An insight on US strategic thinking - why so much cowering fear?

Earlier last week, I wrote a diary (What the west means and what roles NATO plays therein) that used a recent Financial Times editorial as a springboard for a discussion on what the "West" was, and what the use of NATO was - questions that  left-of-center Europeans tend to see quite differently from most Americans, including left-of-center ones.

The editorial, by a well-respected British pundit, was insightful and interesting, and led me to conclude what many on the European Tribune have long suspected: that NATO is simply an instrument for Europe to support US strategic priorities, and that the "West" exists only when Europe (and in particular France) aligns itself unconditionally on US positions. The UK, as per that senior British commentator, has as its main role that of disrupting and dividing Europe when it is insufficiently respectful of US interests.

Since I'm French, you may be tempted to conclude that this is just sour grapes by a citizen of a supposedly declining country; however, what I found more interesting in that article was the dominant tone of fear - about the west being under siege, and needing security against various threats - in the form of coordinated military power and little else. It was a narrow, downcast, closed vision of the world, with little about values, progress or hope.

The comment thread is worth reading too, and one of the last comments, by Loefing, pointed me to another article on the same topic, this time by a graduate of the US Naval War College, Tony Corn. The article, (The Revolution in Transatlantic Affairs, has the same dominant tone of fear, but a much more detailed examination of the world. Given the credentials of its author, it is likely to have serious influence on the thinking of the strategists in the Pentagon, and it is thus worth deconstructing.

The return of both China and Islam in world history after a three-century-long eclipse has been the defining feature of the international stage since 1979.


Throughout the 1990s, this infatuation with globalization and a "time-space compression" in the virtual world led most Westerners to ignore the twofold epochal change taking place in the real world: the transfer of the center of gravity of the world economy from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with "three billion new capitalists" poised to put an end to three centuries of Euro-Atlantic economic primacy; and the rise of a "second nuclear age" in Asia and with it, the concomitant end of three centuries of Western military superiority.

The central theme, again, is that of fear from others - mostly China and Islam, which are described in terrifying terms further in the article - and the incredible naivety of our leaders in the meantime, thinking that 'the end of history' had arrived. Think "Clinton is from Venus, real leaders are from Mars" (although Clinton's name is never mentioned, and the real leaders are wished for, not actually there yet)

At the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006, a little-noticed transatlantic revolution of sorts finally occurred when the Atlantic Alliance acknowledged that it would have to "go global" in order to remain relevant. Divided, America and Europe will fall; united, they can retain the lead.

This is not stated in this particular sentence, but permeates through the whole article, but it is clear that the only way to remain "relevant" is through military force and the accompanying strategic thinking. More obvious in that paragraph is that the only way to be "relevant" is to be in "the lead." The goal is very obviously and explicitly world dominance.

Tony Corn is the inventor, as far as I can tell, of the concept of the Long War (see his article in policy review in March 2006: World War IV As Fourth-Generation Warfare) - a long, assymetric struggle against insurgent Islam; he additionally sees today a new Great Game with China for the resources of the world, and it is in the context of these twin existential threats that we must think strategically.

The Long War promises to be a thinking man's war. As a full-fledged Alliance, NATO possesses the kind of staying power that mere ad hoc coalitions cannot deliver; but NATO still has to come to terms with the fact that thinking power will matter more than fighting power.


Ever since the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, NATO has been eager to prove that it stands for more than "No Action, Talk Only." But the adoption by the Alliance of the Marge Simpson doctrine ("Are we gonna just stand there like the French, or are we gonna do something?") has proved to be no substitute for a new strategic concept.


Europeans (...) have serious difficulties remembering something equally basic that they used to perform with undeniable virtuosity: coercive diplomacy. Be it with Iraq yesterday or Iran today, an astounding percentage of the allegedly sophisticated EU elites have the hardest time grasping what any American redneck knows intuitively: namely, that the collective threat to use force is still the best way to avoid having recourse to actual force.


Forget the "Americans are from Mars, Europeans from Venus" mantra that gave the Brussels Eurocracy the vapors in the summer of 2002. (...) The truth is, for the past 15 years, and on both sides of the Atlantic, there have been two major attempts underway to get rid of the strategy problematique altogether.

The contempt for the wimps in Europe permeates much of this article - as it permeates most of the thoughts of the neocons, as well as the common wisdom of Washington (thus the success of Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, which very explicitly stated the notion that Europe was free-riding on America's dime, pontificating about democracy and rules and diplomacy while the US did the hard work of actually battling threats around the world and protecting the West alone). What is somewhat new is the notion that we are facing new existential threats right now, so the accusation of naivety is extended to a large portion of the Washington establishment as well, which has not yet understood the dire straits we are in.

That critique applies to 'the past 15 years', but it's pretty clear in the rest of the article that it's during the 90s that the most egregious mistakes were made, thus my reference above to Clinton being from Venus. The dismissive comment about that expression by Corn suggests that those that thought were from Mars back then are too weak for today. And if he sounds like a military pundit looking for a war to put his name on the grand strategic analysis thereof, that might just be because he is...

Of course, the idea that Iraq or even Iran can be used as successful examples of avoiding the recourse to force is so stunning that it might be hard to take anything else in that article seriously. But again, given how such an article can be expected to influence decision-makers in Washington, it is worth continuing to plod through.

Let's now go into naming names:

In the past hundred years, the instrumentalization of Islam has been a recurrent temptation on the part of every rising power, be it Wilhemine Germany or Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, not to mention America itself. As the latest rising power, China itself would not be immune to that temptation even if it were energy self-sufficient. The fact that China's energy needs are huge guarantees that the constitution of a Sino-Islamic axis is for Beijing not just a tactical option, but a strategic necessity.

While the pivotal states of this strategy appear to be Pakistan, Iran, and (more recently) Saudi Arabia, the geopolitical situation of Iran puts it in a class by itself, as the most precious proxy in China's "indirect approach" against American primacy. It is therefore no surprise to learn that China is using Iran as a conduit for the delivery of arms to both Iraqi and Afghan insurgents, and providing Iran itself the kind of small boats needed to conduct attacks against commercial shipping or the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.

So now it's not just Iran arming Iraqi insurgents, it's China using Iran to arm Iraqi insurgents. Beyond trying to turn Iraq into a strategic battlefield in a desperate attempt to justify its invasion somehow, this neatly ties together the two enemies that have been identified, and btings under the same roof the Long War and the Great Game (making it the Great Long WarGame, maybe? - enough stuff there to give work to at least two generations of Pentagon pundits and armchair generals).

And China is using an "artful combination of space power, sea power, and soft power", but Corn has such a ludicrous interpretation of "soft power" that it is worth quoting in full:

Last but not least, soft power. On the military side, China is focusing on developing security cooperation within the ASEAN Regional Forum framework with the intent of marginalizing America. On the civilian side, China is peddling "Asian values" from Africa to Eurasia and from Latin America to Southeast Asia. For the past six years, China has been promoting autocracy through soft power while America has been promoting democracy through hard power, and the verdict is in: China today has a more positive image worldwide than America.

So, in his mind, soft power is essentially bribery. While it is true that it is a lot more efficient than bombing the shit out of countries to make them cooperative towards you, it is quite a restrictive definition of soft power... No wonder he is so dismissive of the idea of promoting values and democracy - they are a strategic hindrance to building relationships with other countries around the world.

But the lack of understanding of what the soft power of the USA used to be is shocking - the model others aspired to imitate, the successful, rich economy, the great power that, to some extent, restrained itself to gain support from others, and valued convincing others above imposing its rules (or at least the appearance thereof) - all gone and disappeared. This is in line with the fearful, hobbesian vision of the world propagated by the whole article - but it is all the more ironic that a good part of the article is about the need for new clear-headed strategic thinking from the West and NATO, and the notion that the Long War is a "thinking man's war" - or is it simply that this is the first 'war' to be run wholly by armchair warriors?

Regarding what soft power means, there is a revealing sentence much later in the article, where the author writes about the potential geopolitical consequences of climate change on low lying coastal areas, by saying:

As a security organization, NATO's reasons for caring should be based on a recent report produced by the Center for Naval Analyses entitled "National Security and the Threat of Climate Change," describing a number of not exactly rosy scenarios regarding the political-military consequences of rising sea levels in the next 30 years. The hard security consequences of soft-power issues: This is the kind of outside-the-box thinking that NATO should itself promote

Climate change as a "soft power issue." Basically, soft power is anything not done by military forces - even if it can kill you! The mind boggles.

And yet there are some real nuggest of insight in this article, such as, for instance, a mostly refreshing vision of Russia:

But while the SCO constitutes the core of China's Islamic strategy, it is for Russia a tactical option to both manage the rise of China in Eurasia and to gain leverage over the West.

(...) In a nutshell: While Yelstin's choice of an alleged Polish model of transition in 1992 resulted, by 1999, in 38 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Putin's reorientation toward a Chinese model has since created an annual growth rate of 6 percent for Russia -- and a 70 percent approval rating for Putin. Having taken considerable domestic risks by siding with America after 9/11, Putin, for the past 5 years, has received nothing in return -- other than a seemingly endless enlargement of NATO in his own backyard.

Now that Russia is rich with oil money and has paid its debts to the West, what Russia wants from the West is respect. Russia's nuisance capacity should not be underestimated, even though threats to withdraw from the CFE Treaty, or to turn the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) into a "natural gas OPEC," are intended primarily for domestic consumption and to signal that NATO has enlarged far enough.

