Winning the War; Losing the Peace: When Victory is Tantamount to Defeat

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James D. Hardy, Jr., PhD, Leonard Hochberg, PhD and Geoffrey Sloan, PhD


The Twentieth Century War began on August 1, 1914 and ended on November 8, 1989.[1]  The War began with Paris streets filled with people who watched with increasingly sober silence as drummers beat the rappel calling reservists to the colors and billstickers posted Mobilization Générale notices on walls and kiosks.  The War began with the British Foreign Minister watching streetlamps come on in the dusk of August 3, 1914 and telling a colleague that the lamps were going out all over Europe.  The War began with military pomp as the Kaiser told uhlans cantering down Unter de Linden that they would be home victorious before Christmas.  The War began in foreboding and exultation.[2]

It ended the same way.  It ended on television, with joyous Germans climbing on the Berlin Wall and chipping away pieces of it.  It ended with police officials of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) burning files in an effort to conceal the monstrous cruelty and immorality of their regime.  It ended with the slow disintegration of the Soviet Union, amidst hopes for a freer world, all symbolized by tearing down the statues of Lenin across eleven time zones.  The War ended with the sense of a new world at dawn, just as it had begun with seeing an old world at dusk.  It had been seventy-five years from foreboding tinged with desperate hope to fervent hope tinged with a dark sense that it all might yet fall apart.[3]

The world had fallen apart once, after all.  What the Twentieth Century War meant was described by Winston Churchill in his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, MO on March 5, 1946.[4]  Best known is his warning of the emergence of the Cold War, that “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”[5]  But the main thrust of the speech was to warn America to remain armed and strong to deter evils of “War and Tyranny,” which come from the Soviet Union.  Peace through strength, both moral and military, was Churchill’s basic theme.  He stated that the “sinews of peace” were needed to deter Soviet fascism; he knew that the war was not over.  He promised that victory would insure that “…the high-roads of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.”[6]

The speech, given near the mid-point of the seventy-five years of the Twentieth-Century War, touched upon all of the issues at stake in that War.  Geopolitical relationships, economic growth or stagnation, human rights, intellectual and political freedom, these were all on the table in 1946, as they had been in World War II and before, and would be the theme of the Cold War already underway.  “War and Tyranny” were the great evils Churchill discussed and these remained so until 1989.  A single address had captured the Twentieth Century War as a conflict, basically, about the varieties of freedom.

And this time, unlike 1918 and 1945, freedom was actually victorious, and diminished shooting did not usher in a new form of continuing war.  Victory was greeted not with exultation, except in Berlin, but with relief.  At last, it was over.  The West had hung in there and kept the faith, in spite of plenty of discouraging words.[7]  Most of these words came from pundits and politicians of the left, who had spent the generations between Versailles and the fall of the Berlin Wall assuring everyone that free markets (which were socially immoral) and free speech (which merely allowed the politically incorrect to be heard) could never vanquish Marxist ideals.[8]  But the free men and free markets did prevail and this added a bit of bewilderment and bemusement to the relief in victory.  For the moment it was easy to forget that “Victory is a dangerous opportunity.”[9]

After Victory: The 90s

There was one thing all could accept on November 8, 1989.  The West had won.  George F. Kennan in his 1947 article in Foreign Affairs had been right.[10]  The Soviet Union had imploded, beginning perhaps in the early 1980s and came completely apart in the years 1989-1991.[11]  In stunning defiance of Marxist ideological hogwash, the Soviet Union dissolved into its national and tribal components, not into economic or industrial ones.  

The Soviet system fell apart in other ways as well.  Partly, it was intellectual.  The defeat of Soviet-style fascism threw Marxist ideology into (temporary) disrepute, and (for a time) the bewildered left even thought that free-market, limited government democracy, although basically a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” might still have virtues.  Partly, it was geopolitical.  Sir Halford J. Mackinder[12] repeatedly warned that a recently unified Eurasian territorial-administrative “heartland” threatened the political and economic existence of maritime-commercial societies everywhere.  Nicholas J. Spykman,[13] who responded to Mackinder’s warnings by claiming that the maritime-commercial “rimland” was inherently stronger than the heartland, was proved right after all.[14]  Partly it was economic.  The Soviet neomercantilist and collectivist command economy had proven, over a couple of generations, to be an utter failure.  Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman had been right.  Victory was also diplomatic, as the western alliances held amidst defeat in China, retreat in Vietnam[15] and stalemate in Europe, a cold version of the trenches in the Great War.  Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and William Casey had been right to persevere in the hard times and apply pressure when possible.[16]  If not quite a triumph of civilizations, victory in the Cold War was certainly a triumph of a (classical) liberal and civilized way of life over fascism.[17]

In the decade of the 1990s, there was a sustained effort to move beyond the celebration of victory and to define and organize the post-war world.  President George H.W. Bush set the tone.  He refused to gloat and set about organizing a system of alliances and collective security that he called a “New World Order.”[18]  This did not quite catch the popular tone, though he was right in terms of the diplomatic reality.  Robert Kaplan was slightly off key as well, though his article “The Coming Anarchy” in the 1994 Atlantic Monthly accurately described the chaos and carnage in a world of failed states.[19]  Samuel P. Huntington was entirely correct about a long-standing and on-going “Clash of Civilizations?” in his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, but the public was not enchanted.  After seventy-five years of war people were not looking for another century of conflict, this time between Islam and Christianity.[20]  Being right is not the same as hitting the right note.[21]

A public relations success was not impossible, and Thomas Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree,[22] succeeded.  Friedman described the post-war world in terms of political economy, not geopolitics or cultural politics or political stability.  His was a more optimistic view of things, and it suited a brief period of peace.  Friedman understood as well as anybody that the world after 1989-91 differed from the bipolar Cold War.  Like most, he thought of the new era of peace in macro-political terms, a peace among the Great Powers and a sharp decline in the threat of high intensity conflicts.  Again, like most, Friedman did not overlook differing cultural values and attitudes (a lá Huntington), nor did he argue that the micro-politics of terrorism, guerilla war and ethnic strife in failed states (a lá Kaplan) had ended in 1989.  Friedman did suggest that the dynamics of the new globalized economic world would overcome the centrifugal forces of regional cultural conservatism and local political collapse.  Globalization, and its attendant political and economic “golden strait-jacket” would be too powerful and alluring to resist.  There would be backlash, of course, but it would, over the long haul, fail.

