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WRM in the WSJ
The Importance of Military Might

After years of sequestration and only limited appreciation for hard power, many defense analysts are feeling giddy about the prospect of a big military build-up under President-elect Donald Trump. Against this backdrop, TAI columnist (and vocal Trump skeptic) Eliot Cohen’s new book, The Big Stick, is quite timely. Our own Walter Russell Mead reviews it for the WSJ:

Mr. Cohen offers a balanced and sensitive analysis of America’s military record since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Rejecting shallow critiques of the Iraq War and carefully sifting through the evidence and the diplomatic record, he reaches a conclusion that will disappoint some of his colleagues in the Bush administration. (Mr. Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies, was an advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.) Citing the falsity of the public premise of the war that Iraq’s WMD program posed an urgent threat; the damage it inflicted on U.S. credibility; and the devastating consequences it had on our alliances, Mr. Cohen concludes it was “a mistake.” That said, he argues that its economic and political costs were not as extreme as many critics have claimed, and makes a strong case that some form of American confrontation with Iraq was almost inevitable.

In the second section of the book, Mr. Cohen offers a reasonably optimistic forecast about America’s ability to maintain the forces needed to address the challenges to our security: the challenge of a peer or near-peer competitor in China, the machinations of discontented lesser states like Russia, Iran and North Korea, and the threat of Islamist violence. While he has a healthy respect for America’s rivals and competitors, he is more worried about how the U.S. can fail than about what others will do.

Read the whole review and then go order the book for yourself. As WRM writes, it’s a “must-read for anyone interested in military might—and how it can help us maintain the edge we need in this treacherous age.”

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  • Pait

    The USA already spends more than all other powers together in the military. It is just plain silly to think that more expenses will increase its influence. What is the problem that more weapons would be trying to solve? I have never seen an answer to this question.

    On the other hand, overwhelming force may trigger in some of the other powers a fear of hegemony – leading to the Thucydides trap. This was not likely during the 1st Bush presidency, Clinton’s, or Obama. It was a real possibility when the 2nd Bush declared that the disparate countries he disliked formed an axis of evil. It is a much more pressing concerned in an administration where the sanest voice goes by the nickname of Mad Dog.

    • rheddles

      The moral is to the physical as three to one.

      Napoleon

      But before combat nothing demonstrates the moral so much as a commitment to providing the physical. And having a Mad Dog.

  • Andrew Allison

    Is it appropriate for WRM to write a review, and this blog to recommend purchase, of a book by a TAI columnist?

    • Kevin

      Sure, as long as it is disclosed. The question ought to be whether the book is good or not.

      • Andrew Allison

        Nope, the question is can it be an objective review.

        • rheddles

          You’re starting to sound like Lizzy Warren.

          • Andrew Allison

            Fauxcahontas doesn’t know the meaning of the word objective. Incidentally, the quote in the post does not disclose that Cohen is a fellow TAI columnist.

          • Pait

            The post says it very clearly.

          • Andrew Allison

            ” the quote in the post does not disclose that Cohen is a fellow TAI columnist”

          • Pait

            Read it again. I don’t know how much more explicit you can get than “..TAI columnist (and vocal Trump skeptic) Eliot Cohen’s new book, The Big Stick, is quite timely.”

          • Andrew Allison

            Just what part of “the QUOTE [from the WSJ review] in the post” is unclear to you?

          • Pait

            It is right there, introducing the quote, and stating who the author is. It is not possible to be more clear and correct. If you don’t understand it, it is because you don’t want to.

            I suppose that if you pick bits and pieces of the post you will not be able to understand who is saying what. I speculate that picking bits and pieces to distort a quote may be a form of argument you enjoy. That says something about you, but nevertheless WRM and Cohen’s arguments stand on their own.

          • Andrew Allison

            ” the quote [from the WSJ] in the post does not disclose that Cohen is a fellow TAI columnist” End of discussion.

          • Pait

            Yes, if you can’t see that it’s written in the clearest form possible, it’s the end of the discussion for sure.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Of course it’s appropriate. There is no reason for anyone to imagine that this is a “public” forum which has no business interest or must be expected to have no business interest. Commentary is the business. It can appear in books or in articles and they are all completely entitled to cross-recommend each other.

    • Pait

      Of course it is. TAI is staking its own credibility – which it already had by having the columnist. If you follow the recommendation, and the book is bad, they lose their credibility with you.

