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John Quincy Adams on Gaza

Friday, July 18th, 2014

[redacted with extreme prejudice by Lynn C. Rees]

Our relations with Spain the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) remain nearly in the state in which they were at the close of the last session. The convention of 1802 Oslo Accords of 1991 and 1995, providing for the adjustment of a certain portion of the claims of our citizens for injuries sustained by spoliation, and so long suspended by the Spanish PA Government has at length been ratified by it, but no arrangement has yet been made for the payment of another portion of like claims, not less extensive or well founded, or for other classes of claims, or for the settlement of boundaries. These subjects have again been brought under consideration in both countries, but no agreement has been entered into respecting them.

In the mean time events have occurred which clearly prove the ill effect of the policy which that Government has so long pursued on the friendly relations of the two countries, which it is presumed is at least of as much importance to Spain the PLA as to the United States Israel to maintain. A state of things has existed in the Floridas Gaza Strip the tendency of which has been obvious to all who have paid the slightest attention to the progress of affairs in that quarter. Throughout the whole of those Provinces to which the Spanish Palestinian title extends the Government of Spain the PLA has scarcely been felt. Its authority has been confined almost exclusively to the walls of Pensacola and St. Augustine the West Bank, within which only small garrisons have been maintained. Adventurers from every country, fugitives from justice, and absconding slaves have found an asylum there. Several tribes of Indians Islamists, strong in the number of their warriors terrorists, remarkable for their ferocity, and whose settlements extend to our limits, inhabit those Provinces.

These different hordes of people, connected together, disregarding on the one side the authority of Spain the PA, and protected on the other by an imaginary line which separates Florida the Gaza Strip from the United States Israel, have violated our laws prohibiting the introduction of slaves, have practiced various frauds on our revenue, and committed every kind of outrage on our peaceable citizens which their proximity to us enabled them to perpetrate.

The invasion of Amelia Island the Gaza Strip last year in 2006 by a small band of adventurers Hamas, not exceeding one hundred and fifty several hundred in number, who wrested it from the inconsiderable Spanish PA force stationed there, and held it several months years, during which a single feeble effort only was made to recover it, which failed, clearly proves how completely extinct the Spanish PA authority had become, as the conduct of those adventurers while in possession of the island as distinctly shows the pernicious purposes for which their combination had been formed.

This country had, in fact, become the theater of every species of lawless adventure. With little population of its own, the Spanish PA authority almost extinct, and the colonial two governments in a state of revolution, having no pretension to it, and sufficiently employed in their own concerns, it was in great measure derelict, and the object of cupidity to every adventurer. A system of buccaneering was rapidly organizing over it which menaced in its consequences the lawful commerce of every nation, and particularly the United States Israel, while it presented a temptation to every people, on whose seduction its success principally depended.

In regard to the United States Israel, the pernicious effect of this unlawful combination was not confined to the ocean; the Indian Islamist tribes have constituted the effective force in Florida the Gaza Strip. With these tribes these adventurers had formed at an early period a connection with a view to avail themselves of that force to promote their own projects of accumulation and aggrandizement. It is to the interference of some of these adventurers, in misrepresenting the claims and titles of the Indians Palestinians to land and in practicing on their savage propensities, that the Seminole war Gaza war is principally to be traced. Men who thus connect themselves with savage communities and stimulate them to war, which is always attended on their part with acts of barbarity the most shocking, deserve to be viewed in a worse light than the savages. They would certainly have no claim to an immunity from the punishment which, according to the rules of warfare practiced by the savages, might justly be inflicted on the savages themselves.

If the embarrassments of Spain the PA prevented her from making an indemnity to our citizens for so long a time from her treasury for their losses by spoliation and otherwise, it was always in her power to have provided it by the cession of this territory. Of this her Government has been repeatedly apprised, and the cession was the more to have been anticipated as Spain the PA must have known that in ceding it she would likewise relieve herself from the important obligation secured by the treaty of 1795 Oslo Accords and all other compromitments respecting it. If the United States Israel, from consideration of these embarrassments, declined pressing their claims in a spirit of hostility, the motive ought at least to have been duly appreciated by the Government of Spain the PA. It is well known to her Government that other powers have made to the United States Israel an indemnity for like losses sustained by their citizens at the same epoch.

