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Published on: December 2, 2013
Grand Strategy
The End of History Ends

For the first time since the Cold War, the United States is going to have to adopt a coherent Eurasian strategy that integrates European, Middle Eastern, South Asian and East Asian policy into a comprehensive design.

Sometime in 2013, we reached a new stage in world history. A coalition of great powers has long sought to overturn the post Cold War Eurasian settlement that the United States and its allies imposed after 1990; in the second half of 2013 that coalition began to gain ground. The revisionist coalition hasn’t achieved its objectives, and the Eurasian status is still quo, but from this point on we will have to speak of that situation as contested, and American policymakers will increasingly have to respond to a challenge that, until recently, most chose to ignore.

Call the challengers the Central Powers; they hate and fear one another as much as they loathe the current geopolitical order, but they are joined at the hip by the belief that the order favored by the United States and its chief allies is more than an inconvenience. The big three challengers — Russia, China and Iran — all hate, fear and resent the current state of Eurasia. The balance of power it enshrines thwarts their ambitions; the norms and values it promotes pose deadly threats to their current regimes. Until recently there wasn’t much they could do but resent the world order; now, increasingly, they think they have found a way to challenge and ultimately to change the way global politics work.

This is not, yet, a pre-war situation. The Central Powers know that they can’t challenge the United States, the EU, Japan and the various affiliates and associates of what we might call the Maritime Association head on. The military and economic facts on the ground would make such a challenge suicidal. But if they can’t challenge the world system head on, they can chip away at its weak spots and, where the maritime powers leave a door unlatched or a window open, they can make a quick move. They can use our own strategic shortsightedness against us, they can weaken the adhesion of our core alliances, and they can use the mechanisms of the international system (above all, the United Nations Security Council where Russia and China both wield the veto) to throw bananas in our path.

Lacking the strength for a head on confrontation, they are opportunistic feeders. They look for special circumstances where the inattention, poor judgment or domestic political constraints of the status quo powers offer opportunities. Russia’s strike against Georgia was one such move; both Russia and Iran have skillfully exploited the divisions among the Americans and their allies over the horror in Syria.

Think of the Central Powers as an ‘axis of weevils’. At this stage they are looking to hollow out the imposing edifice of American and maritime power rather than knock it over. This is not the most formidable alliance the United States has ever faced. Not everything the Central Powers want is bad; like all revisionist powers, they have legitimate grievances against the status quo. They don’t always agree, and in the long run their differences with one another are profound. But for now, they have not only agreed that they have a common interest in weakening the United States in Eurasia and disrupting its alliances; increasingly, with the United States government still largely blind to the challenge, they are pushing ahead.

A Miraculous Fall

A happy Thanksgiving week capped off a successful fall for the Axis of Weevils. As President Obama pardoned a turkey in the Rose Garden and millions of other gobblers headed for the ovens, the three big Eurasian powers seeking to gnaw away at the post-Cold War order across the world’s greatest landmass are celebrating big wins.

Iran should be giddy with joy; pro-administration commentary from the White House and its media allies has focused on the nuclear technicalities to paint the deal as a success, but there is no disguising the immense diplomatic gains that Tehran made. Washington hasn’t just loosened sanctions as part of a temporary negotiation; it is opening the door to a broader relationship with Iran at a time when Iran and its Shia proxies are making unprecedented gains across the Middle East. Just as President Obama essentially allowed President Assad of Syria to trade a promise to get rid of his chemical weapons for what amounts to a de facto end to US efforts to push his blood stained regime out of power, so Iran believes it can trade a promise to end its nuclear program for American acquiescence to its domination of the Fertile Crescent and, potentially, the Gulf. This would be an epochal shift in the global balance of power and the consequences — in strained alliances and diminished US influence and prestige — are already being felt.

After the nuclear deal came more joy for Tehran; as the New York Times reports, morale is flagging and unity is fraying among the Syrian opposition even as Butcher Assad’s ground forces continue to grind out more gains. Mussolini and Hitler used to have days like this as Franco’s forces slowly and painfully crushed the Spanish Republic — while a divided west stood by, wringing its hands at the slaughter and dithering over the unsavory nature of the Republican coalition. As the sanctions ease, there will be more money to support Assad and Hezbollah; at a critical moment the United States is giving Iran access to more resources for war. Meanwhile, far from showing restraint, Iran continues to push the envelope of what was agreed in the nuclear talks, as officials announce ambitious plans for lots more nuclear reactors, including more heavy water reactors like the one at Arak. In effect, the United States has tilted toward Iran in the Sunni-Shi’a war; both friends and foes are scratching their heads.