Unlike China, Russia is not a rising power. Russian hearts and mind are still up for grabs, though, and there are three reasons why it would be grossly irresponsible to alienate Russia gratuitously. In the short term, Russia's support is critical to solve (militarily or not) the Iranian question; in the middle-term, Russia has considerable leverage over Europe, with much bigger sticks and carrots than America's, and the risk of a creeping Finlandization of Europe is real were America to indulge in brinkmanship; in the long term, the West would have nothing to gain were Russia, against its best interest, to upgrade its relations to the SCO from the tactical to the strategic level.

The current demonization of Russia in some American quarters is thus incomprehensible.

While one may disagree with the notion that Russia's leverage over Europe is one-sided, or with the idea that the Finlandization of Europe would be a bad thing, it is at least refreshing to see a more realistic vision of Russia. Of course, one should remember that, for the author's America, this is just a tactical consideration in the new grand fight against the enemies of the moment (the Grand Long WarGame), of which Russia is not one, so it is easy to be clear-eyed. But still, a surprising moment of non-zero-sum-game thinking... Or maybe just contempt for the vainquished and weakened former enemy...

Simply put: when all is said and done, there is a difference in kind between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. If Islamist totalitarianism is the main enemy, as the neocons rightly claim, then it follows logically that Russian authoritarianism, however unpalatable to democratic sensibilities, is something we can live with.

But back to the grand visions:

One thing is certain: the Great Game and the Long War will be the two global and generational challenges confronting the West in the next 30 years. While the two challenges at times overlap, they remain analytically distinct. Attempts to conflate the two challenges with a new geopolitical concept like "Greater Middle East" risk confusing the issues. The Great Game? While the West remains fixated on the continental dimension, the East shows more lucidity in giving as much importance to the maritime dimension (more on that later). The Long War? Due to mass migration, the sociopolitical umma no longer coincides with the geopolitical Dar al-Islam.


In the West itself, the current fixation of America on Central Asia and of Europe on the Middle East -- the closest thing to a "Western" geopolitical vision -- is based on two flawed premises. To put it crudely: Americans believe that Caspian Sea oil is the key to success in the Great Game; Europeans are convinced that the resolution of the Palestinian question holds the key to victory in the Long War.

The "East", the "Long War" - pretty big concepts that are taken as givens by the author. He's promoting them, so I understand him using them and providing an analysis accordingly, but considering that Europeans are on board for the Long War is maybe presuming too much. In so far as they push for a resolution of the Palestinian question (or, more precisely, of the Israeli-Palestinian question...), it is to eliminate one of the most evident - if, of course, instrumentalised in many ways - sources of tension in the region, not to "win a war". Europeans are, for the most part, trying to avoid the idea that there is war. Saying there is one, just like talking about crusades or about a "clash of civilisations", is already taking sides. But that's the point, isn't it? Creating sides, and labelling enemies.

There's a long part about navy issues, which is, again, focused on threats (how a terrorist attack on or with tankers or container ships would be both easy and devastating), and on the need to rebuild a strong navy in the face of China's own build up, but, hey, this is a Naval War College graduate writing after all. I won't comment other than to note that the article is focused on threats, once more. the irony is that the danger is made ominous by pulling up big numbers, corresponding to potential economic damage from a well placed attack on a major port or on important navigation straits - but these numbers are never compared to the cost year in and year out of the forces that would supposedly be used to prevent them...

So, more fearmongering and request for Military-Industrial Complex work. Pretty unsurprising stuff.
What follows is a lot more unexpected - a criticism of the UN, which sounds banal, given how the institution is hated in many circles in Washington, but is not given the angle of attack:

Once the embodiment of Western ideals, the UN has turned into a lean, mean anti-West machine. Though European publics no longer have any illusion today about a Europe-puissance, they still retain a surprisingly boy-scoutish view of the UN, one that no longer corresponds to reality. European public opinion saw nothing wrong, for instance, in the recent establishment of an International Criminal Court that would give its prosecutor the power of a grand inquisitor, in part because they are not aware of the politicization of the UN (and of the potential use of the ICC as an anti-Western weapon), but also in part because, over the years, they have resigned themselves to the creeping judicial and technocratic imperialism pursued at home by the EU Court of Justice and the EU Commission.


At the same time that it was becoming a major player in the propaganda game, the UN inside was gradually turning into a "lawfare" machine against the West.


In this ongoing weaponization of the UN against the West, China has not remained passive: beyond the OIC [Organisation of the Islamic Conference] and NAM [NonAligned Movement] proper, the largest group in the UN happens to be the "G-77 + China," i.e., 132 countries representing 69 percent of UN members. China's UN dues may be 2 percent of the UN budget, but Chinese activism in the past decade has spectacularly increased in recent years.36 It is reportedly under Chinese pressure that the US was evicted from the Human Rights Commission in 2001 to make room for Arab dictatorships.


The Western-inspired international legal order is today under assault at the UN; at the same time, an obsolete Law of Armed Conflict is preventing the West from defending itself on the ground. As a military organization, NATO should today articulate a "Counter-Lawfare" doctrine for the sake of intellectual interoperability. As a security organization, NATO should not wait until it has become a full-fledged UN of Democracies to start elaborating a New Law of Armed Conflict adapted to the realities of post-modern warfare.

This is worth quoting at length, because it brigns up back to the dismissal of soft power mentioned earlier. The new armchair warriors like Corn are going further, and effectively stating that they have lost the "soft war" - thus wanting to bring things exclusively on a military plane, where the US and NATO still rule.

Again, Iraq might be mentioned here as a proof that military strength is not necessarily the best tool for all problems (of course - don't tell a hammer you're not a nail, it might piss it off, with nasty consequences for you...). But the casual dismissal of international law - created by Americans, and nurtured for decades by the West, in one of the endeavors that were perhaps most worthy of the grand discourse on values that we are so fond of - is such a fundamental strategic mistake that it must be pounded on.

International law is turning against the USA because it has, in recent times (not starting on 9/11, but accelerating since then) decided that it would not be bound by such common rules, while trying to impose them on others, as was made possible by its global dominance and the lack of enforcement capabilities. The one thing that made it possible for international law to start having any effect was the decision by the USA, for a number of decades, to abide by it, despite its ability not to (thanks to its global power), followed by Europe in that. International laws were boosted precisely because the dominant power of the day decided to be constrained by such rules even when it could have ignored them. That provided legitimacy for demands that others follow the same rules, and created a lot of good will. That was real soft power - and very effective one at that. where that power ebbed is when the USA decided that such rules were becoming too burdensome and started opting out. Before 9/11, it could be argued that it was not a trend, but that some issues were more sensitive than others, and that overall, progress was being made. Since 9/11, the reversal has been complete. Contempt for the Geneva Conventions, for the UN Security Council, and for numbers of other international treaties has been absolute and open, and the double standard of nevertheless still requiring others to follow these rules simply breathtaking. what that signified was that the USA decided to rely solely on raw power, and it should not be surprised that others are doing the same, in a race to the "bottom" which can only be damaging to US pretensions at being the sole military superpower on the globe. Among other things, when you attack countries without nukes and bluster and bluff with countries with nukes, you cannot be surprised that a number of countries get the message that nukes will make them safer. And when you pontificate about human rights while explicitly promoting torture, renditions and unlimited detentions as official policy, you cannot expect not to have the same thrown as you, with Chavez's diatribes, Ahmedinejad's taunts and Putin's jibes - and their ensuing popularity - the inevitable result.

Drop the soft power, lose the soft power. Thus the need to use evil words to describe the adversary one has created:

The return of China alone would be enough to make the West "live in interesting times." To make things even more interesting, Islam too is back, this time in the form of a totalitarianism which manages to combine an ideological comprehensiveness (Salafism) unseen since Communism and an existential nihilism (jihadism) worthy of Nazism.

It's Stalin and Hitler combined! And brown and yellow people too!

Of course, this grand strategic vision that claims to replace the blindness of the current Washington deciders has a few blinkers of its own, notably the role of the West in general, and the US in particular, in antagonising the populations of the Arab countries we now seem to fear. For some reason, they associate corruption and authoritarianism with the West, and islam with social progress and democracy (hmm... let's see ... could our support for local regimes in the hope that oil will flow have anything to do with it?). And emergin Asia, which has seen the results of two centuries of industrialization for the sole benefit of the West, is now told that resources are scarce and pollution should be avoided, even at the expense of growth (and industrialisation) for them?

Of course, for me as a European, the saddest thing is to see our own leaders acquiese to this small, fearful, destructive vision of the world, and be willing to go along with such tripe, and to denigrate the EU as an institution that has done its time and should just become a big free trade area, and let NATO become the entity representing Europe - a subversient provider of military subcontracting and cheap legitimacy to the Pentagon.

What a sad, sad world we are living in when these are the thoughts of our foremost strategists.

... unless one keeps in mind the particular conceit of democracies at war that Kennan, following Tocqueville, pointed out long ago: "There is nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision of everything else. . . . People who have got themselves into this frame of mind have little understanding for the issues of any contest other than the one in which they are involved."

That was also in that article. But not about itself, even though it should have been...

