Werther Report: Is Preemption a Nuclear Schlieffen Plan?

July 20, 2002

Comment:  #453

Discussion Thread - Comment 452

Attached Reference:

[1] President Bush's United States Military Academy Graduation Speech

Previous observations  by Dr. Werther appear in Comments 419 and 441.

This blaster builds on the concern over where the War on Terrorism is taking us that began with Comment #452. Recall that #452 raised the question from an internal perspective by asking whether or not the United States is becoming a police state. Our subject today is external - we will ask where the emerging relation between military strategy and foreign policy is taking the United States.


The greatest and most difficult task facing a statesman in international affairs is reconciling the natural tension between the constructive nature of a nation's grand strategy with the destructive character of its military strategy. The emerging doctrine of preemption should be examined in the context of this challenge.

The late American strategist, Col John R. Boyd (USAF, Ret.) evolved five criteria for designing and evaluating a nation's grand strategy. From the perspective of the United States, we should shape domestic policies, military strategies, and foreign policies that

  • Pump up our resolve and increase our internal solidarity.

  • Drain away the resolve of our adversaries and weaken their internal cohesion.

  • Reinforce the commitments of our allies to our cause and make them empathetic to our success.

  • Attract the uncommitted to our cause or makes them empathetic to our success.

  • End conflicts on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflicts.

These criteria are guidelines for evaluating the wisdom of specific policies or military strategies. It is obviously difficult to define policies or military strategies that simultaneously conform to and strengthen to all these criteria. The challenge is particularly difficult for the unilateral military strategies and the coercive foreign policies so popular with our self-referencing foreign policy elite. Military operations and political coercion are often destructive in the short term. Their short-term strategic effects can be in natural tension with the aims of grand strategy, which should be constructive over the long term.

Moreover, the more powerful a country, the harder it becomes to harmonize policies in terms of these five criteria. Overwhelming power creates hubris and arrogance, which, in turn, carry a temptation to use that power coercively, excessively, and unilaterally. But lording over or dictating one's will to others creates resentment. Thus, possession of overwhelming power increases the risk of going astray grand strategically.

That risk is particularly acute for aggressive external actions, policies, and rhetoric that are designed to prop up or increase internal cohesion. Very often, the effects of military strategies or coercive foreign policies that are perceived as useful in terms of domestic politics [see Comment #452] can backfire at the grand-strategic level of conflict, because they strengthen our adversaries' will to resist, push our allies into a neutral or even an adversarial corner, or drive away the uncommitted.

The German invasion of France through neutral Belgium in 1914 is an classic example of how a policy shaped by inwardly focused strategic considerations (an inordinate fear of isolation and a two front war) can induce a self-absorbed leadership elite into perpetrating a grand strategic disaster on the most colossal scale for the most "rational" of reasons.

Germany was not trying to conquer Belgium or France in WW I. But she became obsessed with the idea that it was necessary to attack and defeat the French army very quickly in order to knock France out of the war before France's Russian ally could mobilize in the East. The German leadership elite thereby convinced itself of the strategic need to invade a small neutral Belgium, but the obsession with strategy blinded it to the grand strategic effects of such an invasion. In the event, the invasion of Belgium enraged the civilized world. It handed the British a propaganda windfall that the Brits milked to the hilt. Over the next four years, they successfully constructed an image of Germany as being an unmitigated evil force (which was not the case in World War I). This, combined with continued grand strategic obtuseness on the part of German elite (e.g., the Zimmermann Telegram, unrestricted submarine warfare, etc.), served to effectively isolate Germany at the grand strategic level. Even America, with its large German population and considerable anti-British sentiment, rejected its long tradition of neutrality and joined Germany's enemies. No doubt the British grand strategic success helped also to produce the excessively vindictive atmosphere at Versailles in 1919, and thus may have inadvertently helped to pave the way for the emergence of true evil in the form of Nazi Germany.

Today, the world is still paying a price for Germany's grand-strategic disaster in 1914 and Britain's ruthless grand-strategic exploitation of that disaster - the problems in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Russian heartland, and the Caucasus, to name a few, have roots reaching back to destruction of world order between the invasion of 1914 and vengeance of 1919. So perhaps the lesson is this: When a great power fails to adequately consider the five criteria shaping a sensible grand strategy, painful unintended consequences can linger for a very long time on a global scale.


The preceding introduction was extracted almost verbatim to what I wrote on December 30, 2000 in the introduction to Blaster #400.

I was thinking again about the analogy of American policy to that of pre-World War I Imperial Germany last week when Dr. Werther called me and brought up the same analogy—unsolicited!

