BOOK REVIEW

Surprise, Security, & the American Experience
by
John Lewis Gaddis

Page Contents

National Security Strategy

War on Terror

Iraq

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 6, No. 10, 10/1/04.

Homepage

National security strategy:

  The terrorist attack on September 1, 2001, was not the first time the United States has suffered a surprise blow sufficiently significant to alter the way the nation deals with the world in general and with its national security in particular.
 &

"The fact that Americans had not had to exhaust themselves in ensuring their own safety" is a "distinct characteristic, shared with few other nations."

  For historic perspective, John Lewis Gaddis examines pertinent aspects of the British attack on Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1814, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Gaddis cautions that "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience" is just an initial attempt to put the 9/11/01 attack in historic perspective and analyze the nation's national security responses. As more material becomes available, the accuracy of such studies will increase. However, current efforts are important to provide the best possible understanding of this event while the nation is in the midst of devising means to deal with the immediate impacts of the terrorist attacks.

  In this fine, clearly written, readable little book, Gaddis provides some essential background and understanding. This author has a demonstrated ability to provide insights and draw connections that others would miss. See, "Containment," below.
 &
  However, in this book, the author examines only a few threads in the tapestry of the U.S. foreign policy response to security threats. The book is written for a general audience and is designed to make some specific points. Inevitably, the author concentrates on those points to the exclusion of others. Although the threads covered are very interesting and clearly valid, the full tapestry is far more complex - full of interesting nuance - that unfortunately cannot be fully explored in a volume of this type and brevity.

  American optimism and sense of separation between personal lives and historic events, are the result of a fortunate geographic insulation "from a violent external world." "The fact that Americans had not had to exhaust themselves in ensuring their own safety" is a "distinct characteristic, shared with few other nations," Gaddis perceptively points out, referring to the views developed by a previous Yale historian, C. Vann Woodward.
 &

"[What] would it mean, for Americans, to have to live henceforth in a world of insecurity, in which this separation of the personal from the historic could no longer be assumed?"

  What would happen - how would this general character of the American people change - if the threats and conflicts of a still dangerous world were to become commonplace in the U.S.?

  "[What] would it mean, for Americans, to have to live henceforth in a world of insecurity, in which this separation of the personal from the historic could no longer be assumed?"

  This might have occurred during the Cold War, but the nuclear standoff fortunately held. However, this all changed with the attacks on 9/11/01.

  "Suddenly Americans could no longer confidently work, travel, or even stay at home without fearing for their lives. The boundaries between everyday existence and a dangerous world had been shattered, as had the assumption of safety that had long since become, or so Woodward had argued, part of what it meant to be an American. September 11th was not just a national security crisis. It was a national identity crisis as well."

The burning of Washington:

  A similar attack had, in fact, occurred - not quite two centuries earlier. On August 24, 1814, the British Army took Washington, D.C., and burned the new Capitol and White House. One of those two buildings might have been the target of the fourth hijacked plane.
 &

Instead of withdrawing behind defenses - of "making themselves inconspicuous or otherwise avoiding whatever dangers there may be," Americans react to such sudden threats "by taking the offensive, by becoming more conspicuous, neutralizing, and if possible overwhelming the sources of danger rather than fleeing from them."

  The British attack, however, was not a shock like Pearl Harbor or 9/11/01. It occurred in an ongoing war, towards its end, and was quickly followed by the Peace Treaty of Ghent and the subsequent victory of Andrew Jackson over the British at New Orleans.
 &
  Nevertheless, the vulnerability of the nation so effectively dramatized by the British attack had a profound impact. However, instead of withdrawing behind defenses - of "making themselves inconspicuous or otherwise avoiding whatever dangers there may be," Americans react to such sudden threats "by taking the offensive, by becoming more conspicuous, neutralizing, and if possible overwhelming the sources of danger rather than fleeing from them."

  "Thus, over the decade that followed the first surprise attack on United States soil - - - American leaders evolved a strategy of forestalling future challenges by enlarging American interests. The principal elements of that strategy were: preemption where marauders might exploit the weakness of neighboring states, or where that weakness might tempt stronger states to establish a presence; unilateralism, so that the United States need not rely upon any other state to guarantee its security; and, finally, hegemony over the North American continent, in order that the dominant international system there would reflect a preponderance of American power rather than a balance among several powers, with all the possibilities for wars, commercial rivalries, and revolutions that the latter arrangement had led to in Europe." (emphasis added)

"Preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony" were the cornerstones of the approach advised by John Quincy Adams, much as they have been as a result of the attacks on 9/11/01.

  For the U.S., security is pursued by expansion.
 &
  President Thomas Jefferson had tried the defensive response. He had responded to maritime transgressions by Britain during the Napoleonic Wars by withdrawing from the high seas trade. However, the trade embargo was so humiliating, burdensome and unpopular, that Congress - reflecting the popular mood - turned pugnacious - "despite the fact that neither that body nor the recently installed Madison administration had done much more than Jefferson to provide the means" for a pugnacious defense of the nation's maritime interests.

  This, too, would be typical - right up to 9/11/01. The U.S. would almost never be prepared in advance for its major conflicts - a failure that would invariably be paid for with the blood of  its soldiers during the lengthy periods of mobilization after conflict had already begun. After a quarter of a century of belaboring and undermining the capabilities of its intelligence services, and a decade of dismantling its army - the Congress is now intent on finding scapegoats - in pointing the finger of blame elsewhere - anywhere but at themselves. See, "Who Is To Blame?"

  There were "glaring gaps between proclaimed ends and available means." The meager means available predictably did not impress the British. The U.S. thus "stumbled into an unnecessary war" - that it proceeded to manage badly.

  By every measure, the War of 1812 was a defeat for the U.S. The U.S. achieved none of its wartime aims, was repulsed from Canada, and was ultimately completely bottled up by a small segment of the British navy. The victory at New Orleans took the sting of failure out of the war - but only after the war had already ended.

