Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Take me back to . . . . when I could talk about the Soviets"

Edward Luttwack has an interesting piece in Foreign Policy this month . . . interesting given his Cold War-era publication record. A quick summary so that you don't have to read his collected works yourself: "We're not spending enough money to arm against the Soviets - close all the schools; close all the hospitals; conscript all the males over age 15 and melt down the statue of liberty - we could use the extra copper for munitions."

Luttwack's new article (ironically) argues that the U.S. should adopt a more restrained form of empire - one fashioned on the Byzantine model. He chooses Byzantium over Rome, characterizing the latter as a system based on "ruthless expansion, domination and total war," which he insists bears no resemblance to the U.S. All this without batting a rhetorical eyelash. Does he lack the imagination to picture what "expansion, domination and total war" would resemble in the post-Enlightenment period? Are Alexander's adventures in India really so different from those of Kermit Roosevelt in Iran? Maybe Bush didn't play the fiddle during Hurricane Katrina but the comparisons I've read of Rome and the US have been relatively convincing . . .

Luttwack's 1982 article "Why we need more waste, fraud and mismanagement in the Pentagon" basically bemoaned the 'micro-managers' in the defense community who were arguing that current levels of defense spending might become unsustainable and eventually pose a security risk (which of course is exactly what brought down the Soviets). One might argue (very convincingly) that the over-production of defense materiel by the superpowers contributed to many of the security challenges in the world today. These include the obvious - the black market weapons trade, nuclear proliferation, civil conflicts in the developing world, etc.

But I would argue this over-production also created private industry defense giants, whose mad scramble for self-preservation in the post-Cold War environment of budgetary restraint drove them to offload deadly weapons on oppressive regimes like a drug dealer handing out crack samples. These unscrupulous practices have created a globe of militarized states with regimes so paranoid they threaten to drag their neighbors into major conflict on a fairly regular basis. Had Luttwack gotten his way in 1982 Lichtenstein would probably have invaded Belgium and perusing Orwell's classics would be like curling up with a Jane Austen novel.

Long story short - Luttwack now seems to be arguing for restraint (the sort of traditional realist kind: carry a big stick - preferably one with a nuclear warhead attached to it).

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