President Putin, meanwhile, is giving hearty thanks for one of Russia’s biggest successes since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Kremlin is high-fiving its stunning, come-from-behind victory as Ukraine said a polite “No thank you” to the European Union’s offer of an economic association agreement. While the final shape of Russia’s neighborhood remains to be seen, and protests have erupted against the government’s decision in Kiev, an EU-Ukraine agreement would have gutted Putin’s international strategy and hit his standing at home. Flabby and uncertain European diplomacy (as we wrote earlier, the EU brought a baguette to a knife fight in the Ukrainian dispute) enabled a weak Russia to grab the gold.

Putin may not be able to hold onto his prize, but for now he can justly boast of having outwitted and bested the EU on one of the biggest issues of the day.

It’s been tougher going in the Far East; China’s declaration of a special air defense zone over the East China Sea met with mockery and disdain from the neighbors until Washington stepped in with a face saving concession. After US bombers blew through the zone, Japan and South Korea followed up with flights of their own. Japanese civilian air carriers announced plans to comply with China’s demand, but after the display of resolution from Tokyo and Washington, they stiffened their spines and announced that they would not change their flight procedures to suit China’s new zone.

They should have waited a bit longer; the US government has asked American airlines to comply with the new China zone. At one level, this is straightforward common sense; the military will continue to defy Chinese restrictions, but civilian flights out of an abundance of caution will bend over backwards to keep themselves (and their passengers) out of trouble. But China declared this zone in violation of the usual procedures and it is highly unlikely that Beijing would harass civilian aircraft bringing customers and investors to its hungry economy. In context, Beijing is likely to see Washington’s advice to US airlines as less of an olive branch than a white flag — a sign that Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia’ is more about hot air than real political will.

China believes that time is on its side in the region, and that the Obama administration and the American people generally don’t have the persistence to stand up against a long, slow increase in diplomatic and military pressure in East Asia. Like Russia and Iran, China believes that Washington’s first goal in many confrontations is to find a face saving way to retreat; expect more initiatives from Beijing as it takes advantage of what increasingly is seen globally as a period of drift and vulnerability in American foreign policy. The Chinese are not only putting more military aircraft into their East China Sea air defense zone; they are reportedly planning to proclaim new air defense zones over other hotspots.

As the Indian strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney points out, China seems to be adopting what PLA General Zhang Zhaozhong called a “cabbage strategy:”

assert a territorial claim and gradually surround the area with multiple layers of security, thus denying access to a rival. The strategy relies on a steady progression of steps to outwit opponents and create new facts on the ground.

Chellaney suggests that China’s proclamation of the air defense zone is part of a region-wide pattern that expands China’s reach without triggering a strong US response:

To be sure, China is careful to avoid any dramatic action that could become a casus belli by itself. Indeed, it has repeatedly shown a knack for disaggregating its strategy into multiple parts and then pursuing each element separately in such a manner as to allow the different pieces to fall into place with minimal resistance.

This shrewdness not only keeps opponents off balance; it also undercuts the relevance of US security assurances to allies and the value of building countervailing strategic partnerships in Asia. In fact, by camouflaging offense as defense, China casts the burden of starting a war on an opponent, while it seeks to lay the foundation – brick by brick – of a hegemonic Middle Kingdom. Chinese leaders’ stated desire to resolve territorial disputes peacefully simply means achieving a position strong enough to get their way without having to fire a shot.

If this is the game, Washington’s decision to advise civilian aircraft to observe the new zone has played right into Beijing’s strategy and will strengthen perceptions in Beijing and elsewhere that the American position in Asia is already on the wane.

Myopia in DC?

Just as China’s cabbage strategy depends on flying just under America’s radar, advancing Chinese claims without triggering the kind of confrontation which the Middle Kingdom cannot (yet) win, so the Central Powers generally prosper best when American diplomacy doesn’t grasp the nature of the game. Fortunately for them, many American analysts and most if not all senior officials in the Obama administration have yet to sense or to interpret the change in the weather.