There is nevertheless a limit beyond which this spirit of amity and forbearance can in no instance be justified. If it was proper to rely on amicable negotiation for an indemnity for losses, it would not have been so to have permitted the inability of Spain the PA to fulfill her engagements and to sustain her authority in the Floridas Gaza Strip to be perverted by foreign adventurers and savages to purposes so destructive to the lives of our fellow citizens and the highest interests of the United States Israel.

The right of self defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals, and whether the attack be made by Spain the PA herself or by those who abuse her power, its obligation is not the less strong.

The invaders of Amelia Island Hamas had assumed a popular and respected title under which they might approach and wound us. As their object was distinctly seen, and the duty imposed on the Executive by an existing law was profoundly felt, that mask was not permitted to protect them. It was thought incumbent on the United States Israel to suppress the establishment, and it was accordingly done. The combination in Florida the Gaza Strip for the unlawful purposes stated, the acts perpetrated by that combination, and, above all, the incitement of the Indians terrorists to massacre our fellow citizens of every age and of both sexes, merited a like treatment and received it.

In pursuing these savages to an imaginary line in the woods sand it would have been the height of folly to have suffered that line to protect them. Had that been done the war could never cease. Even if the territory had been exclusively that of Spain the PA and her power complete over it, we had a right by the law of nations to follow the enemy on it and to subdue him there. But the territory belonged, in a certain sense at least, to the savage enemy who inhabited it; the power of Spain the PA had ceased to exist over it, and protection was sought under her title by those who had committed on our citizens hostilities which she was bound by treaty to have prevented, but had not the power to prevent. To have stopped at that line would have given new encouragement to these savages and new vigor to the whole combination existing there in the prosecution of all its pernicious purposes.

In suppressing the establishment at Amelia Island Hamas no unfriendliness was manifested toward Spain the PA, because the post was taken from a force which had wrested it from her. The measure, it is true, was not adopted in concert with the Spanish PA Government or those in authority under it, because in transactions connected with the war in which Spain and the colonies Fatah and Hamas are engaged it was thought proper in doing justice to the United States Israel to maintain a strict impartiality toward both the belligerent parties without consulting or acting in concert with either. It gives me pleasure to state that the Governments of Buenos Ayres and Venezuela Fatah, whose names were assumed, have explicitly disclaimed all participation in those measures, and even the knowledge of them until communicated by this Government, and have also expressed their satisfaction that a course of proceedings had been suppressed which if justly imputable to them would dishonor their cause.

In authorizing Major-General Jackson the IDF to enter Florida the Gaza Strip in pursuit of the Seminoles terrorists care was taken not to encroach on the rights of Spain the PA. I regret to have to add that in executing this order facts were disclosed respecting the conduct of the officers of Spain the PA in authority there in encouraging the war, furnishing munitions of war and other supplies to carry it on, and in other acts not less marked which evinced their participation in the hostile purposes of that combination and justified the confidence with which it inspired the savages that by those officers they would be protected.

A conduct so incompatible with the friendly relations existing between the two countries, particularly with the positive obligations of the 5th 8th article of the treaty Declaration of Principles of 1795 1991, by which Spain the PA was bound to restrain, even by force, those savages from acts of hostility against the United States, could not fail to excite surprise. The commanding general was convinced that he should fail in his object, that he should in effect accomplish nothing, if he did not deprive those savages of the resource on which they had calculated and of the protection on which they had relied in making the war. As all the documents relating to this occurrence will be laid before Congress the Knesset, it is not necessary to enter into further detail respecting it.

Although the reasons which induced Major-General Jackson the IDF to take these posts were duly appreciated, there was nevertheless no hesitation in deciding on the course which it became the Government to pursue. As there was reason to believe that the commanders of these posts had violated their instructions, there was no disposition to impute to their Government a conduct so unprovoked and hostile. An order was in consequence issued to the general in command there to deliver the posts–Pensacola unconditionally to any person duly authorized to receive it, and St. Marks the Gaza Strip, which is in the heart of the Indian country, on the arrival of a competent force to defend it against those savages and their associates.

In entering Florida the Gaza Strip to suppress this combination no idea was entertained of hostility to Spain, and however justifiable the commanding general was, in consequence of the misconduct of the Spanish PA officers, in entering St. Marks and Pensacola the Gaza Strip and to terminate it by proving to the savages and their associates that they should not be protected even there, yet the amicable relations existing between the United States and Spain Israel and the PA could not be altered by that act alone. By ordering the restitution of the posts those relations were preserved. To a change of them the power of the Executive is deemed incompetent; it is vested in Congress the Knesset only.