  As a result of this experience, the U.S. was forced "to take the requirements of national security and grand strategy more seriously." The U.S. could not retreat from the world. It had to find a way to secure its growing worldwide interests in a world dominated by European superpowers.
 &
  The resulting shift in grand strategy is attributed by Gaddis predominantly to John Quincy Adams, "the most influential American grand strategist of the nineteenth century." "Preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony" were the cornerstones of his approach, much as they have been as a result of the attacks on 9/11/01. Gaddis asserts that John Quincy Adams is a more accurate source for the national security impulses that Walter Russell Mead attributes to Andrew Jackson. See, Mead, "Special Providence."
 &

Preemption:

 

&

  A continental world to defend, and few means with which to do it, posed major problems for the U.S. in the early 19th century. Great Britain, Russia and Spain all held neighboring territories with uncertain and open boundaries. There were also "non-state actors" - native Americans, pirates, marauders and other free agents - to deal with.
 &

  Florida was the 19th century version of a "failed state," Gaddis correctly notes. A series of attacks by Creeks, Seminoles and escaped slaves were launched from its sanctuary.
 &
  General Andrew Jackson responded forcefully. When Spain complained, Adams, then the Secretary of State in the Monroe administration, was alone in supporting Jackson. He replied to Spain that it must either garrison Florida adequately to control its border, or "cede to the United States a province - - - which is in fact a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them."
 &
  By 1829, Jackson was President, and he responded to the Indian problems along the western frontier in the same manner as had Adams with Spanish Florida. Pres. Polk used similar preemptive reasoning in annexing Texas in 1845 - to make certain that the territory did not at some time come under the influence of some European power like Britain or France. Polk extended this reasoning across the entire Southwest to California as one of the justifications for the Mexican War.

  All of this is undoubtedly true - but hardly the whole story. There were many other interests involved in these initiatives. Frequently, the national security interest was far from being the predominant factor.
 &
  By this time, the U.S. was clearly the biggest bully on the North American block. These arguments were little more than makeweights to support expansionist ambitions. U.S. citizens were already flooding westward into these territories.

Preemptive action by the Bush (II) administration in response to the terrorist attacks is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.

  This aggressive preemptive approach continued throughout the 19th century - culminating in the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was not enough to drive the Spaniards out of the Philippines. Pres. McKinley decided to occupy the Island Archipelago - ostensibly to keep the Germans or Japanese from taking it.
 &
  During the first two decades of the 20th century, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson would use similar reasoning to justify military interventions in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Mexico. What today would be called "failed or derelict states" - nations unable to control their own territories - were recognized as sources of Hemispheric instability requiring forceful intervention.

  "The United States therefore assumed the responsibility for maintaining order, collecting revenues, and paying off debts wherever indigenous regimes in the Caribbean or Central America were unable to do so. The Platt Amendment, written into Cuba's constitution by the Americans in 1901, reserved the right to intervene in that state's internal affairs at any time Washington deemed it advisable. The Panamanian revolution of 1903 and the subsequent construction of the canal across the isthmus were themselves acts of preemption, orchestrated by Roosevelt, with a view to keeping anyone else from building so strategic a waterway in so sensitive a spot. And Wilson's protracted military interventions in Mexico began in 1914 in an effort to prevent the Germans -- who were rumored to be shipping machine guns -- from exploiting domestic instability there."

  Thus, Gaddis asserts, preemptive action by the Bush (II) administration in response to the terrorist attacks is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.
 &

Unilateralism:

 

&

  The U.S. has never relied on "the goodwill of others" for the protection of its own interests. As early as 1793, a young John Quincy Adams wrote that "real independence" required a disconnect "from all European interests and European politics." Entangling alliances were avoided like the plague throughout the 19th century.
 &
  When Spanish authority collapsed throughout continental Latin America in the 1820s, it was in the profound interests of both Great Britain and the U.S. to prevent Spain from reestablishing control and to prevent such European powers as France, Austria and Russia from stepping in to fill the power vacuum. However, instead of formally joining Great Britain in declaring opposition to outside intervention in Latin America, the U.S. issued an unilateral pronouncement - the Monroe Doctrine - in spite of the fact that the U.S. had no capacity to enforce that doctrine. Adams knew he could rely on the British navy to provide all the deterrent force needed, even without a formal agreement.
 &

The U.S. was unilateralist - never isolationist.

 

Even participation in WW-I was undertaken not as an "allied" power, but as an "associated" power.

 

Here, too, the unilateralist turn of the Bush (II) administration is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.

  It was unilateralism - not isolationism - that formed a key component to U.S. foreign policy throughout the 19th century. Gaddis properly points out that - as it grew as a nation - the U.S. always maintained and expanded worldwide interests. The U.S. never acted  like China or Japan - which for centuries intentionally cut themselves off from the world.

  "The United States did, however, avoid commitments to act in concert with other great powers against future contingencies which no one could foresee. The 1778 alliance with France, finally terminated by mutual consent in 1800, had shown the dangers that could arise from such obligations. The Monroe Doctrine provided a blueprint for how interests could be advanced henceforth without such risks."

  U.S. and western hemispheric borders were secure as long as a benign Britannia ruled the waves. Even participation in WW-I was undertaken not as an "allied" power, but as an "associated" power. This was more than a formality - as the nation's refusal to join the League of Nations proved after the war.

  "Unilateralism reached its apex during the 1920s and 1930s when, despite the power the United States now had to shape the course of events throughout the world, Americans refused to use that power lest it somehow compromise their own so highly prized freedom of action."

  Thus, here, too, the unilateralist turn of the Bush (II) administration is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.
 &

Hegemony:

 

 

 

 

 

 

&

  Maintenance of a dominating position on the North American continent - what today is called "hegemony" - has always been the bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. John Quincy Adams emphatically rejected policies of coexistence.