:: ::

As an addendum for the Oil Drum, I should add that apart from the mention of the Caspian area as an over-hyped driver of policy in the "Greater Middle East", the note to China's policies to build up links with oil producing and commodity providing countries around the world, and the side reference to the possible military consequences of cliate change induced flooding of coastal areas, there was very little in that paper abotu the topics that we see here as the fundamental issues of the coming decades - the massive competition for (possibly shrinking) resources. The refusal to acknowledge that Western policies in the Middle East have been and are polluted (or driven, as you will) by oil, and that this is one of the main causes of the ambivalence (or plain and simple hostility) of these countries' towards us is quite stunning. Is it taboo, ignorance, or wilful refusal to acknowledge that others may have distinct interests?

First posted on DocuDharma

It's their winning strategy, why would they change? Basically, to wield influence thru soft power you have to be willing to forgo some of your profits and let others in on the deal. No, they want things to stay exactly as they are for as long as possible.

Jack Balkin writes:

"It is well worth asking how many other secret opinions the Justice Department has produced during the Bush Administration that justified violations of the Constitution, federal statutes, the laws of war, and international human rights."

GONZALES: Senator, the August 30th memo has been withdrawn. It has been rejected, including that section regarding the commander in chief authority to ignore the criminal statutes.

So it's been rejected by the executive branch. I categorically reject it.

And in addition to that, as I've said repeatedly today, this administration does not engage in torture and will not condone torture.

And so what we're really discussing is a hypothetical situation that..."

And, having said that, Gonzales went on to sign memos that allowed the administration to do all the things that memo had allowed, without batting an eye.


and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas.

what does that remind me of, oh yes:

No, Frodo. The spirit of Sauron endured. His life force is bound to the Ring and the Ring survived. Sauron has returned. His orcs have multiplied. His fortress of Barad-Dur is rebuilt in the land of Mordor. Sauron needs only this Ring to cover all the lands of a second darkness. He is seeking it. Seeking it, all his thought is bent on it. The Ring yearns above all else to return to the hand of its master. They are one, the Ring and the Dark Lord.

Posted by: Ugh | October 04, 2007 at 09:26 AM

While it rained on the North Pole this Summer.

Arkansaw of Samuel L Clemens

Great post Jerome - Unfortunately IMHO your points are the most pressing variables currently.

After listening to this talk over at foraTV;

China and the Competition for Energy Resources

The degree of growth is just mind boggeling.
It seems clear that the US expanded presence in the Middle East is a case of - If we don't lock it in they will.

It is tragic that the "need" for oil is largely an artifical one created by government interference in free markets. The Corn article demonstrates just how far the state is willing to go in order to preserve itself.

Centrally managed societies are terribly vulnerable to collapse for many reasons. Sure, they can potentially head off problems more rapidly than power-diffuse societies, but that's contingent on having a wise king.

You're obviously French because you believe Descartes' view that universal and moral truths can be revealed through pure reason alone. We Anglo-Americans are Humeans to the bone and realize that you can't rationally derive an ought from an is; you need a "passion" to induce behavior.

That's a fantastic excuse for converting one's Anglo-American selfish interests into "universal truths":

We need slaves for the Carolinas! becomes White Supremacy.

We need the drive the peasants off their land! become the Enclosure Acts and the modern concept of private property.

We need to sell opium to China! becomes Free Trade.

Just take whatever the fatcats want in each generation and turn it into a "moral" ideology that must be imposed on the world, over and over again until the world lies broken and bleeding.

Regime change! The spread of democracy! Destroy welfare! Personal responsibility! Law and order! PROGRESS!

How's that workin' for us lately?

And you are obviously unaware that philosophy has moved on in both traditions in the last couple of hundred years.
All these memories will be lost in time
like tears in rain

FYI, I believe Rutger Hauer's line is "moments", not "memories".

Great post Jerome.

I agree, that is a fantastic way of justifying anything. Is it even true? Graffiti on the wall of a US base in Iraq: "America is not at war, the US Marines are at war. America is at the mall."

I am not sure the passion is there on the ground either. I suspect the US will be ejected form Iraq much like it was from Vietnam - it is running out of passion. Sooner or later Congress will call it off.

Unless peak oil hits hard soon. Then they may be able to dig in and convince people that we really need to protect those declining oil fields. Or they might attack Iran and get us in deeper that way.

You're obviously French because you believe Descartes' view that universal and moral truths can be revealed through pure reason alone. We Anglo-Americans are Humeans to the bone and realize that you can't rationally derive an ought from an is; you need a "passion" to induce behavior.

Exactly. Right on. BTW, do you know other people who knew exactly of what you're talking about? Try Hitler, who was the master of politics aesthetics (remember the columns of light of the "cathedral of light"; remember the vast legions of people parading), try Stalin who made everyone have his portrait and worship every word of him like if it was their own, try Chavez, try Fidel Castro.

The moment that reality is aestheticized and turned into entertainment, you'll have dissolved yourself from reality. The moment that politics give faith more power than reason, it is the precise moment that they define their fate: a never-ending jihad against nothing important which will divert energies and resources from what could possibly save them from the demise that reason was able to forecast.

Most probably, it would end in a war. Oh wait.

It's an interesting world view, but one that is based in past realities. It assumes that other countries (including China, which Corn lists as an enemy in this "Long War") will continue to economically support the American economy, which supports the American war machine, which has been most of the backbone of NATO.

In reality, the Iraqi conflict has shown us the limits of America's "hard power". The American will is exhausted (except among the chattering classes) and the economy is following close behind. The "soft power" so derided in Corn's report is not only cost-effective, but has a higher chance of obtaining the outcome without political or economic disruption. In the long run, it must win, unless one completely topples the board.

If the future of warfare is muscular in any sense, it must be based on an extremely focused effort over a short period - think a knockout, as opposed to a long, protracted fight. But even that is fraught with peril. Because though you may remove a government from power, or remove a perceived threat, it might also be replaced by worse.

In short, the Chinese have a winning strategy. This report gives a recipe for economic (and perhaps nuclear) disaster. The only way to win this conflict (if indeed it is a conflict) is to fight with the same "soft war" tactics. It is the only kind of battle economically and politically sustainable over the long term.

IMHO, the reason the Chinese have a winning strategy is because the Chinese government is dominant in their society. American leaders are not stupid (they would literally have to be retarded to explain many actions over the last 7 years)- almost all of them are "ambitious" and their personal ambitions conflict with the needs of the nation. As an example, the Chinese military does not exist primarily to funnel taxpayers' money through connected pockets to other connected pockets. Does anyone actually believe that if China had invaded Iraq, billions of dollars in currency would have "vanished"? IMHO, if China had invaded Iraq, the country would have been pacified and rebuilt by now (because that would have been the intention, unlike the current situation).

Actually, China is pretty corrupt, but then it rarely invades other countries. The mandarins, since long before Mao, have feared their outlying suzerains might slip from under their control, and Iraq-style corruption is a manifestation of that.

And the Chinese army is so corrupt that it took Simonov rifles from its own troops to sell for $100 each to American gun nuts.

What makes them different from us is that the pure profit they made went back to the development of their country. But then America was awfully corrupt 100 years ago; the Republican robber barons had to turn part of what they stole into free libraries and hospitals, the Democratic vote machines created decent jobs for ethnic whites struggling to civilize their children. They were all patriots, in a way we can't understand now.

Super: I agree. The rulers of China appear to have the future strength of China as an important goal. Does anyone actually believe that the rulers of the USA have the future strength of the USA as an important goal- that a country which dominated the global economy 50 years ago declined so dramatically while everyone in a position of power was doing their best to prevent it? I doubt that. The reality is that the rulers of the USA, just like the rulers of Enron, realized that a better deal was to gut the thing from the inside and take what they can.

I can't decide what to worry about more:

that they have a plan for what they will do to us after they destroy society,

or that they don't.

"American leaders are not stupid ... almost all of them are "ambitious" ... "

So remind me, what great accomplishments did the 'decider' have before he was put in charge of US government? Getting off the bottle, maybe.

For me, Peak Oil and the possible social turmoil in its aftermath are a possible way to avoid the Long Great Game War. It is a really, really disruptive event.

IMO, Iran is to World War Three as Poland was to World War Two.

I think that's right in one way, wrong in another -- because the US is already stopped in Baghdad. Nothing stopped the Germans until Moscow and Stalingrad. Also, with the advent of Poland, the West was ready to resist. That may be what you mean in regard to Iran -- but I'm not sure the same will happen. But that it will be a major turning point, on that fundamental level I think you are right.

World Wars 1 & 2 were, in part, about energy. Now we allow as resources are diminishing, not just on a regional level as before, but on the global level. Odds on a nuclear World War 3 anyone? I’d say 50-50.

I think it is lower than that for a large scale war. No one but the US is able to field a sizable army. A protracted middle east war, maybe. But if peak oil hits hard and we are not able to mobilize to move to another energy base (like nuclear, wind and solar) we could have sort of general conflict through out the developing war as they go through their big die-off.

Nuclear WW3? Ridiculous.

Without oil to fuel conventional armies what else is there to fight with but nukes?

Wrong wrong wrong.

Read Machiavel. He's so right. He's so fucking right. USA will not be able to control anything in the near future.

Whitey is circling the wagons.

It's either "be vewwy vewwy afwaid" or slap another coat of lipstick on the old "white man's burden" pig and try to make it dance.

