America’s Global Problems

By Max Cunningham

“Asymmetric Warfare,” as defined by Martin Creveld, boils down to the strong, vs. the militarily weak, in the conventional sense.

A good definition that gives students of evolving 4th generational warfare something to work with. However, some difficulty arises currently, and in understanding our world, with Clausewitz’s much earlier assertion of “war as politics by other means.” Similar difficulties arise with Sun Tzu.

I will explain as follows.

How could someone of that era, much less the founding interests of the United States, have foreseen that in the latter half of the 20th century, into the 21st, that militarism, and (asymmetric) war has for the USA become a means, purpose, and exercise unto itself?

No country has benefited from protracted war.– Sun Tzu

That maybe no longer true in present day America, not withstanding the relatively modest sacrifices and losses in the current conflicts and earlier exercises that in the conventional sense of victory ended in futility.

In the interests of short term economic gains, these losses are apparently acceptable to vested interests and sold to the public under the guise of patriotic interests as merely an unfortunate by-product, or cost of doing this business.

All packaged and wrapped up in the nearest ideal (since the invention of the gambling casino) of a sustainable and self perpetuating business model and a model that would serve, for example, in a Harvard-issued text book.

In that sense the US propensity for asymmetric war is very deliberate and calculated. Some would argue that it is managed, honed, and virtually perfected.

The military, its materials and supporting interests are a sustaining and essential element of the US economy. You could say that since WW2, America has embraced cyclical, limited, and asymmetric war as a way of life.

With the military’s evolving into a principle sustaining interest in the US economy, war and more of it becomes an essential.

When war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see a lot more of it. – Chalmers Johnson /Commentator, Author, Ex-CIA.

Americans collectively live like alcoholics in denial and confrontation of this reality.

The days when the US was regarded as the heroes of WW2, the cold war, and the Hollywood-perpetuated images of the white hat wearing “good guys” are over.

Unfortunately, all that may not be sustainable for very much longer: Consequences, blow back, simply pissing off enough of the ROW, and simple economics may eventually catch up with America.

To the credit of its ingenuity, and luck, thus far America has managed to walk a fine line and balance the use of war and its military as a viable and effective economic tool, and the US civil population is the only enlightened civilization (apart from its close ally Israel) on earth that tolerates this extent of military investment, coming as it does at the expense of other significant priorities.

Unlike the Israelis, however, who have been immersed in the asymmetric and 4th generational warfare environment since their founding, this is still something relatively new in the American experience.

Guided and misplaced faith in unscrupulous vested interests and political agendas, mass marketing psychology, the media, collective ignorance, and most recently acute fear are all important and accumulated factors in the current and apparently worsening difficulty that America finds itself.

Maximilian Cunningham.

Biographical info:

Max Cunningham is a longtime military aviation enthusiast who was more recently inspired and changed entirely in perspective and thinking, by study and devout following of the original USAF Lightweight Fighter Mafia, and later Military Reform Movement, established by the late legendary USAF Col. John Boyd, analyst Pierre Sprey, and USAF (ret.) Col. Everest Riccioni.

Max is a broadcast television systems electronics engineering consultant by profession, lives alternately in Toronto, Canada and Vermont USA.

Max grew up in Montreal, Canada, and was exposed to the Quebec separatist movement and the terrorist FLQ activity of the early 1970s. This exposure at an early age gives him an innate sense and appreciation of 4th generational warfare and its effects on the world we currently live in.

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Filed in Uncategorized | 14 responses so far

14 Responses to “America’s Global Problems”

  1. goldenhordeon 17 Jan 2008 at 9:38 pm 1

    Good post Max

    In the long run, I highly doubt it that America is going to prove Sun Tzu wrong: No country has benefited from protracted war. Think dynamic systems/chaos theory. On a day when the SP 500 is hitting 52 week lows for the first time since October 2002. IMO a high degree of probability exists of a bear market starting and lasting till 2010?, when the next 4 year cycle low is due.

    The economy and the financial sector are deterministic systems, where you can’t predict the short or long term, but only the midterm and positive feedback loops propel an economic boom or stock/real estate bull higher and higher. And work in reverse in a recession/bear market. Probably the US military industrial complex is a dynamic system with an inbuilt tendency to systemic instability just like the US economic and financial systems.

