Friday, April 22, 2011

A Strategery Easter Basket?


Continuing with “A National Strategic Narrative”, we move to the first of two introductory sections:

We have now two sections that begin the task of outlining the strategy Mr. Y advocates. The exposition starts at a farther remove, or greater elevation to use an analogy, sketching the broad outlines of the strategy in the NSN, using the terms of the opening statement of that strategy, terms we examined in the first post. You’ll find, as we move through the body of the paper it focuses more tightly on the intent of those terms, smaller regions of the ‘territory’ to be explored, the strategic topography to be mapped. The essay ends with the proposal of a piece of legislation that would implement the vision.

We look at the paper, not only keeping in mind this topographical metaphor, and the intended increasing levels of detail as we proceed, but asking ourselves how successful the authors are in providing that detail and arguing for prioritization. We also ask; does the document do as good a job as Keenan’s in living up to the functions of a strategic document? We ask this keeping in mind the ‘Kirkpatrickan’ worry that a useful and Archimedean strategic document should not end up a laundry-list of political goals, an Easter Basket. I think it will be useful to this purpose to compare the NSN plan to the Marshall plan, as there are parallelisms.

The approach is excerpt and commentary, as before:

The first section aims to draw a distinction between the notion of containment and the notion of “sustainment”. This title and its contained neologism is an obvious terminological hearkening back to Keenan.



America’s national strategy in the second half of the last century was anchored in the belief that our global environment is a closed system to be controlled by mankind – through technology, power, and determination – to achieve security and prosperity. From that perspective, anything that challenged our national interests was perceived as a threat or a risk to be managed. For forty years our nation prospered and was kept secure through a strategy of containment. That strategy relied on control, deterrence, and the conviction that given the choice, people the world over share our vision for a better tomorrow. America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy. The new century brought with it a reminder that the world, in fact, is a complex, open system – constantly changing. And change brings with it uncertainty. What we really failed to recognize, is that in uncertainty and change, there is opportunity and hope.

It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement. We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies.

To grow we must accept that competitors are not necessarily adversaries, and that a winner does not demand a loser. We must regain our credibility as a leader among peers, a beacon of hope, rather than an island fortress. It is only by balancing our interests with our principles that we can truly hope to sustain our growth as a nation and to restore our credibility as a world leader.

As we focus on the opportunities within our strategic environment, however, we must also address risk and threat. It is important to recognize that developing credible influence to pursue our enduring national interests in a sustainable manner requires strength with restraint, power with patience, deterrence with detente. The economic, diplomatic, educational, military, and commercial tools through which we foster that credibility must always be tempered and hardened by the values that define us as a people.


Now, this is intended as a broad and introductory statement of the strategy. As such, it should raise questions as you read. So, I’ll do no more in this post than set things up, providing observations and questions that will foreshadow matter in the more detailed sections to follow. So, some things to ponder (with apologies for overlaps and repetitions, which I’m just too lazy to get rid of):

1. The use of the word “environment” and the invocation of fossil fuels as analogy signal that Mr. Y intends not only to use environmentalism as a metaphor, but intends to include not only energy policy but environmental considerations as key aspects of national security strategy. The use of the term “sustainability” and cognates (both new and old) also signals metaphorical and real ties to environmental concerns. This focus on environmental concerns is something that does not appear in Keenan. This is an extra egg in the basket. What will Mr. Y have to say about budgeting priorities in regard to this egg? The modifier “global” also signals that spending priorities will place greater emphasis on ‘engaging’ the human global environment, developing it, in ways we have in the past focused domestically. This raises the conjunction of questions: how will we afford this, and how will it be budgeted? The plan will have to outline how we will generate funding for the projects, and budget priorities for those elements of the plan that involve federal cash. What repercussions will this increased emphasis on global development have upon defense spending? All these questions are addressed later in the NSN.

2. In these paragraphs, while there is discussion of the Keenan doctrine, there is no mention of the central guiding object of concern in late 20th century national security policy (the evangelical ideology of communism). This lends the description of the last century a certain level of generality, or expansive scope that leads the reader to infer that Mr. Y is concerned with man’s (or rather late 20th century America’s) attitude toward the (I’ll use the words that are in the passage, inserting the suppressed terms) ‘world [natural economic and political] environment.’ Once again, we see a very expansive set of considerations being put forward as directly relevant to national security. This will be cashed in later. But, it also raises another question about ideological struggles:

3. Are we now in a world where ideological confrontation has become a minor issue? Is there nothing comparable to the cold war in the 21st Century? One can point out that there is an ongoing ideological, law enforcement and military struggle with Islamism. One can also point out that China remains communist. What will the NSN have to say about these two aspects of 21st century life?

4. The omission of reference to communist Russia has a curious effect. Consider this edited version of the second paragraph’s second sentence: “It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment…; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement.” Without mention or knowledge of Keenan’s concern with the communist efforts at expansion, one would not be able to ascertain what was pegged for “exclusion” in the 20th century. Furthermore, one would also be lead to assume that the persons or entities toward which we expended efforts of exclusion would be the very same persons or entities we should now be ‘engaging.’ Is any of this descriptive of late 20th century strategy, and how different is that late 20th century strategy from that advanced by Mr. Y?

