There’s An App For That (Corrected)*

Good old Dave. Always the overachiever is he. Completely dependable, too. In the slick, Washingtonian-instrumental-let’s-use-each-other sort of way. A shame he’s no strategic genius.

When political science attempted to mean something other than a plug on Morning Joe, a number of scholars (notice how we don’t use that word anymore? Instead, we get Michael Beschloss) tried to unravel the linkage – if any – between going ashore in Da Nang 1965 and the progressive Johnson domestic agenda. This was before Reagan made the bear step back on American-made color TVs (yes, preposterous we know, but true, we did make them). Academics like Joanne Gowa delved into presidential records and interviews to ask “Do progressive American presidents have to wage war abroad (Cold or Hot) to appease opponents of their domestic agenda.” In structural terms, is there a terrible quid pro quo for the Voting Rights Act, the Warren Court, the Civil Rights Act, etc., etc.

We know now that Johnson, the Ur political president, certainly took the thought seriously. Democrats and Republicans alike embraced general containment. We fought a hot war in Korea. Ike threatened nukes. The Soviets were a real global threat. After the 1962 Cuban humiliation they embarked upon the largest military escalation in human history.

What’s Obama’s excuse? He’s doubled down on COIN with Petraeus’ appointment (oblique elevation) today. We dump $100 billion $16 billion a month into Afghanistan. With no credible scenario for success (however defined) by July 2011. By the way, that’s another $1.1 trillion almost $200 billion more from the date of this writing alone. Who thinks Obama politically survives a pullout right before the 2012 funny season? Even a wholly cynical ‘decent interval’ deal with the Taliban wouldn’t work in this day and age.

Obama’s smart enough to know his domestic opponents are in the nihilist militant masses. His Afghan policy won’t buy him a single vote on financial reform. Or jobless benefits extensions. He doesn’t face Johnson’s glacial constraints. Nor is he in the same league as the Nixon/Kissinger pairing (for good and ill). Obama chose to make the Afghanistan war his folly. Twice.

One must take him at his word. McChrystal’s faux pas gave him an opportunity to recalibrate. To face unpleasant truths. He chose to download the Petraeus COIN app again. Which makes Obama the biggest American strategic problem of all.


* We blew it. The initial numbers are patently absurd. Should have known it without typing. Rudimentary checking would have caught it anyway. We relied on a presentation by a well known foreign affairs/D.C. blogger and simply ran with it. Not a valid excuse. Not just because we didn’t source it. We were caught up making the cute iPetraeus App thing fall into place; we were lazy and regurgitated what we were told. Which is what we ridicule others, especially in the media, for doing. As Les Grossman might say, ‘The Universe is talking’. We’re listening.



  1. RedPhillip says

    @Dr Leo Strauss

    ISI’s psychiatric profile on Petraeus would be fascinating.

    As would those of the various competing factions here in the Imperium.

    Something else that would be very interesting would be to know what bits of the ISI’s profile of Petraeus will be shared with their clients and allies in Afghanistan — both in the Karzai ‘government’ and in the resistance.

  2. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Petraeus escalated airstrikes approximately seven-fold in Iraq. How re-assuring he is reviewing ‘courageous restraint’ before taking command next week.

    How Pakistan will play Petraeus and faltering American spasms worth watching. He is consumed with self-brand preservation and neediness. Yet he can’t hijack self-interested decisions of Sunni tribes as his COIN success this time. Islamabad, knowing their real strategic focus remains India and strategic depth in Afghanistan long after Americans flee, play their opening gambit – offering a network. ISI’s psychiatric profile on Petraeus would be fascinating.

  3. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Those were from conversations with her at the time about her research and focus. As for a specific cite of her eventual published works, I’ve long since forgotten. It’s available in Firestone if anywhere!

  4. rkka says

    You have put your finger on the root cause of many of our present troubles, Paul Nitze and NSC-68. It militarized our econy and our politics, and made the issues of the Cold War unnegotiatable. As a second-order effect, it undermined Khrushchev, as you point out, removing the bar to the militarization of Soviet politics and economics. It justified the financing, training, and arming of America-hating radical Islamists. Wow.

    And to those who want to bring up Khrushchev’s governance of Ukraine in the 1930s, I will only say that in 1992 Ukraines population was 52 million and growing. It is now 46 million, and deaths still exceed births there by ~250,000/yr.

