknowledging how dangerous it can be when that progress stalls or reverses. But it sees the latter as the exception rather than the norm.

Source: The best articulation yet of how President Obama sees the world – Vox

His critics may be status quo. His critics are certainly inflamed. They may even be right.

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War and Humanity

In thinking about the attacks in Paris and Beirut–among other places, we can express anger, revenge, or frustration. We can also redouble ourselves onto the weightier questions. What motivates Daesh to organize and carry out these attacks? What is their perspective? And even better: What does it mean to be human?

Primo Levi stands as an important figure: Holocaust survivor and writer who has been widely read across Italy. His works are used across disciplines to teach Jewish and Holocaust studies, and warrants a refresh as we think about the nature of evil:

Toward the end of If This Is a Man (whose very title, Se questo è un uomo, offers the conditional clause of a question that remains open), Levi befriends Jean, an Alsatian student who serves as errand boy in the Auschwitz chemical unit on which Levi toils. Hoping to teach his French-speaking friend some Italian, Levi recites from memory, and imperfectly, a passage from Dante’s Commedia, from Canto XXVI of The Inferno. Ulysses, who is, like Levi and Jean, suffering the torments of hell, explains how he roused his fellow mariners to undertake the transgressive journey that would damn them all:

“Consider well the seed that gave you birth:/ you were not made to live your lives as brutes,/ but to be followers of worth and knowledge.”

As he recites those lines, amid the misery and horror of a human abattoir, Levi himself is moved, he explains, “as if I, too, were hearing it for the first time: like the blast of a trumpet, like the voice of God. For a moment I forget who I am and where I am.” He would survive to be a follower of worth and knowledge.

Source: Primo Levi’s Invaluable Voice, in Full – The Chronicle of Higher Education

He lived with the brutality of Auschwitz, with shame and inner turmoil., believing that “people have a responsibility to each other as well as to other living things”. In a Paris Review interview, Levi reflected on his writing and life, demonstrating himself as a master of the “understated”:

Remember, when there is war, the first thing is shoes, and second is eating. Because if you have shoes, then you can run and steal. But you must have shoes. Yes, I told him, well you are right, but there is not war any more. And he told me, Guerra es siempre. There is always war.

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Mighty Mighty Putin?

Has Putin outflanked Obama geostrategically? Or, as Dmitry Adamsky wrote earlier this month in Foreign Affairs, is Russia now dangerously overextended through conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East? “Making waves is easier than controlling them. For Moscow, the main risk in Syria is overextension.”

Michael McFaul, Stanford political scientist and former US Ambassador to Russia writes that Putin is weak and explores how the US can do more to advance its grand strategy toward a safer world–and get a better Russia, as well:

The United States and Western allies should capitalize on Mr. Putin’s attention being diverted to Syria to deepen support for Ukraine. In return for progress on economic reform, especially anti-corruption measures, we can offer greater financial aid for infrastructure and social service programs.

And now is the moment to bolster the Ukrainian Army by providing more military training and defensive weapons.Elsewhere in Europe, NATO should station ground forces on the territory of allies most threatened by Russia. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act and other treaties. In response, our NATO allies deserve credible new commitments from us.

Finally, we must continue to pursue long-term foreign policy objectives that demonstrate American leadership and underscore Russia’s isolation. Ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, closing a multilateral climate deal by the end of the year, deepening ties with India and managing relations with China are all parts of America’s grander strategy.

Source: The Myth­ of Putin’s Strategic Genius – The New York Times

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Neocons Back the Empire

Everybody loves the trailer. (Yes, that trailer.) But over at the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last’s “The Case for the Empire” reads like a college magazine cover story–offering a soon-to-be-overshared argument for why Darth Vader and the Emperor were ultimately in the intergalactic public interest. Wow.

In all of the time we spend observing the Rebel Alliance, we never hear of their governing strategy or their plans for a post-Imperial universe. All we see are plots and fighting. Their victory over the Empire doesn’t liberate the galaxy–it turns the galaxy into Somalia writ large: dominated by local warlords who are answerable to no one.Which makes the rebels–Lucas’s heroes–an unimpressive crew of anarchic royals who wreck the galaxy so that Princess Leia can have her tiara back.

Source: The Case for the Empire | The Weekly Standard

And in another universe far, far away (on Twitter) Bill Kristol has unleashed his own forces–promoting the theory to much acclaim (and retwittering.)

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I didn’t realize that there was a long tradition of defending the Empire. Go figure. It even has its own poster tradition a la Cliff Chiang. (More fun for the Beltway, I guess.)

