On the anniversary of the Iraq War’s beginning, read “A Letter to Paul Wolfowitz: Occasioned by the tenth anniversary of the Iraq war by Andrew J. Bacevich” available in its entirety here. Or, if you’re lazy, just read the part that made me angriest as an analyst of global politics:
Wohlstetter’s perspective (which became yours) emphasized five distinct propositions. Call them the Wohlstetter Precepts.
First, liberal internationalism, with its optimistic expectation that the world will embrace a set of common norms to achieve peace, is an illusion. Of course virtually every president since Franklin Roosevelt has paid lip service to that illusion, and doing so during the Cold War may even have served a certain purpose. But to indulge it further constitutes sheer folly.
Second, the system that replaces liberal internationalism must address the ever-present (and growing) danger posed by catastrophic surprise. Remember Pearl Harbor. Now imagine something orders of magnitude worse — for instance, a nuclear attack from out of the blue.
Third, the key to averting or at least minimizing surprise is to act preventively. If shrewdly conceived and skillfully executed, action holds some possibility of safety, whereas inaction reduces that possibility to near zero. Eliminate the threat before it materializes. In statecraft, that defines the standard of excellence.
Fourth, the ultimate in preventive action is dominion. The best insurance against unpleasant surprises is to achieve unquestioned supremacy.
Lastly, by transforming the very nature of war, information technology — an arena in which the United States has historically enjoyed a clear edge — brings outright supremacy within reach. Of all the products of Albert Wohlstetter’s fertile brain, this one impressed you most. The potential implications were dazzling. According to Mao, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Wohlstetter went further. Given the right sort of gun — preferably one that fires very fast and very accurately — so, too, does world order.
Just off the top of my head (did I mention my head exploded, and therefore I no longer actually HAVE the top of my head?), lets take these one by one.
- The jury’s still out on liberal internationalism. Yes, traditional power politics still operates when push comes to shove. But the truth is that the VAST majority of international interactions are cooperative, not coercive.
- Catastrophic surprise has been an option since 1945. Pity that thinking about it is still behind the Maginot Line. Human systems are complex systems and do not behave in linear fashion. They have tremendous numbers of variables, positive and negative feedback loops, and interaction effects. They are thus terrifically difficult to study, and anyone who says otherwise is also going to try to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.
- You cannot avert or prevent catastrophic surprise (by definition, surprises are surprising, yes?) but you can work on mitigation and recovery. “Eliminating threats before they materialize” is paradoxically a really good way to guarantee they materialize. Again, COMPLEX SYSTEMS.
- Unquestioned supremacy makes you a really terrific target, and forces others to be really creative. You’re actually a lot safer if others are not actively looking for ways to hurt you. I bet the unintended effect of Stuxnet will be to make Iran a world-class player in IT – they’ve already hit where they think we’ll hurt most.
- Information technology is a field-leveler, not a wall you can hide behind. (See point #4.)
For those who don’t know, Bacevich has a great deal of skin in this game: he’s a former officer in the Army, currently a professor at BU, and his son was an officer who died in combat in Iraq.
As an aside, asinine “thinkers” like Wolfowitz are why I’ll never be allowed in the sacred halls of policy-making unless I’m elected to office.
March 20th, 2013 9:27pm