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Metz on Grand Strategy

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Dr. Steven Metz of SSI is the author of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy.

I will have some comments on Big Steve’s presentation in an update here later tonight.


The presentation was informative and thorough and I often found myself in agreement.

Liked Metz’s emphasis of affordability/efficiency, vertical/horizontal and especially internal vs. external variables and would suggest that in the future he compact elsewhere to expand that section. Perhaps this is not the most significant aspect for the military officers that come to study at NDU and SSI, but the internal-external dynamic is the “third rail” of grand strategic thought – the connection between the domestic political conception of what Walter Lippmann called  “The Good Society” and the capacity of that good society to survive and thrive in a hostile world ( John Boyd emphasized this point – what Metz calls “augmenting”, Boyd referred to variously as “constructive”, “pumping up”, “attracting”or “vitality and growth” and considered it a definitive characteristic of grand strategy).

When there is what Steve in his lecture called a “strong consensus” on grand strategy, a nation’s  state and political economy are in sync with its foreign relations and military posture. For example, the Founding Fathers, aware of America’s great potential but weak condition, erected the Constitution and Federalism, Hamilton’s plan for economic development and Washington’s “no entangling alliances”, modest navy and small military establishment. FDR and Truman realized that the American system of liberal capitalist democracy could not last in a world dominated by depression, totalitarianism and autarky and delivered the Atlantic Charter, the UN, Bretton Woods, the IMF and World Bank, the GATT, the Marshall Plan and NATO, imparting American values into global institutions and importing global institutions into America. Where there is a “weak consensus” – as there is today – it is because the nation is divided on the nature of a good society and/or its role in the world leaving grand strategy flawed or absent.

Worth watching.

Metz on Unruly Clients

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Dr. Steve Metz of SSI takes on a theme of the “tail wagging the dog” in geopolitical relationships in World Affairs Journal:

Unruly Clients: The Trouble with Allies

When Congress approved a massive, five-year assistance package for Pakistan in the fall of 2009, much of it earmarked for strengthening the country’s military and security forces, Pakistani leaders reacted by immediately biting the hand that was trying to feed them. During a talk in Houston, former President Pervez Musharraf slammed the conditions in the bill, asserting that Pakistan knew better than the United States how to root out terrorists. General Ashfaq Kiyani, the Pakistani army chief, labeled the offer of support “insulting and unacceptable.” Members of the Pakistani parliament called the $7.5 billion appropriation “peanuts.” Some of this grumbling may have been for show, another example of Pakistan’s finely honed skill at extracting more and more money from the United States, but it also reflected a cynicism and sense of estrangement on the part of the Pakistani elites. And in this regard the episode highlights a central flaw in American security strategy: reliance on allies whose perceptions, priorities, values, and objectives tend to be quite different from our own.

….So where does all this leave U.S. strategy? Americans could soldier on, hoping for miracles and redefining expectations at each inevitable failure. Washington’s flawed allies will continue superficial reform, at least until they conclude that the political and personal costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. But husbanding of power rather than the decisive defeat of the extremists or the building of a stable, liberal system will always remain their goal. They will never fully share America’s view of the threat or the solution to it. Some, like Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Iraq, may eventually reach a point where they can wield power without much American assistance. Recognizing that association with the United States erodes their legitimacy, leaders in this position will end or downgrade the U.S. alliance, pressuring violent extremists who pose a direct threat to them while ignoring or even cooperating with those who target only foreigners. Others like Karzai-and whoever rules Pakistan-will continue to minimize conflict with violent extremists who do not target them directly and reject reform that might undermine them or the elites who support them.

Read the whole thing here.

A similar argument to Metz’s analysis of 21st century strategic foreign policy was made in The Cold War: A New History by John Lewis Gaddis, who detailed the extreme headaches satellite leaders caused Khrushchev and Brezhnev, or American troubles with the Shah, Somoza and Ngo Dinh Diem during the Cold War. Patrons who become dependent upon clients are hostage to their pawn’s incompetence and perverse defiance of political realities. In that myopia, patrons lose sight of their own real interests.

Metz hits on that delicate point, regarding the diffuse character of Islamist extremism:

….Americans ought to stop hoping for miracles and find realistic and affordable methods of protecting their interests. Continued improvement in homeland security is part of this. There may even come a time when the United States must consider limiting access to the American homeland for individuals from regions and nations that give rise to violent extremism. 

If the United States cannot get effective and reliable security cooperation with various Muslim states like Yemen or Pakistan, a more cost-effective response than turning all of our own domestic procedures into “security theater” is to sharply circumscribe immigration and travel from those states to a level consistent with “best practice” counterintelligence norms until we garner the cooperation we require in clamping down on our enemies. There’s no shortage of applicants for visas from other backgrounds in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe who pose few if any risks to American society. This by no means would solve all our security problems but it will put a dent in the probability of another underpants bomber getting a plane ticket to visit.