      Of course understand this concept requires at least some faith in free markets and the free exchange of ideas. Some people of course would rather have a benevolent dictator deciding who can write what – or a malevolent one as the case may be.

  • ——————————

    There can’t be ‘too much’ military might.

    No one punches the confident, muscular, 6′ 6″ 270 lb guy in the bar….

    • FriendlyGoat

      Perhaps not, but someone exploded the world trade center and the pentagon and left the big guy a bit puzzled on who to punch out and how.

      • ——————————

        You are talking of a ‘drunk’ 270 lb guy…drunk on the pussification of war by the left over the years, by trying to ‘win hearts and minds’, wimpy ‘rules of engagement, etc….and even the pussification of our entire society by left-thinking, participation trophy, viewer discretion is advised, anti bullying crap we are mired in.

        Imagine if we had the mentality of WW2 and before, and combined it with the technology of today…there would be no Islamic nonsense….

        • FriendlyGoat

          I was actually talking of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the conundrum they faced after an attack by a non-state actor. I am also predicting the possibility of similar problems in the future from non-state actors, especially in the realm of cyber warfare—-which is capable of far (far) more damage to America than 9/11, but harder and harder to trace to source.

          As far as “Islamic nonsense” is concerned, yes, it is nonsense, and no, you can’t bomb it away.

          • ——————————

            FG, my original point was that a strong show of force prevents conflict.
            And also, if much of western humanity wasn’t now so weakened by liberal thinking (don’t offend anyone), and our reliance on technology…both of which take humans away from their true nature as organisms, we would be a much stronger force.

            Not sure why you provided a link to a WAPO (useless rag) article about Trump should show his tax returns??

            WhoTF cares about someones tax returns?
            With all the important things going on it the world…tax returns?…yikes!….

          • FriendlyGoat

            I told you the men would be pussified by the dictator. Awfully fast for you to go there.

          • ——————————

            Tax returns are nobody’s business unless one wants to release them. It is not required, and has only been done in recent history. I doubt those who voted for him give a rat’s @ss, so it’s really only his detractors who care and would only look for a reason to complain about what they show.

            As far as “slippery loopholes’, that is a misnomer. There is only what the tax law allows. He used it as it is allowed, as have I as a self-employed person, all my life.
            I am quite sure you and everyone else have used whatever the tax law allows…so your complaint about it is moot at best….

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) I’m tellin’ ya, half the men in America are being pussified by a dictator in motion. That’s what happens when you feel yourself obligated to defend the indefensible.

            2) Unless you went bankrupt, you did not avoid taxes in the way Trump did. Neither did I.

          • ——————————

            Bankruptcy allows for risk takers to take risk. The writers of laws were smart enough to figure that out years ago…jeezzzz…do i really need to explain these things.
            Anyway, it does not matter the “way Trump did”, it was what the tax law allowed for the situation. It is legal business practice, and you would do it if you could.
            Sorry it is not to your liking, but that’s the way it is. And if you could ever raise yourself to his business level then you would understand…but maybe you can’t, so you don’t?….

          • FriendlyGoat

            You really don’t know, I guess, that Donald is suspected of taking nearly a billion in tax losses for losses he did not actually incur—–through a drafting error fluke in the S-Corp statute which has since been closed. You didn’t get any such thing. I didn’t. Very, very few business people ever did and now no one can. People should know he is not paying any taxes for years running and why he is not. That’s the point.

          • ——————————

            Actually, I do know what he did. The point is that it was legal at the time. Doesn’t matter “drafting error fluke” as you call it…did you get your info from WAPO again…or maybe Huffington Post, or Media Matters?
            Also. doesn’t matter if statute is now closed…again, it was available and LEGAL at the time.

            Lots of companies, many worth much more than Trump, pay little, or no taxes (as a layman understands taxes). Apple and many of your uber liberal companies make much more than Trump and pay almost nothing, so….

            It’s just the way it works. Do I like it?…no. But it’s the way it is.
            Anyway, EVERYONE does what the law allows.

            Okay FG, Taxes 101 is over…I’m moving on….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Actually, you don’t know what he did. We “suspect” what he did but only the returns can tell you. I’m up for “the president is a liar” until they are released.

          • Anthony

            Something important to the world (U.S.) and details rarely considered by “punish” voters (kind of Atlas Shrug electors) oblivious to long-term quality of life for average American: theweek.com/articles/674681/president-trump-about-tank-economy

            By the way, this link is more appropriate for succeeding Post (trade) but this is where I found you.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Okay, anybody published in The Week is a far more professional author than me. But this guy ends his article saying “You heard it here first” (that high-end tax cuts accompanied by spending cuts cannot be expected to do anything other than depress the economy).