The problem will solve itself.
But not in a nice way.

I think traditional geopolitical thinking doesn't get to the root of things, neither the ravings of neocons nor the liberal critique.

The world capitalist system is in crisis. The elites of the the US, Europe and Japan are the primary beneficiaries of this system, although state-capitalist elites have arisen in Russia and China and elsewhere. All of these industrial or industralizng powers depend on exploitation of the resources of the third world, especially but not only energy. The resources are now peaking and the competition for them is growing fiercer by the day.

The US accounts for over half the world's military budget, and has 700+ bases scattered around the world. This power is being used to try to retain or gain control of those resources. The war is not only against the countries possessing the resources, but also and even more against all competing powers that want those resources. Russia is somewhat unique in both needing and having resources, but also possessing all those pesky nukes.

The reason other powers to one degree or another defer or capitulate to US dictates is ultimately military. The dollar would already be worthless were it not backed by the gun. But until it collapses altogether, the dollar itself remains a potent weapon, and here I also mean dollars owed.

The European elites have long been more or less content or at least have resigned themselves to leaving the dirty work of keeping the natives in check to the US. What's worrisome to them and other elite factions is that Iraq has proved a quagmire and shown the vulnerability of the empire. Meaning, the empire's long and deadly choke hold on Latin American is being broken as the empire is focused on oil in the Middle East. So there's a lot of second guessing as to how the empire project should be best conducted. Of course, the weakening of the empire provides opportunities for other players. But while the pit bull is mauling the turkey, does one dare steal his chicken?

All of this stuff about Islam, China, terrorism or even socialism has little to do with the essence of the matter. It's all about resources and money (capital actually), and how to divvy things up. (Was it Bill Gates who once said something like: all I want is my fair share of the market -- 100 per cent?)

I don't think this will be simply a replay of great power mud wresting of previous eras. I believe that the US global empire will be the last. When it comes crashing down, none will replace it. Why? The resource base for the continuance of this stuff (the empire game) is no longer there, or won't be further on in the century.

At that point humanity will be faced with trying to figure out how to clean up the mess and figure out how to survive in greatly reduced circumstances. I doubt that the maximization of profit will provide the key organizing principle in that new era.

I think the Marx did a great job in analyzing capitalism. But he did not forsee that capitalism would outlast the world's resource base. Whatever kind of life humanity carves out for itself after the oil age, it won't be the one pictured by Marx, at least not materially.

Ramblings of a old geezer.

What you describe is more accurately termed Corporatism than capitalism. I am not sure that Marx would have termed the current system as capitalism, because fractional reserve lending transforms money into a semi-public resource.

I am skeptical that the declining resource base will not allow for empire. In fact, this situation sweetens the incentives for inflexible states to pursue it, as the Corn article suggests.

When the dollar collapses the US government will be left with no effective tools to perpetuate itself aside from naked force, which as you pointed out, is the only thing propping up the dollar in any case.

If Europe wants to bust up US hegemony, they should go balls to the wall to lobby against the petrodollar. Of course, such a strategy could backfire, but the people who would do most of the bleeding would be Americans and Middle Easterners.

Corn, Podohretz and their ilk are attempting to create common interests between the Leviathans of Europe and the US, counting on sentimental racist paranoia of Islamic terrorism to do most of the work for them. It's not a winning strategy; it sounds more like the desperate howling of an overgrown monster in its last throes.

I believe that the US global empire will be the last. When it comes crashing down, none will replace it. Why? The resource base for the continuance of this stuff (the empire game) is no longer there, or won't be further on in the century.

What will the late 21st century look like, compared to the 18th?  Perhaps not as hostile to empires as you think.

What would be hostile to empire is if theft (conquest) becomes less profitable than toil.  Our current dependence on oil means that conquest of the territory where it lies is paramount.  But what's the advantage of using the military to capture far-away solar energy when you can profit more by developing your own?  The USA's vehicles use approximately 180 GW average at the wheels; the off-shore wind resources of the lower 48 states come to something like 900 GW.

If the SRI International silicon process can bring finished PV panels to market at 10 times the cost of the silicon ($150/kg-Si finished cost), we could have powered every vehicle in the USA for the price of a year of the Iraq war.  The game goes very quickly to toil in such circumstances, and empire loses.

traditional geopolitical thinking doesn't get to the root of things, neither the ravings of neocons nor the liberal critique.

Both threads are enthralled to growth. DOA in a full world.

Downthread someone mentions Tainter. There are allusions to the closing point by de Toqueville:

"There is nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts its own vision of everything else. . . ."

The US military machine is so resource intensive that it cannot handle this challenge conventionally. It's trying to contain the problems of the current system with the tools of the current system - order more Ospreys and Missile Defense! - won't work.

What's really difficult to imagine is a war where no one has any resources. Those who believe they have resources in plenty will use them and then lose.

The other point the article makes over and over - we are back in a multi-polar world, no matter what the US thinks. That is a good thing. Those 800 military bases are turning into liabilities. Everyone but the US sees that.

cfm in Gray, ME

I see a tendency in my children for one to say that the other caused the first to do something that both know is wrong. I think you have misread him. He is taking this blaming to a new level. What he is saying is that the Iraq war is the fault of Europe. Rather than saying that it was the fault of Iraq for failing to comply with weapons inspections (what my kids do) it is the fault of Europe for failing to join the US is threatening force. Had Europe joined in the threat, Saddam would have surrendered without a fight.

Now we just need Europe to acknowledge this culpability and pony up for the cost of the war since it is all their fault.

I like most of your other analysis, but in this spot I think you've misunderstood him. Perhaps you did not expect this depth of childishness and so were taken be surprise.


Heh. Maybe you're right on this. It would certainly fit right in.

'Vested interests'Should properly be understood to be engaged largely in a collective exercise in psychopathic behavior.

This suicide machine lacks the integrity of an honest mission statement.
Faced with the knowledge of our un-sustainable behavior. Rational behavior would suggest a new course of action away from business as usual.

Energy and resource restrictions say as much about our world view as they impose constraints. If not physical then constraints of imagination.

The war on life is winning. Giving the canaries shock treatment (in the form of 'war on terror') as the prescription to the analysis that they aren't flying so good. Won't revive them?

Les mensonges ne gagnent pas une guerre. Sauf pour une guerre contre la verite. Non?

Eliyahu, I think you hit the nail on the head with:

"This suicide machine lacks the integrity of an honest mission statement...."

The policy is a complex "thinking man's" (sic) game of Kill Off, ending with a still unsustainable way of living on a planet decimated by what amounts to a war on the planet as well as on the poor.

Nobody wins this war.

If you view the corporation to be a "virtual person" and the end of cheap oil to be the means that will end almost all of them then the behavior makes sense - they're doomed, so they are going to party like its 1999 ...

Les mensonges ne gagnent pas une guerre. Sauf pour une guerre contre la verite. Non?

lies are not winning the war. Except for the war against truth. No?

C'est vrai

thats true

(Please excuse me poor attempt at french.)

Superb, superb post -- thank you, Jerome a paris!

From your post:

"Is it taboo, ignorance, or wilful refusal to acknowledge that others may have distinct interests?"

I have long described our attitude as "Intentional Ignorance." We simply refuse to believe anything that makes us in the slightest bit uncomfortable.

I have found myself dealing with some very dark days as I read TOD and books like Flannery's "The Weathermakers" and E.O. wilson's "The Creation."

Adding the NeoCon propaganda which glorifies war to the point of making war the essence and core of our culture makes me quite depressed.

Here in the USA the Democratic Party has managed to bring itself into alignment with the Neocons while carrying on the pretense of opposition. I am stunned at the complete-ness of the transition to "totalitarian democracy."

"Intentional Ignorance" seems to me to be a necessary complimentary phrase to "An Inconvenient Truth."

Our Corporatist leadership cultivates ignorance amoung our people as carefully as if concocting biological weapons in a lab.

It is interesting to note that there was significant support for Fascism prior to and during WW II in the USA. Has the NPR series made note of that?

It is significant that Globalist Corporatism is the new, now maturing generation of Fascism, and it really took root and developed in the USA.

This does not bode well for developing rational strategies for dealing with the repercussions of GW, PO, water depletion, and other matters.

Great analysis and article Jerome. To pontificate a little...

Some may argue that we are seeing unambiguous signs of the decline of the USA, but I suspect that if the USA had continued to emphasise use of soft power, the decline of the USA as a world power would be all the more clear. I think that the doctrine of universal appication of hard power has probably had the effect of extending the reign of the USA as superpower, but that extension thereby bought is rapidly coming to a close. Further, as the costs of pursuing the chosen strategy come more clearly into view, the exchange implicit in that trade appears increasingly narrowminded.

Though, isn't this just a smaller version of the way military superpowers often betray their grandchildren? The desire to hold power for just one more day proves too tempting.

While I find your analysis interesting, Jerome, have you considered that the articles putting forth these positions are possible confirmations of Tainter's thesis that societies arise as problem solving mechanisms and that once they have arrived at a particular mechanic, it is rare for such societies to change their view of the world without massive restructuring.

