Connecting the Dots of America’s Grand Strategy, as Defined by Lloyd Austin, the American Secretary of War
I beg your pardon, it slipped my mind for a moment that the Defense Department was, for its first 158 years from August 7, 1789 until September 18, 1947, called the War Department and Austin’s predecessors more accurately called Secretaries of War. But the weakening of language is an American tradition and war—another much loved American tradition—seemed far less threatening to both the outside world and American citizens when renamed the United States Department of Defense in 1949.
Defense against whom, one might ask? But the name-change made the transition to a coming Cold War against Russia (a WWII ally) far more palatable. Dots were created. Dots are always the embarrassing aftermath of subversion. 5-star Allied Supreme Commander and two-term American president, Dwight Eisenhower, neatly connected those dots when he warned of subversions-yet-to-come; a growing Military-Industrial Complex.
A momentary pause, while we run-down more dots
Grand strategies are for nations with a taste for world dominance—and America became that, when no one was looking. That requires multiple subversions and the Defense Department and Pentagon were just the beginning. A super-spy and upsetter-of-applecarts organization was required as well, to destabilize those nations recovering from WWII, all the while aiding and abetting America’s newly found international goals. Thus the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was born within the executive branch and created clusters of dots far and wide. The ‘executive branch’ you might recall from a glance at our Constitution is the Presidency. Hmmm…
President Harry S. Truman, a plain-talker, historian and a man of incomparable wisdom, had several things to say about dots and their connection. “I never would have agreed to the formulation of the Central Intelligence Agency back in forty-seven, if I had known it would become the American Gestapo.”
Interesting, that comment. American Gestapo is extremely powerful and derogatory language for those times, while ‘agreed to’ suggests that the CIA was proposed to him, rather than his brainchild. Truman’s brainchild was less toxic, known as the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe and Asia after WWII. That was the first time in human history that a military conqueror paid to reconstruct the conquered.
Harry went on to say that “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Connecting dots and following-the-money are constant requirements for maintaining a government answerable to the people
As is paying attention to language.
As an example, political graft and corruption in American politics is magically no longer a crime. It was made legal by renaming it lobbying and Political Action Committees (PACs). Isn’t that cool? Change a few words and crimes, at least in American government, become perfectly normal transactions.
Declarations of war are now named police actions, because the Constitution says Congress must approve a war and that’s become inconvenient over the last three of four wars. Just after 9-11, when Dick Cheney conned good ol’ Georgie Bush into storming into Afghanistan, it was neither a war nor a police action. The longest (20 year) military disaster we ever engaged in was called a conflict. Yep, words matter and we pay a very big price for not listening.
I can’t speak for you, but no one ever asked me if I agreed to a grand strategy for an American Empire
History tells us that empires are acquired at enormous cost and seldom last. Most recently, the Russians lost their satellite nations in 1989 and England began the loss of its empire almost immediately after WWII.
We Americans are no better at expanding an empire, but we certainly seem willing to give it a go. As Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria made evident, the international huger for democracy is not yet widely developed, nor may ever be. Our own 246 year republic (a representational democracy) was presented to the new nation as a ‘grand experiment’ and we are still experimenting.
What we are (or were) best at, is supporting freedoms wherever they sprout and using as evidence our own success as gardeners. For some reason, we mistakenly came to believe that freedom and democracy are common seeds, needing only a bit of watering, and they are not. Civilizations have come and gone for thousands of years and the hybrid we polished up and brought forward from the Greeks less than 300 years ago is struggling to move from adolescence to adulthood. Military strength may frighten some of the world into compliance, but it will not conquer hearts and minds, nor should it.
China is the best recent example I can think of
China was and is a communist dictatorship, perceived only second to Russia as a threat to America. Then President Nixon made a secret trip down there in 1972 and convinced them of the value of mutual economic cooperation. No warships sailed, no planes flew and no armies gathered. China remains a communist dictatorship today, but economic progress is bringing them the beginnings of a middle class and that huge communist ship is turning ever so slowly toward the freedoms that increased standards of living allow.
Who knows where that ship may sail in 246 years and why is it in American interests to chart its course? Until the American conversation took a more militant tone, China was (and remains) our largest producer and we are its largest market. Yet we criticize China for its military expansion, even though they have only a single military base abroad, a naval facility opened in 2017 in Djibouti.
To that criticism, China might point out that the U.S. maintains nearly 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and how, Secretary Austin, do you respond to that? That it’s your Grand Strategy to control today’s (and tomorrow’s) world and dole out the favors that determine who will serve and who will eat?
That’s not the America in which I grew up
Secretary Austin made his quite remarkable statement in Singapore at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. IISS is a world-leading authority on global security, political risk and military conflict. They called this the Shangri-La Dialogue, although it’s a long way from my understanding of Shangri-La…a place of complete bliss and delight and peace. But who knows?
It’s just language again, and one man’s bliss and delight and peace is another man’s Grand Strategy. If you have the time and inclination, read Lloyd Austin’s speech.
See if it brings you complete bliss and delight and peace or chills your blood, as it chilled mine.
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