I immediately asked Werther to produce another one of his famous reports on this subject, naturally expecting his usual diligence to require some time to do so.

But, amazingly, Werther responded in only two days! In this words, writing this report was "as easy as shooting ducks in a barrel."

Herewith submitted is the latest Werther Report.

Please read it very carefully. And when you are finished, ask yourself the following question: Can the emerging doctrine of Preemption be a major building block in a wise grand strategy for the United States?

Begin Werther Report

Pre-emption: a Nuclear Schlieffen Plan?

By Dr. Werther* July 2002

A New Doctrine is Announced

On 1 June 2002, President Bush delivered a speech before the graduating Class at West Point, NY, in which he outlined the most radical change in American military doctrine since the dawn of the cold war. The President said that the doctrines of deterrence and containment, which had been cornerstones of U.S. national security policy since the Truman era, were decreasingly relevant to the current environment - to wit, "Deterrence - the promise of massive retaliation against nations - means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies."

Stalin versus Osama

Disregard for the moment the accuracy of the President's implication that Josef Stalin was less bloodthirsty than today's crop of tyrants, or that his possession of a nuclear arsenal was somehow more benign in comparison. We may even pass over, with no more than an embarrassed cough, the notion that hundreds of nuclear weapons, the largest land army in the world, and the industrial base of half Eurasia in the possession of a man who murdered 20 million of his countrymen was somehow less a threat to U.S. national existence than fugitives in caves and safe houses, an Iraqi mafioso whose own national airspace is closely patrolled by U.S. military aircraft, or a lunatic on the northern half of the Korean peninsula whose citizens vary their starvation diet of grass and tree bark with U.S. food aid.

The current threat does not even seem as great as, let alone greater than, historic challenges which the United States has successfully met without resorting to pre-emptive attack. Does anyone now, with the benefit of 40 years' hindsight, believe that the country would have been better off had President Kennedy allowed himself to be goaded into attacking Soviet missiles in Cuba? Was the withdrawal from Turkey of obsolete Jupiter missiles - a matter of knowledge these days only to the military antiquarian - such an intolerable affront to national honor that potential nuclear retaliation against U.S. cities was an acceptable risk?

Nevertheless, pre-emption is the military doctrine our leaders have chosen, and it is incumbent on thinking citizens to examine it with more rigor than the laughably perfunctory and one-sided "debate" that has ensued in Congress, the gloriously free and unfettered media, and the defense contractor-dependent think tanks. Consider, please, the following—

Reasons for Skepticism

The first point about pre-emption is that its practitioners had better be sure they are right.

In order to pre-empt the putative plans of a notional evil-doer, U.S. planners will have to rely on accurate intelligence. Does anyone believe U.S. intelligence agencies are flawless, in the wake of the national finger-pointing after 9/11?

President Clinton's drive-by cruise missile strike against an aspirin factory in Khartoum did not set a comforting precedent. Now that the U.S. government has loudly and brassily laid down the gauntlet that its official policy is one of pre-emption, public opinion throughout the world will be carefully weighing the justification for any pre-emptive attack.

A second point, which builds on the first, relates to direness of warnings about the potential development of weapons of mass destruction. Such threats are so grave, we are warned, America cannot afford to dither in the in the process of making an air-tight legal case against the miscreant regime or group.

According to this line of reasoning, it is better to strike early rather than late, so that the evil-doers' plans do not come to horrific fruition. But the earlier one decides to attack, the more ambiguous is the evidence that our famously infallible intelligence agencies must assemble into a coherent picture of intent. Will that evidence be persuasive?

Third, pre-emptive action is almost invariably presented as a "surgical strike" - a most comforting techno-metaphor invoked to justify the use destructive force.

Of course, there is no such thing as a surgical strike: Bombs are not scaples. They inevitably go astray, quite contrary to contractor assurances, as we have learned to our continual dismay. Moreover, bombing a WMD site in some foreign country may have precisely the same untoward effects on the local civilian population that the bombing of Fort Detrick (where, of course, absolutely no biological agents are kept, consistent with the Biological Weapons Convention) or Savannah River would have on innocent Americans minding their own business.

The government's Nuclear Posture Review of March 2002 takes the baneful implications of the impracticability of a surgical strike a step further. According to press summaries, the classified version even contemplates using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear targets such as deeply buried bunkers. The government has accordingly started design work on earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. Given the unfortunate fact that even low-powered nuclear weapons will blast through more earth than any conceivable bomb casing can penetrate, the inevitable result of such a strike will be a huge geyser of radioactive dust and dirt. Does anyone imagine this is a good idea?