In the case of the United States, we have been a militaristic empire since the beginning, though perhaps not by deliberate thought. Rather, we used force to take land to colonize and we continued that militarist approach until we had taken the entire continent. Once that was complete by the end of the 19th century, we began to cast about for external problems against which we could apply our military force. We found the Spanish-American War, then WWI, followed by WWII. The arrival of nuclear weapons put a severe crimp in our approach but it then morphed into "guerilla" warfare which has continued to evolve clear up until today when it has gotten completely out of our control. And yet even still the US focuses on extension of military power. Note that this does not necessarily mean using military force but merely the projection of power via the threat to use that force if we choose.

Thus this appears to be the primary driver in "western" civilization (when we adopt a definition of western that conforms to that which you espoused above) -the extension and projection of military power to achieve the goals of the US. Tainter points out that all such problem solving mechanisms reach diminishing rates of return and we are seeing that happen now, to the US military as our success rate continues to decline while costs escalate enormously.

This leaves me wondering if, while not actually recognizing it, the authors of these pieces are sensing the diminishing returns and trying to rationalize those diminishing returns away as the fault of the rest of Europe.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone


I guess as we "cast about" looking for ways to use our military, we were kind of like the Jews lost in the desert for 40 years looking for their promised land. It took us years to "find" both WWI & WWII. It could have taken us 40 years to find both these wars, but we had better technology than they did, or we just had better luck.

In the case of the United States, we have been a militaristic empire since the beginning, though perhaps not by deliberate thought.

Indeed, military conquest was planned right from the start! The West Point Military Academy was founded around 1800 to train officers, with the expectation that the nascent American empire would have to fight its way across the continent. As it has happened, most of the continent was purchased from its owners for a token fee. Only the Mexicans put up some resistance.

I think therefore your analysis is quite correct, the US is and was built as a military empire. But diminishing returns will get you every time. For the US to survive, it must abandon its military.

wow...I have read Tainter and appreciated his analysis, but never thought of looking at the US military this way. It makes perfect sense.

"The UK, as per that senior British commentator, has as its main role that of disrupting and dividing Europe when it is insufficiently respectful of US interests."

Its a very....french... article.

I think at heart it misses the main point. The US is full of direct cause<>effect action that seeks to impose its will. Those in europe have found this tends not to work, but the US will continue to refuse to listen. However europe is divided, mainly because all countries (france foremost amongst them) will act as cantankerous foes attempting to play national causes first. All seem to think that everyone would be OK, if THEY were in charge. Most are delusional. Its a grand game and reality can go hang (burn that lamb).

The UK looks on and is disillusioned. Most players seem to be best avoided, but alliances are required for action.

Most realise that, left to their own devices, middle eastern countries will pull each other apart. However the small matter of resources requires action. China plays the long game as ever, but with systemic fault lines that have not been healed.

From a PO perspective, small is beautiful. All of these games hide the actions that need to be taken, yet all national politicians are wedded to the game. We must expect that change to come from outside the nationalistic arena. That includes france and europe; and the US.

The age of the nation state, and the supranational state, is ending - most haven't realised yet.

"The age of the nation state, and the supranational state, is ending - most haven't realised yet."

If you believe that, then how does "...the small matter of resources require action"?

No one has any right to steal or force people to sell their property at a lower price.

If you have a large nation state, you need to secure the resources to keep it working.

However, power is going to smaller and smaller entities, preventing resource grabs.

So if you can't just take, the larger entities are limited.

That is so French. It's why Champagne is Champagne.

What a perfect example of footprint - wine. A far cry from American cider - anything pressed from anything called an apple, no matter how unpalatable or where.

Ecology suggests that mature systems get more efficient by becoming more varied, layered and complex - the exact opposite of the globalized trade system [where the American Egg Board spends $20M/year telling us that an egg is an egg is an egg no matter the chicken, the feed or the place]. Such efficiency cannot be managed by increased hierarchy and control. That should amount to a DOH! moment for all those advocates of the free market - except that for the most part the loudest advocates are the biggest liars and shills; they care only about their freedom to rip-off and steal.

The smaller and smaller entities might or might not prevent resource grabs at the start - this is why the state militias (Guard) in US have been federalized, specifically so they cannot defend the states against the feds and the corporations. But the political change doesn't alter the genetic imperative: that only smaller and more efficient entities can find themselves an energy niche. Removing the state militia from state control only increases the discontinuity between economic and political entities; there is a level of stress where it will break and since this is the PTBs way of dealing with stress, it will break.

cfm in Gray, ME

a very....french... article.

I know what you mean... the thing is, France, being cantankerous, has just as little influence as the UK has being subversient, or vice versa. It's time the two countries understood that they matter only when they speak with one voice - which is more an issue for the UK than fo France. France does that already with Germany (there's very little natural agreement on anything between the two countries, but as the rule they abide by, mostly, is that _must_ find a compromise, they end up managing to find common positions that have legitimacy within Europe), and would probably be willing to do the same with the UK. Will the UK do it, though?

i.e. cooperation, by choice, rather than confrontation which goes nowhere?

Unless france has changed over the past few years, I somehow doubt the desire for real compromise is there. It tends to have a 'flavour' (and I've been there). Its at the level of worldview, so its pretty basic.

In any case, I think the win goes to those prepared to make the preparations for the coming world. Preparations that aren't measured in decades but emphasise speed of reaction.

This is one circumstance where agility is king.

Will the UK do it?

One would hope that they have been chastened by Blair’s experience with Bush into no longer believing that the special relationship gives them that much leverage, at least as long as the neocon boobs are still in power. Let’s all hope that US soft power will have a resurgence under Hillary.

What Special Relationship?

I have heard a lot about this beast but have yet to see him. :=)

From an outside POV, The French-German collaboration is dominated by the French with the Germans as secondary and almost subservient to French interests. The EU Agricultural policies come to mind.

To expect the British to take the same approach and accept French dominance is just not going to happen IMHO.

Another example is Airbus. French and German interests each contributed 32.5% (British 20% and the most important technical expertise of any, Spain 5%). Yet the headquarters are in Toulouse, the first assembly plant there as well (the Germans get to assemble less than half the narrow bodies and no wide bodies today).

Under commercial considerations, the A380-800 should have been assembled in the UK, near the wing assembly plant, Second choice would have been Hamburg, with easy sea access.
Third choice would have been any decent site for a new plant along the coast in a good harbor.

The worst possible choice was Toulouse, requiring incredible (and expensive and time consuming) logistics to squeeze massive parts assemblies under old bridges and over narrow country roads. The almost finished A380s will be flown from Toulouse to Hamburg so that Germans get to install the toilets and seats and paint the A380. Many will then be flown back to Toulouse for the ceremonial delivery.

That is what "partnership" with the French requires.


You always seem to bring the worst anti-French prejudice to your comments. To see Germany as subversient to France is a fantasy, both silly and false.

The initial deal was to rebuild French agriculture in exchange for free trade for German industry, by no means a minor thing for them. The EU has always been balances between France's more centralising, State-dominated and big-country leadership ideas and Germany's more federal/decentralised/small-country-friendly preferences.

Today, French farmers are the most productive in Europe and are those that have the least to lose from the end of CAP. Whenever you have actual reform (such as capping payments per farm) you'll see that the obstacles are not the French, but the Brits and the Germans, who also have a big farming constituency which is more dependent on subsidies than the French - but these countries are happy to hide behind France on CAP reform most of the time.

As to Airbus, it's clearly been built thanks to consistent political drive from Paris against various (mostly American) attempts to kill it. EADS is now dominated by German managers, and Germany has fared better in the recent power8 reform plan, including getting most of the A320 production lines (the core business of Airbus by any measure, just like the B737 is the core business of Boeing, despite all the noise made about the bigger planes). The transportation costs of parts to the assembly lines are a tiny part of the costs in any case, so your example is irrelevant.

I have very conflicting views of the French.

I am most grateful AND impressed by their aid to New Orleans post-Katrina (in vivid contrast to Washington DC). I am 6 blocks from a public elementary school where all classes except English and Geography are taught by native French Speakers thanks to the Republic of France. (Gorbachev spoke there two days ago and said that he would lead a revolution here in New Orleans if the levees were not improved).

Geography is taught in English since students should learn that Deutschland is "Germany" and not "Allemagne" :-) This may become the finest public elementary school in the USA, something New Orleans direly needs. There have been many jokes and Mardi Gras floats about rescinding the Louisiana Purchase.

I have used French tram building (and rental bikes) as a model to emulate. Grenoble is pictured in this link and I will speak very well of France in my ASPO-Houston speech.

We in New Orleans have a deep food culture and we only compare ourselves to the French and, to a lessor degree the Italians (the way we prepare steaks comes from Croatia, aged beef served in sizzling butter :-)

As a New Orleanian, I am also aware of the Urban Myth that we horribly mispronounce French place names (Rue Burgundy is pronounced Bur-Gun-De >:-) as revenge for being sold twice. First to the civilized and Catholic Spanish and *THEN* to the Americans. "Drapeau" means a babies diaper. "Neutral ground" is a term first used locally for the divide between the French and American cities of New Orleans.

To see Germany as subversient to France is a fantasy

I first became aware of this from several German (and former German) citizens. They saw this as part of the price to be paid to rehabilitate Germany (then Western Germany) after WW II. Not one was positive about the partnership with France other than "real politik" and a "price that must be paid", There was no hint that this was a partnership of equals north of the Rhine.

French as well as German industry benefited from the Common Market, but the Agricultural subsidies are traditionally the MAJOR expense. I do remember that French farmers have blocked roads, etc. when there was a hint of a cut-back in their subsidies (largely paid for by the Germans until recent years).