            Good grief. I have been arguing this out here in these comment-section hinterlands for a full five years. Where in the heck were these professionals BEFORE this damnable election?

          • Anthony

            Being paid to obfuscate (and sometimes hard reality of the possible has to strike the mind). I didn’t link because you needed reaffirmation as much as example of recognition of “real” possibilities you’ve belabored.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The problem, I think, is that professionals need to guard their reputations so they can keep writing. My view is not a popular one.
            Advertisers would hate it. So not many organs want to publish it. Therefore, with notable exceptions like Krugman and Hacker, most of them pretend tax cuts are always a good idea. And yet, the continued legacy of Reaganism worked so badly that small towns died, tons of people were left behind economically, we minted more multi-billionaires and the government went 20 trillion in the hole. I have not understood why more of us did not and could not arrive at “duh, go figure” (as they say).

          • Anthony

            FG, I always thought the press (and by implication reporters generally) is too heavily invested in system you reference – those guys are looking for both social status and career advancement generally, in a system embedded in American plutocratic culture. That is, the socialization and orthodoxy starts early and is reinforced by attitude that to get along in one’s career, one learns to go along with things as they are (within the margins) and avoid the espousal of views that conflict with the dominant economic interests of one’s profession, institution, and society. Most importantly and to your point, the media helps to propagate the dominant myths and images. To that end, they select most of the information and misinformation we use to define sociopolitical reality (both alternative facts and omission of facts). And it’s expected that “average citizen” ends up “duh go figure” (as they say).

          • FriendlyGoat

            Unfortunately, most of us “go with” what we hear repeated a lot. In for-profit media, whatever sells best or attracts listeners is what gets repeated.

          • Anthony

            Yes, you’re generally correct but as a discerning listener/consumer you “understand” the idea above! However, the “most of us” concerned with the ordinaries of life remain free game for the nimbler wits, political entrepreneurs, et al. My concern, as its ever been, remains trying to help the least of thee so that the sense that “whatever sells and attracts” ought to be weighed just a little more carefully, even if melodiously repeated.

      • Jim__L

        That’s because people associated with the Clinton administration don’t know how to handle classified information.

        My gratitude that those catastrophically incompetent people are out of power, probably permanently so, knows no bounds.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Your capacity to spin knows no bounds.

          • Jim__L

            That’s about as far from spin as anything I’ve ever said. It’s a deadly serious fact, and the flow of world history for the last two decades has been directed by it.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Too much can be defined as wasteful, and there are certainly reasonable arguments to be had about what is a prudent expense and what is not. If cost is no object (and it most certain IS a concern), then there is such a thing as too much military might.

      On the other hand, false economies are often wasteful as well, so your overall point stands…

      • ——————————

        Yes of course, we could go overboard. I just meant that within the scope of sanity, we can not spend too much.
        A strong show of force will prevent conflict.

  • FriendlyGoat

    There are so many “tricks” to this. The first is to actually have enough ready usable capability to overwhelm any attack—-so as to dissuade others from launching one and enough to fight multiple confrontations at once . The second is to convince all good peaceful people everywhere that the USA has no interest in killing them or taking anything from them by force. The third is to convince all authoritarian rivals everywhere that “of course we’d use what we have against you” if necessary. The fourth is to pledge the defense of a lot of other friends WITHOUT ever having to do it—see the first and the third. The fifth is to maintain the military industrial complex as a jobs program BUT NOT to the point of overshadowing other uses for money. The seventh is to be able to stage limited interventions here and there which do not escalate out of control. The eighth is to resist the temptation to intervene just because you can. The ninth is to use carefully measured words which are not provocative and not ambiguous in one set of ways and yet are ambiguous in others. The recent election is giving most people some pause about whether we will be able to handle the “words” part well.

    • Pait

      Another point of military might is that it should not be so overwhelming that every other power feels it would be overwhelmed easily. It is related to the later of your points. Excessive power encourages arms races and acts of sabotage – the classical example is Athens and the Delian League.

      from this point of view Bush Senior’s and Bill Clinton did quite right in downscaling the military. More might would not have prevented 9/11, as you wrote below – although more attention to terrorists could have had. That explains the overwhelming support the US had for the Afghanistan war, which was subsequently lost by the overreach in Iraq.