By this measure, so promptly taken, due respect was shown to the Government of Spain the PA. The misconduct of her officers has not been imputed to her. She was enabled to review with candor her relations with the United States Israel and her own situation, particularly in respect to the territory in question, with the dangers inseparable from it, and regarding the losses we have sustained for which indemnity has been so long withheld, and the injuries we have suffered through that territory, and her means of redress, she was likewise enabled to take with honor the course best calculated to do justice to the United States Israel and to promote her own welfare.

Copies of the instructions to the commanding general, of his correspondence with the Secretary of War Defense Minister, explaining his motives and justifying his conduct, with a copy of the proceedings of the courts-martial in the trial targeting of Arbuthnot and Ambristie Hamas’ leadership, and of the correspondence between Israel and the PA the Secretary of State and the minister plenipotentiary of Spain near this Government, and of the minister plenipotentiary of the United States Israel at Madrid with the Government of Spain, will be laid before Congress the Knesset.


Posts from my Coursera classes I — dehumanization, consequences

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- where brute reality & instinct collide head-on with morality & military professionalism ]



I’ve been taking various MOOCs recently — online courses from places like the University of Leiden, the START program at the University of Maryland, and Princeton, on topics relating to counter-terrorism and warfare. In some cases, I have been TA-ing these courses, and I’ve offered to write a FAQ for the folks at Leiden on religious aspects of their terrorism course. Most recently, in a Princeton course on “paradoxes of war” I have been finding myself writing some short essay-style summaries of my thinking on various topics, supplemented with appropriate source materials, and thought I’d post some of them here for commentary and further refinement.

Here’s the first, responding to some posts on the incident where a group of US videotaped themselves urinating on Taliban corpses — an issue in which brute reality and instinct collide head-on with morality and military professionalism.


I have read through this thread with interest, appreciating the various voices raised and at the same time wishing that more of the available research was more widely known.

Several scholars have studied the realities of “dehumanization” and written about it, and what they have to say can usefully support some of our own thoughts about the matter, and in some cases challenge us to look deeper into war and its effects.

We might start our considerations from the work of Brigadier General S. L. A Marshall, official historian of the European theater in World War II for the US Army. As a 2012 Guardian article put it:

Marshall’s astonishing contention, debated vigorously ever since, was that about 75% of second world war combat troops were unable to fire their weapons on the enemy. Guns were discharged, but they would be deliberately aimed over the heads of the enemy. The vast majority of soldiers couldn’t actually kill. And, in the midst of combat, they became de facto conscientious objectors.

Indeed, in his 1947 book Men Against Fire: the problem of Battle Command, Marshall argued:

It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy individual — the man who can endure the mental and physical stress of combat — still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility.

That’s the scholarly basis for holding that soldiers don’t “naturally” want to kill their enemies, even when under fire. It is entirely possible to disagree with Marshall, but to do so effectively requires more than a simple opinion: it requires research.

This would be a horribly long piece if I jammed everything I want to say into one post, particularly since the conversation had already covered so much ground by the time I came across it — so I’ll break here, and follow up shortly with more pieces of the puzzle as I see it.


Let’s pick up the thread where I left off in a previous post about General Marshall’s finding that humans tend to avoid killing one another, even in time of war.

Sebastian Junger, who hung out for the better part of a year with troops in one of the most heavily contested parts of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, describing what he saw there in the book War and the film Restrepo, which he directed. Junger commented not so long ago in the Washington Post:

I can’t imagine that there was a time in human history when enemy dead were not desecrated. Achilles dragged Hector around the walls of Troy from the back of a chariot because he was so enraged by Hector’s killing of his best friend. Three millennia later, Somali fighters dragged a U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu after shooting down a Black Hawk helicopter and killing 17 other Americans …. Clearly, the impulse to desecrate the enemy comes from a very dark and primal place in the human psyche. Once in a while, those impulses are going to break through.


They are very clear about the fact that society trains them to kill, orders them to kill and then balks at anything that suggests they have dehumanized the enemy they have killed.

But of course they have dehumanized the enemy—otherwise they would have to face the enormous guilt and anguish of killing other human beings …. It doesn’t work …, but it gets them through the moment; it gets them through the rest of the patrol.

