Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Changing Strategies Without Changing Goals?

For the first century and a half of the nation’s existence, the United States saw its military as existing primarily to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of its citizens. To be sure, there were arguably occasional departures from that maxim, but they were in any case small in scale and rare in occurrence.

It is possible to see the Cold War as a departure from previous patterns of American strategic thought. During the Cold War, policymakers embraced the idea that it was in the service of American interests, indeed essential to American interests, that militant socialism not dominate various other countries around the planet: the vocabulary of ‘domino effect’ and ‘rollback’ and ‘containment’ emerged.

The conflicts in Vietnam and Korea demonstrate a willingness, not found a century earlier, to use significant amounts of American military power in distant lands in engagements which did not directly protect American lives or soil. The indirect threat present in these locations, it was argued, would eventually be as dangerous as any direct threat.

During the Cold War, strategy was conceived in the broadest possible terms, and not limited to military action. The contest was not between two armies, but rather between two ideologies, and as such, this contest would incorporate economic, artistic, athletic, and scientific competition.

This understanding of the Cold War, according to historian Russell Weigley, instantiates the theoretical work of Carl von Clausewitz:

During the Cold War and especially after the Korean War, belief that the United States was involved in a protracted conflict with international Communism led to a departure from historic habits and to an effort to form a national strategy for the employment of American power in defense and promotion of the country’s political values and interests. The new national strategy would be not merely a military strategy but an all-inclusive planning for the use of the nation’s total resources to defend and advance the national interests, encompassing military strategy and Clausewitz’s use of combats along with other means.

Weigley goes on to argue that, prior to the Cold War era, strategic thought was a field of work in which few Americans engaged, in which little work was done, and in which serious analysis was rare.

The strategic work that was done prior to the Cold War was narrower in scope, and limited to a military understanding of strategy. Broader theoretical work, like that of Clausewitz and Sun-Tzu, was rare:

This determination to conceive and to act upon a national strategy prompted a flow of writing and criticism concerned with strategy, including its military aspects, that was unprecedented in American history. Although by the 1970s the bipolar confrontation between the United States and Soviet Russian Communism that produced the new interest in strategy and a new concern for a broad national strategy had given way to more complex power relationships, the perils of unstable world politics, an unstable balance of nuclear force, and “wars of national liberation” are more than ample to perpetuate strategic thought and writing as a thriving American industry.

Military policy and foreign relations changed after 1945 in a way which made them not merely different in content, but in concept, from the diplomatic and military engagements of the previous century.

This question presents itself: is it possible to embrace this significant change in strategy, indeed this change in the nation’s understanding of its role among the other nations of the world, and simultaneously remain true to the founding principles of the United States - remain true to the notion of individual political liberty as central and essential? This question lies behind aspects of the debate between ‘isolationists’ and ‘internationalists,’ although framing the debate with those two words oversimplifies the question.

Can America play a large role in the world without sacrificing its commitment to personal freedom in the realms of political expression, religion, and property rights?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Stopping the Barbary Coast Terrorists: Getting Inside the Attacker's Mind

Shortly after declaring and defending its independence, the United States faced a series of threats. Some of them came from the imperialist ambitions of the major European powers.

Other threats came from a loose alliance of Muslims states known collectively as the ‘Barbary Coast.’ Libya, Tunisia, Algiers, and Morocco engaged in an extensive seafaring piracy operation, which seized ships, confiscated cargo, and either sold the crews into slavery or executed them.

Under President George Washington, the United States began to develop its naval power to meet this threat, as Russell Weigley writes:

In response to the European part of these threats, Congress voted in 1794 to rehabilitate coastal fortifications of the Revolutionary era and to erect new ones to protect sixteen principal ports and harbors. Explicitly in response to the Barbary pirates, Congress voted a navy of six frigates, but with the proviso that the building of the frigates should be suspended if the United States made peace with the Regency of Algiers. The Federalist Congressmen who sponsored the latter measure and the Federalist War Department which administered it may have had more than the Algerines in mind, however, for the Washington administration laid down six cruisers designed to meet in more than equal combat the best British or French vessels of their class, including three frigates rated at forty-four guns which would be superior to any European warships save line-of-battle ships. On March 15, 1796, President Washington had to inform Congress that the peace with Algiers contemplated by the Naval Act of 1794 had been attained - the United States having consented to pay a satisfactory amount of tribute - but Federalist advocates of a strong government and respectable armed forces were able to win Congressional approval for completing three of the frigates anyway, United States and Constitution, 44 guns, and Constellation, 38.