Oh, by the way, how will United States diplomats be able to make a convincing case when they plead for India and Pakistan to restrain themselves when our government is simultaneously drawing up plans for military pre-emption? Or more generally, how will America make the case for non-proliferation, if we say we will use nuclear weapons at the tactical level in non-nuclear conflicts?

Fourth, a doctrine of pre-emption reveals the almost schizophrenic - dare I say oxymoronic—contradictions in the thinking of its devotees. For there is an almost one-to-one correspondence between enthusiasts of pre-emption and proponents of ballistic missile defense, the chief obsession and hobbyhorse of the defense spending hawks for almost 20 years. Why, indeed, must one spend hundreds of billions of dollars for a technologically uncertain defense against ballistic missiles when the more expedient solution is simply to bomb the ballistic missile threat with conventional weapons before it reaches operational status? The hawks have, in fact, never explained how their adoption of pre-emption changes the expensive requirement for ballistic missile defense. Rather than choose one or the other, the hawks are demanding both during the year a federal budget surplus turned into a $165 billion deficit.

Fifth, if pre-emption is practiced by the world's dominant military power (a power which even prior to the adoption of this doctrine has never shown reluctance to use military force - as witness Libya, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, and the Balkans, not to mention Mr. Clinton's propensity for drive-by shootings with cruise missiles), a premium will be placed on getting in the first punch. But if countries assume they will be attacked pre-emptively, they can place no confidence in appeals to arbitration. Will this not drive them to reach for pre-emption themselves in the hope, vain or not, that they might disrupt and delay U.S. war plans? Or perhaps even more likely, if the country on the receiving end of America's pre-emptive wrath is completely overmatched militarily, will it not resort to terrorism against U.S. civilians as the only means by which American interests can be hurt. When the foreign policy of the dominant player on the world stage consists of all stick and no carrot, it is not unreasonable to surmise that the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes - where might makes right and "woe unto the vanquished" - will become a common practice, and perhaps become a moral justification for terrorism.

The hypothesis that adoption of military pre-emption by a great power leads to force and anarchy, rather than a more benign order, tends to be supported by the record of the twentieth century, the most violent in recorded history. Germany's adoption of the Schlieffen Plan (to be discussed in more detail below) for a "pre-emptive" yet "defensive" attack through Belgium in order to forestall French attack plans is an example of how pre-emption never works quite as smoothly as its planners had intended. Likewise, Imperial Japan in 1941 faced a bleak strategic situation in its relations with the United States. We not only embargoed trade in scrap steel and oil imports with Japan, but froze Japan's financial assets. By traditional measures of international law, these were virtual acts of war. But did Japan improve its long-term strategic position by what was tactically a very successful effort to "pre-empt" the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor? To ask this question answers it.

Finally, it is useful to apply a common-sense test to the doctrine of pre-emption. For all the mystification of political (pseudo) science, nations are at bottom merely individuals writ large; indeed, one thing this century suggests is that collective psychology is more primitive than individual psychology. Human psychology applies to nations - especially leaders of nations - including our neighbors and adversaries. As a thought experiment, ask yourself the following question: Who is more likely to reach a ripe old age: the circumspect man who minds his own business, locks his doors, and avoids giving offense; or the street fighter who loudly announces that he is going to clean out every bar on the waterfront?

No matter how strong or skillful, the latter is simply hastening the day when a concealed knife or sucker punch will permanently end his career. Does not the bully unify others against him? The difference between the two attitudes is as stark as that between John Quincy Adams's assertion that "we go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy" and President Bush's proclamation at West Point that "Our security will require transforming the military you will lead - a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world." [emphasis added]

Sources of the Doctrine

The events of 9/11 have an obvious and immediate connection to the origin of the pre-emption doctrine.

But why, if that is the case, do proponents of the doctrine show a bored indifference to the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives and focus obsessively on Iraq? Why, indeed, did the criminal actions of a few hundred shadowy terrorists become the impetus for a complete change in U.S. military doctrine - a change that has grand strategic as well as strategic implications?

I think there are two principal causes of this doctrinal change: one immediate and tactical, the other more fundamental.