He posited two attractive reasons why: first, the McDonald’s Theory of Peace.  There had never (as of 1999) been a war between two countries that had McDonalds.  McDonalds was attracted by political stability and increased political stability by building a market to supply the restaurant.  Over the years, there would certainly be more globalized firms such as McDonalds, each with supply chains reaching into the countryside of previously isolated regions, thereby enhancing the wealth of those who were sufficiently entrepreneurial to reorganize production for a modern market.[23]  Second, the five gas stations.  The American model of the gas station, low prices and self-service, would ultimately prevail over the third world model of twenty-five related employees working in a gas station with no gas and where nothing worked, or the French model of high prices and no service, or the Russian model of low prices and no gas (all having been sold on a black market) or the Japanese model of high prices, lavish service and a long time spent filling up.  Efficiency counts in a globalized world.  

The basic conclusion that Friedman implicitly drew was that the globalized world would become more Americanized and that America, with its open and multi-ethnic society, was best suited for future success.  This was most comforting.  It helped immensely to sell the book – a best seller – and the idea of increasingly peaceful globalization. Geopolitical conflict would not vanish altogether, but would be less and less a threat to peace.  Human rights and democracy would not prevail everywhere at once, but they would spread because of their obvious advantages in living, working and governing in a globalized world.  Free markets would gradually replace the governmental “industrial policies,” a common theme of fascist regimes of all flavors – Marxist, Communist, Corporatist, etc.  

Finally, Friedman seemed to be right.  The West had won the seventy-five year war, and the spoils of victory should include a world based on western values of human rights, democracy, peace, private property and free markets.  In the 1990s this appeared to be true.  A globalized economy was developing rapidly.  It was increasingly governed (though not in Africa, the Balkans, the Stans, and other unfortunate areas) by the rule of law.  American-led globalization surmounted the Mexican fiscal crisis and the larger Asian fiscal crisis of 1998-2000.  China, India, Brazil, and even the former countries of the Warsaw Pact were becoming more prosperous and freer than they had been in 1988.  It was not that President Bush, Huntington or Kaplan were wrong; quite often, they were right, each and all.  But they had described only a part of the post-war world, the part that remained relatively impervious to or isolated from economic globalization.[24]  Friedman had described a westernizing post-war world in a coherent and comprehensive manner. In doing so, Thomas Friedman had described the nature, extent and prospects of victory, as well as why almost everyone in the West was cheered by that victory.

Twenty Years On

It is now 2010.  The War has been over for two decades.  And we can look back on the ideas and events of the post-war world and re-evaluate it.  Did winning the war mean winning the post-war peace?  If the geopolitical balances and relationships favored the victorious United States in 1990, do they still favor America today?  And, have public expectations changed?  Globalization and democracy for all beckoned in 1990 just as Churchill had predicted nearly a half-century before.  In 2010, what does the future appear to hold?

We begin with geopolitics.  The most significant development in the new millennium in that arena has been the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001, and tying China and Russia into an open-ended and evolving relationship.  With the formation of the SCO, the Eurasian heartland first characterized by Sir Halford J. Mackinder and dominated by Russia or by Russia and Germany, is now on the verge of being reorganized by Russia and China.  The SCO is sufficiently formalized in its structure to permit joint Sino-Russian military maneuvers, and sufficiently open to include associated members, observers, and sympathizers.  These include some of the Central Asian “Stans,” notably Kazakhstan, with its energy resources, as well as Iran, also rich in hydrocarbons.  Russia and China are the Big Two powers, with China – the rapidly growing power – the senior partner.

In geopolitical terms, the SCO seeks in effect to overturn Spykman’s prediction that the North Atlantic powers allied to the Eurasian rimland will emerge victorious over the heartland powers.  The SCO stretches from the East China Sea to the Polish Border and from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean.  It has established footholds in the Middle East (Iran) and the sub-continent (India), thereby potentially securing the long-desired victory in what amounts to a revived Great Game.[25]  Perhaps Sir Halford Mackinder was right after all.  Control of the Eurasian heartland may now at last mean control of global geopolitics.  

With the notable exception of India, all states in the SCO sphere share two fundamental characteristics: they are fascist or authoritarian regimes, and they all dislike, to varying degrees, western policies on trade, finance, intellectual property, and human rights.  Again, with the notable exception of India, they all, emphatically, wish to sever, if they can, the western conjunction between economic development and civil society with its rule of law.  The SCO group wishes to be rich, but they do not want to be Western.  They firmly reject Thomas Friedman’s implication in The Lexus and the Olive Tree that the imperatives of economic development include Westernization, meaning a free society and, in the case of the Islamic adherents, the emancipation of women.  

It would be harsh to suggest, and we do not, that the SCO emerged primarily or even largely from American policy errors.  The East, demographically, has always been larger than the West, and victory in the Cold War did nothing to change that.  Western global dominance, from imperialism (from the 15th century on) to the World Trade Organization, had been based on technological, economic, and military superiority, and that would not last forever.  That the geopolitical challenge from non-Western powers came after the end of the Cold War is hardly surprising.  It is after all one of the main elements of Friedman’s thesis.