Three factors keep many Americans inside the government and out from connecting the dots. The first is the habit of supremacy developed in the last generation. From the middle of the 1980s on, the declining Soviet Union and its successor states were no match for the United States. China’s horizons were more limited than they are now. And after the triumph of the First Iraq War demonstrated America’s overwhelming conventional military supremacy in the Middle East, American attention turned to managing specific issues (like terrorism, WMD and the Arab Spring) on the assumption that the United States no longer faced significant geopolitical rivals in the region.

The strategic dimension in the sense of managing intractable relations with actual or potential geopolitical adversaries largely disappeared from American foreign policy debates. Instead, American foreign policy was about “issues” (like non-proliferation, human rights, terrorism, inequality, free trade) and “hard cases” (rogue states like Iraq and North Korea and non-state actors like Al-Qaeda that could cause trouble but were unlikely to affect the global power balance in a serious way). The balance of power in Eurasia, the great question which forced the United States into two world wars and a long cold war, largely disappeared from American policy thought.

The disappearance of geopolitics reinforced a second tendency in American foreign policy that further hampered American ability to perceive and respond to the new challenge. That is the habitual American tendency, fruitlessly bewailed by actors as different at George Kennan and Henry Kissinger, to approach international politics through some combination of moral and legal ideas in an uncomplicated atmosphere of Whig determinism. The default worldview of American intellectuals and officials is that some combination of liberal capitalist economics and liberal political values is carrying the world swiftly and smoothly toward the triumph of Anglo-American values. Americans believed they were living through the end of history long before Francis Fukuyama wrote his book; that free markets and free government will bring the world right is one of the deepest convictions of the American mind. Ask Woodrow Wilson.

Moralists and legalists were both very comfortable in the post Cold War world in which American hegemony seemed to have created a flat, global reality in which moral and legal questions trumped geopolitical ones. In a world without serious geopolitical issues, one can debate policy toward, say, Burma or Egypt based on one’s analysis of whether a given American policy supported ‘transitions to democracy’ in those countries without thinking too much about such depressing realities as the balance of power. Libya could be treated as a humanitarian and a legal issue rather than a strategic one. Similarly, in looking at Iran many people inside and outside the Obama administration see either a challenge to the legal norms of the non-proliferation system or a moral challenge to human rights as understood in much of the world.

This mindset makes possible what would otherwise seem patently absurd: a negotiation over Iran’s nuclear proliferation that proceeds without regard to the destabilizing consequences of Iran’s growing geopolitical reach—and the effect that that reach has on the policies and perceptions of both allies and adversaries around the world.

The “end of history” that many American analysts unconsciously identified with an era of largely effortless and uncontested American global hegemony is an era in which no one has to connect the dots. Because there are few or no serious strategic consequences to anything that happens, every issue can be addressed in isolation and policy can become the progressive application of legal and moral norms grounded in American hegemony to various refractory countries and problem regimes around the world.

In such a world the lawyers and the moralists are free to address each question in isolation; the toe-bone isn’t connected to the foot-bone, and the foot-bone isn’t connected to anything. We can “work to solidify legal norms” without asking whether the whole structure is in danger of coming down; we can indulge our propensity to give human rights lectures without concern for the consequences.  We can push Mubarak to the exit without thinking much about what comes next; we can spend a year trying to support an imaginary transition to democracy in Egypt; we can prevent a hypothetical bloodbath in the strategic dead end of Libya while ignoring a much larger actual bloodbath in strategically vital Syria and it is all about us and our values. If we do something smart and succeed, we feel good about ourselves; if things go badly we feel bad and try to change the subject. But the consequences are abstractions: the strengthening or weakening of international norms, the value of our example, the “legacy” of agreements and achievements an administration leaves behind.

For a full generation we have not had to think too much about whether something done or undone in foreign policy promotes or endangers our vital interests and the security and prosperity of the American people. We have gotten out of the habit of making foreign policy under the gun and as a result we are not as a people very good at understanding what matters and why.

Finally, optimism is so ineradicably grounded in American intellectual culture that even our great power realists are instinctively hopeful. Troubled by the costs and the risks associated with two unsatisfactory foreign wars and longing to redirect resources from the defense budget to domestic priorities, a significant number of foreign policy analysts inside and outside the current administration have developed a theory of benign realism. This theory holds that the United States can safely withdraw from virtually all European and all but a handful of Middle Eastern issues and that as an ‘offshore balancer’ the United States will be able to safeguard its essential interests at low cost.