  "The choice, he wrote as early as 1811, was between, on the one hand, having 'an endless multitude of little insignificant clans and tribes at eternal war with one another for a rock, or a fish pond, the sport and fable of European masters and oppressors,' or on the other, 'a nation, coextensive with the North American continent, destined by God and nature to be the most populous and most powerful people ever combined under one social compact.'"

  Several European powers held major segments of the North American continent at that time.

  "It was Adams, fearing eternal wars over rocks and fish ponds, who made it a goal of American strategy to keep that from happening. His doing so was all the more remarkable given the weakness of American military and naval capabilities at the time. What he saw, though, was that time was on the side of the United States: that the nation's population, economy and potential strength could only grow, while the ability of European powers to control adjoining territories could only diminish. There was no reason, hence, to hide hegemonic aspirations: 'any effort on our part to reason the world out of a belief that we are ambitious will have no other effect than to convince them that we add to our ambition hypocrisy.'"

  Canada would remain out of reach as long as Britannia ruled the waves and Canadians stoutly defended their independence. Racism delayed and limited - but did not  prevent - expansion into Mexican territory and the Caribbean. The bloody Filipino insurrection at the beginning of the 20th century convinced most Americans that overseas empire was a mistake, and so the limits of U.S. expansion were set. As Adams had put it: the U.S. "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy."
 &

Here, too, the buildup of U.S. power under the Bush (II) administration is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.

  Instead, the U.S. sought to assure its security by keeping other major powers from expanding their sovereignty into the western hemisphere. France was able to install the Emperor Maximillian in Mexico while the U.S. was preoccupied with its Civil War, but as soon as that war was over, Americans from both the North and the South could agree that Maximillian had to go. Only in the case of Cuba during the Cold War did a foreign power succeed in inserting its influence into the western hemisphere. (Towards the end of the Cold War, Nicaragua also - for a few years - became a client state of the Soviet Union.)
 &
  By 1895, Sec. of State Richard Olney could observe that the U.S. had become "practically sovereign on the continent - - - masters of the situation and practically invulnerable as against any or all other powers."
 &
  Here, too, the buildup of U.S. power under the Bush (II) administration is well within the traditions of U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy.

  "Despite the difference between a continental and a global scale, the American commitment to maintaining a preponderance of power -- as distinct from a balance of power -- was much the same in the 1990s as it had been in his day. Nor would Adams have detected evidence of hypocrisy cloaking ambition in what President Bush announced at West Point in June 2002: that 'America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge.'"

  However, as a result of Pearl Harbor, these traditions would be found wanting. They would be abandoned throughout WW-II and the Cold War.
 &

These were the methods that brought the people of the U.S. the vast benefits they enjoy today - benefits that no serious individual is suggesting be surrendered because of their dubious provenance.

  Political correctness today deplores these traditional foreign policy methods and grieves for their very real victims - the native Americans, Mexicans and others who were sometimes ruthlessly  trod underfoot by the expanding U.S. However, these were the methods that brought the people of the U.S. the vast benefits they enjoy today - benefits that no serious individual is suggesting be surrendered because of their dubious provenance. Gaddis offers an answer for this modern conundrum.

  "The better approach, I think, is to acknowledge the moral ambiguity of our history. Like most other nations, we got to where we are by means that we cannot today, in their entirety, comfortably endorse. Comfort alone, however, cannot be the criterion by which a nation shapes its strategy and secures its safety. The means of confronting danger do not disqualify themselves from consideration solely on the basis of the uneasiness they produce. Before we too quickly condemn how our ancestors dealt with such problems, therefore, we might well ask ourselves two questions, - - -: What would we have done if we had been in their place then? And, even scarier, how comfortable will our descendants be with the choices we make today?"

Pearl Harbor:

 

&

  The similarities and differences between the surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, are reviewed by Gaddis. One thing that was very similar, however, was the nation's reaction.
 &

For FDR and his successors during WW-II and the Cold War, however, preemption, unilateralism, and at least "overt" hegemony were out. A new approach was clearly needed.

  Both of these surprises brought about radical changes in national security grand strategy, and an immediate and substantial expansion of the nation's "sphere of responsibilities." "Running and hiding has rarely been our habit," Gaddis notes.
 &
  For FDR and his successors during WW-II and the Cold War, however, preemption, unilateralism, and at least "overt" hegemony were out. A new approach was clearly needed.
 &
  The problem had actually been brewing for about half a century before Pearl Harbor, Gaddis points out. The revolution in transportation - especially for warships and aircraft - had been materially reducing the effectiveness of the oceans as defensive barriers. During the same time, Great Britain - the guardian of those oceans - was being worn down by wars and economic and social factors. Also, there was now a major Asian naval power in the Pacific - Japan - where before there was nothing.

  "A central premise of the Adams strategy had been that distance itself was a means of defense. But now  distance was being conquered."

  Napoleon could move his armies little faster than Hannibal, two thousand years earlier. Now, that was rapidly changing. The increasing dangers had been clear for some time, Gaddis points out, but policy was not changed until that danger was shockingly demonstrated.

  This is not quite right. Defensive armaments were being beefed up to reinforce those ocean boundaries. Gaddis mentions the initiation of efforts to build an air force "second to none" prior to Pearl Harbor. Congress also authorized an extensive buildup in naval power to protect the nation's ocean borders. This fortunate degree of preparation had a significant impact on the course of the war. It is well to note the performance of this prewar U.S. Navy.
 &
  In the first year of war in the Pacific - despite the losses at Pearl Harbor and before the flood of new U.S. ships surged across the Pacific in 1943 - the U.S. prewar navy essentially fought the Japanese navy to a bloody standstill. By December, 1942, neither navy had a fully operational fleet aircraft carrier available in the Pacific. The two Japanese battleships sunk in Iron Bottom Sound off Guadalcanal offset the permanent U.S. losses at Pearl Harbor.
 &
  This was despite Japanese superiority in capital ships, numbers and quality of aircraft, and possession of torpedoes that worked - the best in the world. The U.S. did have splendid dive bombers, more rugged fighters mounting 50 caliber armament, and crude radar on some of its ships, but the Japanese night optics were superior. The U.S. enjoyed superior intelligence capabilities and the tactical flexibility and ingenuity of its line officers, who repeatedly found ways to overcome Japanese material and qualitative advantages in that first year of the war.