Only in the last couple of years has Airbus (EADS is 80% (soon 100%) of Airbus plus a scattered assortment of smaller entities) gone to anything remotely like a level playing field between the Germans & the French.

You may be right that the core business of Airbus is the A32x line, but only because of the fiasco of the A380-800 (and earlier A340-500 & A340-600) and the bungling of the A350. Narrow bodies are the easiest seller today for Mr. Leahy (your American salesman extraordinaire).

For Boeing, the 737 is between a third and 40% of sales by dollar volume and less by profits. The sales success of the 787 & 777 are more important to Boeing than the 737.

Transportation to Toulouse adds 1% or so to costs of the A380 and also creates an inflexible and fragile supply chain. Gallic pride and dominance of Airbus management can be the only rational explanation for choosing Toulouse as the new assembly plant for the A380. Likewise painting and installing the toilets in Germany was NOT a commercial decision.

Given recent shifts in power between France & Germany within Airbus, if the decision were made today, IMO the A380 would be assembled in Hamburg, not Toulouse (a much more logical choice).

I stand by my statement that the French have historically dominated the French-German partnership but I think that this will change in the future (and has already begun to change in the last few years).

I think a British-Dutch-German (Spanish ? Polish ?) partnership may be more likely to develop than a British-French one within the EU.

Viva la France ! (despite her flaws)


Agriculture is the main EU expense because it is the ONLY policy conducted exclusively at the EU level. That argument, endlessly ued by the English, is stupid because it never compares comparable things. To make sense, you'd need to add spending within national budgets to compare to to other topics.

Germany was politically less assertive than France, for sure, but was never a silent partner either. The Franco-German partnership will not be replaced by anything else because the two countries are the only two that together can have a chance of build something (opposing, like the Brits and Poles do all the time, is a lot easier, but goes nowhere, which is the point).

As to Airbus, I'm just waiting to see what the actual delay on the 787 is before we say anything definitive on the A380. Connecting all these inflight systems is a bitch for Boeing too. Adn the modular manufacturing invented by Airbus to deal wit hnational "quotas" is actually now imitated, so it turned out not to be such a bad idea...

I did not say that Germany was simply dictated to by France, I said that France was the dominant party. Germany had a voice, but a smaller and weaker voice of the two.

I agree that Germany was not a silent partner. Canada is not a silent partner either in it's relationship with the United States.

Connecting all these inflight systems is a bitch for Boeing too

Boeing will, unlike Airbus, use the same release of the Dassault (French) Catia software throughout the company :-) As I understand it, the Germans used the old version and the French the new version, with dramatic differences between them (the two versions run on different computers, written in different languages, different 3D capabilities). FUBAR is the American term for the A380 wiring.

Systems integration and aerodynamics/wings have traditionally been Boeing strengths so I expect no more than one quarters delay in the 787. Many retired Boeing personnel are worried about the very tight schedule for the 787.

Regardless of 787 delays, the A380 will be a financial disaster. One fatal flaw (of several) is the decision to build an oversize wing that could also be used on the never to be built A380-900. The result is extra weight and poorer aerodynamics on the A380-800 vs. an A380-800 with an optimized wing. Another fatal flaw is the $1.41 euro.

Modular assembly predates Airbus. 737 fuselages have always been made in Wichita Kansas and then shipped by rail to Seattle and Japanese companies have been building ever increasing % of Boeing aircraft (JAL & ANA have bought few Airbii, h'mmm) including major wing components.

Airbus has pioneered some manufacturing techniques (composite use, aluminum welding, fly-by-wire), but I would not include modular construction among them.

Best Hopes for Détente,


Dear Jerome,

Thanks for posting this. The article by Cord is disturbing for a number of reasons. The main one for me is related to the concept of 'historical irony'. It would be ironic if, after going to so much troubel to gain access to, and control the Middle East's oil, it turned out that the vast, untapped, reserves - weren't actually there!

There's also an unpleasant, almost rascist, attitude to those people and nations who are outside our sphere. We appear to regard them as 'outsiders'. That is people and cultures who have somehow refused to accept the blessings of 'civilization' which we in the West have offered them. Why don't they all want to be just like us, when we represent the pinancle of human development? What's wrong with them? Very quickly one comes to regard them as 'barbarians'.

If they are 'non-us' and 'barbarians' outside the walls of civilization, then one soon begins to place them in the catagory of 'sub-humans', then it's a relatively short step to their anihilation and destruction.

One could argue that this is precisely what's happened in Iraq. Why we cared so little when the blocade of Iraq was killing hundreds of thousands of people. Why we systematically destroyed Iraq's infrastructure and committed countless warcrimes. Why we demonized their leaders and turned a country that was on its knees, into a non-existant threat. According to most Western leaders Iraq was led by a re-born Adolf Hitler at the head of a powerful army comprable to the legions of Nazi Germany. They were a threat to the world no less. When in reality they were virtually defencless, hand few tanks, hardly any functioning artilary, no airforce, no real anti-aircraft weaponry, and were close to being a militia.

Why do we feel the need to turn all our enemies in Adolf Hitler over and over again?

Is it because we insist on thinking of ourselves as somehow the victim? That even though we travel half-way around the world to attack and invade and occupy their countries, somehow it's us that under the threat of imminent attack.

The article seems to me to be an attempt to justify Western 'terrorism' or as we prefer to call it sometimes, 'shock and awe'. It's also shockingly primative in its belief in the role of force and violence to solve problems.

Also it negates the right of the 'bararians' to have ligitimate interests of their own, if they do not coincide with our own. It's self-centered and myopic and ignorant. Why should the national interests of all countries be subsumed into America's interests?

It's not as if Cord seems cynical in his approach. If he were cynical one see some hope, but he hasn't got the brains to be a cynic. He actually seems to believe this rubbish, and that's what frigtens me most! These people are at heart, zealots and fanatics and terribly dangerous.

They are in my opinion the most dangerous group of political extremists to have attained political power in a Western country since the Nazies, and I think their ideas, at their core are just as crazed, bizarre and probably, even though I don't really like the word - Evil.

Cord's screed reminds me of the saying that it is "better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt". Many commentators above have pointed out that at its heart there are a number of issues driving the current struggle, none of which remotely resemble the transcendental moral struggle these people would like to wrap themselves in. There is the fact that the "military industrial complex" Eisenhower so presciently warned us of has grown so powerful that it is essentially controlling the dominant portion of our politics and economy. And this monster requires an enemy. With the end of the cold war, there was an absolute need to invent an enemy worthy of the huge expenditure of resources that this symbiotic parasite had become used to feeding upon. If Osama bin Laden didn't exist we would have had to invent him. Oh wait, a short history lesson implies we did. This phenomena coupled with the raw drive for resources and economic advantage does more to explain the current friction than cultural issues.

Then there is the derisive dismissal of "soft power". Perhaps a pre-emptive strike? Because what this entire episode has demonstrated, even for the ideologically brain-addled, is the pathetic limits of "hard power". In fact, that was the primary lesson of the fall of the Soviet Union. Not the triumph of capitalism but rather the futility of trying to exert your authority over a diverse empire through the force of arms alone. It simply doesn't work anymore. Soft power is the only power that seeps through all borders and eventually undermines all authoratarian regimes. That is why they fear it. That is why they seek to dismiss it and delegitimize it.


Excellent points, but sometimes the most obvious examples are the easiest of all to overlook. As regards the limits of 'hard power': from the time of Bismarck until the defeat of the Reich in 1945, the greatest armies on Earth belonged to the Germans. It is not simply that they had extraordinary individuals like Rudel. For the Germans, military excellence was successfully institutionalized. They really did have the most impressive military of modern times - perhaps of all time.

And yet, what were the results? They managed to start two world wars (I will allow a technical definition of 'start' for WWI), the greatest wars of modern times, and lost both of them outright.

It is God's greatest joke that the best military ever seen should lose two world wars in a row. He must be a great fellow to share a couple of dozen beers with (making allowance for His actual non-existence).

The lesson of history: if even the descendants of Prussia, the inheritors of Scharnhorst, the sons of Frederick the Great, couldn't rule the world by force, then certainly a bunch of Hollywood-conditioned pooves with bad haircuts and wrap-around sunglasses can't do it either. Listen up: the Romans failed. The English (who just fluked it, by the way) failed. And even the best of them all - the Germans - went under in flames.

One should always concentrate upon one's strengths. The reality is that the US has managed to rule the world for fifty years THROUGH BULLSHIT ALONE. It has had nothing to do with 'hard power'. It has had to do with 'soft power', or, more accurately, BULLSHIT. The US has the sole distinction of being the only nation on Earth to have BULLSHITTED its way to dominance.

So why give that up and try to rule through one's greatest weakeness - force?

That is the irony. The US has fallen victim to its own bullshitting. If this had not happened, you would be looking at another generation of the American Century. Now that the US has chosen to rely soley on its greatest weakness (actual fighting), the US imperium is doomed in short order.


Franz: The dual epicenters of American bullshit (NYC-finance, LA-entertainment) are possibly well positioned to survive at least the first part of the major decline of the nation. Most Americans are not bullshitters, but the vast majority of extremely successful Americans are major bullshitters. It is the key skill necessary to thrive in the post-industrial American society of 2007 and beyond.