This view, which seems to guide both the administration and some of the neo-isolationist thinking on the right, assumes that a reasonably benign post-American balance of power is latent in the structure of international life and will emerge if we will just get out of the way. Such a view is not very historical: Britain was an offshore balancer in Europe in the 18th century and was involved in almost continuous wars with France from 1689 to 1815. What is missing from the ‘peaceful withdrawal’ scenarios is an understanding that there are hostile and, from our point of view, destructive powers in the world who will actively seize on any leverage we give them and will seek to use their new power and resources to remake the world in ways we find fundamentally objectionable and unsafe.

Iran, Russia and China won’t, one increasingly suspects, see American withdrawal as a call to moderate their ambitions or revise their revisionist opposition to the current world order. The appetite for power grows as one feeds, and political cultures deeply wedded to the concept of zero-sum outcomes in international affairs are unlikely to be ‘led by our example’ to embrace the idea of ‘win-win’ at just the moment they are intoxicated by the enchanting vision of winning it all as we fade away.

As the End of History Ends, Strategy Must Return

It’s often said that statesmen in office live on intellectual capital, and work with the ideas and perceptions they brought to power. The crush of events gives them little choice. It will, therefore, be difficult for the White House to change direction quickly even as evidence of a wrong turn piles up.

If the Central Powers continue to work together and to make joint progress across Eurasia, however, either this administration or its successor is going to have to take another look at world politics. For the first time since the Cold War, the United States is going to have to adopt a coherent Eurasian strategy that integrates European, Middle Eastern, South Asian and East Asian policy into a comprehensive design. We shall have to think about “issues” like non-proliferation and democracy promotion in a geopolitical context and we shall have to prioritize the repair and defense of alliances in ways that no post Cold War presidents have done.

The sooner we make this shift, the better off we shall be. The Central Powers have been punching above their weight, largely as a result of the absence of a serious counter-policy by the United Staes. But the more time we waste and the more opportunities we squander, the more momentum and power the revisionists gain, and the less effective our alliances become.

Clear thinking and prudent action now can probably reverse the negative geopolitical trends in Eurasia at a low cost. But the longer we wait, the harder and more urgent our task will become.

show comments
  • Maynerd

    Once again the “elites” fail the country:

    The financial meltdown of 2008, trillion dollar deficits & quantitative easing til the end of time, Obama’s feckless foreign policy, health care “reform”, & of course immigration “reform” (thankfully pending).

    It’s all rather depressing. Back to ESPN I go.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    Not this president. Furthermore, considering our financial weakness, perhaps no president ever again.

    • Jim__L

      We’re still dealing with yesteryear’s political conventional wisdom. The “Imperial Overstretch” thesis is dead. What kills Great Powers nowadays is Domestic Overstretch — an over-ambitious welfare state that bankrupts the nation. Worse, Domestic Overstretch makes a deliberate effort to destroy people’s self-reliance, hamstringing attempts to turn things around.

      That’s our challenge for this generation — effectively combat Domestic Overstretch. It’s not going to be easy, S.C., but hopefully it isn’t impossible. This article hints at the stakes. We can’t afford to lose.

  • rheddles

    A really smart guy thought up a short hand to help abbreviate this type of discussion. In this case, When the Wilsonians get the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians on their side America gets screwed until the Jacksonians wake up. So the Chicom, Ayatollah and Putin axis has three years to run wild.

    Obama has chosen dishonor.

    • Brendan Doran

      America isn’t getting screwed by Iran, China, Russia. America is getting screwed by an insane Wilson, a bankrupt Hamilton, a Jefferson steeped in Vice.

      And we’re awake.

      • TokyoTengu

        Not sufficiently at this point, but I will grant that more people seem to be waking up.

    • Jim__L

      Bluntly, we’re seeing what happens when you slash the defense budget for the sake of domestic priorities.

      We need another Reagan. Or, considering the problem is our Credentialed Elites, another Andrew Jackson.

  • Anthony

    This is a superficially interesting essay. It lacks any clear prescriptions. The only implicit point seems to be that we need to invade Syria. Does Professor Mead really believe that invading Syria would somehow deter China? Dream on.

    Since he wants foreign policy makers to get serious, here is an interesting question that Mead should chew on. What happens if China seeks to take Taiwan by force? Jacksonians will undoubtedly call for war to defend the honor of the nation, but the business community will counsel non interference.