"The result had few precedents: a nation that had accumulated and still retained enormous strength, both in material and moral terms, declined for the most part to use it."

  The U.S. had been responding to these changing conditions since the beginning of the 20th century. However, Gaddis correctly points out that there was no consistency in their responses.
 &
  Theodore Roosevelt strengthened the navy. Taft engaged in "dollar diplomacy" to assure and expand U.S. commercial access to world markets and sources of supplies. Woodrow Wilson ultimately took the nation into a great European war for the balance of power purpose of assuring that Germany would not dominate Europe. He also attempted to enhance U.S. security by expanding the scope of U.S. involvement worldwide - through the League of Nations and the encouragement of the development of democratic systems of government. (He also opened U.S. markets to world trade.) However, the nation refused to follow him in this farsighted effort.

  "The war had shown that security was a seamless web: if it came apart anywhere, the fabric could unravel everywhere. The international community must therefore prevent such threats to peace from developing, and if necessary retaliate against whoever had broken the peace."

  However, victory in WW-I had removed all obvious threats. A benign British Empire again ruled the waves. Japan was as yet no threat. Why bother with messy European and Asiatic affairs? There was thus a reversion in the U.S. to the policies that had served the nation so well throughout the 19th century.

 "The result had few precedents: a nation that had accumulated and still retained enormous strength, both in material and moral terms, declined for the most part to use it."

  Disastrous consequences flowed from the reversion to 19th century policies. This was especially true of the return to mercantilist policies.
 &
  The U.S. was no longer the debtor nation that it had been throughout the 19th century. WW-I left the U.S. as the only major creditor nation in the world. Although it was now the only major source of capital in the world, with the Tariff of 1922, it raised barriers to its markets second in severity only to those of Spain.
 &
  Nobody would be permitted to earn enough dollars to service the vast dollar debts that had accumulated during WW-I and that thereafter increased during the 1920s.

  The result was a seriously unbalanced worldwide financial system and - inevitably - the worldwide financial turmoil that raged throughout the rest of the 1920s. See, James, "The End of Globalization." This also was - inevitably - one of the major factors in the onset of the Great Depression and the impossibility of recovery from the Great Depression. It thus played a significant role in the rise of Hitler and thus of the descent into WW-II. See, "Great Depression, Depression Mythology," and the Great Depression Chronology series beginning with "Great Depression, The Crash of '29."

"Roosevelt pulled off this expanded hegemony by scrapping rather than embracing the two other key components of Adams's strategy, unilateralism and preemption."

  FDR clearly recognized the onrushing dangers several years before Pearl Harbor, but was forced by isolationist forces in the U.S. to tread warily in moving the nation closer to a war footing.

  "Despite Roosevelt's efforts to counter this trend, the nation came closer during the late 1930s to hiding in the face of threats than it had done at any point since the years preceding the War of 1812, - - -."

  And, once again, a policy of determined weakness proved disastrous. Once again, the nation's soldiers were forced to pay in blood for the nation's lack of military readiness.
 &
  Whatever the failures of FDR's economic policies during the Great Depression - and overall the failure was massive - he was a determined and wily wartime President - encouraging expansion of the air force and navy - acting as Commander In Chief - making the key decisions to come to Britain's aid prior to Pearl Harbor - undoubtedly the most competent wartime president in the nation's history up to that time.

  The explanation for FDR's apparent dithering, Gaddis points out, was his care in keeping "proclaimed interests from extending beyond actual capabilities," which were initially very limited indeed. Gaddis views him as the true master strategist of WW-II, bringing the U.S. successfully through two wars simultaneously in a manner that left the nation as the world's greatest power.

  "As a consequence, the United States was able to move in a remarkably short period of time from a strategy that had limited itself to controlling the western hemisphere to one aimed at winning a global war and managing the peace that would follow. Equally significant is the fact that Roosevelt pulled off this expanded hegemony by scrapping rather than embracing the two other key components of Adams's strategy, unilateralism and preemption."

  In the face of powerful Axis adversaries, FDR abandoned the nation's prized freedom of action. He abandoned unilateralism in favor of systems of collective security. The world was simply too big a theater for the U.S. to control alone. Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, FDR was speaking of the "Grand Alliance" of the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Soon, the United Nations would become another important element in FDR's plans for security in the postwar world.

  FDR had already trampled upon the legal restraints of the Neutrality Acts of 1935-1937 to direct aid to beleaguered Great Britain prior to Pearl Harbor. This included informal permission for the British Secret Intelligence Service to run its western hemisphere operations - involving thousands of employees and agents - out of two full floors in Rockefeller Center.
 &
  In such moments of danger, presidents are indeed expected to act beyond the law as necessary for the nation's security. The nation's two greatest wartime presidents - Lincoln and FDR - both trampled on legal restraints in the interests of national security prior to the outbreak of war. Indeed, instead of condemnation, a grateful nation raised magnificent monuments on the Washington Mall to glorify their achievements.
 &
  England, similarly, has raised a striking monument - in Trafalgar Square - commemorating a military hero - Admiral Nelson - who not once, but on two occasions, disobeyed directly applicable orders while engaged in battle. In military tradition, this is perfectly OK - as long as it thereby successfully brings victory or staves off defeat.
 &
  Statutory restraints imposed by Congress were subverted by Reagan administration attacks on Soviet client states. These attacks successfully hastened the financial decline of the Soviet Empire. These "unlawful" actions by Reagan administration officials were very much in this tradition. As a result, a grateful nation is currently in the process of creating a wide variety of memorials to Ronald Reagan.