That’s the evidence from the front lines — in a war still winding down as we speak — for the practical necessity of dehumanizing the enemy.

Next up: the psychological impact.


Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former Ranger who has taught psychology at West Point, agrees with Marshall that we humans tend to be averse to killing one another, and with Sebastian Junger on the necessity of desensitization in time of battle:

During the Vietnam era millions of American adolescents were conditioned to engage in an act against which they had a powerful resistance. This conditioning is a necessary part of allowing a soldier to succeed and survive in the environment where society has placed him.

In his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War, he explores how the US has responded to such findings as Grossman’s, by a “triad of methods used to enable men to overcome their innate resistance to killing” including “desensitization, classical and operant conditioning, and denial defense mechanisms”.

He then goes on to point out the moral obligation these simple facts place on those who send sons and daughters, wives and husbands, fathers and mothers into harm’s way:

But if society prepares a soldier to overcome his resistance to killing and places him in an environment in which he will kill, then that society has an obligation to deal forthrightly, intelligently, and morally with the psychological repercussions upon the soldier and the society. Largely through an ignorance of the processes and implications involved, this did not happen for Vietnam veterans — a mistake we risk making again as the war in Iraq becomes increasingly deadly and unpopular.


But what are the “processes and implications involved”?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is neither a battle-hardened soldier like Marshall and Grossman, nor a war correspondent like Junger — but he cuts to the point where there’s a potential disconnect between life “up range” and the realities “back home” when he says:

when we dehumanize someone, whether you like it or not, in that process you are dehumanized. A person is a person through other persons. If we want to enhance our personhood, one of the best ways of doing it is enhancing the personhood of the other.

And he’s right, it seems.

Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, author of the book Achilles In Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character, found that dehumanizing the enemy during the Vietnam war caused psychological damage to American troops:

Restoring honor to the enemy is an essential step in recovery from combat PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). While other things are obviously needed as well, the veteran’s self-respect never fully recovers so long as he is unable to see the enemy as worthy. In the words of one of our patients, a war against subhuman vermin “has no honor.” This in true even in victory; in defeat, the dishonoring makes life unendurable.

So that’s the impact of killing an enemy you have dehumanized — and the moral situation we need to reckon with when we send others into the line of fire on our behalf.

Perhaps now it is time to take a closer and less dehumanized look at our enemies.


On which point I’ll have more to say in an uncoming post


Narco-cartels as MBAs Doing 4GW

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]


Yale organizational behaviorist Rodrigo Canales has an interesting talk on the Narco-insurgency in Mexico ( which he correctly sees as having been as lethal as Syria’s civil war). While this won’t be news to close students of Mexico’s cartel wars, Canales explains how Los Zeta, La Familia, Knights Templar and Sinaloa cartel violence is neither random nor strictly criminal on criminal  violence but is used as part of organizational strategies to create distinctive “franchise brands”, amplify political messaging,  reinforce effects of social service investment in the communities they control and maximize market efficiency of narcotics sales and other contraband. COIN, 4GW and irregular warfare folks will all see familiar elements in Canales management theory driven perspective.

A useful short tutorial considering the cartels are operating inside the United States and their hyper-violent tactics are eventually going to follow.


On Islam 1: Reuel Mark Gerecht

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- on an impressive video, featuring Matt Levitt and Reuel Gerecht on Hezbollah ]

Matthew Levitt‘s contribution to a recent panel at the International Soy Museum was a tour de force. Levitt, whose work as a CT analyst has included stints with both the FBI and Treasury, was discussing his most recent book, Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God — both the book and his talk are strongly recommended.

It is, however, his colleague Reuel Marc Gerecht‘s contribution to that session that I wish to highlight here, because [starting at 44.40] he made a point about Hezbollah from his own CT experience that he still finds it necessary to make in 2013, some two decades after his service with the CIA commenced in the 1990s:

One of the things I was struck by when I came into the Agency, and I was struck by it on the day that I left the Agency, which was: you almost never had officers either on the clandestine side or in the directorate of analysis, the Directorate of Intelligence, talk about God. You just didn’t have that many people sort of put it together and talk about what actually motivated people.

You know, there was almost an assumption out there, Oh, the Iranians were upset with us because of our dealing with the Shah etcetera, but the actual analysis of the Iranian complaint against the United States was distinctly secular. Even the analysis of the Hezbollah was distinctly secular. And it never made any sense, particularly if you started to have some exposure to these individuals, and you suddenly realized that no, their motivations aren’t secular usually, their motivations are actually deeply spiritual, they’re religious, they’re about God.