    • Anthony

      Here is a more interesting essay from Pat Buchanan, a person I usually have little in common with. Elites in America continue to believe that a richer China will be a more peaceful China in spite of growing evidence that this is not going to be the case.

      “Does America fear facing down China because a political and economic collision with Beijing would entail an admission by the United States that our vision of a world of democratic nations all engaged in peaceful free trade under a rules-based regime was a willful act of self-delusion?”

      “Stop Feeding the Tiger.”

      http://buchanan.org/blog/time-to-stop-feeding-the-tiger-5605

      • AD_Rtr_OS

        “…a world of democratic nations all engaged in peaceful free trade under a rules-based regime…”

        Since China is neither democratic, or observant of those rules, we have only conflict to look forward to.

      • circleglider

        You’ve answered your question.

        Professor Mead will never allow himself or his ideas to be associated with Pat Buchanan. Look for many, many more posts that fail to reach any clear conclusions.

      • Jim__L

        Having read some of WRM’s books — and many of his posts here, on Iran / Russia / China — the “vision of a world of democratic nations all in engaged in peaceful free trade under a rules-based regime” is not so much a “willful act of self-delusion” but a goal known to be difficult to achieve, and to be planned out and fought for to the utmost of our abilities.

        • Anthony

          It looks like China isn’t getting more peaceful. This is what realists have been predicting for years, but commercial elites haven’t wanted to hear the message. They still don’t

          • Jim__L

            The idea that getting them started on peaceful trade would automatically make them peaceful was a fantasy, only made reality by the circumstances of the US’s overwhelming military advantages.

            Those advantages are being deliberately and systematically wiped out by a feckless administration. I suspect that if we can change Congress in 2014 and the White House in 2016, we’ll be able to pull it out. If not, my generation may find that the disappearance of Medicare is the least of our worries…

  • Anthony

    WRM, incisive and comprehensive overview of probabilities, options, actions, and geopolitical realities (I am still digesting essay’s thrust).

    • catorenasci

      But he supported Obama….

  • Palinurus

    As is most evident in the comments about Kennan and Kissinger, this essay, while a brilliant discussion of virtues of a realism-inflected grand theory, underestimates the enduring obstacles to its realization.

    While the Whiggism deplored by Kennan and Kissinger might be uniquely American, a penchant for moralism and legalism in foreign policy is not. These reflexes flow instead from the ambiguous, troubling nature of power: its zero-sum, cut-throat fierceness; its roots in crime, brutality, and cynical compromises, and the need for more of the same in its exercise and preservation; and its need to navigate a world of trade offs, unintended consequences, and unpredictable circumstances. One exercising power quickly finds himself in a moral and historical no-mans land, tasked with finding his way through a stormy and trackless sea.

    What is needed is a sort of Keatsian negative capability: the capability of being in moral and intellectual uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, and even damnation, without any irritable reaching for or despairing of salvation or simplicity. What happens instead, as Machiavelli taught, is that most men grasp for the direction, certainty, and moral affirmation offered by rules, both moral and legal. Unless properly formulated, grand strategy runs the risk of offering an illusion of coherence, certainty, and justification no less blinding than those of legal or moral principles. Ironically, if memory serves, WRM has in other posts made this very charge against the grand theory he teased out of Obama’s foreign policy.

    What the examples of Kennan and Kissinger show is the need for deftly giving due deference to moralism and legalism even as one avoids their dangers. Foreign policy must be run through large bureaucracies; these institutions require rules and guidelines to function. One of Kennan’s major failings was his inability or unwillingness to make his theories of containment, not just academically brilliant, but also bureaucracy-friendly.

    Kissinger’s example is a reminder that foreign policy is ultimately subject to domestic policy. The American people will demand at least the appearance in any grand theory of a certain degree of justice and comprehensibility (i.e., simplicity and short-term gains). Kissinger was comfortable with the moral ambiguity of power and the three-dimensional chess of geopolitics; the American people — his boss, or his boss’s boss — were not. And his example shows that you flout the sensibilities of the American people at your peril. Kissinger’s unabashedly realistic grand theory got him labelled a war criminal by the left, and an appeaser by the right.

    • Anthony

      Palinurus, excellent brief and reference to John Keats’ negative capability as part of any policy strategy is advise to the wise.