We suggest instead that the American policy response to the SCO has been pretty good, with the George W. Bush administration seeking openings to India, supplemented by increased diplomatic support for Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.  The Obama administration has sustained these efforts, though on occasion it has been so preoccupied with domestic politics and by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that ties with India have been allowed to languish.[26]  This neglect, should it continue, portends disaster.  India is by far the most important initiative and moving to close the Indo-American suspicion from the Cold War may enable India to stand up to the periodic bullying in which China engages and may greatly strengthen America’s position in Asia.[27]

The area where American policy in Asia is a failure in 2010, and for several years previously, is with Iran.[28]  The Iranian effort to obtain nuclear weapons, opposed by the West, has been unrelenting and is reportedly near success.  Sanctions have been an empty threat, not deterring the drive toward nuclear weapons.  Serious sanctions, on gasoline and financial services, will not alter nor delay Iran’s nuclear push, but they will force Iran to cooperate even more closely with China and Russia.  There appears to be no effective policy toward Iran.  The Islamic Republic is going nuclear; it is bitterly hostile to the West; it sponsors terrorism; and, with each threat of new sanctions, it is driven closer to the SCO; none of these things is desirable and there seems to be no way to prevent any of them.  The search for the least worst solution, which is what foreign policy usually is, has yielded nothing with respect to Iran.[29]  If US efforts to instigate ethno-cultural revolts in Iran ultimately succeed and Iran becomes a failed state, terrorists could get control over weapons of mass destruction and the long-distance delivery systems that are being developed.  That cannot be a good thing.

America’s Spykman-inspired policy has enjoyed success for more than half a century, beginning with the E.U., Turkey and Israel in the West, through the hydrocarbon kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, now potentially through India to Malaysia, and the offshore islands in the East.  But Iran remains a persistent problem and a wedge for the SCO to dominate the oil and gas of the Caspian basin, which the West needs.  Moreover, a hostile Iran degrades western influence in the Eastern Mediterranean (via ties to Hezbollah and Hamas) and the Persian Gulf.[30]  The Iranian hole in the Western-oriented Eurasian rimland is a big problem getting steadily bigger.  Whatever America does or appears likely to do in Iran has failed, and this has created genuine foreboding in Israel and America.[31]

Nevertheless, even if the Iranian regime should disintegrate, and be replaced by a regime friendly to the west and western values, a virtually inconceivable outcome, Western problems in the Eurasian rimland would not disappear.  Lurking behind the Iranian headlines is the problem of failed states.  As Robert Kaplan has been proclaiming since his Atlantic Monthly article “The Coming Anarchy” in 1994, the primary source of international conflict, terrorism and instability lies in failed states.  These include most of the sub-Saharan African regimes, much of Latin America – which is once again experimenting with various leftist gimmicks – and most of the Islamic world, including the nuclear state of Pakistan.  Failed states appear on the world map, infest the United Nations, issue stamps, govern by violence and conspiracy, and are usually kleptocracies.  These states are not a problem for the SCO, since neomercantilist economies and authoritarian governments are less interested in international stability than are the states of the West and the maritime-commercial rimland.[32]  So the American government must cope (for the E.U. is morally too weak), and in the last decade America has been inept and awkward.  True enough, Iraq is turning out much better than anyone had a right to expect, but it is still a borderline failed state.  As for Afghanistan, it is a broken society in a failed state and the current administration’s half-hearted efforts will, in all likelihood, fail.[33]  The only issue is how badly.  

Still, even with the emergence of the SCO, and problems with Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other failed states, and the need to import energy, the American geopolitical position twenty years after victory retains substantial elements of strength.  It doesn’t feel that way; and we do not often dwell on our strengths, but they exist.  True, America is no longer the only Great Power, an inevitable development; yet American military capabilities continue to remain unmatched by any adversary or alliance of adversaries.  Also true, looking around a world of failed and fractious states, the dismal swamp of worry is not unjustified.  But, again and also true, given the fiascos in the greater Middle East, things could be much, much worse.

The deep sense of geopolitical failure has grown steadily gloomier since the mismanagement of the liberation/occupation of Iraq that had to be experienced to be believed.[34]  It now seems incredible, and it should have seemed so then, that Muslim Iraqis would receive Christian conquerors as liberators.  We were fortunate indeed that Iraqis turned primarily to inter-denominational butchery in preference to guerilla warfare against us.  But the violence in Iraq was bad enough, and it was accompanied at home by the steady decline of support for the adventure in building “democracy” in the Islamic Middle East.  And we are still there, seven years after the mission was accomplished.

Beyond Iraq lies the rest of South Asia, from the Persian Gulf to the Indus Valley, and we have a dispiriting lack of strategic aims in that entire area.  Even success in those places seems, not unreasonably, like failure.  But the sense of failure and pessimism is greater than it ought to be.  In the first place, and this is policy in a minor key, if we cannot fix Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, no one can, and likely, after our expensive blunders, those who will come after us will do even worse.[35]  

In a major key, involving Great Powers, where genuine concern is warranted, the SCO seems, in reality, a modest threat for the foreseeable future.  Given the overwhelming military might of the United States as demonstrated in the Gulf Wars, the basic geopolitical deal, bringing the heartland together in a Mackinder alliance, seems a reasonable, if not inevitable, geopolitical response to that might.  The basic SCO deal is clear.  Russia supports China in the international arena, and Russia gets to keep Siberia,[36] at least most of it on a formal basis, even as Chinese migrants settle there.  The hangers-on, such as the “Stans” and Iran, get some insulation from the pollution of Westernization, which many, perhaps most, Muslims see as damaging to Islam.  The only cost is selling their natural resources to a resurgent China at below market value.  But Russia is, and will remain as it was in Czarist times, a kleptocracy, using last year’s technology.  China has environmental problems, including desertification and erosion resulting in dust storms that have begun to render Beijing unhealthy.  India is a democracy and, like Brazil, is better off ultimately siding with the West than against it.  As for Iran, already in a shambles socially and economically, the more it confronts the West, the closer it must move to the SCO; the closer to the SCO, the more concessions the Russians and the Chinese can extract because Iran has nowhere else to go.  All of them, Russia, Iran, the “Stans,” and potential allies such as India and perhaps Indonesia clearly understand a bitter truth: if you live in East Asia, you can either work with America and the West, or learn to love the Chinese.[37]

