It’s hard to see America today and not feel somewhat disassociated. Not in the twitchy Upper West Side sort of way, but as we all experience when a loved one needs help, cries out for help, yet in the end must be cut off. For that loved one must want to change before help can have meaning.
We must face facts and surrender illusions. Iraq, Bush, the whole tapestry was not the aberration we believed. We mean in the sense of chronic American inability to approach international challenges in pursuit of a concrete strategic outcome. Since 1980 spastic force unleashed by feeling and emotion, doubly irrational, is the norm. 1991 is the exception.
Why? We all know, of course, the coffee table paradigms dusted off 2001-2008 – liberal international humanitarianism, Jacksonian impulses, Neocon cynicism, multi-lateral institutional inertia, etc. Those labels, however, are merely descriptive rather than explanatory. Consider:
Western leaders acknowledged, though, that beyond the immediate United Nations authorization to protect Libyan civilians there was no clear endgame, because it was uncertain that even military strikes will force Colonel Qaddafi from power. Many of the leaders in Paris have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and it may be that military intervention leads to negotiations with the opposition for the colonel and his family to go — or, at the least, buys time for the rebels to regroup. (emphasis added)
Force blindly deployed without clear rationale or strategic political objective. This after the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. We don’t need Graham Allison to grasp that internal U.S. bureaucratic models are only partially helpful. Ultimately organizational process is even less satisfying than the paradigms, supra. Personalities make a difference, true; people are policy. Consider that we arrive at the same outcome despite diverse voices as Bill Clinton, Not-So-Bright, Bill Cohen/Wesley Clark, Cheney, W., Rummy et. al., the Boy King, HRC and retinue.
Details and public rationales (lies) varied. The underlying consistency? U.S. inability to control compulsive shortsighted kinetic twitching.
We’ve discussed here together at length the military’s congenital failure as well. The Army’s fetishization of Wehrmacht operational art and the concomitant inability to formulate doctrine sufficient to achieve strategic victory conditions is just the most recent permutation. Russell Weigley’s magisterial The American Way of War traces the phenomenon back to the Civil War and before. The Air Force is no different. The comparatively tiny Marines stand out uniquely – from the invention of amphibious warfare and island hopping in the 1920s to Iraq and Afghanistan today.
Welcome to the new normal. American fundamental capacity for developing and subsequent implementation of strategic thought is depleted. Too bold? More than that, we submit that those pursuits are actively punished, mocked and disregarded by ‘the market.’ Can anyone who knew Bob Osgood, Nitze, even (ack) Zbig, etc., the CFR and FA when they meant something, doubt it? Max Boot as Senior Fellow? Beinart? Look at Condi’s pathetic NSC. Obama’s not a big step up. ‘Experts’ are only what the chyrons tell us.
Is it their fault? Beginning with cable, satellite and now the Net time as a linear concept simply vanished. Digital is binary, 1s and 0, no in betweens. Strategic thought above all takes time.
Our blind, unthinking embrace of ever-tightening micro news cycles, likes, trending tweets, page views and links is a collective pithing. Policy is necessarily reactive to ephemera of heat, noise and intensity. What would happen if Charlie Sheen took an interest in foreign affairs?
We’re not churning cant blaming the Net. But it does identify our most pressing question: how to cultivate and deploy societal strategic perspectives in this environment? We don’t have a ready answer.
Put it another way – would Nixonger be possible today? Plumbers are a quaint notion when ‘unnamed senior White House officials’, Congress, all of them leak, tweet and call cable producers. A multi-year secret diplomacy climaxed with a covert trip to China via Pakistan, etc. is laughable. Kissinger would be caught by a camera phone and put on TMZ at the get go.
Now add WikiLeaks to that environment with institutional blood vendettas everywhere. The Good Old Days are always rosy in hindsight. The Sovs used to complain that their biggest problem with Americans is they don’t’ know what they want. Similar symptoms under the thumb of three networks, the Grey Lady, AM radio and The Phone Company. Kissinger observed even then government service burned up years of thinking in mere months.
We used to say often over at STSOZ 1.0 the American tragedy might well be we learn how to think about power in fully realized, purposeful terms only when we lose it.