    • Man pippy

      Philosopher kings are fanciful and 95% of the U.S population believes in magic. Clearly strategy from the U.S bureaucracy is limited and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

  • qet

    It cannot be said too often: our current foreign policy brain trust’s horizon extends no farther than the door to the university lecture hall. Spengler knew well their predecessors in 1922: “Their success means the historical abdication of the nation in favor, not of everlasting peace, but of another nation. World peace is always a one-sided affair.”

    And once more the immortal words of that Bismarck of our time–Samantha Power–bear repeating, as an object lesson and cautionary tale for future generations: “Our judgment was: Brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work.”

  • keithpridgeon

    5 to 7 years before we are engaged in a major war with China and Iran.Russia still has enough internal strife to keep it out of the conflict.If we still have a weak willed appeasement minded president and give them 10 years or more we have lost as they will have gained the high ground (space) and we will most likely be defeated.

  • bscook111

    In the thirties Germany was a weak opportunistic feeder also. Great Britain acted then toward Germany as we are now with Iran, and much for the same reasons, and much with the same weasly rhetoric. WWI began in a not too different manner. It seems history teaches that political weaselry comes at a very high price. Our last three decades of small time low grade conflicts ought not to be confused with the major conflagration in the offing in Asia.

    • Micha_Elyi

      I disagree with your claim about WWI.

  • Guest

    Excellent essay. However, I would like to add that some neo-isolationists on the right realize withdrawal will not permit the United States to “safeguard its essential interests at low cost.” Unfortunately, withdrawal is unavoidable. The American left has created facts on the ground domestically which effectively marginalize conservatives as part of the “transformation of America.” There is a much darker view which requires acknowledgment that our energies must be focused on the internal struggle between the American left and the American right.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “The Central Powers have been punching above their weight, largely as a result of the absence of a serious counter-policy by the United States.”

    They wouldn’t be able to do this if the Obama Administration wasn’t so weak and incompetent.

  • Anthony

    “Sometime in 2013, we reached a new stage in world history…call the challengers the Central Powers; they hate and fear one another as much as they loathe the current geopolitical order… For a full generation we have not had to think too much about whether something done or undone in foreign policy promotes or endangers our vital interests and the security and prosperity of the American people.”

    Changing dynamic/configuration (Central Powers) and United States strategic response thereto seems to be core of essay’s thrust; realism, accepting outside world as it is sans moral and legal philosophical underpinning, complements essay’s premise. WRM seems to imply that Wilsonianism (activist U.S. role in world to spread American values of Democracy and Human Rights) must now in 2013 be reevaluated vis-a-vis foreign policy execution. Yet our history is replete with both personalities and policies reflective of U.S. reexamination regarding matters beyond our shores since and before Monroe Doctrine.

    Then as now, geopolitics connotes hard power, concerned as it is with the struggle over control of geographic space (Maritime Powers – Central Powers). Essay implies going forward, U.S. foreign policy cannot be centered on (if it ever has been) humanistic/legalistic principles but contextually aligned with National geopolitical interests especially given power drives of Central Powers. Further, essay infers current U.S. administration lacks a grand strategy in geopolitical context, instead focusing on every issue separately as it pivots east (what Adam Garfinkle calls juke and jive foreign policy design). Nevertheless, unsaid but definitely an implication is that power is neither created or destroyed; power is transformed and transferred. The Central Powers (as WRM describes them) apparently understand this and, when opportunity avails, grab power from those with more as well as grab from those with less (Syria, Ukraine, China Seas).

    The end of history remains a part of the evolving whole as specific mores constitute the playing field of power. Summarily, “A rudderless US foreign policy is no response to a resurgent and neo-authoritarian Russia flexing its geopolitical muscle” and a rising China in the Pacific as well as a surging regional Iran – that essentially is WRM advocacy.

  • Nick Bidler

    Shorter version: ‘world peace’ only exists as long as one actor can force all others to do as it wants. As soon as Victory is declared, a new war is started between the old champion and a different set of players.

    even shorter: the sword of Damocles remains.

  • Brendan Doran

    We had a compelling interest the first half of the 20th century in preventing the fall of Great Britain and Europe, Asia to the Central Powers and Fascism. We had a compelling interest in the second half in preventing the fall of the world to communism. What is our compelling interest now in being the Global Slumlord?

    I am one of those Jacksonians, you remember we do the heavy lifting. If the professoriate wishes to play Game of Thrones they can form Zouave regiments of their debt serf students and go forth. General Jellybelly can lead them into the Levant, I’ve been in that neighborhood repeatedly, do enjoy.