But this is the good news, that is, news that sounds worse than it is.  If the American geopolitical and geo-strategic position retains most of its post-war strength, the same cannot be said for America’s geo-economic position.  Here, after Hiroshima, there had been nothing but success.  Between 1944 and 1947, the world outside the Iron Curtain accepted the American world economic policies, formulated at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1944 and Dumbarton Oaks in 1945 and institutionalized in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Marshall Plan.  In 1945, the United States produced half the world’s economic product, an inherently unstable situation economically and politically.  American policy was designed to assist by aid and trade the economic recovery of the rest of the world, minus the Soviet bloc which opted out of Western free markets and free trace policies in 1948.  From that day to this American policy has worked extraordinarily well.  America has grown economically, and the rest of the world has grown faster.  Even the former Sino-Soviet bloc (minus Cuba and North Korea) has signed on.  The success of American geo-economic policy reached to the Eurasian rimland and beyond – where overland transportation costs were low, tariffs reduced, private property introduced, and markets freed up after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Over the course of a few years, 3 billion (with a “b”) new producers and consumers came online.  So, what was the problem? How could America’s geo-economic position fall apart?

The problem, from the American viewpoint, is that things have worked out too well.  Recovery in Europe from the Marshall Plan (1947) to the Common Market (1957) was rapid and robust.  The Korean War soon had the same effect on Japan, which became a forward economic base of production and transshipment for the war effort.[38]  By the late 1950s, the United States was beginning to run a trade deficit, soon to become a current account deficit.  In the post-Cold War period (after 1989) rapid and sustained growth continued and expanded its shift to the developing world, first to the small “Asian Tigers,” then the emerging Great Powers, China and India.  Non-Western economic growth was nothing new and could have surprised no one.  

But the velocity and size of Eastern economic growth, particularly in China, was increasingly disconcerting to Americans as the millennium turned.  Most immediately, American jobs and technology flowed overseas, and the process seemed to increase as American corporations sought to take advantage in China of much weaker environmental regulations imposed on production, the absence of a social safety net, an artificially cheaper currency, and substantially lower labor costs.  This continuing loss of jobs forms the background to two additional issues.  In the medium run, the next couple of decades, the issue is the extent to which and the manner with which the Chinese throw their new-found wealth around.  There will be friction; there always is in dealing with a neo-mercantilist economy, like China, which tends to view trade as a one-way street: they sell and lend, you buy and borrow.  In the longer run, starting a decade ago and reaching out at least a generation, the issues are cultural and military, as much as geo-economic.  Will China invest its new-found wealth in a larger, more advanced military establishment, thereby failing to advance a middle-class style of life through increased domestic consumption?[39]  Will, as Milton Friedman had hoped would happen,[40] Chinese economic modernization result in a liberal democracy and an open society with the rule of law?  Or will Churchill’s pessimism prevail, his view that liberal democracy was beyond the grasp of the developing world?  The jury is still out.[41]

The reasons why these geo-economic issues seem so daunting come from domestic American folly.  Geopolitics involves what is done at home as well as what is done abroad.  We are adjusting to Chinese economic growth; however, domestic debt, governmental deficits, economic downturns, and the increasing possibility of inflation and much higher taxation remain unresolved challenges.  America is in hock, primarily to Asian states, especially Japan and China, beyond our ability to service the debt at the current levels of federal income.  Debt, including the recent bailouts, healthcare costs, and rising deficits, has begun to climb toward 60-80% of GDP, a level not seen since 1945.[42]  This level of debt was then secured by a victory in which the American economy was predominant.  Now, there appears, both at home and abroad, to be more doubt than optimism that this rising debt can be sustained given a geopolitical situation in which emerging powers, particularly China, may seek to displace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.[43]  Geo-economics, like the stock market is influenced by psychological factors as well as objective and financial ones, and fiscal fecklessness is never well received.  The market climbs “a wall of worry,” and so does America’s fiscal position internationally.  War in Asia, debt everywhere, can this be sustained?

The failed presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) is so long ago that many have forgotten it and all others wish to.  During those unhappy years of uncertain leadership, gas lines, stagflation, and the Iranian Revolution, Christopher Lasch – a well known leftist historian – wrote a popular book[44] arguing that America was suffering from a psychological “malaise.” Jimmy Carter certainly thought so, and he preached a televised sermon[45] on the American malaise, which it turned out, seemed to evaporate under the more optimistic, astute and vigorous presidency of Ronald Reagan.[46]  But the malaise, as in being tired and discouraged, was real enough then and seems to have reappeared again.  As always, the malaise is both overdone psychologically and is rooted in serious and seemingly permanent problems.  And malaise feeds on the fear that permanent failure is just around the corner.

The psychology of a Cold War victory slipping away is not insignificant.  In politics, adverse atmospherics never are.  And the atmospherics seem to consist of four interlocking general concerns.  The first is an oozing away of confidence that the United States can right its financial ship, reduce or eliminate deficits, keep debt under control and support the dollar.  The two most recent administrations have indicated that neither party can do this, with George W. Bush engaging in war in Asia and extending Medicare entitlements at home, and Obama doubling and even tripling down on deficits with an expanded war in Afghanistan and committing more than a 1 trillion (with a “t”) in spending on health care.  The fiscal prudence of the 1990’s has been replaced by endless prodigality.  Government is no longer expected to provide just guns and butter, but guns, butter, SUVs, caviar, champagne, “McMansions,” missions to Mars, and endless good health for citizens and perhaps even illegal aliens.  Can this be brought under control?  Most do not think so.