Thank you writerman for saying what is always at the back of my mind when I look at postings on this site - almost none of these guys have lived (I don't mean in the Aramco compound) in these countries and certainly cannot even speak the languages of their inhabitants.

Well I have and I speak Arabic and Farsi - very few Middle Easterners can say that they can do that properly. I can do it with a Cairo and a Tehran accent.

It really pains me to see how low the US, the UK, France and Germany have stooped in the past 20 or so years. It is almost like a race to the bottom.

In all these countries a large majority of the populations do not want to continue with these various invasions, attacks, embargoes and threats. Nevertheless, both the ruling party and its main opposition party are all for it. I mean, what is the meaning of "democracy" in this context and how dare one criticize Putin for being "undemocratic"?

There is a lot to be said for what Michael Meacher had to say on this matter:

The other thing which I think is very important is vested interests. Who wants to keep the world the way it is?

The oil industry; the chemical industry; the food industry; the car industry; the airline industry. These are very powerful. Who rules Britain? Not parliament.

Why do we demonise our enemies?

I think I know two answers to this one:

First, nobody thinks of themselves as evil. If you define yourself as not evil, but for some reason you want or need to do something that is evil by your understanding, then you have to lie to yourself to make it seem like a good or necessary act. E.G. a racist might defend a murder with the statement - "Yeah, I shot him, but he was [insert racial epithet or skin colour here]". If they shot a person, then they would have done something bad, and they would feel bad about it. If they deny his humanity on grounds of race then their action is no longer evil (in their mind), because what they killed was not a person, which means they can feel better about it.

Second, in terms of national action, it's not just a matter of ordering. Even soldiers think for themselves despite being trained not to. If they weren't given excuses for their actions then they might object to fighting. Further, if the population back home aren't given reasons for fighting then they might stop and ask tricky questions like "Why are we bothering?".
There's always someone who wants a war, and since they are the kind of person that wants a war to happen they are almost by definition not particularly worried about methods being justified by ends, so they lie.

"Is it because we insist on thinking of ourselves as somehow the victim? "

No, that's a restatement of the problem. It's just a different lie-to-ourselves. If we are the victims then by definition we are in the right, which means we don't have to worry about it any more.

"why so much cowering fear"?

The answer should be blindingly obvious. Without fear and without enemies nobody will need the protective services of the imperial military. If the colonies don't need it they may as well decide to stop paying tribute to the empire by sending it their resources in exchange of its increasingly worthless currency.

Hence we started the Iraq war, created the terrorists, the "Islamofascist"s, the "Axis of Evil", Iran's nuclear threat etc.etc. Now things are obviously getting rough if we are inclined to add China and Russia to this list. This is indeed a huge step - unlike the previous ones, these new enemies are capable to fire back. Are we so desperately running out of enemies?

This is perceptive. The first part of the 90's after the fall of the Soviet Union, American military sought wide and deep for a big, pervasive enemy, against which to position itself. This has been widely documented.

It has now found one in "global dispersed terrorism" that "fights asymmetrical warfare". Global "evil terrorists" that "hate Americans for their freedoms" can be hiding anywhere and everywhere, even among ordinarily looking civilians. Even among Americans.

Coincidentally, US federal government has been stripping it's citizens rights left and right using this as a pretext.

Now, whether this is all just a happy coincidence that global terrorism came to fill the power vacuum left behind by SU or whether it was manufactured, well that's up to the reader to decide.

In any case, it is to the benefit of the status quo of the military leaders. More budget, more power, more sandboxes to play in and new strategies to be invented. In fact, a totally "unwinnable opponent" that is fully globally dispersed and which one must engage in a "long war", makes the whole world your potential playground. Now that is a handy pretext if I ever saw one.

What I find really curious is the seemingly obvious ignorance towards over-extension and the risks it brings about (rf. collapse of empires, over-extension, over-complexity, etc). Is this a deliberate policy or just a decision borne out of desperation (i.e. no other way out)? Or is it just incompetence (something I find hard to believe)?

In any case, it is very difficult for a (Northern) European to understand.

We come from such a different tradition of thinking and having still a not too distant memory of wars being fought on our homeland, we are less eager to grab for guns. We know the devastation of war 1st hand. Americans have absolutely no idea, having not fought a bloody war on their on land for so long. Getting bodies shipped back in zinc coffins accompanied by military fanfares and MSM sanitization is not the same as having the whole of your neighborhood blown up in a war that ravages on for years.

Hence, US seems to be quite willing to use military power (esp. elsewhere) and to disparage Europeans for their lack of willingness to do the same.

This ideological rift, is one of the reasons US is not so popular in Europe (or in many other countries) these days, imho.

Nobody likes a bully, regardless of how righteous that bully may view himself. And US is making a damn good job of trying to make everybody see themselves as the sole super-bully of the world.

Might may make right temporarily, but it doesn't buy one friends.

Perhaps US isn't looking for any?

"Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters, perhaps even -- so it was occasionally rumoured -- in some hiding-place in Oceania itself.[...]
And all the while, lest one should be in any doubt as to the reality which Goldstein's specious claptrap covered, behind his head on the telescreen there marched the endless columns of the Eurasian army -- row after row of solid-looking men with expressionless Asiatic faces, who swam up to the surface of the screen and vanished, to be replaced by others exactly similar." - George Orwell, 1984

Yup, soft power everywhere. Just count the number of new military ships that China is building to exert softpower, and the neat way the arab sudanese are using soft power to push their black african countrymen off their land and often out of existence, and oh, you've just gotta love Bashir Assad's use of soft power as one by one his opponents in Lebanon are shredded.
Wasn't it Mao who said 'power comes from the end of a gun'; so, not to dismiss the use of soft power, the pen if you will, let's not get to silly about it either.
When Britain was the super power, it was extremely unpopular, hated in many parts, ditto when the Spanish had their day in the sun, and the French and so forth; for reasons unknown, the Americans expect to be loved in their superpower status, and feel things must be terribly awry if they are not; bizarre.
As it happens, the moment of unique superpower status for the U.S. is now over, which is a good thing for America, and probably the world.
Re. Saddam, he parked his jets with Iran, ostensibly his enemy, when the U.S. attacked. Thus, the possibility of an Iraq/Iran threat to Saudi Arabia was real, regardless of his being sunni; the U.S. had every reason to topple Saddam, and the Saudi establishment were, quietly, in favour. Given that the Saudi/U.S. relationship/alliance is critical to both parties, the U.S. would not have gone into Iraq had the Saudi regime been opposed.

There are always fools who will repeat the mistakes of the past. If you're looking to Mao for transcendent wisdom for the new century, I doubt that even the Chinese will follow. All your examples have turned to dust or are doomed to failure. Indeed capable of inflicting immense short term suffering, but doomed to failure.


In the original editorial by Philip Stephens, which occasioned Jerome's deconstruction, there's one of those jump-about ads for the latest Hummer dick-extension for the ecologically inadequate. Apparently the hacks who run the FT think that this is an appropriate ad to carry for their target audience. So, should TOD contributors really take seriously a paper whose writers and readership are so out of touch with the larger geological and ecological realities now facing us all that they can still accept such infantile idiocies as plausible?

In the original editorial by Philip Stephens, which occasioned Jerome's deconstruction, there's one of those jump-about ads for the latest Hummer dick-extension for the ecologically inadequate. Apparently the hacks who run the FT think that this is an appropriate ad to carry for their target audience. So, should TOD contributors really take seriously a paper whose writers and readership are so out of touch with the larger geological and ecological realities now facing us all that they can still accept such infantile idiocies as plausible?

The world didn't change, nor the people, SW, when we ticked over from 1999 to 2000, or as you so portentiously put it,to the new century.

In 3,500 years of recorded history there has been 150 years of peace. You can't blame the 'mericans for that. Why don't you accept it's the nature of the beast. We are mortal creatures driven by our genes to fight for resources.

Repeat after me, Jerome

You can't stop an army with a piece of paper
You can't stop an army with a piece of paper
You can't stop an army with a piece of paper
You need a bigger army!

The US has the biggest army - in fact the US has a bigger army than the rest of the world combined, by a number of measures.

So what army do you need to stop, exactly? Or are you saying that the rest of the world needs to arm against the US?

Hi Jerome,

This post is, no doubt, getting stale but I was trying to make the point that war goes back further than we know whereas the Americans don't. They are the new Rome for sure but if it wasn't them it would be someone else. As Einstein said, if WWIII is fought with nuclear weapons then WWIV will be fought with bows and arrows. But still they (we) would fight.

We are currently in 'Pax Americana' mode which is running out. People will settle with any power that can supply the goodies. Now The Americans can't so the fighting has picked up again. There is something about human nature which thinks that if someone isn't losing then I'm losing out on something.

People (homo sapiens sapiens) just fight. It's sad, dysfunctional, but hell, we are all going to die anyway.

War before, during and after the American Empire. I just don't accept that all the sins of the world fall on the Americans.

IMO, You are totally naive if you think that the new European Empire or the new Chinese Empire will be peaceful. People hate peace. There will always be someone who wants to give war a chance.

People fight for resources.

The poor hate injustice. Polarization of wealth creates injustice. Private property systems create polarization of wealth in the absence of intervention.

Now there was a brief time when America was at the forefront of a movement to at least reduce the need for war abroad and revolution at home.