— and [starting 53.04]:

There is a profound reflex in the West to look at a group like Hezbollah, and to look at their Iranian sponsors, and to take God out of the equation. Don’t do that. We wouldn’t do it with al-Qaida. Don’t do it with these groups either. If you do that, if you neuter them of their religious belief, if you look at it as just an ethnic movement, if you look at it as just a sectarian movement, if you look at it as just the Shi’a getting even in Lebanon, then you’re making an atrocious analytical mistake, which will bushwhack you, I guarantee you, over and over again. You have to keep God in this equation…

The one bright spot in this dismal account of the secular mindset blinding itself to religious passion is Gerecht’s statement: “We wouldn’t do it with al-Qaida”.


For more on the way our own worldviews can blind us to the worldviews of others, see my post on Gaidi Mtaani, together with the two follow ups to that post which I shall be posting here shortly.


America’s Defense Amnesia

Friday, November 1st, 2013

(by Adam Elkus)

Over at The National Interest, Paul Pillar diagnoses America with an “amnesia” about intelligence. The US, like Guy Pearce’s amnesiac character in Memento, does not perceive that it is caught in a larger oscillating cycle:

Attitudes of the American public and elected officials toward intelligence go in cycles. There is an oscillation between two types of perceived crisis. One type is the “intelligence failure,” in which things happen in the world followed by recriminations about how intelligence agencies should have done a better job of predicting or warning of the happening. The recriminations are customarily accompanied by “reform,” or talk of it, which chiefly means finding ways to do things differently from what was done before—not necessarily better, just different. Usually there also are accusations of malfeasance by individuals, even though there is an inherent tension between attributing failure to unreformed institutions and attributing it to individuals who screwed up. Often the response also involves additional empowerment of institutions, in the form of added resources or added authorities.

The other type of crisis involves seeing institutions as too empowered, with the response being to place additional restrictions on them. For U.S. intelligence agencies one of the most conspicuous examples of this phase of the cycle was in the 1970s, with some of the agencies in question already suspect as the nation came out of the Vietnam and Watergate eras, and with the principal response being to erect Congressional and legal checks that are still in place today. Now we are seeing in a somewhat milder form the corresponding phase of another cycle, as the nation comes out of more than a decade of recovery from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which stimulated the most recent burst of empowerment. There is new talk about reducing the powers and scope of activity of agencies and adding more checks and restraints.

Pillar goes on to explain that the nature of intelligence does not provide easy directions regarding how allied intelligence targets figure into larger geostrategic intelligence factors that impact what policymakers desire out of the intelligence community. It is a great read from a man who is both a veteran of the intelligence world and a consistent critic of US foreign policy and security. However, I’d like to expand Pillar’s metaphor of “amnesia” beyond the intelligence world. We really have defense and national security amnesia.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it was not uncommon to hear sentiments arguing that force-on-force, firepower-centric conventional warfare could not cope with the challenges of a “global counterinsurgency.” Indeed, some argued that the previous high-tech military ideas not only were out of date with the nature of the challenge, but almost lost the war altogether. Both manpower-heavy and manpower-light counterinsurgency campaigns were proposed.  The Surge is still seen today in many quarters as the closest thing America has to a recent military triumph. As Antulio Echevarria noted, critics of conventional warfare argued that opponents had adapted around America’s strategic advantages, but it was less clear that there was any causal relationship.

Circa 2007-2009, however, large-scale occupations in the Muslim world began to go out of style. Critics began to clamor for a light footprint approach heavily based around counterterrorism strike forces and standoff firepower. A presidential candidate promised to hit al-Qaeda hard with flexible counterterrorism forces. Reduce the terrorist threat steadily growing in safe havens, he and his staff argued. The zeitgeist began to turn towards a culture of raiding, characterized by some of the very same assumptions about light and lethal forces that were so widely criticized prior to the counterinsurgency era. Manpower-intensive occupations were out, intensive counterterrorism in the dark was in. Instead of stabilizing failed states, America would use a combination of intelligence, special operations, and statecraft to marginalize and undermine al-Qaeda.