Connected to this is the current and curious abandonment of the free market.  The current administration is hostile to free trade, is moving aggressively to seize control over the health care sector, the investment banks and the financial markets, to shore up the housing market, and to establish an industrial policy through the regulations of energy and green gas emissions.  The free market may have powered victory in the Cold War, but the time has come apparently to try a command economy, all in the people’s interest, of course.  This was tried in Japan, and produced stagnation, was tried in China and failed, and was tried in the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union failed.  But who now remembers these absurd, though devastating, experiments?  How far the Obama administration will go remains an open question, along with its costs at home and abroad, but the sense of unease has already begun.

Allied to fiscal and economic worry is a feeling that important issues are being trivialized into symbols.  One such example is the recent Washington Conference on nuclear non-proliferation.  The participants generally agreed that proliferation was a bad thing but no real action was proposed and the major proliferators, such as Iran and North Korea were absent. [47]   Beneath the symbols, the Obama administration had previously released a Nuclear Policy Review which stated that American policy was not to use nuclear weapons in the event of a biological, chemical or devastating cyber attack, provided the enemy was a signatory in good standing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[48]  Previous American policy had been deliberately ambiguous on this point, thereby keeping all options open and hopefully deterring would-be adversaries from using such weapons.  Because this concession by the Obama administration was essentially unilateral, it set a cooperative tone for the conference.  Harmony all round, with the unpleasant reality of appeasement out of direct sight, makes a good symbol.  We are reminded of the Kellogg Briand Treaty of 1928 outlawing war, except when it was necessary.  Everyone felt good.  This time euphoria seems in short supply.

Finally, there have recently been apologies all round.  This is almost pure atmospherics and has been taken as an indication of moral weakness in the current administration.  The apologies reflect, rather, a psychological disposition in American liberalism.[49]  Knowing themselves to be rich, secure and free, and finding no moral basis for this in their culture or themselves, American liberals feel themselves compelled to apologize to everyone for everything.  It is a variant on survivors’ guilt.  It is silly.  Those, to whom apologies are offered, not being American liberals, are rarely mollified.  Such rhetorical appeasement irritates those Americans, and that is most of the country, who do not feel guilt over their victories over the Nazis or the Soviet Union.  Making liberals feel better by engaging in self-abasement is not, in itself, a sign of weakness.  But it is a sign of a lack of geopolitical seriousness.

These things add up.  The sense that America cannot carry the responsibilities of power, that America is becoming another socialized, continental Europe, reinforces the seriousness of the real geopolitical and geo-economic problems.[50]  Energy dependence on the shatterbelts near the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea is a genuine weakness.  Leaving Iranian hostility aside, the other hydrocarbon kingdoms and republics are failed states, states likely to fail, or states that require constant American support to avoid failing.  Energy policy in America does not, of course, depend entirely or even primarily, upon the unstable Persian Gulf – Caspian Basin region, but problems there affect spot oil prices and contract oil prices and thus the costs of heating and transport as well as the American current account.

This is something that can be fixed through a vigorous effort to engage in technological innovation and drilling at home.  But does the American political will exist to undertake correction of, not only, energy problems, but also, immigration, getting out of central Asia while simultaneously denying al Qaeda a base for its terrorist operations, supporting allies like Israel and the United Kingdom, and reassuring allies like Poland, Hungary, and other front-line Eastern European states which must cope with a Russian resurgence in its Near Abroad?[51]  And, all of it depends on solving our fiscal problems and supporting the engine of economic growth, the free market.  Will the Obama administration sacrifice our naval supremacy, our logistics capabilities, and our military edge in outer space in order to appear non-threatening to our adversaries and in order fund its domestic policy initiatives?  President Barack Obama is seen as Jimmy Carter’s heir; he allegedly understands the complexity of the problems but lacks commitment to solutions.[52]

“[W]e have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring….” is how one Athenian leader saw the attitude of his city toward economic competition and warfare.[53]  Does anyone see that attitude in America among its current leaders?[54]  Or even that such vigor ought to be the attitude of the current American administration and people?  We mean, of course, primarily American opinion about America.  That is where the malaise exists, where the hard-won victory seems lost, and where these attitudes can be changed.  As with the French in 1919-1939, victory is lost at home, rarely abroad.  It is given away, not taken.  Responsibility is sometimes thrust upon a nation; more often it is thrust away. Churchill apprehended “the dangerous opportunity of victory,” and perhaps that is why he now seems quaint, incomprehensible, and remote.

Social Notes from All Over

Straws in the wind can sometimes be symbols, though they rise to that level of meaning only in retrospect.  We offer three, not yet symbols and perhaps never to be, but still interesting geopolitically.  Two involve a statue of Lenin, which was once required public art in the Soviet Union and among its satellite nations (i.e., the Warsaw Pact).  In Fremont, Washington, a trendy and liberal section of Seattle, there is a 16-foot bronze statue depicting Lenin not as a scholar or a popular Soviet leader, but as an impatient, violent revolutionary.  The statue is located near the center of town, flanked by restaurants offering organic espresso (whatever that is), and Thai and Hispanic cuisine.  To celebrate holidays, the locals sometimes dress Vladimir up in drag to commemorate gay pride weekend.  On the summer solstice a parade of nude painted bicyclists reportedly passes by his statue, thus demonstrating their quirky sensibility.[55]  If communism recovers from the gulag, political repudiation, and economic failures, Fremont, with its radical chic and countercultural artistic style, is ready.  In Las Vegas, they too know how to hedge their bets.  Outside the vodka and caviar bar, “Red Square,” in the Mandalay Bay Hotel-Casino, stands a headless statue of Lenin.  In response to complaints from visitors and patrons, the management of the hotel decapitated the statute, then painted the shoulders and neck white to imitate bird droppings and placed the head in the bar’s freezer.[56]  If communism recovers, fine, the Mandalay Bay remains ready to scrape the giant sculpture clean and rejoin head to body; if not, the headless statue stands for defeat. Either way: all bets are both covered and laid off.  

