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Tom Barnett has an excellent post on the utter failure of our national security pros, our elected leaders and the 9/11 Commission  to engage in strategic analysis. The McClellan metaphor is apt. Our foreign policy elites – the CFR/NYT/Kennedy School of Government/Carnegie – love Powell because he represents the security of inaction and watchful waiting as the answer to all problems. We are to move only in concert with every major power to accomplish the marginal after the bulk of the crisis has passed. It’s a posture of fatalism and acceptance of decline.

Here’s a few good quotes from Tom’s blog:

“But guess what? Altering the Intelligence Community’s organizational charts won’t do that. At best we may understand the world a bit better only to find the IC at greater odds with the Pentagon regarding what needs to be done about it. We are not going to generate a new grand strategy from the IC up (if you want to see how bad such strategies can be, read Anonymous or Richard Clarke), and it sure as hell won’t be centered on winning the hearts and minds of would-be terrorists—much less killing them in increasingly clever ways. This is symptom-treating at its worst, but we reach for it because—frankly—it’s the easiest approach for Congress to take: write a bill forcing a certain amount of organizational change and then designate some counter-terrorist center (or better yet, designate a whole slew of them and spread them around numerous congressional districts) and be done with it. “



“I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ “Civil War” on DVD as I exercise on the treadmill late at night, after the kids go to bed. Whenever I watch anything on the Civil War, it reminds me that, in many ways, it marked the beginning of the world we now live in. The first great wave of Globalization began soon after its conclusion, and the nature of that war presaged the two world wars that would later be fought around the planet, but primarily within Europe as civil wars themselves.

When I watch the documentary series, I see a Core-North imposing its will and integration upon a Gap-South that prefers to continue with its exclusionary rule sets by which some rule and others are ruled. I see a Core-North with all its frightening mixing of the races and cultures and industries and ideologies bearing down on the bucolic South that seems so pristine in its oneness—albeit bought at the price of slavery. I see southern insurgents fighting. Why? As Shelby Foote puts it (I paraphrase here), “Because you Northerners insist on coming down here and changing our ways.” I see the Gap-South’s romanticism of the land and its rejection of modernity and change and industrialization. I see the Core-North’s ruthlessness as an invading force decried and yet embraced as the necessary “remedy.” I see a war that begins as one to save the Union swiftly becoming one to rid the Union of the terrible scourge of slavery—the ultimate in disconnectedness. “


Americans are not good at strategic thinking because our time horizons are too short and our chains of reasoning are too linear.  We think end of quarter, end of day, range of the moment, hierarchy, chain of command,  rigidly, catergorical and compartmentalized, A to B to C.  This makes us very adaptive in terms of tactics but you can win all the battles and still lose a war.

Strategic thinking requires a panoramic view,  longitudinal decision tree possibilities, calculating probabilities, intuitive connections across domains,  ” global” right and left brain cognition.  A good supply of historical and scientific information helps flesh things out and keep the strategy anchored in reality.

We need Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli, not Clausewitz and McNamara.


3 Responses to “”

  1. TM Lutas Says:

    We’re in dire need for a deep strategic rethink because the major opponents of the age have dared to upturn the 350 year old rule (westphalianism) that only states may war. This idea of states being the exclusive unit of international diplomacy predates the US so not even the most conservative american can reach back in time to a past US policy to deal with the current challenge. What is needed is something new, thus the reemergence of radical Republicanism in the post-9/11 era after a very long hiatus.

    An extraordinary amount of the international system’s public face is extremely dedicated to the idea of living in denial with the fundamental changes that international terror war brings to the table. It’s hard to tell what they think of it privately but there is no stomach out there in continental Europe to even discuss the new challenges. They are simply ignored as continental foreign policy spins into greater flights of fancy.

    It’s not only the US that needs Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli, it is Europe and their need is the more desperate one.

  2. mark Says:

    “We’re in dire need for a deep strategic rethink because the major opponents of the age have dared to upturn the 350 year old rule (westphalianism) that only states may war. “

    That was superbly put. Absolutely on target.

    This ” non-state actor creep ” began during the Cold War when Khrushchev changed Soviet policy from Stalin’s preference for state action ( under his iron-clad control)to return to Lenin’s conspiratorial methods of supporting ” wars of national liberation”. Due to the exigencies of nuclear war we all pretended that Soviet proxies and clients were not what they were. By the 1980’s the Soviets were handing out boatloads of weapons to groups that had little or connection to marxist revolution, simply to create problems.

    And now that technology has exacerbated the problem, the international rules need re-writing to reflect the realities the Europeans and not a few Americans would like to deny.

    Here’s a great example of that kind of denial mentality/advocacy of Barnett’s ” Kantian rule sets ” in order to constrain the U.S.


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