    We have a compelling interest in getting America solvent and well governed, mostly less governed. We have a compelling interest in rebuilding our manufacturing base. We seem to be meeting enormous obstacles in accomplishing this, the very people who drove us into penury in the first place. But they always have time for wars, as long as they don’t have to fight.

    And above all we have a compelling interest in removing the yoke of insane academic pyschopaths who think America is both a test bed and a tool for them to test their models.

    I would hazard that soon enough you’ll be hearing from Jacksonian America, but not as willing cannon fodder.

  • Jim

    Summary – Obama is stupid, pathetic, and weak. The wolves are coming

    • TokyoTengu

      Succinctly put. You win the Internet.

  • justin bristow

    This essay is outstanding. Brilliant from beginning to end.

    If more US students of foreign policy were proficient in Russian and Chinese and drew their material from Russian and Chinese think tanks all of this would be self evident to them. Why? The Russian and Chinese foreign policy establishments have wholeheartedly embraced geopolitics as the essence and purpose of foreign policy.

    Too often American students of foreign policystudy the languages of allies or rely on English language or West friendly news sources for their interpretation of international relations. They end up seeing the world they created reflected back to them and use it to justify their pre-conceived perceptions.

    Commenters here lament the lack of policy prescriptions but thats not the problem. Policy prescriptions already exist but the American public and elite do not accept them because they do not see the world the way our adversaries see it.

    The best analogy here is France vs. Germany 1919-1940. The problem for France was immediately apparent to observers at the time in 1940. France didn’t lack for instruments of power. In fact, during the vast majority of those 21 years France was stronger or equal to Germany in almost every conceivable strategic area from diplomacy to economy, to military forces and technology. Yet those raw measures of power were upended and obliterated in the span of just 4 years from 1936 to 1940. The writers at the time knew why- lack of national will. The French were too focused on domestic politics and scared to death of war, which they considered only wasteful.

    Looking at the comments hereis depressing. It is clear that our national will to play the game has been sapped just as China and Russia are rip roaring and ready to go.

    The world turns, and history waits for no nation to build the perfect society government etc. before rudely intervening.

  • John Morris

    And again the true depth of the problem is willfully looked away from.

    The problem isn’t that Obama is out of his depth. Or incompetent. Or stupid. He is intentionally weakening America by strengthening our enemies. Because he believes, despite our electing him (because he knows it was a con), that America is irredeemably wicked and tainted, and therefore must be removed from the world stage.

  • Jim__L

    Please dig in a little deeper to the role of Leaks in the damage America has taken this year. Our enemies know more than ever about what we know and how we know it, and how to hide from us what they don’t want us to know.

    Add to this an administration that likes to think, consider, ponder, ruminate, analyze, ad infinitum before making anything remotely resembling a decision (oh, the horrors of shooting from the hip like Bush!), and consider how that approach is complicated by a degradation in our capacity to detect early signs (or any sign at all!) of important developments.

  • Charles Austin

    Clear thinking and prudent action… I’m sorry, but didn’t you vote for this guy? Twice?

  • Homple

    “As the End of History Ends, Strategy Must Return”

    It would be nice to hear from the learned among us the details of the strategy that must return.

    • catorenasci

      The Balance of Power
      The Eastern Question
      The Great Game
      Naval Supremacy

      • Homple

        Could you provide a little bit more detail about items 1-3? I thought The Great Game stopped about the time Kipling did.

        As for item 4, we have naval supremacy right now and are absolutely incapable of doing anything with it.

        • catorenasci

          A little bit of an ‘inside historical’ reference to the pillars of British Imperial foreign policy: the balance of power was the notion that no nation could dominate the European land mass (and subsidiarily – known as the Mouth of the Scheldt question – no great power could control the low countries); the Eastern Question referred to the dying Ottman Emprire and the control of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus – meaning keeping same out of Russian hands; the Great Game refers – as you note – to the issue of Russian expansion into Southwest Asia, which, most decidedly did not end at the beginning of the 20th century and was a lively one in the late 20th with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan; Naval Supremacy – also known as freedom of the seas – was the fundamental British policy that the Royal Navy must be twice as large as the next two naval power combined, which could not be achieved after the introduction of the Dreadnought.