  5. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Brodie was right. A tragedy that Bissell’s career ended on Cuban beaches in some ways. He and Krushschev are coeval in that regard.

    If one thinks about it, Bissell’s role birthing U-2, SR-71 and Corona is that rare successful warning about the importance of civilian intelligence. Finally, civilian political leadership could dismiss the Air Force’s missile (and bomber) gap fantasies. Rare because we believe the story of American Power, once written objectively in the future (hopefully in more than 140 characters), will be a sad one. So much determined ignorance glommed on to so much accidental potential.

    Your point about Brodie is well taken. Especially about the Committee for the Present Danger. We remember walking into their offices back then. One was surrounded by giant, huge replicas of SS-9s, SS-18s, Typhoon submarines. Huge, bulbous perpendicular things. And next to them tiny American Minuteman IIIs, etc. The intentional (but still subconscious) playground psychology was hilarious. Helen Caldecott IIRC wrote a skewering piece in that era noting the, um, envy involved. Think it was her. The Daily Show would have a field day in a fake interview. Anyway, that the Sovs wished desperately they could deploy miniaturized systems conveniently ignored.

    Back then the CPD was a mixed bag. Paul Nitze, for example, would in a conversation likely agree with Brodie on many points and disagree with decorum on others. For example, Nitze himself admitted that NSC-68 was largely bureaucratic pure grain alcohol designed to ‘bludgeon the mass mind of the bureaucracy’. He and Kennan were worlds apart philosophically about containment – Kennan preferring focus on essential ‘cockpits’ like Western Europe and Japan, Nitze pessimistic the U.S. could function with the adroit alacrity necessary and in the end be in for a Teutoburg Forrest.

    He might even have conceded to Brodie what was necessary *then* in the 1950s (in Nitze’s mind) did not necessarily translate into that present day. But Nitze himself never understood the implications of feeding pure grain alcohol to the unscrupulous or simply dim. He paid for it in the end, cannibalized by his own ideological enfants just for going for a walk.

    True, the Sovs presented an unprecedented challenge of a near total counter-intelligence state. Yet Brodie’s admonition you share rings true today. American self-myth still largely ignores unpleasant facts. In the 1950s ‘rollback’ was more than just rhetoric, as British perfidy (Philby and Blake) made clear. As you note, how would the Leave It To Beaver, Duck And Cover generation react to Soviet nuclear bombers on perpetual 24 hour alert encirclement just outside U.S. airspace? Geographic encirclement ala CENTO, etc.

    Americans today are still in denial about core, essential truths behind two ruinous wars. We still fail to grasp the law of unintended consequences. Or the law of action and reaction. In every encounter – military or otherwise, the other side gets a vote.

    Our nuclear missiles in Turkey? Par for the course. Khruschev’s ‘hair brained scheme’ of IRBMs in Cuba? Casus belli. (And in a few years rendered moot. Yankee and Delta SLBMs off shore). Some guy sitting in Nevada joysticking Hellfire missiles into wedding receptions? Why, what does that have to do with somebody wanting to put an SUV in Times Square?

    Bissell and Krushchev’s coeval status is doubly ironic. Khrushchev used empty nuclear blustering as a cheap tool to allow him to cut back on military industrial expenditures at home. Talbott’s work on his memoirs gains (in our opinion) more poignancy as time passes. Bissell and Corona’s very expose of the fake missile gap (with new American Minuteman infinitely more powerful than anything Korolev’s few rockets under construction) inexorably led Khruschhev to risk all on the Cuban gamble, ushered in his fall and enshrined the exact unchecked Soviet military industrial expansionism he tried to avoid and Americans feared.

    Oh well. Perhaps David Petraeus will find a way to save us. Although in his case, the Rubicon is not a river but a green room.

  6. rkka says

    “After the 1962 Cuban humiliation they embarked upon the largest military escalation in human history.”

    Bernard Brodie once remarked, in response to lying propaganda from the Committee on the present danger, that the Soviet nuclear buildup of the 60s was something that no student of the US buildup of the 50s could possibly call unprecedented. And the Soviet buildup of the 60s was provoked, unlike the US buildup of the 50s.

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