The two statues represent, we suggest, not so much nostalgia for the Cold War, but a reluctance to accept Soviet defeat in Fremont and an acceptance of American victory in Las Vegas.  In both locales there is at least a memory of the struggle against communism, though faint, expressed through humor and sarcasm.  For most Americans, though, Vladimir Lenin and the victory over communism is now the stuff of history, readily forgotten soon after a college freshman test in Western Civilization.  Such easy forgetfulness is another fruit of victory.  Seventeen years after Clio, ably assisted by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, finally tossed the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history, the communist threat, with its 5-year plans, its secret police, and its mass deportations and murders, ceased to exercise the imagination.  Victory in the international arena over left-wing fascism opened the door to electoral success in the United States for those who, once in power, revealed that their moderation was little more than a masquerade.  Those who have long denied the necessity of defending the West and its cultural and institutional achievements have now acquired power.  Victory seems far away.

The third straw is, perhaps, more serious.  Within days after his inauguration, President Obama returned the Oval Office bust of Winston Churchill to Britain, claiming to understand it had only been a loan.  The British officially pretended to believe him; the popular press did not.  A British diplomat later remarked that President Obama had a Kenyan father and grew up in Indonesia, thereby suggesting that President Obama lacked the strong attachments of sentiment to the Western alliance that won the War against Nazism.  The implications were that President Obama viewed Churchill as essentially a Western imperialist, and that the new administration wanted to turn its focus and sympathies away from the traditional allies of the North Atlantic.[57]  If this is true, the sense of victory lost will be a part of a new engagement with Pacific and other non-Western states.  That is where the future beckons, the current administration appears to think.  If, however, the Mackinder-Spykman heartland-rimland prediction turns out to be the future as it has been the past, this final straw may indeed become a symbol of victory once achieved, still occasionally remembered, and then lost.

[1] Despite our effort to lump World War I, World War II and the Cold War together as the Twentieth Century War, we remain mindful of the ebb and flow during this period of “industrial war” as distinct from “confrontation.”  Consult General Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Allen Lane, 2005).  In addition, we appreciate how distinctive European imbalances of power contributed to the causes of World War I and those of World War II, and how the European balance of power was transformed by the intervention of US troops during World War I.  For this point see Raymond Aron, “Nations and Empires,” in The Dawn of Universal History, trans. by Barbara Bray and ed. by Yair Reiner (Basic Books, 2002), pp. 17, 57-90, 243-273.

[2] There are many discussions of the origins of World War I.  For an introduction see Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August (Dell Publishing Co., 1962) and Laurence Lafore, The Long Fuse: An Interpretation of the Origins of World War I (J. B. Lippincott Company, 1965).

[3] For the collapse of the Soviet Union, David Remnick, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire (Vintage, 1994) and Mark R. Beissinger, Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

[4] Winston S. Churchill, His Complete Speeches 1897-1963, ed. Robert Rhodes James, 8 vols. (Chelsea House Publishers, 1974), vol. 8, pp. 7285-7293.

[5] Ibid, p. 7290.

[6] Ibid, p. 7293.

[7] Left-wing attacks on the United States efforts during the Cold War were legion.  For a reassessment of the origins and course of the Cold War by the most prominent revisionist historian see John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford University Press, 1997).  A quantitative analysis of the cost of left-wing criticism on the war effort in Iraq is available: Radha Iyengar and Jonathan Monten, “Is There an ‘Emboldenment’ Effect in Iraq? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq,” May 2008:, accessed April 28, 2010.

[8] The left-wing intellectuals in the west were a large and talented group, though it is true that their best and brightest – from George Orwell, Ignazio Silone, Andre Gide, and Arthur Koestler in Europe to Louis Fischer, Norman Podhoretz, Susan Sontag, and Eugene Genovese in America – abandoned Marxism.  The defining characteristics of those who remained committed seems, to us, to have been a belief in the social ideals of Marxism, an ability to explain away Marxist violence as justified by the alleged villainies of their enemies, a discomfort with free speech, and a high toleration for the failure of “scientific socialism” to explain the persistence of private property, free markets, and bourgeois democracy in the West.

[9] Andrés Mario Lazarús del Castillo in The Days of Fletcher: A Journey from History to Strategy (Argentine Naval Center, 2007); and accessed April 25, 2010.

[10] X (George F. Kennan), “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Foreign Affairs, July 1947: accessed March 19, 2010.

[11] Randall Collins (“The Future Decline of the Russian Empire,” Weberian Sociological Theory [Cambridge University Press, 1986], pp 186-209) predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union, but few others seemed to have done so.  Why was it, exactly, that those in the know, the numerous specialists in Soviet area studies, failed to accurately interpret the information available in the 1970s and 1980s about Soviet arms, economics, leadership, alcoholism, kleptocracy, etc.  Political and professional caution was responsible for the over-estimation of Soviet strength.  The literature on the failure of western intelligence agencies and Soviet specialists now abounds: Ofira Seliktar, Politics, Paradigms, and Intelligence Failures: Why So Few Predicted the Collapse of the Soviet Union (M.E. Sharpe, 2004); David Arbel and Ran Edelist, Western Intelligence and the Collapse of the Soviet Union: Ten Years That Did Not Shake the World 1980-1990 (Routledge, 2003); and Carl Fazackerley, The Collapse of the Soviet Union: A Colossal Intelligence Failure? (VDM Verlag Dr. Müller Aktiengesellschaft & Co., 2010).

