“If you believe the mission truly requires 50,000 troops and $50 billion, but you know that the White House is going to automatically cut every number in half, you’ll come in asking for 100,000 troops and $100 billion,” says the aforementioned former White House official. “The military eventually starts playing the very game the White House has always suspected them of playing.”
Not for nothing does the phrase “spiraling out of control” garner 7,840,000 hits on Google.
….A place to begin our efforts in avoiding war with China might be avoiding engagement in some of the same incorrect mirror-imaging assumptions we once made about the Soviet Union, not least of which was MAD. As a doctrine, Soviet leaders never accepted MAD and the Red Army general staff ignored it in drafting war plans to fight and prevail in any nuclear war. While the Soviets had no choice but to tackle the logic of deterrence as we did, the operative Soviet assumptions were predicated on a different strategic calculus, a different force structure and above all, different policy goals from their American counterparts. A dangerous gap between American assumptions of Soviet intentions and the reality of these intentions came to light when in 1983 the Reagan administrationdiscovered to their alarm that Soviet leaders had interpreted the NATO exercise Abel Archer 83 as preparations for a real, imminent nuclear first strike on the USSR and ordered Soviet nuclear forces on high alert.
The military-to-military confidence-building initiatives outlined by Cheney-Peters intended to construct “habits of cooperation” are not entirely useless. There is some value in ensuring that high-ranking American military officers have personal and limited operational familiarity with their Chinese counterparts in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but as potential game-changers, they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Such a policy misses the essential strategic and political centers of gravity in the Sino-American relationship. Namely that for the first time in 600 years, China is building a blue water Navy that will foster power projection as far away as the Indian ocean and Australia. Secondly, this naval expansion, coupled with a new Chinese foreign policy, aggressively presses grandiose territorial demands on nearly all of its neighbors, including India and Japan. These are fundamental conflicts with American interests that cannot be explained away or papered over by banquet toasts with visiting delegations of Chinese admirals. [...]
Several weeks ago, Cheryl Rofer wrote an important post analyzing the report “Strategic Terrorism: A Call to Action” by Microsoft billionaire, venture capitalist, theoretical mathematician and cookbook author, Dr. Nathan Myhrvold. I found Cheryl’s argument quite persuasive and would like to add a few points of my own; because while some of the concerns raised by Myhrvold are valid and his intent is no doubt well-meaning, the approach he suggests is, at times, problematic.
If in the past ten years you have been a serious student of terrorism studies, insurgency and COIN, national security, counter-terrorism policy, counter-proliferation policy, intelligence community affairs and military theory, there is little that will be new for you in the first part of the report. Many of these problems had previously been raised (at least in part) by figures as disparate as Michael Scheuer, John Robb, Martin van Creveld, Thomas P.M. Barnett, William Lind, Robert Bunker and dozens if not hundreds, of thinkers, practitioners and scholars. In addition, this ground was also covered by government agencies like the National Intelligence Council in its periodic Global Trends reports, and in classified analysis by the Office of Net Assessment and various three letter agencies. The blogosphere also had a lively discussion of catastrophic WMD terrorism, superempowered individuals, 4GW/5GW, apocalyptic Mahdism and related subjects throughout the mid to late 2000′s. Diffusion of society-shifting power into the hands of small groups and individuals was a theme of Alvin and Heidi Toffler back in the 70′s and 80′s, so this is an old rather than new problem.
Dr. Myhrvold is a polymathic character, but his original area of specialization was mathematical research so it is not surprising that his approach to things “strategic” is dominated by scalar considerations. Namely, a threat taxonomy based upon potential magnitude of disaster events up to the extinction of the human race (High M 10). Wondering here, as the bibliographic references of this report are extremely scanty, if Myhrvold was influenced by Herman Kahn‘s ideas on escalation or game theory based literature on deterrence or something else. Regardless, while there’s some merit to this definition – obviously if your civilization is destroyed or everyone is dead you have suffered the ultimate in strategic defeat – there are weaknesses too as the linear progression of destruction implies an apolitical environment and inevitable process. That’s not how things work with strategy in the real world, neither today nor back in the era of Cold War superpower nuclear brinksmanship. Even John Foster Dulles and Vyacheslav Molotov were more politically nuanced than that.
This is an important point. Myhrvold is focused on capacity alone rather than in conjunction with political purpose in defining strategic threats. Capacity in bad hands is worth worrying about and Myhrvold is right when he criticizes the government for their obstinate refusal to develop a robust threat detection system for shipping to US ports of entry ( that’s boring, hard work with little payoff from a political perspective, but the NSA building a system for surveilling all Americans is fun and gives government bureaucrats great potential power to ruin anyone they wish); that said, outside of comic books and James Bond movies, people do not historically initiate violence on an epochal scale out of a Joker-like admiration of nihilism, not even terrorists. Instead, they have a political end in mind for which violence is a tool. This variable appears to be absent from Myhrvold’s thinking.