Franklin Roosevelt boiled it down to:

Freedom of speech.
Freedom of worship.
Freedom from hunger.
Freedom from fear.

Its expression in international law took the form of the expansion of rules against invasion for profit, and the declaration by an American judge that beginning a war of aggression was the ultimate war crime since all the other war crimes are the inevitable product of war.

Its expression in economics was the original International Monetary Fund and World Bank, not yet corrupted by the Reaganites. In the 1960s economic development was succeeding across Latin America and Southeast Asia, in many countries where it later was reversed by pro-American dictators and neoliberals. It only worked because oil was cheap, but when it was cheap again in the late '80s, the poor just got poorer because of a conscious ideology to crush them.

For a brief moment, America's leaders, if not its citizens, accepted the idea that fascism had indeed been America's fault. That America's abandonment of the League of Nations when only it had the resources to give it a chance, its indifference to the failure of bourgeoise liberalism in Germany, its embrace of tariff acts that destroyed Japan's economy, all played some part in making voters turn to fascism and fascists turn to overseas plunder. In 1945 we resolved to make a world in which occupied countries would not be raped and rigged with illegitimate puppets. A world where educated people who worked hard would have an easier time exporting cameras and cars than bombs and infantry. A world where empires would not be a rational or realistic solution. A world where peaceful revolution was possible, as opposed to the inevitable alternative.

Damn it, we were making progress. Despite the huge impediment of the Soviet Union, at least the existence of two rival superpowers made it possible for the weak to bargain for the best deals from the strong - not just between countries, but in battles between labor and big business. Everywhere the poor could extort concessions from the rich by hinting that they might raise the Red flag. And then they took those concessions and raised their standard of living and improved their children's education. The extortion was just because the maldistribution had been unjust and in no way reflected the value and potential of those on the bottom.

All of that has been flushed down the toilet by an organized effort of elites throughout the West. We won't get a second chance, because energy will never be that plentiful again. The phrase "a rising tide will lift all boats" was turned by Reagan into an excuse to herd the poor onto rafts, and now it's been turned by global warming into Nature's literal last laugh on us.

The reason for all this effort: in 1945 it was clear to everyone that this resort to violence you call inevitable, if escalated to its maximum one more time, would be the end of civilization. Maybe they were a bunch of stupid liberal suckers for trying to give civilization one last chance, but that's better than what we will be: a mob of clever but dysfunctional cynics trying to make one last murderous lunge at each other's throats before we all die.

All of that has been flushed down the toilet by an organized effort of elites throughout the West. We won't get a second chance, because energy will never be that plentiful again.

US energy consumption is about 330 million BTU/capita/year, while the solar energy impinging on a 1/5 acre lot in the middle of Kansas is about 4.3 billion BTU.  US electric consumption averages about 460 GW, while wind-energy potential of the lower 48 and continental shelves is about 2.1 TW.

The energy is there, it just can't be centralized and monopolized like oil.  The elites want hydrogen cars because they can make money off hydrogen, but the PHEV is going to kill hydrogen and cut the elites out of the picture.  When you can go down to Lowe's and buy all the PV you need to run your two PHEV cars except for long trips, and the long trips are handled by biofuels from the farmer's coöp, the elites are out of the picture and can't collect monopoly rents any more.

They fear this more than anything, but it's inevitable.  You just won't hear it from them, because they don't want you acting on the knowledge.  Stop buying into their propaganda.

"People (homo sapiens sapiens) just fight. It's sad, dysfunctional, but hell, we are all going to die anyway."

Just because we have an intrinsically bestial nature does not mean we should glory in it or accept it. Individuals transcend it fairly frequently, and if societies could as well then we would be deserving of our species name.

An equally correct argument: in the recorded history of c. 6000 years, there has been more times of peace than there have been times of war (if you add up all regions as a function of time, each region has been more in time of peace than in time of war).

Why don't you accept it is the nature of the state of being. We are mortal creatures driven by our genes to avoid the risk of losing life through deadly conflict, because it's a serious hindrance to survival and passing on the genes.

Repeat after me, Alan

You can't force peacefulness through wars
You can't force peacefulness through wars
You can't force peacefulness through wars
You need Wu Wei!

And this is in fact, what I think Europeans are to some extent practicing, even if not fully aware of it. No action. At least no intentional forceful aggression (well, the French currently excluded).

Laozi was much greater the thinker and more of the pragmatist than the populist Niccolò Machiavelli ever was. Such a shame he isn't as highly known and esteemed in political reality circles as the latter.

PS This inability to understand is due to most part attributable to differing viewpoints. I think both Europeans and Americans would be better of acknowledging this. That's just my take on things, though.

“The Long War” sounds suspiciously like the perpetual war, which the Neo-Con cabal is foisting on the world. Perpetual war and other (anti)social theories of Leo Strauss are illuminated here:

What a discussion. Kudos all around.
Some special gift to key off with post that
begins thought not flame.

When I read commentaries like this, I always ask "Does this author really want a militarily muscular European Union? Really?

I mean, I know that they are thinking in terms of European armies simply being NATO (read US) auxiliaries to be deployed at the will of the Imperial City, but do they really think that if the various countries of Europe went the route of militarization that they would be content to do it in the name of US hegemony? Does it not occur to the authors of such articles that by becoming a military powers, such nations also become a potential military threat? Especially if the various nations in the EU learned to worked together?

As they say, be careful what you wish for ...

It all comes down to what kind of political parties become dominant on the pan-European level. Maybe the troglodytes at the Pentagon figure that even if leftist parties dominate Brussels, they will lack the will to seize NATO. I just don't see how long Europe can go with its armies controlled by Washington against the wills of its voters. It's dual sovereignity, like the way that Turkey's army has held a gun to the head of its voters while obeying orders from Washington. Well you see how that's fallen apart lately.

Unfortunately I agree that I can't now see an ideology that would let Europeans regain control of their militaries in a good way. There have been too many smug "liberals" who try to prove their pragmatism by embracing armed force and only turn out to be more of Bush's poodles. If I were in charge there, I would simply dismantle their existing forces and start from scratch, using new weapons and doctrines that spit in the face of American dogma:

A joint-controlled nuclear deterrent force of less than 10 ballistic missile subs (from existing French and British fleets).

A fleet of large ekranoplans (wing-in-ground effect craft) with enough range and patrol duration to show the flag in a limited area beyond Europe.

A small corps, maybe a few tens of thousand of men, operating from VTOLs to carry out small hostage-rescue operations in conjunction with the ekranoplans.

A large local militia trained in the Swiss and Yugoslavian fashion - and yes, I want that to be a counterbalance to Brussels - ready to take on American or Russian invaders with roadside bombs, sniper rifles, mines, all the things that seem to defeat imperialists repeatedly.

The willingness to pre-wire every damn source of energy with explosives, again on Swiss lines, to make clear to an invader that he will not turn a profit. Oil rigs, dams, wind turbines, solar arrays.

There is a practical reason why countries like China rarely invade others - their leaders know they can't be successfully occupied, so why disorder civil society with a cult of militarism? That cult makes it a matter of pride to "defend" yourself by building forces that can also be used for offense, rather than making your very land poison in the jaws of an invader. Europe is already of little value beyond the cooperation of its highly educated, productive citizens. By the way, doing things this way uses a lot less oil.

Wake me when the Green parties over there start talking like this.

There is a practical reason why countries like China rarely invade others

Which explains why they've colonized Tibet, fought wars with India, and repeatedly rattle sabers over Taiwan.

On the Long War

The term was used by Bobbit in The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History
To describe the period between the start of WWI and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It has recently been taken up to describe what you might call A "New Paradigm for 21st Century Conflict" in strategic and intelligence circles. The first article below gives more detail 'America takes another step towards the “Long War” '


Grand post Jerome and good discussion.

Funny how such pieces (Tony Cord) seem fusty and dusty, old fashioned, outdated. At the same time, they have no historical interest at all as they are published in the present!

The first sentence sets the tone: The return of both China and Islam in world history after a three-century-long eclipse .. ; Islam as what? A country? World history, seen by whom? eclipse?? does that mean now a ‘resurgence’, etc. I needn’t go on. It almost reads like satire, or weak, hackneyed, propaganda. A colorful poster might do the job! But No! This is serious stuff.

To the point I wanted to add .. Historical analysis and foreign policy recommendations have been *outsourced* to think tanks paid for mainly by corporations, or more widely, certain groups, classes of people, or even individuals. These hired deep-thinking bozos perform for cash, draped in authority and seriousness. The media is on board.

Then you have your hangers on. Write a few alarmist papers about terrorism and pretend you know something about social networks and you are guaranteed a good living, or better. (I know nothing about Cord, but degrees from the naval Academy might not equip one to understand Islam or ME history.)

So the ‘fear’ shown in such pieces is more reminiscent of war-mongering agit prop (eg. Nazis...) than any kind of rational analysis or even sensible pondering of national interests. Of course the US has always had to seek out exterior enemies, and part of its strength, now failing, has been in the past to refuse to consider there might be poison within (contrast with the Nazis), but I digress...All I meant is that this one facet of US foreign policy, and a sort or victimized, ersatz, hysterical one, pointed to rousing the rabble and pleasing vested interests, with the rabble being manipulated and the latter making out like bandits.

Does this Cord guy have a job for Northrop or similar weapons companies?

“Without a video the people perish”-Is. 13:24