The doctrine of pre-emption policy did not spring full-blown in President Bush's June speech; it was prefigured in the writings of several Beltway illuminati, such as Ken Adelman, whose last known government service was to preside over a security scandal at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. More than a month before the President's speech, Adelman wrote that "While 'self-determination' marked the nub of U.S. foreign policy in the 1920s and 1930s, 'unilateral surrender' in the 1940s, and 'containment' in the decades since, 'pre-emption' became our foreign policy guidepost after 9/11." [The Right Questions, Ken Adelman, 25 April 2002]

Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy was even more emphatic in his endorsement of pre-emption: "You will in fact see acts of pre-emption. That not only deserves the support of the American people, but commends it," ["Can the U.S. be first to attack enemy?" The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 30 March 2002]. The same article states that former CIA Director R. James Woolsey has also called for pre-emptive action against Iraq.

Predictably, William Kristol and Robert Kagan of the Weekly Standard not only argue for a pre-emptive military attack on Iraq, but charge that administration officials (and particularly the military officers who serve the administration) have been too timid in carrying out such a policy ["Going Wobbly: Is the President Backing Away From Regime Change in Iraq? by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, The Weekly Standard, 3 June 2002].

Cui Bono?

What all these gentlemen have in common, apart from their unrelenting enthusiasm for placing someone else's son in the line of fire, is their passionate support of Israel. Indeed, since Ariel Sharon became prime minister; their writings have brimmed with strident and indignant apologias for Israel. Is it pure coincidence that they persistently advocate the full military might of the United States be unleashed against whichever country - Iraq preeminently, but also Iran and recently Syria and Libya - that Israel happens to dislike? "Let's you and him fight" seems to be the Leitmotiv of these Beltway Sun Tzu's.

Completely forgotten in their fulminations - if it was ever comprehended - are the words of George Washington's farewell address:

 "Nothing is more essential than that permanent inveterate antipathies against particular Nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded; and that in place of them just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave."

But then Mr. Washington was an antiquated 18th century fighter for constitutional republicanism, and therefore, an historical curiosity whose warnings have no place in the new American imperium.

The Attitudes of the Elite Class

But I think there is a more fundamental source of the attitudes shaping the pre-emption doctrine than the passionate attachment of our governing classes for a particular foreign state.

America's elites have increasingly demonstrated a peculiar blend of fear and vainglory: a neurotic compulsion to order an untidy and disobedient world by force. This impulse was already in ascendancy, on a bipartisan basis, in the years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union; witness Bush the Elder's New World Order or the statement of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's claims that America was "the indispensable nation . . . [that] America sees farther because it stands taller."

Indeed, Ms. Albright's gratuitous boastfulness reached a kind of apotheosis in President Bush's West Point address, wherein he blithely stated that America is the "single surviving model of human progress."

The Schlieffen Plan: Recipe for Disaster

No historical analogy is perfect. Nevertheless, analogies can have a prescriptive value, if not overblown. Consider, please, how Imperial Germany's neurotic obsession with hostile encirclement actually led it away from its previously successful grand strategy of minimizing the threat through skillful diplomacy to seeing the threat in exclusively military terms. The militarization of Germany's foreign policy, in turn, effectively subordinated grand strategy to military strategy. Worse yet, Imperial Germany's military strategy took the form of a pre-emptive strategy known as the Schlieffen Plan, the execution of which guaranteed that Germany would create enemies faster than it could kill them, even though it then possessed the most efficient, if not the largest, killing machine in the world.

Prior to 1890, German grand strategy was the exclusive province of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Ever mindful that Germany's military defeat of France virtually assured French hostility for a generation, Bismarck sought security by reducing the number of his potential enemies: hence, no naval or imperial rivalry with Britain; a clever "reinsurance treaty" (what would now be called a nonaggression pact) with Russia; and a firm determination to avoid being dragged into the Balkan quagmire (it was Bismarck who quipped that the Balkans were "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier").

He understood that Germany was a "satisfied" power that did not need to risk unnecessary quarrels.

The accession of Kaiser Wilhelm II resulted in these policies being sidelined (along with the Iron Chancellor himself). Henceforth, policy devolved more and more upon the Great General Staff, whose head, Alfred von Schlieffen, devoted the rest of his life to a complex, mechanical, and one-dimensional plan to knock France out of a future war in six weeks before France's Russian ally (itself a product of the shelving of Bismark's grand strategy) could complete it mobilization for a major attack in the east. The Schlieffen Plan is still seen by some military writers as a brilliant and daring strategy that the Germans might have pulled off if circumstances had been slightly different.

But quite apart from any tactical considerations, the plan was doomed to fail because it ignored the political element which is at the center of a sensible grand strategy.