5. These paragraphs have the flavor of an environmental manifesto which intends at one and the same time to paint itself as continuous with the past yet nevertheless as making an important break with that past. There is a studied ambiguity due to the absence of any mention of the ideological battle that was being waged in the post war world. What was it that we applied technology power and determination toward in hopes of ‘controlling’? The answer given in the paper: The “global environment.” Not simply the communists, but the “global environment.” This wordcraft leads us to the more expansive view of what constitutes vital national security concerns that is at the heart of the NSN.

6. I’m not quite sure what to make out of the distinction between the “closed system” world view and the “open system” world view, but, my first instinct is to say this is a not-too-charitable read of late 20th century thinking. We did not simply seek to “dominate” the world whatever that term might actually mean. Nor did we look at our relations with other countries as zero sum. In seeking to contain the communist world, we did take military action to deter that expansion, while we also took action to encourage open markets, and truly representative governments. We did not occupy any lands, nor import procurators. There was plenty of engagement, not too much ‘dominance’ or ‘control.’ The Marshall Plan, our alliance with South Korea, our foreign aid to other parts of the world, our educational outreach and commercial ties with all parts of the globe cannot be gainsaid. They do not support the picture of our looking at 'competitors as adversaries,' save, the communist competitor. We gave covert aid to underground democratic movements, created the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe.., let’s not forget all of this win-win ‘engaging’ late 20th century business!

7. All this is true, while it is also true that more “environmental” concerns have grown in prominence over the 50 years since the 1960s. This paper wants to include those in national security planning, or as vital aspects of national security on a level with more traditionally geo-political and military concerns. We will see in a couple of places mention of climatic change, and its supposed impact on geo-political matters. Given that these matters are given substantial weight, we have to ask the funding, federal prioritization, and defense related questions raised before. How much of what the NSN proposes is carrying over from late 20th century ‘strategery’, and how much is new? What are the practical implications of the new view? What are the prospects of success for such a broad based project of “sustainment”? Can we work on all the elements at once without thinning our resources to a degree that makes those efforts ineffectual? Should we pick some elements for intense attention, attain our goals, and then move on to others? Is it even possible to do this, if these things are interconnected in complex ways? Should we narrow the set of elements we concern ourselves with? It is profitable to ask these questions with the task in mind of comparing the NSN approach to its nearest “globalist” precedent, the Marshall Plan. That too was a huge project. The later sections of the NSN draw just this historical analogy, with reference to NSC 68. The comparison will hopefully be useful.

8. As for the reminder that the world is a more uncertain place than it was back in the Cold War, a charitable reading here might go something like this: In the Cold War world, there was the simplifying factor that many of the long-standing cultural religious and political animosities that predated that era were suppressed. In the communist world this was accomplished by imposition of communist governments tightly controlled by Moscow. In the non-communist world this was sometimes accomplished by seeking regime stability at the expense of regime civility. Now, in the event of the Cold War having lifted, we have a world that is less predictable, contains more flash points, because of this past. The world is in general more fluid, hard to predict or influence. There are also resentments toward the U.S., predicated on the ‘stability first’ approach.

Additionally, economic infrastructure is more global in nature, much of banking now being done electronically. Add to that, good old fashioned infrastructure is now also heavily reliant on computers, as is food delivery, transportation, etc.. This introduces vulnerabilities. Additionally, there is a media explosion now, with the advent of the Internet.

This all increases risk, while it also creates opportunity to politically, economically and culturally engage those parts of the world that were previously cut off from us. It allows us to change the stability-first paradigm, or at least begin to shift away from it, as we have in Iraq and Afghanistan, adapting the more daunting challenge of matching those regimes we support with our values. This is all true, and we can see present COIN doctrine as an outgrowth of this concern.

So, given these tantalizing possibilities, we can see the temptation toward a 21st century Marshall plan on steroids (something I’ve been calling an Easter Basket). Is that what Mr. Y is suggesting we undertake? If so, what is the justificatory rationale’? What says he about funding sources for this project, personnel, federal budgeting priority and impact of all this on the DOD?

More to come on all of that.

Our next section: “Our values and Enduring National Interests” It is the last of the two more general introductory sections of the paper. After that, we get to details, with the section headed “Our three Investment Priorities.”

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser [LCDR USN (ret)] debates 'reformation' of Islam.

Just a few days ago, 4-19-2011.

Lieutenant Commander Jasser (USN) is an able debater. The first speaker, Ahmad Shqeirat, spends most of his time attacking Dr. Jasser's bona fides instead of engaging the issue of whether a popularly based reformation of Islam into an institution separate from the state will be possible, as was accomplished in the Christian West, centuries ago. Jasser does not let him get away with the ad hominem flim-flamery and skillfully uses those attacks as a leading wedge to get back to the issue at hand. You'll see that Shqeirat allows that a simple majoritarian reading of democratic polity would allow Muslim majority societies to outlaw things they deem bad for the polity (his example is prohibition). There seems to be no limits to such majoritarian paternalism or totalism, and over-ride of individual liberty, on his view. Jasser seizes on this.

That is a key issue at hand.

Well done Doctor.

The debate was set up by philosopher Michael Valle, one of my Facebook friends!

Check out Doc Jasser's American Islamic Forum for Democracy.