But beyond just a frame-by-frame review, this is a delicious discussion thread for adults/international relations wonks (not just geeks and nerds). Join forces with the the debate, because it’s on:

So I’ll take the nostalgia—though Bill Kristol’s crackpot take on the Empire might help define nostalgia’s limits. Folks, the Empire was not a liberal meritocracy, it was a galactic police state that blew up planets to quell rebellion. This is the kind of damage Lucas did with his prequel films, and the reason fans cheered when Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise for billions. The Star Wars prequels essayed the fall of the Old Republic and the decline of the Jedi Order as plot dressing for its supposed grand arc: the rise of Darth Vader and the Emperor. They existed to justify his original stories, which needed no justification, and even though they portrayed the Republic as being bogged down by bureaucracy, they also paralleled the Empire’s emergence with Hitler’s sweep to power, with the Clone Wars functioning as a kind of Reichstag fire.

Source: How Original Can The Force Awakens Be? | The Atlantic

Next up? Dan Drezner at WaPo who argues that “the Rebel Alliance’s victory in the Battle of Endor was a catastrophic success” leading to failed nation building efforts–as seen in the new trailer.

 

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The U.N. Security Council. What’s Up With That? | Foreign Policy

Thanks to Stephen Walt for taking time to itemize truisms of international relations that should have been done away with a long time ago because they have been proven to be patently false, useless, and even dangerous–with the UN featured prominently on no. 2 (but we could add many more):

Some of these absurdities persist because they’ve been around a long time, or because powerful interests defend them vigorously, or because they align with broader social prejudices. Some of them may in fact be defensible, but we should still bring such oddities out into the open air on occasion and ask ourselves if they really make sense.

Hence this column. As part of my self-appointed effort to ventilate the stale discourse of contemporary foreign policy, I offer up my list of Top 10 Truly Absurd Features of Contemporary Foreign Affairs. To make it a challenge, I’m excluding any mention of John McCain.

via The U.N. Security Council. What’s Up With That? | Foreign Policy.

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Strategy and the Legacy of Brent Scowcroft

What will be the historical summary of Brent Scowcroft, a Utah native son? One approach is to think of him as the adult in the room.

This pragmatic realist and “honest broker” may seem out-of-step in the fading glow of George W. Bush’s neorealism even as voices of isolationism  dot the party today (Think Paul and Cruz). But Scowcroft’s steadfast approach to “preserving order” and the overall strategy did have an impact:

In the final years of the Cold War, Scowcroft’s conservative focus on order may have been sufficient: Progress was on his side. But today, at a time when the international system is changing, for better or worse, the imperatives have ­become more complicated, less clear-cut. Scowcroft ­acknowledged later that once the Cold War ended, “we were confused, ­befuddled. We didn’t know what was ­going on, and we didn’t think it mattered much.” Or as Sparrow puts it, he does not try to “alter the nature of the game; . . . he plays the game set before him.” It was Scowcroft who helped momentarily push and then retract the widely derided concept of “the new world order.”

via ‘The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security’ – NYTimes.com.

Scow croft possessed to notable qualities, according to the author Bartholomew Sparrow, as noted in the WSJ: “his mastery of the day-to-day process of formulating strategy” and the “ability to balance the need to use power assertively, on the one hand, and to temper that assertiveness with prudence, on the other .”

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A 5-Minute International Relations Degree (You Wish)

So if you’re ruing the day that you got a finance degree and didn’t take any courses that were actually interesting, I offer here the Five Minute University program in International Relations. It consists of five basic concepts that teach you all you really need to know about the fascinating world of international affairs. Unless you are a very slow reader, this shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

via How to Get a B.A. in International Relations in 5 Minutes.

Thanks to Professor Walt for this useful intro to anarchy, balance of power, comparative advantage, misperception/miscalculation, and social construction.  He also suggests the next level of understanding:

deterrence and coercion, institutions, selection effects, democratic peace theory, international finance, and a number of other key ideas. A good working knowledge of international history would surely help as well, plus a lot of detailed expertise in specific policy areas.

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Save the System: An Argument for International Organization

Consider this recent principled albeit much-too-short defense of the global system by David Brooks.  No, it won’t eat your children.  Yes ,it will cost something to maintain.  But more important: the alternative to this post-war “grand strategy” is an anarchic, less prosperous world.

The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing. Preserving that hard-earned ecosystem requires an ever-advancing fabric of alliances, clear lines about what behavior is unacceptably system-disrupting, and the credible threat of political, financial and hard power enforcement.

via Saving the System – NYTimes.com.

For a longer reading list:

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