The plan, as executed, violated Belgian neutrality - Schlieffen wanted to violate Dutch neutrality as well), which had been guaranteed by the great powers since 1830. The moral opprobrium that Germany would suffer simply did not occur to anyone in a leadership that had become drunk on the chimera that military strategy could supplant grand strategy.

Indeed, German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg referred to the neutrality treaty as a "a scrap of paper" after Germany marched into Belgium—a sentiment which finds ironic concordance in the neo-conservatives' dismissal of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, and other impediments to their agenda.

Likewise, although the Schlieffen plan was envisaged as being "defensive" - Schlieffen assumed that France itself would automatically violate Belgian territory to take up positions along the Meuse, thereby justifying his action - there was no way to turn it off if, as events proved, the French did not behave as expected. The Germans' instinctive assumption that their potential enemies were as ruthless as they, and therefore merited "pre-emptive defense," is one more historical example of the disastrous psychological consequences when grand strategy becomes the prisoner of a militarized mind-set.

At the same time, the Germans cavalierly disregarded the effect that an invasion through Belgium would have on British neutrality (indeed, Schlieffen believed a quick victory over France would deter Britain from continuing the war - a flawed psychological assumption made evident by Hitler's quick success in May 1940). Dragging the British Empire into the war inevitably dragged in the Empire's eventual creditor, the United States (thanks in part to the brilliantly successful, if cynical, machinations of Admiral "Blinker" Hall in Room 40).

Thus the narrow tactical object of pre-emption, whether for Schlieffen, or for that matter Yamamoto, crowded out the grand strategic factors that would eventually spell big trouble for the nations whose militaries they served.

Schlieffen Takes on Iraq

One senses the same pedantic, inwardly-focused orientation in the press accounts of the administration's purported plan to attack Iraq. The plan appears totally focused on the number of U.S. troops and aircraft that are logistically possible to bring to bear, as well as the Air Force's usual concentration on target servicing. Notably lacking is any assurance that contiguous countries will even support the action, let alone host U.S. troops. Nor is much thought given to the political ramifications for NATO ally Turkey, whose collapsing government hardly needs a reinvigorated Kurdish independence movement on its southern border (Indeed, reports in the Turkish press say that Turkey has conditioned its cooperation on a US guarantee that no Kurdish state will emerge from the ruins of Saddam's Iraq).

But Turkish acquiescence may be a minor problem compared to Saudi Arabia, whose domestic situation resembles a sputtering volcano. [see Comments # 428 & 435]. The only likely political alternative to Saudi Arabia's present corrupt tyranny is a more extreme government or perhaps dismemberment, which is hardly comforting.

Will Ariel Sharon's government use a U.S. attack on Iraq as a cover for driving three million Palestinians out of the West Bank with tanks and artillery and into the Jordanian desert, as Israeli military writer Martin van Crevald has predicted? ["Sharon's Plan is to Drive Palestinians Across the Jordan" by Martin van Crevald, Telegraph (UK), 28 April 2002] Has the administration sought assurances from Sharon about what he will do at a period of maximum U.S. vulnerability to having its basing rights revoked by Middle Eastern countries as a result of a putative ethnic cleansing?

The Strange Case of the Beltway Prussians

The analogy between Wilhelmine doctrine of pre-emption and the emerging Bush doctrine is even more striking if one examines the psychology of its publicists. In fact, the weirdness of the parallels is mind-numbing.

There is, for example, the exaltation of force and belief that enemies are everywhere.

Consider the ruminations of General Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849-1930) who, according to the introduction to the English edition of his book, was "the outstanding military writer of his day. He was chief of the war historical section of the General Staff from 1898 to 1901. Later, writing about the Second Moroccan Crisis in 1909, while the commanding general of the Seventh Army Corps, Bernhardi [could] scarcely disguise his impatience and alarm over the government's lack of determination. . . . The choice was expansionism or certain death, 'world power or decline.' Invoking a higher morality, geopolitics, and the logic of history . . . Bernhardi advocated aggressive war, for which the nation had to be prepared materially and psychologically. Negotiating conflicts of interest between the Great Powers could not be considered a serious option. It was rather a sign of weakness. He preached the necessity of war with an urgency bordering on panic. [Germany and the Next War (New York, 1914) Translated by Allen H. Powles]

This mindset naturally led to a theory of pre-emption, which according to Bernhardi, goes as follows: "[The State] must, before all things, develop the attacking powers of its army, since a strategic defensive must often adopt offensive methods. . . and strike the first blow . . . Above all, a state which has objects to attain that cannot be relinquished, and is exposed to attacks by enemies more powerful than itself, is bound to act in this sense."