    Dick Cheney irrationaly said: “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter”. Which is the time when America stopped walking the fine line; and stopped balancing the use of war and its military as a viable and effective economic tool.

    Eventually Cheney will prove that deficits do matter and a bear market for the US military industrial complex will begin.

  2. jaylemeuxon 18 Jan 2008 at 12:13 am 2

    what is ROW?

  3. Cheton 18 Jan 2008 at 1:07 am 3


    in this context, it probably means “rest of world”

  4. seydlitz89on 18 Jan 2008 at 1:08 am 4

    Interesting comments which bring up more questions.

    As to my view of the current situation, first start with Clausewitz’s general theory . . .

    “Nothing is more important in life than finding the right standpoint for seeing and judging events, and then adhering to it. One point and one only yields an integrated view of all phenomena; and only bz holding to that point of view can one avoid inconsistency.” On War, Bk 8, Ch 6B

    Wars are the continuation of policy by other means, so what exactly were our policy goals in attacking Iraq? Also since our military aim was the destruction of the Iraqi will to resist whatever we imposed upon them, that is the total overthrow of the Iraqi state, even their political identity . . . Very radical goals indeed.

    Clausewitz would point out that our unlimited war goals required extensive moral and physical resources to achieve. Also once the Iraqi state was overthrown, it was up to us to win over the Iraqi people to the new state we were establishing as quickly as possible to preclude them taking up arms against us, that is arming the people and conducting a guerrilla war which would have unleashed great energy to feed a continuation of the war. For Clausewitz, victory is the aim of tactics, but only the means of strategy, whose goal is the return to peace.

    This great energy on the Iraqi side, this rebellion, would trigger escalation on our part to overcome the new situation and impose our will anew, violence following violence in ever more intense cycles. The original policy goals change under the pressure of war and domestic political interests (objective versus subjective policy in Clausewitzan terms) join in changing political considerations. Thus the danger exists that the war may lose its instrumental character, at least for the side that started it, taking on an increasingly autonomous nature.

    But lets step back a moment, not stray too far from that particular standpoint that Clausewitz has indicated. What actually set this war of aggression in motion? The changed political situation in the US, that is the primary cause is changes in the attitudes of the US political elite, those who actually in effect control the government. That is what makes Bush’s war in Iraq different from every other war the US has fought (or at least since the war with Spain in 1898?). What you describe as “asymmetric warfare” is far more the reactions to these wars and the policies/politics which have set them in motion. To understand the reaction (as in war starts when the defender resists what the aggressor would rather take without resistance) one has to understand the corrupt dysfunction of the US political system since it is the nature and psychology of this political elite which defines the character of the wars they hoped to use as political instruments.

    “Politics, moreover, is the womb in which war develops – where its outlines already exist in their hidden rudimentary form, like the characteristics of living creatures in their embryos.” On War, Bk 2, ch 3

  5. Fabius Maximuson 18 Jan 2008 at 2:42 am 5

    Max makes a powerful point, seldom noted in the debate about our Imperial ambitions. It will be transitory, as economics trump military strength in the long run. No matter what technological marvels we craft for the battlefield, no matter what brilliant COIN doctrines we devise, two facts confound us. (1) We are broke. (2) The Empire is defective, as it costs much to maintain and produces few economic benefits.

  6. jaylemeuxon 18 Jan 2008 at 6:41 am 6

    very well.

  7. dckinderon 18 Jan 2008 at 3:32 pm 7

    “>>>>no matter what brilliant COIN doctrines we devise, two facts confound us. (1) We are broke. (2) The Empire is defective, as it costs much to maintain and produces few economic benefits.”

    IMHO, the United States is so far down this path that -absent some deus ex machina – its political / econonic decline seems to be inevitable and irreversible.

    Under these circumstances, our efforts should not be to seek to stem or to reverse this process but rather to seek means to carve out islands of civility and/or excellence notwithstanding general political decay. Eg. the Spain of Philip IV, with its imperial decline, was nevertheless also the Spain of Velasquez.

  8. rogelio007on 19 Jan 2008 at 1:49 am 8

    The decline of the United States empire began during the reign of the emperor Ronald Reagan, with his excessively massive spending on the military-industrial complex. That is why we are broke now.