[12] H. J. Mackinder “The Geographical Pivot of History,” The Geographical Journal XXIII, 4 (1904), 421-444  and reprinted in The Geographical Journal 170, 4 (2004), 298-321; Halford John Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality (Holt, 1919) &, accessed March 19, 2010; Sir Halford J. Mackinder, “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” Foreign Affairs 21 (1944), 595-605.

[13] Nicholas John Spykman, The Geography of the Peace, ed. by Helen R. Nicholl (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944).

[14] Edward Whiting Fox, History in Geographic Perspective: The Other France (W.W. Norton, 1974) develops the distinction between maritime-commercial and territorial-administrative “societies.”

[15] For a reassessment of the alleged defeat in Vietnam, see James Kurth, “The U.S. Victory in Vietnam: Lost and Found,” Intercollegiate Review 41 (2006), 14-22; and, accessed March 19, 2010.

[16] Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); and Peter Schweitzer, Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994).

[17] We use the term “fascism” to cover a left-wing and right-wing variants.  Hannah Arendt was perhaps the first to draw attention to the close similarities between Nazi Germany and the Communist USSR in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1973).  For an appreciation of the fascist origins of American liberalism and progressivism see the compelling study: Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change (Broadway Books, 2009).

[18]  “President George H. W. Bush’s Address before a Join Session of the Congress on the State of the Union,” January 29, 1991:, accessed March 19, 2010.

[19], accessed March 19, 2010.

[20], accessed March 19, 2010.

[21] To be sure, Samuel P Huntington in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon and Schuster, 1996) and Robert D. Kaplan in his The Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century (Random House, 1996) both successfully wrote best selling volumes.  The 1990s was a time when competing predictions caught the public’s attention.  Curiously, Huntington did not provide a precise analysis of the cultural values or norms that would lead to inter-civilization conflict.  A good introduction to this issue may be found in Walid Phares’ The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

[22] Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999).

[23] Thomas L. Friedman discusses supply chains in The Earth is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), pp. 128-141.

[24] Thomas P.M. Barnett, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” Esquire Magazine, March 1, 2003:, accessed April 28, 2010; and Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004)  Barnett asserts that geopolitical generalizations may be bound by the scope conditions imposed by the geography of relative economic interconnectedness and isolation.  This significant methodological insight is not well advanced by Barnett’s use of data on recent US military interventions to ascertain the regions and locales which are most economically isolated.

[25] Andrei Areshev, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and New ‘Great Game,” Strategic Culture Foundation, Dec. 24, 2008:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[26] Tunku Varadarajan, “Obama Must Stop Neglecting India,”, May 18, 2009:; Sumit Ganguly, “America’s Wounded Ally: India is Annoyed by Obama,” Newsweek, April 2, 2010:; and with regard to the extradition to India of the US citizen allegedly involved in the Mumbai bombing, Stanley A. Weiss, “The United States, India and the Politics of Benign Neglect,” (April 28, 2010), — all accessed April 29, 2010.  Daniel Twining, “Diplomatic Negligence: The Obama Administration Fumbles Relations with India,” Weekly, May 10, 2010:, accessed May 17, 2010.

[27] Robert D. Kaplan, “Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean,” Foreign Affairs 88, 2 (March/April 2009): 16-32.  And, for a more detailed appreciation, Michael D. Swaine and Ashley J. Tellis, Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy (RAND, 2000).

[28] On the history of US-Iranian bilateral relations see Kenneth M. Pollack, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America (Random House, 2004); for a discussion of Iranian drive to secure nuclear weapons, Kenneth R. Timmerman, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum, 2005 or more recently Dore Gold, The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West (Regnery Press, 2009); and for a dated, masterful, but still informative, study of the geostrategic capacities of Iran, Geoffrey Kemp and Robert E. Harkavy, Strategic Geography and the Changing Middle East (Carnegie Endowment, 1997).

[29] For instance, the report on the classified memo written by Robert Gates in which allegedly argues “that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability….”  David E. Sanger and Tom Shanker, “Gates Says U.S. Lacks a Policy to Thwart Iran,” The New York Times, April 17, 2010:, accessed April 28, 2010

[30] With Iran’s recent launching of war games, it demonstrated to the Western powers and the oil producing Arabic countries that the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil is shipped, is vulnerable.  Nassar Karimi, “Iran Begins Strait of Hormuz War Games,” Marine Corps News, April 22, 2010:, accessed April 28, 2010.

[31] Carolyn Glick writes particularly tough minded strategic analyses of Israel’s relations with the United States and its situation in the Middle East.  Her articles, which appear in the Jerusalem Post, may be found here:, accessed April 29, 2010.

[32] See Howard W. French’s perceptive article “The Next Empire,” The Atlantic, May 2010:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[33] For an appreciation of the dilemmas informing US policy making in Afghanistan see Leonard Hochberg, “The Afghanistan Reassessment: Geopolitical Dilemmas, Tactical Curiosities, and Strategic Consequences,”, October 15, 2009:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[34] Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (The Penguin Press, 2006) and Ali A. Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace (Yale University Press, 2007).  However for the strategy behind and implementation of “The Surge” see Thomas E. Ricks: The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (The Penguin Press, 2009).

[35] Should the US fail in Afghanistan, China and Russia – both of which face the prospect of Afghanistan becoming a base for Islamic insurgency directed against their territorial integrity – may have to intervene to forestall such a possibility.