No doubt retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney, a regular Beltway "expert" on Fox News, would heartily agree with this outlook, had he known General Bernhardi.

McInerney believes " … many people want to live in the old world - the world that was written for the U.N. in nation states [sic]. We can no longer think that way. And so having preemption as part of our national strategy is vital." [Fox News interview, Thursday 6 June 2002]. General McInerney evidently believes that Article II of the United Nations Charter, whereby all member states "shall refrain in their international relations from threat or use of force" is a scrap of paper, just as Bethman-Hollweg regarded the Belgian neutrality treaty.

General Bernhardi also comments derisively on states whose peoples desire peace: "Since 1795, when Immanuel Kant published in his old age his treatise On Perpetual Peace, many have considered it an established fact that war is the destruction of all good and the origin of all evil …[But] this desire for peace has rendered most civilized nations anemic, and marks a decay of spirit and political courage such as has often been shown by a race of Epigoni. 'It has always been,' H[einrich] von Treitschke tells us, 'the weary, spiritless, and exhausted ages which have played with the dream of perpetual peace.'"

McInerney is not alone in his admiration of Wilhelmine thinking. Robert Kagan has chided the gutless Europeans in much the same manner as Bernhardi upbraided his more fainthearted countrymen, even to the inclusion of a sarcastic reference to Kant: "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power - the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power - American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant's 'Perpetual Peace.'"

Needless to say, Kagan, like Bernhardi, believes dreams of peace are a silly illusion; Americans, he thinks, correctly have "little to make them place their faith in international law and international institutions." Better stick with power, a totem which, as we have seen, Kagan bathes in an almost Freudian devotion. ["Power and Weakness" by Robert Kagan, Policy Review, June 2002].

War is the Health of the State

This witch's brew of vainglory, worship of force, and threat-mongering has been an increasingly common trait among American opinion makers since the collapse of the Soviet Union; but 9/11 pumped it to epidemic levels.

But there may be another more frightening ingredient in this brew—one that was not present in Wilhelmine Germany prior to World War I.

It is also probably not a coincidence that this complex psychology of aggressive attitudes flourishes at a time when other institutions in American society have experienced a collapse in credibility unprecedented since the Viet Nam War. Whether it is the Presidential election process, the credibility of business and the breakdown of the social contract between workers and executives, the performance of the FBI and CIA, or even the morality of important nongovernmental institutions like the Catholic Church, the dominoes have been falling one by one in America.

Public opinion, as measured by the elites for the elites, has not really registered the widespread nature of the collapse of credibility; and to a certain extent, public attitudes have been artificially shored up by the events of 9/11 and the "rally 'round the flag" impulse.

But beneath the surface, American society is becoming polarized, as the 2000 election and litany of scandals has demonstrated.

What better way, then, to divert public attention from mounting economic problems and the collapse of institutional credibility than to fix the people's gaze on an endless array of foreign threats? The "flight forward" from intractable domestic problems to the mortal enemy is a sovereign remedy for all that afflicts the elites.

Or to put it more elegantly: "War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense . . . the nation in war-time attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war...The State is intimately connected with war, for it is the organization of the collective community when it acts in a political manner, and to act in a political manner towards a rival group has meant, throughout all history - war." [A War Diary by Randolph Bourne, September 1917]

* Dr. Werther is the pen name of a defense analyst based in Northern Virginia.

Previous observations by Dr. Werther appear in Comments 419 and 441.

End Werther Report

Chuck Spinney

Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1

President Bush's United States Military Academy Graduation Speech

Sunday, June 2, 2002; 2:11 PM

Thank you very much, General Lennox. Mr. Secretary, Governor Pataki, members of the United States Congress, Academy staff and faculty, distinguished guests, proud family members, and graduates: I want to thank you for your welcome. Laura and I are especially honored to visit this great institution in your bicentennial year.

In every corner of America, the words "West Point" command immediate respect. This place where the Hudson River bends is more than a fine institution of learning. The United States Military Academy is the guardian of values that have shaped the soldiers who have shaped the history of the world.

A few of you have followed in the path of the perfect West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee, who never received a single demerit in four years. Some of you followed in the path of the imperfect graduate, Ulysses S. Grant, who had his fair share of demerits, and said the happiest day of his life was "the day I left West Point."  During my college years I guess you could say I was— During my college years I guess you could say I was a Grant man. 

You walk in the tradition of Eisenhower and MacArthur, Patton and Bradley - the commanders who saved a civilization. And you walk in the tradition of second lieutenants who did the same, by fighting and dying on distant battlefields.