  • Mike55_Mahoney

    I would not normally challenge WRM. Crow with mud isn’t on my staple list of edibles. However, he wants his audience to get all worked up over some rocks and an outhouse pit. These so called Central Powers can have them. Japan and China have this save face game they play in their cultures that leads to bloodshed over hurt feelings. I say as long as these rocks aren’t militarized or used as gateways to formerly international sea traffic, who cares? As for the outhouse pit in the middle east, as long as they don’t go monkey on anyone and fling it, who cares? And don’t tell me ignoring these places will lead to war. ANY response we make has that potential.

  • elHombre

    This is an excellent piece. I fear, however, that WRM is slightly delusional about America’s preeminence. The combination of the Obama/Clinton/Kerry ineptitude in geopolitics and the perpetuation of our economic woes suggest that we are washed up as THE superpower.

  • xbox361

    Foreign policy is hard!
    Looks like the smartest guy in the room is not the wisest.

    Mr. Mead, America has not a care in the world. That’s why we can vote for a community organizer with a cool name.
    Sure hope it works out well.

  • teapartydoc

    If there’s on thing to be learned from reading Algernon Sidney, it is that any form of government is capable of producing imbecilic leadership. Need I say more?

  • Bankotsu

    “…the absence of a serious counter-policy by the United States…”

    I thought U.S. already had a strategy with NATO expansion, ABM system and pivot to asia?

    War on terror, invasion of Iraq, getting rid of regimes like Libya etc, all were part of the U.S. strategy of primacy.

  • Anthony

    Changing dynamic/configuration (Central Powers) and United States response thereto seems to be core of essay’s thrust; realist view of geopolitics, accepting outside world and its power drives and interests as fact sans moral and legal philosophical underpinning, complements essay’s premise. WRM seems to imply that Wilsonianism (activist U.S. role in world to spread American values of Democracy and Human Rights) must now in 2013 be reevaluated vis-a-vis foreign policy execution. Yet our history is replete with both personalities and policies reflective of U.S. reexamination regarding matters beyond our shores since and before the Monroe Doctrine.

    Then as now, geopolitics connotes hard power, concerned as it is with the struggle over control of geographic space )Maritime Powers – Central Powers). Essay implies going forward, U.S. foreign policy cannot be centered on (if it ever has been) humanistic/legalistic principles but contextually aligned with National geopolitical interests especially given power drives of Central Powers. Further, essay infers current U.S. administration lacks a grand strategy in geopolitical context, instead focusing on every issue separately as it pivots east (what Adam Garfinkle calls juke and jive foreign policy design). Nevertheless, unsaid but definitely an implication is that power is neither created nor destroyed; power is transformed and transferred. The Central Powers (as WRM describes them) apparently understand this and, when opportunity avails, grab power from those with more as well as grab from those with less (i.e. Syria, Ukraine, South China Sea).

    The end of history remains a part of the evolving whole as specific mores constitute the playing field of power. Power as in a breeder reactor churns centripetally as ends pursued forge new means; and means available fission new ends. In connection, a National will must not be misdirected vis-a-vis importance of geopolitical power dynamics. Summarily, “a rudderless US foreign policy is no response to a resurgent and neo-authoritarian Russia flexing its geopolitical muscle” and a rising China in the Pacific as well as a surging regional Iran – that essentially is essay’s tthrust.

  • stevewfromford

    Deeply debt ridden countries make poor warriors.

  • hariknaidu

    Zero-Sum game belonged to the post-1945 Cold War period. Your basic assumptions are false and contradictory, and history will tell actually how wrong your thinking is, in fact.
    Now @ +75, I’ve dealt with old Sino-Soviet and Sino-Indian Conflict paradigm which, as you notice today, has shifted markedly.
    US foreign policy, if that’s what your are complaining about, can best be understood (even) today by diligently reading the Report of the Viet Nam War Hearings by Senator Fulbright. It’s quite relevant today!
    The current non-WASP Blackman in WH doesn’t come with the baggage of former Waspish Anglo-American leaders. The current thrust of his policy framework is the economic and social inequality in America – which btw is getting worse since the financial meltdown, in 2008.
    Contradictions in society, as you must understand, are the genesis of conflict and revolution. Mainland China was a good example under Kuomintang and Czarist Russia prior to Russian Revolution.
    America has changed inordinately towards worst-case inequality, and, if current socio-economic developments are allowed to get worse, the scenario will finally emerge when demographic changes will inevitably thwart – arrest – not only US power abroad but also at home.

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