Friday, September 12, 2014

"Yeah? What do you propose instead?"

Imagine this: X proposes that we deal with ISIS by dropping nuclear bombs on Mecca and Medina. I respond that this is an insane idea. And X then says, "Yeah? What do you propose instead?"

Do you see how upside-down that framework is? What X proposes is insane. It's not a baseline, or default option, or otherwise something that ought to be done unless someone offers something better.

Because -- pro-tip -- when the new proposed policy is something as insane as yet another undeclared, indeterminate American war in the middle east against a "threat" that even the president who is waging it and even the head of the Department of Homeland Security acknowledge is in no way imminent, among the nearly infinite variety of better alternatives is the most obvious of all: *no* change in policy. Because *no* change in our current policy toward ISIS would be preferable to a horrendously *bad* change. And anyone who can't recognize that *no* change in policy is better than a horrendously *bad* change in policy is either attracted to war for its own sake or lobotomized by propaganda. Or both.


antares said...

from Lawrence of Arabia

Colonel Brighton: Look, sir, we can't just do nothing.

General Allenby: Why not? It's usually best.

Unknown said...

I hear "I wish we would just nuke them" quite often, and it just blows me away that people would actually propose such an insane action. Usually I ask them if they think we should nuke Chicago to stop all the violent crime that has been taking place there. Of course, they just say that is completely different or that I'm just a liberal or some other nonsense.

Ken Prescott said...

ISIS is a subset of a larger problem.

That problem, to me (and a few other observers), appears to be an impending collapse of Arab civilization.

And I have no earthly idea what the heck to do about that. I don't know what could be done about it.

I think the biggest problem we have is our own problem: we have been pursuing, since the end of the Cold War (some would say since the initial ramp-up of the US Army under JFK, prior to Vietnam), a strategy that doesn't do anything to maximize American strengths and minimize our weaknesses. The result is that we've squandered the strategic edge we had in 1989 when the Cold War endgame got started.

America is a strategic cyberspace, aerospace, and maritime power; we are not (and we never will be) a continental power (we overmatch--by a WIDE margin--Canada and Mexico, but we lack the manpower to sustain enough force in Eurasia and Africa to achieve our strategic purposes with our own boots on the ground).

We need to refashion our force structure to reflect our strategic orientation--i.e., the Army will take it in the shorts, the Navy and Air Force will need to be a true team, and the Marines will essentially do amphibious raids as needed.

If we need long-term boots on the ground, we're going to need coalition partners who really do have skin in the game and will prosper--or suffer--from the outcomes. (For that last, read "local allies." As well, read "holding our noses." We're Boy Scouts; most other nations aren't.)

It's worth remembering that during the period 1815-1915, Britain managed to be allied with--AND AGAINST--every major power in Europe, depending on the overall balance of power and the needs of British strategy.

The United States, like Great Britain, doesn't have eternal allies; we do have eternal interests, and pursuing them is going to have to be done a whole lot more carefully than we have done in the last quarter century.

Unknown said...

Ken Prescott, I am curious as to how IS is the harbinger of the collapse of a civilization that has endured more war and upheaval than almost any civilization on our planet. That is a very broad and outrageous claim to make without any evidence or a logical argument to support it.

Philippe Bastien said...

When you have a big hammer, everything looks like a nail!

Ken Prescott said...

Dusty, that is a fair question; I think the definitive presentation of my argument was "The Impending Collapse of Arab Civilization," by LTC James G. Lacey. It was originally punlished in the September 2005 Naval Institute Proceedings, but is available at:

He offers a lot of data points and statistics to support his case. One problem in accepting this analysis (and I struggled with it for over five years before concluding that LTC Lacey is fundamentally correct) is that the sort of civilizational collapse he describes was last seen with the fall of Rome--so we don't have a solid grasp of what civilizational collapse looks like; most of us only have a view of said collapse that comes from the "Swords and Sandals" epics from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and that's not a good guide.

Please note that this isn't a collapse of Islamic civilization; Persia and Central Asia seem to be weathering those forces OK, Eastern Asian Islamic nations are doing more than OK.

Also note that your description of Arab civilization as one "that has endured more war and upheaval than almost any civilization on our planet" could also be applied to Civitum Romanum in its time. And then note what happened to Rome.

Unknown said...

Ken Prescott: Certain emotions don't translate well in email. When you wrote, "We're Boy Scouts; most other nations aren't," was that meant to be sarcastic, or should it be taken at face value?