      The main point: the US already spends more on defense than the next largest 9 or 10 powers combined. Does anyone believe that security would be improved if the US added, say, Brazil to the list?

      • FriendlyGoat

        This is why I called the balancing of all the factors “tricks”—-not the deceptive definition, but the idea of pulling off an ongoing and dangerous act with success and grace. Not too little, not too much. Not too hot, not too cold. Not too brazen, not too nonchalant. Part of ultimate success is in being able to fire a lot of shots, but actually firing few or none. The other part is in convincing other powers to do likewise.

        • Pait

          You are right. Diplomacy – the art of getting others to do what you want. Requires an artful balance of negotiation, concessions, and pressure.

          Unfortunately it seems the US may be on its way of losing it just when magnificent success seemed within reach. And the downfall – the next generation will see how deep it will be – was brought about entirely be internal forces.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Indeed. I can’t and won’t predict whether Trump, Mattis and Tillerson talk some matter up to actual hostilities with big weapons. Those are certainly risks. But the next generation is indeed going to be surprised that the fallout from economic conservatism is not what they were told to expect. From a variety of platforms, “the right” mis-educated a lot of people—-most significantly the evangelical church—–and the resultant consequences of the 2016 election appear to me as shaping up to make the Reaganism mess look like “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet”. The effects last a very long time.

          • Boritz

            ” the next generation will see how deep it will be”

            They will be in the thick of it, but they won’t see. If they were capable of seeing it they wouldn’t be part of the internal forces you note.

          • Pait

            Oh, but once it happens it will be clear enough for all to see.

      • CapitalHawk

        I’m not sure I agree with your point about overwhelming might leading to arms races. It has been argued convincingly that there hasn’t been a naval arms race since WWII, because the US navy was (and still remains) so overwhelmingly powerful that other nations were discouraged from bothering to spend the money trying to develop a navy. This is especially true when you combine the US navy with the navies of its allies (notably, Japan, UK, France, Italy, and Australia) The USSR spent on its navy, but never seriously challenged the US for domination of the worlds oceans. Some of that was due to the fact that the USSR lacked good ports, but even given that, they USSR was never close to the US navy in terms of power (with the sole possible exception being submarine power).

        • Pait

          True about the Navy. However the overall balance of military forces was such that unilateral aggressive action by the US was not an overwhelming fear. Surely that contributed to stability, as did the diplomatic and economic alliances. The more or less worldwide consensus around the 1st Iraq war and the beginning of the Afghanistan war, and the lack of opposition to action in Yugoslavia once it was decided, show that this equilibrium continued after the end of the Cold War.

          The war on Iraq eroded some of the foundations of that stability. I hope to be wrong in predicting that the erosion will speed up very fast from now on.

  • f1b0nacc1

    Unless one is considered credible in one’s threats to use such force, military force can be worthless in and of itself. One need only look at Syria, where the West’s overwhelming military might (most of it made up of American forces) was essentially useless, while the Russian military (a pygmy by comparison) was decisive. The difference wasn’t whether the stick was big or small, but the measure of the man wielding it. Obama’s appallingly bad stewardship of America’s military capabilities and his grossly incompetent diplomacy did severe damage to our position in the world. Both need to be repaired, and we can only hope that Trump will be up to the job…

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I agree that the WMD excuse for regime change in Iraq was the worst failure of the Bush administration, with the “Islam is a religion of Peace” lie a close second. This diplomatic dissembling did much more damage than the truth would have.

    But, I agreed with the “Real Reason” for the war on terror, which was after 9/11, America felt it had to respond to the Failed Islamic Culture, which was spawning all these Terrorist attacks.

    “The Strategy” was to plant a seed of the Superior American Culture right in the face of Islamoland (Iraq), to change the Islamic Culture which seems incapable of getting rid of the Tyrants (this Strategy worked great in Germany, Japan, and South Korea but takes decades of effort). And so, after years of Lives, Blood, and Treasure, the “Worst President in American History” Obama precipitously abandoned the seedling planted in Iraq at such great cost. And this, just as the Strategy began to work as evidenced by the “Arab Spring”, and “hope” died a swift death.

    Now over a Billion Muslims are condemned to live in hopeless poverty and squalor, trapped there by their failed Islamic Culture. Is it any wonder that millions of them want to escape to the West, but are unwanted because they carry the Burden of the Failed Islamic Culture with them.

    America will not sacrifice for the Muslims a second time in this generation, and so America will do the militarily sound thing and build up its logistics with new American Culture created high-tech weapons, and let the Muslims rot.