Graduates of this academy have brought creativity and courage to every field of endeavor. West Point produced the chief engineer of the Panama Canal, the mind behind the Manhattan Project, the first American to walk in space. This fine institution gave us the man they say invented baseball, and other young men over the years who perfected the game of football.

You know this, but many in America don't—George C. Marshall, a VMI graduate, is said to have given this order: "I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player." 

As you leave here today, I know there's one thing you'll never miss about this place: Being a plebe.  But even a plebe at West Point is made to feel he or she has some standing in the world.  I'm told that plebes, when asked whom they outrank, are required to answer this: "Sir, the Superintendent's dog the Commandant's cat, and all the admirals in the whole damn Navy."  I probably won't be sharing that with the Secretary of the Navy. 

West Point is guided by tradition, and in honor of the "Golden Children of the Corps,"  I will observe one of the traditions you cherish most. As the Commander-in-Chief, I hereby grant amnesty to all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  Those of you in the end zone might have cheered a little early.  Because, you see, I'm going to let General Lennox define exactly what "minor" means. 

Every West Point class is commissioned to the Armed Forces. Some West Point classes are also commissioned by history, to take part in a great new calling for their country. Speaking here to the class of 1942—six months after Pearl Harbor—General Marshall said, "We're determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand, and of overwhelming power on the other." 

Officers graduating that year helped fulfill that mission, defeating Japan and Germany, and then reconstructing those nations as allies. West Point graduates of the 1940s saw the rise of a deadly new challenge—the challenge of imperial communism—and opposed it from Korea to Berlin, to Vietnam, and in the Cold War, from beginning to end. And as the sun set on their struggle, many of those West Point officers lived to see a world transformed.

History has also issued its call to your generation. In your last year, America was attacked by a ruthless and resourceful enemy. You graduate from this Academy in a time of war, taking your place in an American military that is powerful and is honorable. Our war on terror is only begun, but in Afghanistan it was begun well. 

I am proud of the men and women who have fought on my orders. America is profoundly grateful for all who serve the cause of freedom, and for all who have given their lives in its defense. This nation respects and trusts our military, and we are confident in your victories to come. 

This war will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I am certain of this: Wherever we carry it, the American flag will stand not only for our power, but for freedom.  Our nation's cause has always been larger than our nation's defense. We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace—a peace that favors human liberty. We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants. We will preserve the peace by building good relations among the great powers. And we will extend the peace by encouraging free and open societies on every continent.

Building this just peace is America's opportunity, and America's duty. From this day forward, it is your challenge, as well, and we will meet this challenge together.  You will wear the uniform of a great and unique country. America has no empire to extend or utopia to establish. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves—safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life.

In defending the peace, we face a threat with no precedent. Enemies in the past needed great armies and great industrial capabilities to endanger the American people and our nation. The attacks of September the 11th required a few hundred thousand dollars in the hands of a few dozen evil and deluded men. All of the chaos and suffering they caused came at much less than the cost of a single tank. The dangers have not passed. This government and the American people are on watch, we are ready, because we know the terrorists have more money and more men and more plans.

The gravest danger to freedom lies at the perilous crossroads of radicalism and technology. When the spread of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, along with ballistic missile technology—when that occurs, even weak states and small groups could attain a catastrophic power to strike great nations. Our enemies have declared this very intention, and have been caught seeking these terrible weapons. They want the capability to blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends—and we will oppose them with all our power. 

For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking.

Deterrence—the promise of massive retaliation against nations—means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.

Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.

We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best. We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants, who solemnly sign non-proliferation treaties, and then systemically break them. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. 

Homeland defense and missile defense are part of stronger security, and they're essential priorities for America. Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.  In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act. 

Our security will require the best intelligence, to reveal threats hidden in caves and growing in laboratories. Our security will require modernizing domestic agencies such as the FBI, so they're prepared to act, and act quickly, against danger. Our security will require transforming the military you will lead—a military that must be ready to strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives. 

The work ahead is difficult. The choices we will face are complex. We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence and law enforcement. Along with our friends and allies, we must oppose proliferation and confront regimes that sponsor terror, as each case requires. Some nations need military training to fight terror, and we'll provide it. Other nations oppose terror, but tolerate the hatred that leads to terror—and that must change.  We will send diplomats where they are needed, and we will send you, our soldiers, where you're needed. 

All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price. We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants.  We will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.

Because the war on terror will require resolve and patience, it will also require firm moral purpose. In this way our struggle is similar to the Cold War. Now, as then, our enemies are totalitarians, holding a creed of power with no place for human dignity. Now, as then, they seek to impose a joyless conformity, to control every life and all of life.