Metz on the Afghan Surge

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Nothing like dueling Steves (see previous post).

Dr. Steve Metz of SSI compares the surges of Obama and Bush and finds them to be cut from the same cloth. Hat tip to SWJ Blog.

How Obama”s Surge is Like Bush’s

….Ultimately, though, the Obama strategy in Afghanistan and the Bush strategy in Iraq are more alike than different–variations on a theme rather than stark alternatives. Both were attempts to give a beleaguered ally an opportunity to reverse its slide into disaster. And both were gambles. In Iraq, President Bush bet that the Maliki government would rein in sectarian violence, and that the Iraqi Security Forces were nearly ready to assume responsibility for their nation’s security. This panned out. Now President Obama is making the same bet. His strategy is contingent on the Afghan security forces, bolstered by increased assistance from the U.S. military, being able to conduct counterinsurgency on its own by 2011. Even more importantly, Obama’s plan is contingent on the Karzai government’s reining in its crushing corruption and addressing the myriad problems that the Afghan people face. If the Afghan security forces or the Karzai government are not up to the task, nothing the United States can do will matter. A surge of 20,000, 30,000, or 100,000 would be equally irrelevant. Unfortunately, only President Karzai and the Afghan security forces can determine whether the Obama strategy works. Our fate is in their hands.

Read the rest here

Steve has spotted a poor contingency for the administration to rely upon. Putting the war strategy on Karzai’s performance is akin to building a house on quicksand. It might look a little like wet cement but it is not going to harden into a foundation no matter how much time passes. We need to work within the parameters of our own capacities and with realistic and not utopian options.

We’d garner more goodwill giving every Afghan child a pony than by waiting for villagers to see honest officials from Kabul appear. It’d be cheaper too.

Metz on Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Nothing like a change in administrations to generate a string of excellent books on strategy and national security.

I’ve just ordered Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy by  Dr. Steven Metz  of the Strategic Studies Institute ( and also of the Small Wars Council ). As I do not yet have a copy of Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy, which also contains a foreword by Dr. Colin Gray, I will yield the floor to the comment  of Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper:

“Two institutions failed the American people in the run-up to the ongoing war in Iraq. Neither the Congress nor the media provided oversight of the Executive Branch, which is constitutionally required of the first institution and expected of the latter. As a consequence a fundamentally flawed strategy was implemented by an equally flawed military plan. The results have been tragic and costly. Dr. Steven Metz does our nation a great service by exploring the causes of this U.S. strategic debacle, one that may well exceed that of the Vietnam War. Recognizing a problem and its cause are the first steps in setting things right. In this book Dr. Metz identifies the problem, explains what caused it, and most importantly, shows us a better path for the future.”

One for the top of your bookpile.

Friday, June 8th, 2007


* image and title shamelessly “liberated” from the multidisciplinarily creative Dan of tdaxp who previously posted an excellent series by the same name.

Two articles with diametrically opposed worldviews of American intervention overseas.The path to error lies in the simplification of both approaches:

Africa Command: The Americans Have Landed” in Esquire by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett
(This article is currently only available in dead tree format)

Rethinking Insurgency” (PDF) at Strategic Studies Institute by Dr. Steven Metz (hat tip to Danger Room)

Tom Barnett’s Esquire article on the newly created AFRICOM is one of his best pieces in “journalist” mode and it demonstrated the dire need for establishing true ( and not primarily “kinetic”) “operational jointness” in interagency cooperation in Africa. This means accepting the inherent complexity of the Gap and answering with synergistic connectivity to globalization in order to engage in societal-building and state-building .


Dr. Metz also accepts the complexity and interconnectivy of globalization but prescribes defusing conflicts by disengagement, accepting the co-option of aggrieved insurgencies into the national power structure even when they are resolutely hostile to American interests. A graceful retreat does less damage, in Metz’s view, than would sustained conflict fueled by American aid enhancing the power of states to resist insurgencies.

Unsurprisingly, I am in favor of Barnett’s approach but recognize that it is best employed judiciously, with an economy of force and minimalist platforms where aid gives the biggest bang for the buck. Likewise, while I see the Metz approach, if raised to a general rule, as a prescription for strategic erosion of American primacy and the decline of globalization, used with discretion, it is a useful “means-test” for evaluating the strategic importance of failing states and avoiding of the waste of American blood and treasure.

Malawi is not as important as Pakistan, even if al Qaida can be found in both countries. That doesn’t mean ignoring Malawi but that we engage it differently than we do Pakistan.


Steve DeAngelis is also discussing AFRICOM at ERMB

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