More troubling, Myhrvold’s solution to the potential threat of bioweapon terrorism would appear to be, as I infer it, even greater centralization of power in the hands of a national security surveillance state. As I expect Dr. Myhrvold is a great respecter of data-driven, probabilistic logic, he might want to consider that nearly every man-made, high magnitude, lethal event in the past century and a quarter years has been initiated by governments for reasons of policy, up to and including the auto-genocide of tens of millions of their own citizens. Most people on this planet are in far greater danger of harm at the hands of the state than they are as a result of terrorism or foreign attack and it would seem foolish, in light of such statistics, to increase our risk by delegating greater grants of power to the entity most likely to cause us harm. In the words of the late defense and security expert Dr. Fred Ikle, we would be risking Annihilation from Within.
Ikle anticipated years ago much of what Myhrvold wrestled with in his report and, in my view, prescribed better answers.
….Boyd and Christie started the group on a very small scale in Florida, fueled more by beer and frivolity than anything else. Things got serious when Boyd and later Christie were brought to work at the Pentagon. They met Pierre Sprey, a self-described “subversive” in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, then occupied by Robert McNamara. Sprey was one of the “whiz kids,” but he believed the Air Force was doing everything wrong in Vietnam. He was an early proponent of close air support, which led to the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt II “Warthog.”
“We were bureaucratic guerrilla warriors, fighting the system and deploying whatever underground means we could use,” including whistleblowing, leaking, and “suborning” members of Congress, Sprey says, half-joking.
“John Boyd came in as a maverick,” Sprey recalled. Initially, Boyd was brought to the Pentagon in the 1960s by a general who disliked Sprey’s ideas on close air support and was pulling together a group of eggheads to “disgrace” him. When the general left Boyd alone in the room with Sprey they “became fast friends, co-conspirators.” The rest is history.
By the time the group held its first Washington meeting in 1973, Sprey, Boyd, Christie, and test pilot Col. Everest Riccioni had designed the concept that was directly implemented as the F-15 and F-16 fighter programs—which have served as the core of American air power for the past 40 years. The group came to be known as the “Fighter Mafia” and expanded their circle to include other like-minded individuals with the same goals for reforming programs and building better weapons systems for the military.
“I’m proud of what we achieved, but it was only a drop in the bucket” relative to the massive size of the Pentagon’s budget and operations, says Sprey. “At least we got a few things done.”
Today, he adds, “we’re a network of subversives trying to cut the defense budget and campaigning against things that don’t work.”
Last Thursday as I was rolling into the Pentagon Metro station I noticed from the train window a giant sign that read, “Snowden Honored His Oath. Honor Yours! Stop Big Brother!”
Before I could snap a picture or see who’d sponsored the sign, the train was rolling out. For the rest of the weekend I wondered who had the chutzpah (and the inventiveness) to praise Snowden at the Pentagon stop, where it’s far more common to see ads from lobbyists praising the merits of some piece of military tech.
Turns out it was the Oath Keepers, “a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials [who] have pledged not to obey unconstitutional commands.”
And the enantiodromia here, the sudden switcheroo? That’s to do with Greenwald suddenly tweeting an appreciation of the OathKeepers — not his usual allies by any stretch of the imagination. So this one might equally be filed under “strange bedfellows”.
Or a “one two combo” perhaps? Left jab right cross, to be specific?
Everybody understands the obvious meaning of the world struggle in which we are engaged. We are defending freedom against tyranny and are trying to preserve justice against a system which has, demonically, distilled injustice and cruelty out of its original promise of a higher justice.
The second is from UK’s Labour MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, who once said:
My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town a German soldier shot her dead in her bed. … My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.
Right or wrong, Kaufman was in effect asserting the danger of enantiodromia…
Note well that enantiodromiais mostly used to refer to a single switchback: iterative enantiodromia would be a form of boustropehdon.
Note also that David Myatt, whose comment on enantiodromia in Heraclitus I linked to above, is an interesting fellow in his own right, having been a leading UK neonazi for decades, then converting to Islam and preaching jihad and praise of bin Laden — now finally settling into his (hopefully, final) role as an English country gentleman and proponent of moderation in all things — an ex-twice-extremist anti-extremist, itself quite an enantiodromic turn of events…
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.