Other nations would consent because they would need U.S. assistance after the war and would fear U.S. withdrawal as occurred after WW-I. It was in the most profound interests of most of the nations of the world - all those without territorial ambitions - that the U.S. assume a world leadership role to prevent future great conflicts.

  Alliances were now necessary, Gaddis points out, since it was obvious that other nations would be doing most of the fighting prior to the buildup of U.S. forces, and they would have to be encouraged and supported.
 &
  For the postwar world, FDR knew that the interests of the U.S. diverged from those of the British Empire in important ways - and even more so from those of Stalin and the Soviet Union. However, it was in nobody's interest to fight another great war, so he would attempt to "imbed conflicting unilateral priorities within a cooperative multilateral framework." He would use WW-II and its successful alliances as "the incentive to build structures and procedures" to prevent future conflict.
 &
  This was indeed a diplomacy very much at odds with past practices. It would be viewed throughout the rest of the 20th century with widespread skepticism in the U.S., and even with considerable public opposition.

  "Roosevelt now revived the Wilsonian project [to encourage the spread of democracy and capitalism throughout the world as a means of assuring U.S. security], taking care though to couple it to a cold-blooded, at times even brutal, calculation of who had power and how they might use it."

  The Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter, the UN and its Security Council and veto arrangements, the economic arrangements of the Bretton Woods system, would all assure U.S. hegemony. However, it would all arise by consent, Gaddis properly emphasizes. Other nations would consent because they would need U.S. assistance after the war and would fear U.S. withdrawal as occurred after WW-I. It was in the most profound interests of most of the nations of the world - all those without territorial ambitions - that the U.S. assume a world leadership role to prevent future great conflicts.
 &

Truman was guided by a consistent principle in avoiding the proclamation of interests that exceed actual capabilities.

  The possibility of "preemption" in the foreseeable confrontation with the Soviet Union was much discussed towards the end of WW-II and thereafter. Gaddis speculates on the many motives that led to its rejection - first by FDR and later by the Truman administration.
 &
  Primarily, Truman was conscious of the costs in loss of moral authority if the U.S. was seen to have fired "the first shot." More important was his consistent principle in avoiding the proclamation of interests that exceed actual capabilities. He did not want to lead the nation into a long and difficult conflict with a powerful adversary in a manner that would surely be divisive.
 &

Containment:

 

 

&

  The implementation of the "containment" strategy is summarized by Gaddis. See, Gaddis, "We Now Know." Containment was an obvious rejection of both unilateralism and preemption. However, with the ultimate success of that strategy - see, Kotkin, "Armageddon Averted," and Meier, "Black Earth," - the U.S. suddenly had achieved not merely a balance of power - but a preponderance of power -- hegemony on a worldwide scale. Adams would surely have approved.
 &

The United States could not emulate the Japanese example of Pearl Harbor, "even under conditions of clearest and most present danger."

  The key was the Marshall Plan, according to Gaddis. This enabled the U.S. to seize the moral high ground leading willing allies, while it was the Soviet Union that was forced to build walls to control its unwilling allies. Thus, behind walls of its own making, the Soviet Union would be contained.

  "The Americans, from that moment on, occupied the moral high ground in Europe, and they never relinquished it. That's why it was possible to maintain a sphere of influence there -- an expanded zone of responsibility -- with the consent of those who lived within it, a point demonstrated repeatedly by the free elections held throughout western Europe, only a few of which the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency felt it necessary to try to manipulate. Such elections could never be held within the Soviet sphere of influence, because if they were, as Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev all knew, it would fall apart. As indeed it did when Gorbachev actually allowed them. Rejecting preemption while embracing multilateralism, in this sense, served the United States -- and its allies -- very well."

  Gaddis stresses the importance of the moral high ground, especially for a nation striving to lead broad multilateral alliances. (This is the application of "soft power." See, Nye, "The Paradox of American Power," and Nye, "Soft Power.") Preemption was widely discussed - especially with reference to the growing Soviet nuclear threat - but was always rejected.

  "Despite the irony, therefore, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came to rely upon nuclear first-use in the event of war, nuclear first-use in the absence of war or its immediate prospect was never seriously considered."

  The United States could not emulate the Japanese example of Pearl Harbor, "even under conditions of clearest and most present danger."
 &

  The importance of the persistent perception of threat from the communist powers is also properly emphasized by the author. The threat of communist expansion was the glue that held together the western alliances and maintained U.S. hegemonic influence in the free world. U.S. influence thus spread "for the most part with the consent of those subject to it." The Soviet Union had no such advantage.

  The primary soft power attraction of the Soviet Union and Communist China was that they were the only sources of great power support for despots in smaller nations that had territorial ambitions beyond their borders, or that - in the name of socialism - aspired to dominate not just the political lives of their subjects but their economic lives as well. Thus, regional powers like Egypt and Indonesia found Soviet influence attractive during the times when they held territorial ambitions beyond their borders, but found access to free world markets more attractive when such ambitions subsided with changes in regimes.
 &
  The need to maintain control was an expensive burden on the Soviet Union. With just a couple of minor exceptions, all of the Soviet satellite and client states turned out to be heavy financial burdens. By the 1980s, the Soviet Empire was financially undone not just by its crumbling economy, but also by its extensive expansionist triumphs during the 1970s. Despite statutory restraints imposed by a liberal Democratic Congress, the Evil Empire was hurried on its financial decline by the Reagan administration's determined support of insurgencies within those client states.