[36] According to STRATFOR, the remaining border disputes between China and Russia were resolved with “the handover of Tarabarov Island (Yinlong Dao in Chinese) and half of Bolshoi Ussuriysky Island (Heixiazi Dao).”  See “China, Russia: An End to an Island Dispute,” July 17, 2008:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[37] For the geopolitics of Chinese grand strategy see Robert Kaplan’s “The Geography of Chinese Power: How Far Can Beijing Reach on Land and at Sea,” Foreign Affairs (May/June 2010): 22-41.

[38] George Friedman and Meredith LeBard, The Coming War with Japan (St. Martins Press, 1991), pp. 112-118.

[39] Robert D. Kaplan, “How We Would Fight China,” The Atlantic, June 2005:, accessed May 17, 2010.

[40] Interview, “On Freedom and Free Markest,” with Milton Friedman conducted October 1, 2000, “Commanding Heights,” October 1, 2000:, accessed April 25, 2010. 

[41] There is a third possibility that should not be ignored.  It is one in which the coastal areas of China – which experienced much of the recent and rapid economic growth – come into conflict with the territorial-administrative regime centered on Beijing.  Derrick J. Angelloz and Leonard J. Hochberg, “The Geopolitics of Contemporary China: A Preliminary Assessment of Territorial and Maritime Trajectories,” ed. by Jerry Biberman and Abbass Alkhafaji, Business Research Yearbook: Global Business Perspectives (X, 2003): 575-579.  Gordon G. Chang discusses the increasing incidence of rioting by agriculturalists and workers in “China in Revolt,”, December 2006:, accessed April 30, 2010; and for a more general appreciation of socio-economic sources of instability in China, Jack Goldstone, “The Coming Chinese Collapse,” Foreign Policy, no. 99 (Summer 1995): 35–52.

[42] Gerald E. Seib, “‘Hi. My Name Is America, and I’m a Deficit Addict,’” The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2010:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[43] Andrew Batson, “China Takes Aim at Dollar,” The Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2009:, accessed April 28, 2010.

[44] The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (W. W. Norton, 1978).

[45] Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence” Speech (July 15, 1979), a video in four parts:,, all accessed April 30, 2010.

[46] Schweizer, Victory.

[47] Charles Krauthammer, “Obama’s Nuclear Posturing, Part Deux: The Washington Summit,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 17, 2010:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[48] Dick Morris, “Obama: Gas Us Without Fear of Nukes,”, April 4, 2010:, accessed April 30, 2010.

[49] For one compelling fictional appreciation of this phenomenon in pre-World War II England, see C. P. Snow, The Conscience of the Rich (Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1958).

[50] For an assessmen of how dangerous the neglect of our geo-strategic and geo-economic position  may become over the near term see Daniel Gour, “CNO To The Navy: The Shipwreck Is Coming,” Lexington Institute, June 22, 2010:, accessed June 22, 2010.  Gour references a speech by the CNO to the Naval War College in which the CNO warns of impending budget cuts that the U.S. Navy will soon experience, despite the increased missions the Navy is called upon to fulfill.  The absence of a peer competitor is the excuse for the cuts; however, the current naval force structure was built to pre-empt the appearance of a peer competitor on the high seas.  Now that no one contests our dominance over the sea lanes, we are about to sacrifice this hard won advantage.  The United States is about to squander years of strategic investment.  In addition, the Navy guarantees freedom of the seas for the overseas shipment of heavy and bulky freight.  The grand strategy of the United States depends on the regional economic specialization associated with globalization.  In short, cutting the Navy’s budget is the height of irresponsibility.

[51] The US foreign policy elite are divided over how best to respond to the fears of a Russian resurgence in Eastern Europe.  See, for instance, Bruce Pitcairn Jackson, “A Turning Point for Europe’s East,” Policy Review (April & May, 2010): 49-61.

[52] Some observers have come to believe that President Barack Obama imbibed a socialist ideology during his youth in Hawaii and an anti-American bias as a member of a Black Liberation church in Chicago; they suspect he therefore lacks the will to try or even thinks it worthwhile to try.  For further implications of this point about Obama, see Robert Weissberg, “A Stranger in Our Midst,” The American Thinker, April 29, 2010:, accessed April 30, 2010; or  President George W. Bush, by way of comparison, exhibited grit and determination, first in protecting the homeland after 9/11 and later, through the military “surge,” in correcting his administration’s most glaring mistake in Iraq: failing to recognize and respond early on to the Sunni insurgency and the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda in Iraq.  For a comparison of the assumptions informing the foreign policies of Bush and Obama see Henry R. Nau, “Obama’s Foreign Policy,” Policy Review (April & May, 2010),, accessed May 17, 2010.   Appearing after this article was written, but before it was posted, is the compelling analysis by Dorothy Rabinowitz, “The Alien in the White House,” The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2010:, accessed June 23, 2010.

[53] The quote is drawn from the “Funeral Oration” of Pericles.  Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to Peloponnesian War, ed. by Robert B. Strassler (Touchstone, 1998), p. 114 [2.41.4].

[54] For a salient example of current policy and budgetary priorities see Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt, “Obama and Gates Gut the Military: The Secretary’s New Budget will Leave Us Weaker to Pay for the President’s Domestic Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2009:, accessed July 6, 2010.

[55] “Lenin Statue,” RoadsideAmerica.com “Lenin in Drag,” Flickr: and – all accessed April 29, 2010.

[56] “Giant Headless Statue of Lenin,” RoadsideAmerica.com, accessed April 29, 2010.

[57] Charles Krauthammer, “Slapping Friends: The Disrespect This Administration Has Shown Traditional Allies Makes No Strategic or Moral Sense.” National Review onLine, April 2, 2010:, accessed May 1, 2010.