The age of “dirty war”  became a lightning rod for criticism. But one of the most trenchant criticisms was that an obsession with tactical counterterrorism intelligence was harming America’s intelligence agencies’ traditional specialties in strategic intelligence and counterintelligence. The line between military and intelligence was being “blurred.” The larger cost? Focusing so much on short-term, tangible, and easily justifiable counterterrorism intel requirements blinded America to the larger picture that it needed to see. As a result, it would be perpetually surprised by events like the Arab Spring.

In light of today’s furor over spying on allies, it is worth examining how this line of argument cast the difference between strategic intelligence and strike intelligence as a military-industrial complex analog of the classic dichotomy between basic and applied scientific research. Basic scientific research is often difficulty to justify in the short term, and frequently does not result in immediate payoff. But none of today’s scientific discoveries would have been possible without it. Hence, as Pillar noted in his essay, in retrospect it is easy to see “failures of intelligence” in areas where ambiguity regarding the purpose of intelligence, targets, and immediate payoff motivated hesitation. Ironically, as Dan Trombly tweeted, most of the intelligence community’s “counterterrorism obsession” critics were silent (with the notable exception of Joshua Foust) when evidence accrued that foreign spying was conducted for non-counterterrorism purposes.

Returning to Pillar’s opening metaphor, it seems that the American defense and foreign policy community is suffering from a collective case of amnesia. A call for counterterrorism, light footprints, and intelligence leads to an intelligence architecture that supports a raiding posture, and is then promptly and widely criticized for focusing so intensely on counterterrorism. A call for counterinsurgency results in substantial investment in counterinsurgency abilities, and then is promptly and widely criticized for its time and expense.

My analysis is undeniably unfair in some ways. First, the aggregated commentary of the DC defense commetariat consensus as presented here smoothes out meaningful differences, nuances, caveats, and variations. It was not as simple as I make it out to be, but the consensus of a community is not easily described in a single paragraph. Second, each idea also produced data that was (fairly or unfairly) evaluated. Counterinsurgency theory looked very appealing to many analysts in 2006 but was pronounced dead by war-weary Americans in 2011. Compared to Iraqi and Afghan quagmires, drones and special ops seemed compelling . But as the wars drew down and more press attention focused on the ramped-up counterterrorism campaigns, analysts began to have substantial misgivings.

That said, the problem is that while the world certainly changes fast, it has not changed fast enough to justify the kind of analytical mood swings that have frequently occurred since the beginning of the COIN era. If one took the last 12 years of national security commentary as gospel, they would believe that some seismic, worldview-invalidating event occurred every 1-3 years and necessitated a wholesale rejection of the policy the previous worldview-invalidating event spawned. Events have complicated and qualified—but not wholly invalidated–the merits and demerits of COIN, special operations and counterterrorism, and strategic intelligence (which includes spying on allies). While all of the arguments I’ve summarized here contradict each other, I can’t say with confidence that any of them are completely wrong.

The problem with America’s defense amnesia is not “be careful what you wish for.” No one can know exactly how their policy preference will work out. It is not even “remember what you wish for.” Rather, the lesson is to keep in mind that however fast events may move, there are larger and systemic factors and tradeoffs that stimulate day-to-day policy problems. These systemic factors change very slowly, and remain fairly consistent across administrations. Why we cannot comfortably dismiss any of the varying defense memes I’ve cataloged is that each dealt with a segment of a larger problem.

Being conscious of the unchanging challenges of American national security, from the difficulties of maintaining local outposts of American hegemony to how America’s national position produces incentives for perpetual war, has important intellectual benefits. We can avoid calls for dramatic course correction over hysterias of the moment and keep the longer term in mind. And we gain an appreciation for what has changed and what remains the same. A wider view tells us that war is not more complex, the calculus of strategic intelligence is not simple, and there are costs to both counterinsurgency and standoff counterterrorism that must be evaluated.

Moreover, we gain a greater respect for the policymakers who must deal with underlying manifestations of deeper and systemic problems instead of behaving (as even I sometimes do) like we have cracked some secret code unavailable to the idiots in Washington. There is some truth behind the disdainful phrase “good enough for government work.” But if the national security and foreign policy problems that government tackles were as obvious or linear as today’s criticism often implies, would our policy demands oscillate as wildly as Pillar alleges? It seems that unless we start tattooing relevant names, events, and information on our bodies (like Pearce’s Memento character does to help him remember), we won’t remember enough to answer that question. Such is the life of an amnesiac.


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