September 11, 2001:

 

&

  The terrorist threat from Muslim militants has led to another major shift in the national security grand strategy of the U.S. The Bush (II) administration appears to have reverted "to a hegemony based on unilateralism and preemption rather than on multilateralism and self-restraint."
 &

  As a result, the U.S. is no longer widely perceived as a nonthreatening hegemon. Now, there are many who view it as the greater threat in the conflict with the Muslim militants. "Consent, as a consequence, has proven difficult to sustain."

  However, that "threat" is not so real as to induce any of the European powers to materially increase their pitifully limited levels of military preparedness. The "threat" is not so real as to cause Germany to welcome the reduction of U.S. troops on its soil. Obviously, that "threat" is still more a rhetorical device - a matter of propaganda - a justification for shirking the burdens of defense - than a reality.
 &
  With the end of the communist threat, consent to U.S. hegemonic leadership was already fraying. For Europe, the terrorists pose a threat of damage, not conquest. Defensive measures against the terrorist threat require cooperation, not submission to hegemonic leadership, and this is thus the basis on which the conflict is being waged.
 &
  France, in particular, increasingly views its broader interests as being in opposition to U.S. hegemonic influence, and as widely benefiting from any decrease in U.S. power and influence. To a certain extent, this was even the case during the Cold War.
 &
  It is thus unrealistic to expect that the U.S. could use the strategic approaches so successfully applied during WW-II and the Cold War to conduct the War on Terrorism. Terrorists can neither be contained nor deterred and do not threaten conquest outside the Muslim world.
 &
  Alliances and multilateral institutions are still important factors in this conflict whenever their use is feasible. They can still be most useful in subsidiary roles - deploying in minor peacekeeping efforts and in "nation building" efforts in failed states or after military conflicts are over.  They remain very useful for a multitude of other purposes.
 &
  However, the multilateral organizations will be of only limited use in major military engagements, and formal alliances will generally constrain rather than enhance the effectiveness of U.S. military efforts. After Somalia, the U.S. will never again place significant forces under UN command whenever that is not in reality U.S. command. NATO forces other than those of Britain and the U.S. have been grudgingly supplied, heavily constrained by their governments, and relatively ineffective in both Kosovo and Afghanistan.
 &
  The Cold War allies - long sheltered under the U.S. military umbrella - have in any event permitted themselves to become pitifully weak. With the exception of Britain, they are almost inconsequential military factors. For one prominent example, the number of peacekeepers that NATO has been able to provide in Afghanistan is ludicrous.
 &
  Multilateral organizations like the U.N. and NATO remain frozen and useless in the face of conflicting commercial and ideological interests. As the end of 2004 approaches, thousands die in Darfur and Iran proceeds with its nuclear ambitions - while all multilateral institutions remain impotent and soft power influences break against hard realities.

Dealing with major terrorist organizations involves long drawn-out campaigns and requires endurance as well as strength.

    International terrorism is an entirely different problem for the U.S. and the world than conflicts between states. While the U.S. could identify states that were supporting terrorists or that might support them, no state controlled them. (This was thus different even from the Muslim terrorist threats faced by the free world during the Cold War.) As Gaddis emphasizes, these attackers cannot be deterred - they cannot be accommodated - they cannot be negotiated with.
 &
  Dealing with terrorist individuals or small groups is one thing. Dealing with major terrorist organizations, however, involves long-drawn-out campaigns and requires endurance as well as strength. Gaddis mentions several precedents, involving the Irish Republican Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Basque separatists.
 &

  The attacks on 9/11/01 were a huge tactical victory for the terrorists. The terrorists caused immense damage at little cost to themselves, and imposed immense security costs and a sense of vulnerability on a previously secure people. As Gaddis points out:

"[Terrorists] always have the initiative: it is they who determine the time, place, and method of attack. Defenders -- even those who knew from the 1993 bombing that the World Trade Center might again be a target -- must anticipate all contingencies. Terrorists need provide only one."

  It is a mark of the fantastic strength of the U.S. economy that, despite these increased costs for national security, the economy maintained its outstanding overall rate of productivity increase during the next three years.

  The spectacular success of U.S. grand strategy during and immediately after the Cold War permitted many intellectuals and officials and political leaders to forget that (as FUTURECASTS constantly reminded its readers) this is still a dangerous world. The U.S. let down its guard in several ways and (again as FUTURECASTS predicted) this lack of readiness had to inevitably result in some future costly national security reversal.
 &
  Gaddis reviews the now familiar factors - political, technological, economic, and social - that have facilitated the formation of a major, non-state terrorist organization.

  "The most important failure of strategic vision in Washington, therefore, lay in the inability of American leaders to look beyond their Cold War victory to the circumstances that might undermine its benefits. As after World War I, they allowed the absence of visible danger to convince them that nothing invisible could pose a threat. They assumed that it was enough simply to have won the game. It did not occur to them that the arena within which the game was being played -- together with the rules by which the United States, its allies, and its defeated adversaries had played it -- might now be at risk."

A game that has no rules:

  The strategic response of the Bush (II) administration is analyzed by Gaddis. He refers to a presidential speech at West Point on 6/1/02 and the president's report on "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" ("NSS") released on 9/7/02.
 &

"Respecting sovereignty is no longer sufficient because that implies a game in which the players understand and respect the rules. In this new game there are no rules."

  The more forceful - and multilateral - emphasis in this Bush (II) strategy as compared to that of the Clinton administration is noted by Gaddis. Specific objectives of the Bush (II) foreign policy include "defending, preserving, and extending peace." Achieving "cooperation among the great powers" is a central feature. The "encouragement of free and open societies on every continent" becomes a major part of U.S. foreign policy.