  • Arkeygeezer

    “Read the whole review and then go order the book
    for yourself. As WRM writes, it’s a “must-read for anyone interested in
    military might—and how it can help us maintain the edge we need in this
    treacherous age.”

    I would like to read the whole review, but am blocked by a pay-wall. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all want to influence public opinion, but want you to pay to read their opinion. Consequently, people get their information from other sources.

    I pay American Interest a monthly subscription because I value the opinion and comments expressed here. I will not pay for the opinions of the mainstream media as they are repeated ad infinitem by Google and Yahoo. Maybe the best source of opinion and information will be the Associated Press, https://apnews.com/tag/apf-topnews, Drudge,http://drudgereport.com/, and the Whitehouse, https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog. web sites. Better information at less cost.

    • Jim__L

      NPR really isn’t very good.

      I was at the inside of a news story a few years ago, at a company launch. We issued press releases, and various news outlets picked them up and reported on them. It was fascinating to be in a position where I knew basically 100% of what was going on, and so could calibrate news responses.

      FOX news? Out of 12 facts reported, 11 were correct.

      NPR? Out of 4 facts reported, ONLY ONE was correct.

      You see, another company had launched in the same space not too long before, with a far different (and in our opinion, fanciful) view of the opportunities in the chosen enterprise. NPR’s story basically regurgitated that company’s press releases, instead of reading ours.

      The best news source? A couple of Millennial commentators with a YouTube vlog. They based an entire news segment on our release, complete with speculations that were scientifically sound, market savvy, and pretty close to correct. I should really dig them up again, they deserve a whole lot more attention than they’re getting.

      So… no one needs to worry about the news dying out. It will still be there on the Web as the years go by.

  • Pete

    ” … the challenge of a peer or near-peer competitor in China, ”

    Please. Militarily, China is a paper tiger compared to the U.S.

    In a no-nonsense war, China would have its back broken in quick order.

    A politically correct war is a different story — but Jacksonians don’t fight such wars.

    • CapitalHawk

      Maybe, but see: Yalu River, Frozen Chosin, and other engagements with China in the Korean War.
      “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
      “Your overconfidence is your weakness.”

      • Pete

        Korea was a politically correct, limited engagement war. Indeed, it wasn’t even called a war. It was termed a ‘police action.’

        China never felt the full fury of the U.S. military, and I am not speaking of nuclear weapons, either.

        And nor did the U.S. to do anything politically to destabilize China and fracture it into its regions..

        • CapitalHawk

          Fair enough, but I think that (a) the Chinese military is far more advanced now than in the 1950s, (b) the gap between the US military and the Chinese military is less now than in the 1950s and (c) the population of the USA would not allow a “no-nonsense war” against any opponent unless that opponent attacked us, without much warning and without any justification (in the minds of much of the US population). Given that much of the US population these days is self-hating (as in, they hate the United States), I doubt the US military will ever be allowed to wage a “no-nonsense war” ever again.

          • Pete

            CapitakHawk, you are quite right that sadly a large proportion of Americans are self-hating and this would mitigate against an all out war with China.

            Why is it, do you think, that so many of our people are self-hating? Is it the poison of multiculturalism? Is it fear of the envy of others? What, I wonder.

          • CapitalHawk

            I have many thoughts as to why it is this way. But most of them come down to “the browning of America” / multiculturalism. The foundation of the world order is the nation-state but, in the majority-white countries of the planet only, there has been a concerted effort to eliminate the “nation” and become only a “state”.

            I do not know whether this has occurred because (a) it makes the elites feel good about themselves, without bearing any of the burden associated with the “feel goods”, or (b) the elites were simply being greedy and trying to drive down wages in order to increase their own salaries and profits, or (c) the elites were much more Machiavellian and affirmatively set out to “divide and rule”, with the knowledge that it is easier to divide people by race and religion than political ideology or (d) some other reason.

            Regardless, there has been an effort to dissolve the bonds between people in American and Europe (multiculturalism and multi-racialism are known to reduce social cohesion and social capital). The result if less cooperation between people because they are “my people” and more coerced cooperation because the government orders it. The ultimate result of this seems likely, to me at least, to be a rebellion by some or their long term oppression, or both. I hope I am wrong on all counts.

          • Pete

            You give insightful comments.

            I have often times said that diversity is not strength. Beyond a touch of diversity for flavor, it is destructive.

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