  9. russell120on 19 Jan 2008 at 3:18 am 9

    Why on earth do you not think many countries have not done well with protracted wars?

    History is full of conquering Nations that did very well through extended warfare. Sun Tzu lived in an established empire that had expanded to its economic limit and then over the centuries did variously well at doing its best to hold on to it. If you already have what you want then a lot of protracted fighting probably isn’t going to help you much.

    But to give a few examples:

    The British (as argued by Paul Kennedy) where made The Empire to Beat, but the extremely lengthy French Revolutionary and then Napoleonic Wars. A war in which they were the only major country to fight against the French for virtually the entire span.

    The Roman Wars against Carthage were certainly long, but ended up with Rome well on its way to being the preeminent Mediterranean power.

    The US war on the indigenous tribes of North America went rather well, and the concurrent Russian expansionist wars (via the Cossacks and their like) went equally well.

    Even the relatively short WW2 (for the US) is arguable. I would tend to not use that specific example because the US didn’t get officially involved until almost 1942, and the Soviets can make a reasonable claim that they had to do much of the heavy lifting. But the War pretty much cleared the Empires off the field for the US and Soviets.

    There aren’t any particularly good examples of late, but then their hasn’t much time since WW2 to have a really long war, and their hasn’t been much effort made either. If we are still fighting in Afghanistan in 20 years, I suppose we could come back and assess the situation then.

  10. […] Tags: America, black death, constitution, russia — Fabius Maximus @ 8:02 pm Comment on a thread at the DNI blog: “IMHO, the United States is so far down this path that – absent some deus […]

  11. Fabius Maximuson 20 Jan 2008 at 8:05 pm 11

    “IMHO, the United States is so far down this path that – absent some deus ex machina – its political / economic decline seems to be inevitable and irreversible.”

    I just posted a note about this at my blog:
    “Is America’s decline inevitable? No.”

  12. marzouqon 20 Jan 2008 at 11:30 pm 12

    Good post and good comments. My perspective has changed considerably since my introduction to Col Boyd and his disciples.

    Just read a NYT article which brings the points mentioned home regarding the loss of American prosperity through debt. Kinda seems like someone with a bunch of maxed out credit cards.

    I’ll have to concur with Fabius, we have not reached the point of no return. We may be approaching it. I just hope the American People wise up instead of consuming so much bread and circuses.

    Salaam eleikum Yall!

  13. maximilliangcon 23 Jan 2008 at 6:50 pm 13

    “Why on earth do you not think many countries have
    not done well with protracted wars?”

    Ok, Don’t listen then, and just keep right on going EXACTLY
    the way you are.

    Don’t say you wern’t warned.

    Insteresting how this was publishd a week after my message.

  14. mycophagiston 31 Jan 2008 at 5:06 pm 14

    russell120 wrote:

    “Why on earth do you not think many countries have not done well with protracted wars?”

    “The Roman Wars against Carthage were certainly long, but ended up with Rome well on its way to being the preeminent Mediterranean power.”

    And the final outcome of these wars? The final outcome was the end of the Roman Republic and its replacement by a dictatorship. Prosperous no doubt… :(

    I belive the warning inherent in avoiding protracted war is not whether the country wins them, but what is the damage to the country?

    I read an interesting article in the Boston Globe about Mr. Bush and his latest Signing Statements. As we all know, there is no provision in our Constitution for such statements, nor is Mr. Bush the first to use them.

    Nor am I making these remarks to bash Mr. Bush, impeachable as his acts may be. It was the Last paragraph of the article that struck my attention:

    The two leading Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, have both said that they would issue signing statements if elected, but that they would do so much less frequently than Bush.

    In other words, they will violate the Constitution is a more agreeable manner than the present incumbent. Scary stuff, when one realizes that the only oath of office a President takes is to preserve, not the country, but the Constitution.

    May I say that these kinds of statements are the result of protracted war? Where our citizens are so used to extraordinary measures, that they will sit by and allow our leaders to openly boast about future violations of their oaths, to the detriment of the Republic?

    That the damage from protracted war is not Primarily political, but moral? It makes interesting reading to go over Plutarchs lives and study the Gracchi brothers and their attempts to preserve the Republic. Certainly those who Wrote our Constitution were fascinated…

    Free institutions and war do not go well together, which is something our Founders, in their wisdom, were well aware of.