  "What all this implies, then, is a redefinition, for only the third time in American history, of what it will take to protect the nation from surprise attack. That requirement has expanded now from John Quincy Adams's vision of continental hegemony through Franklin D. Roosevelt's conception of a great power coalition aimed at containing, deterring, and if necessary defeating aggressor states to what is already being called the Bush Doctrine: that the United States will identify and eliminate terrorists wherever they are, together with the regimes that sustain them. Respecting sovereignty is no longer sufficient because that implies a game in which the players understand and respect the rules. In this new game there are no rules."

  This return to "preemption" sounds new to modern ears, but is in fact quite old - a traditional part of U.S. national security policy. Deterrence and containment where applicable are still a very important part of this strategy. However, where that is inapplicable, the U.S. will not be a pitiful toothless tiger. "September 11th showed that deterrence and containment alone won't work against [terrorist] adversaries: that's why preemption is necessary." As the NSS states: "We cannot let our enemies strike first."

 "The NSS is careful to specify a legal basis for preemption: international law recognizes 'that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack.' There's also a preference for preempting multilaterally: 'The United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community.' But 'we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country.'"

Once again there is something much worse out there than American hegemony. A world in which militant Islamists gain control of major Middle Eastern states would pose threats to all nations, great and small.

  • Such a strategy obviously requires hegemony. As Bush (II) stated in his West Point speech: "America has, and intends to keep, strengths beyond challenge."
  • Good relations among the great powers is also obviously a requirement of such a strategy. Maintaining good relations with Russia and China are central objectives for the Bush (II) national security strategy. (Fortunately, Al Qaeda has mindlessly posed threats against Russia and China as well as the U.S.)

  There are, the author points out, two reasons why the other major powers will go along with this rather than combine to oppose the U.S. First, the U.S. remains a benign hegemon - posing no threat to any of the great powers or peaceful nations. Second - once again - there is something much worse out there than American hegemony. A world in which militant Islamists gain control of major Middle Eastern states would pose threats to all nations, great and small.

  • The active promotion of democracy in the Muslim Middle East is the final innovation in the Bush (II) strategy.

  "Here again the administration's thinking parallels an emerging consensus within the scholarly community, which is that it wasn't poverty that caused a group of middle-class and reasonably well-educated Middle Easterners to fly three airplanes into buildings and another into the ground. It was, rather, frustrations growing out of the absence of representative institutions within their own societies, so that the only outlet for dissent was religious fanaticism."

  This policy initiative does indeed constitute a radical change.

  "It rejects the Clinton administration's assumption that because the movement toward democracy and capitalism had become irreversible, all the United States had to do was to 'engage' with the rest of the world to 'enlarge' that process. Its parts for the most part interconnect: there's a coherence in the Bush strategy that the Clinton national security team -- notable for its simultaneous cultivation and humiliation of Russia -- never achieved. It sees no contradiction between the wielding of power and commitment to principles: unusually for conservatives but in the tradition of Ronald Reagan, it is optimistic about human nature, and therefore Wilsonian in its view of the world. Finally, its architects tend to speak plainly, at times bluntly, with little concern for euphemism or 'nuance.' Like John Quincy Adams, they see no point in employing hypocrisy to cloak ambition."

Iraq:

 

&

  The toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq as a follow up to the victory in Afghanistan involves "grand" strategy indeed. It is a high stakes roll of the dice. Gaddis discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages, and offers some initial tentative evaluation.
 &

  Unfortunately, the coherent strategy of Bush (II) became substantially incoherent in its application. Tactical considerations forced compromises on some important aspects of the strategic approach.
 &
  The U.S. buildup in the Middle East prior to the war was successful in inducing Saddam to permit the return of the UN weapons inspectors. However, this gave reluctant allies grounds to insist that the inspectors be given more time to complete their work. However, the military buildup that had forced Saddam to readmit the inspectors also limited the time available to them. It is simply not possible to put a quarter of a million men into the desert and then leave them there indefinitely into the summer heat.
 &
  Forced to move without their primary NATO allies, the U.S. and Great Britain surrendered the moral high ground. The ultimate failure to find the feared weapons of mass destruction has cost them credibility. Most of the nations that could have been helpful stayed on the sidelines, and most that joined cost more than they contributed. The spectacular military success could not hide the major diplomatic failure. The world's willingness to accept American hegemony had been thrown into doubt - especially when that hegemonic power was used preemptively.

  "And yet the strategy had called for just such consent: preemption without it might still occur, but only as a last resort."

The U.S. could not shake things up in the Middle East if it allowed itself to be tied down by reluctant allies. It could not permit itself to become a pitiful toothless tiger that could be disregarded at will.

  Gaddis offers the view that the attack was undertaken to maintain "momentum." The U.S. could not shake things up in the Middle East if it allowed itself to be tied down by reluctant allies. It could not permit itself to become a pitiful toothless tiger that could be disregarded at will.

  "The purpose was as much psychological as military: to eliminate individuals, gangs, and regimes who commit or support terrorism, but also to intimidate those who might be thinking about doing so. If future terrorist attacks were to carry with them the certainty of devastating reprisal, then that should generate resistance to those acts within the societies that spawned them -- possibly even before they had been committed. Preemption, by this logic, could produce a deterrent effect that could allow a return to containment. In order for this theory to work, however, the pace had to be kept up: there couldn't be too much time between topplings."

  The result, however, was that alarm was spread beyond the Middle East. The U.S. was no longer a "non-threatening" hegemon that the world could feel comfortable with. Regardless of other motives attributed to the French, a real change had occurred.

  "[Within] a little more than a year and a half, the United States exchanged its long-established reputation as the principal stabilizer of the international system for one as its chief destabilizer. This was a heavy price to pay to sustain momentum, however great the need for it may have been."

Whether the U.S. will be able to consolidate its gains in Afghanistan and Iraq and achieve some lasting advantages remains very much in doubt.