America confronted imperial communism in many different ways—diplomatic, economic, and military. Yet moral clarity was essential to our victory in the Cold War. When leaders like John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan refused to gloss over the brutality of tyrants, they gave hope to prisoners and dissidents and exiles, and rallied free nations to a great cause.

Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree.  Different circumstances require different methods, but not different moralities.  Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time, and in every place. Targeting innocent civilians for murder is always and everywhere wrong.  Brutality against women is always and everywhere wrong.  There can be no neutrality between justice and cruelty, between the innocent and the guilty. We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name.  By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it. 

As we defend the peace, we also have an historic opportunity to preserve the peace. We have our best chance since the rise of the nation state in the 17th century to build a world where the great powers compete in peace instead of prepare for war. The history of the last century, in particular, was dominated by a series of destructive national rivalries that left battlefields and graveyards across the Earth. Germany fought France, the Axis fought the Allies, and then the East fought the West, in proxy wars and tense standoffs, against a backdrop of nuclear Armageddon.

Competition between great nations is inevitable, but armed conflict in our world is not. More and more, civilized nations find ourselves on the same side—united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos. America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby, making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.

Today the great powers are also increasingly united by common values, instead of divided by conflicting ideologies. The United States, Japan and our Pacific friends, and now all of Europe, share a deep commitment to human freedom, embodied in strong alliances such as NATO. And the tide of liberty is rising in many other nations.

Generations of West Point officers planned and practiced for battles with Soviet Russia. I've just returned from a new Russia, now a country reaching toward democracy, and our partner in the war against terror.  Even in China, leaders are discovering that economic freedom is the only lasting source of national wealth. In time, they will find that social and political freedom is the only true source of national greatness. 

When the great powers share common values, we are better able to confront serious regional conflicts together, better able to cooperate in preventing the spread of violence or economic chaos. In the past, great power rivals took sides in difficult regional problems, making divisions deeper and more complicated. Today, from the Middle East to South Asia, we are gathering broad international coalitions to increase the pressure for peace. We must build strong and great power relations when times are good; to help manage crisis when times are bad. America needs partners to preserve the peace, and we will work with every nation that shares this noble goal. 

And finally, America stands for more than the absence of war. We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with hope of a better day. Through most of history, poverty was persistent, inescapable, and almost universal. In the last few decades, we've seen nations from Chile to South Korea build modern economies and freer societies, lifting millions of people out of despair and want. And there's no mystery to this achievement.

The 20th century ended with a single surviving model of human progress, based on non-negotiable demands of human dignity, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women and private property and free speech and equal justice and religious tolerance. America cannot impose this vision—yet we can support and reward governments that make the right choices for their own people. In our development aid, in our diplomatic efforts, in our international broadcasting, and in our educational assistance, the United States will promote moderation and tolerance and human rights. And we will defend the peace that makes all progress possible.

When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes. 

A truly strong nation will permit legal avenues of dissent for all groups that pursue their aspirations without violence. An advancing nation will pursue economic reform, to unleash the great entrepreneurial energy of its people. A thriving nation will respect the rights of women, because no society can prosper while denying opportunity to half its citizens. Mothers and fathers and children across the Islamic world, and all the world, share the same fears and aspirations. In poverty, they struggle. In tyranny, they suffer. And as we saw in Afghanistan, in liberation they celebrate. 

America has a greater objective than controlling threats and containing resentment. We will work for a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror.

The bicentennial class of West Point now enters this drama. With all in the United States Army, you will stand between your fellow citizens and grave danger. You will help establish a peace that allows millions around the world to live in liberty and to grow in prosperity. You will face times of calm, and times of crisis. And every test will find you prepared—because you're the men and women of West Point.  You leave here marked by the character of this Academy, carrying with you the highest ideals of our nation.

Toward the end of his life, Dwight Eisenhower recalled the first day he stood on the plain at West Point. "The feeling came over me," he said, "that the expression 'the United States of America' would now and henceforth mean something different than it had ever before. From here on, it would be the nation I would be serving, not myself."

Today, your last day at West Point, you begin a life of service in a career unlike any other. You've answered a calling to hardship and purpose, to risk and honor. At the end of every day you will know that you have faithfully done your duty. May you always bring to that duty the high standards of this great American institution. May you always be worthy of the long gray line that stretches two centuries behind you.

On behalf of the nation, I congratulate each one of you for the commission you've earned and for the credit you bring to the United States of America. May God bless you all.