  The problem with a strategy of momentum, Gaddis emphasizes, is that it quickly creates fear and resistance - it quickly becomes counterproductive. Conquerors like Napoleon and Kaiser Wilhelm II and Hitler didn't know when to stop, and were ultimately defeated. Great strategists like Otto von Bismarck know there are limits and accept the need to shift gears and consolidate gains. Whether the U.S. will be able to consolidate its gains in Afghanistan and Iraq and achieve some lasting advantages remains very much in doubt.

  If "momentum" was actually a primary reason for the war in Iraq, that objective has now clearly been lost. There is little fear of further U.S. interventions now that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. All momentum has been lost.
 &|
  "Nation building" is not impossible - and the U.S. has had some notable success at it. However, it remains a very dubious activity, as FUTURECASTS has long pointed out. In its present efforts, the U.S. relies on the inherent attractiveness of a policy that offers people political and economic freedom, modernity and a chance at prosperity - in lieu of 12th century theocracy and interminable poverty and hopelessness.
 &
  However, bombs and bullets are bad for ballots as well as business, and Iraq seethes with militant factions that have gained significant popular support. A period of vast bloodletting is all too likely.

Democracy in the Middle East:

 

What if democracy increases rather than decreases instability in the Middle East?

  Gaddis, however, raises a much more profound question about this strategy. What if democracy increases rather than decreases instability in the Middle East?

  "What if terrorism -- and the region's more general anti-Americanism -- do not originate in a democratic deficit, but in more complex and therefore less definable causes?"

There is in fact no unified Muslim "civilization"

  To accept this proposition, however, is to accept the inevitability of Samuel P. Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" - with a Middle Eastern culture that rejects coexistence - in an atomic age.
 &
  Gaddis perceptively points out that there is in fact no unified Muslim "civilization" - that clashes are ongoing all over the Muslim world - not only with non-Muslims at its peripheries, but also between various sects within the Muslim world.
 &
  The Muslim world in fact seethes with conflicts. If Muslims, themselves, are "divided on the virtues of modernization," Gaddis points out, "then who is to say that democratization could not eventually work for them?"
 &

Some form of "liberal autocracy" has often been required while the bases for a successful democracy develop.

 

The U.S. will have to maintain some control over Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely to guide developments and assure favorable outcomes.

 

Concepts of worldwide U.S. empire - even of "empire of liberty" - "reflects arrogance."

  However, democracy is not easy. There are numerous examples of failure, majoritarian excess, and militancy in the history of democracy. Some form of "liberal autocracy" has often been required while the bases for a successful democracy develop. Order, prosperity and justice (and all the components of an economically and politically empowered civil society) are prerequisites for stable democratic systems.
 &
  Moreover, there is no guarantee that democratically elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq - or elsewhere in the Middle East - would choose to oppose the terrorist organizations, Gaddis points out.

  Here, the need of democratic systems to provide prosperity for their electorates will be - as it today clearly is - a powerful inducement for those governments to get along with the Western world. Only in the Western world - in the markets of modern nations - are the hard currency earnings available that all nations need for prosperity. As Muslim nations from Indonesia to Morocco have found out, bombs are bad for business.
 &
  However, where oil provides all the funds needed by third world governments, it is generally a curse upon the people. With oil wealth, governments don't need - and generally don't give a damn about - the prosperity of their people. This applies in many third world countries - not just in the Arab Middle East. We are seeing this scene played out now in Venezuela.

  The author notes the reasonable expectation that the U.S. will have to maintain some control over Afghanistan and Iraq indefinitely to guide developments and assure favorable outcomes. This, he asserts, would involve the formation of some sort of U.S. empire in the Middle East - an "empire of liberty." However, this, he correctly counters, "would appear at first glance to be the biggest gap of all between promises made and performance delivered."

  It would also be impossible. The U.S. has no choice but to view an occupation as a wasting asset. It must do whatever it can do quickly, and then restore sovereignty - with or without achieving the establishment of stable democratic systems.
 &
  This does not mean that the U.S. cannot retain considerable influence - as it did in Germany and Japan throughout the Cold War. Indeed, the need to prevent ethnic and sectarian clashes in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq will probably require the presence of NATO stabilization forces for decades - perhaps as long as eighty years. As was demonstrated in Yugoslavia, not until all those who experienced the last period of internal conflict and slaughter are dead or in their dotage, can the positive influences of commerce and intermarriage be relied upon to put an end to ancient grievances and hatreds in favor of unity, peace and prosperity.
 &
  The ever useful "fear of something worse" in these instances is the fear of return to ancient conflicts. As a prime example, there is certainly no further military need for U.S. forces in Germany - except as continued reassurance that the rest of Europe is safe living alongside Germany. Perhaps in just a few more decades, these forces can be completely withdrawn without destabilizing Europe.
 &
  On the other hand, the Philippines is a nation once occupied by the U.S. that asked the U.S. to leave - and the U.S. promptly left.

  As Gaddis properly notes, concepts of worldwide U.S. empire - even of "empire of liberty" - "reflects arrogance."
 &

The U.S. should limit its leadership role to what is necessary, and carefully leave to other states the sovereignty they need to pursue their legitimate interests.

  The U.S. should return to its federalist constitutional roots, Gaddis advises. It should limit its leadership role to what is necessary, and carefully leave to other states the sovereignty they need to pursue their legitimate interests.

  U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq indeed seem to be moving in the direction of restoring immediate sovereignty while maintaining a continuing presence to assure security and internal stability for the long haul. This was the successful model followed in Germany and Japan and South Korea after WW-II and during the Cold War. Whether and when it will result in the development of democratic systems remains to be seen.
 &
  Nor is success in any form to be taken for granted. Nation building is indeed a very difficult and dubious activity. The odds are that there will be continuous conflict - inevitably involving at times great slaughters of civilians - before this Muslim civil war reaches a conclusion.

Please return to our Homepage and e-mail your name and comments.
Copyright 2004 Dan Blatt