The treaty with Algiers, however, proved to be a sham. As soon as it was signed, the Algerians developed clear and deliberate plans to violate the treaty and resume the enslavement and execution of United States citizens.

It would fall to Washington’s successors - Adams and Jefferson - to confront the Barbary Coast attackers. The U.S. government was alarmed that Americans were still dying in ritualized Islamic beheadings.

A flexible response - the ability to change the plans and deployments of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps - was needed to face these dangers, as Mark Levin writes:

The Founders recognized that America had to be strong politically, economically, culturally, and militarily to survive and thrive in a complex, ever-changing global environment not only in their time but for all time. History bears this out. After the Revolutionary War, the Founders realized that the Confederation was inadequate to conduct foreign affairs, since each state was free to act on its own. There could be no coherent national security policy, because there was no standing army and each state ultimately was responsible for its own defense. The nation’s economy was vulnerable to pirates who were terrorizing transatlantic shipping routes and thereby inhibiting trade and commerce. And the British and Spanish empires were looming threats.

Jefferson and Adams had extensive experience in diplomacy, and had met ambassadors from Muslim states before becoming presidents. They understood that negotiating with the Barbary Coast states would be a general waste of effort.

Adams and Jefferson knew to ignore the words of the Barbary Coast diplomats; they would say whatever it took to achieve their interests, with no intention of abiding by any agreement, written or spoken. The Americans studied the history and culture of these states, even the Qur’an, to better understand their attackers.

The American leaders had studied enough to ‘get inside’ the thought processes of the Islamic governments, as Dennis Prager writes:

The primary, if not only, reason Jefferson had a copy of the Koran was to try to understand the Koran and Islam in light of what the Muslim ambassador from Tripoli had told him and John Adams. When asked why Tripoli pirates were attacking American ships and enslaving Americans, the Muslim ambassador explained that Muslims are commanded to do so by the Koran.

Jefferson wrote that the Tripoli ambassador told him that “it was written in their Koran that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to Paradise.”

Under the presidency of Jefferson, then, the United States negotiated by a show of military force. This proved to be the only way to stop the butchering of American sailors, and the sale of American sailors into slavery.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

North American Indians: Points of First Contact

The history of interactions between the Indians (or ‘Native Americans’) and those who came from other parts of the world is long and complex. For an understanding of the cultures indigenous to North America, records of the first contacts between Indians and early explorers offer unique data.

These moments of first contact show us Indian behavior before they had any experience - good or bad - with those from the outside. Later moments of contact were based on experiences, and so show an Indian culture which had already changed inasmuch as it had begun to form a conceptualized notion of who these outsiders were.

After years of contact, Indian culture had changed significantly, e.g., their use of horses and beads.

Historians must always return, then, to the points of first contact to gain the most pristine evidence of Indian culture.

A note on terminology is also in order: in the twenty-first century, many Indian groups have rejected terminology like ‘Native Americans’ and prefer to be called ‘Indians.’ This is manifest, e.g., among the Cherokees of North Carolina in their tribal councils and museums.

One record of first contact describes an encounter between Indians and a French explorer. These Indians had neither met, seen, nor heard of people from outside North America, so this meeting was a true first contact.

At the shipwreck Museum located at Whitefish Point in Michigan, the curator notes:

In 1610 the young French interpretor Etienne Brule entered into the vast uncharted wilderness of the Great Lakes area. Sent to explore and learn the ways of the Indians, he was considered the first European to penetrate this region. Always moving and never forming a true alliance, he was later turned on by the Hurons who had him bound, tortured, quartered and eaten.

It is not clear whether the curator intends the comment that Brule ‘never’ formed ‘a true alliance’ to be some justification for, or amelioration of, cannibalism.

In any case, the Frenchman had stumbled upon a society formed by human sacrifice, frequent tribal warfare, and cannibalism. His murder was unprovoked.

This, then, is a glimpse into the way Indian culture functioned prior to any effects which outside contact may have had upon it. The Encyclopedia Britannica reports that

The details of his death remain uncertain, but according to several accounts, he was killed and eaten by the Hurons, his adoptive tribe, whose lore thereafter attributed a prolonged “curse” to his murder.

More than a century later, Juan Nentvig was the first European encountered by Indians around what is now Mexico and the southwestern United States. As an example of first contact, he documented the treatment of women among the Indians. They were treated as animals and as property.

By the time of events such as the conflicts at Wounded Knee and at Little Bighorn, Indian culture had changed significantly because of its interaction with Europeans, Africans, and Asians. The Indians of the second half of the nineteenth century were observably different than those who lived prior to any contact from the outside world.

Those who inhabited North America prior to the widespread settling of Europeans would have regarded Geronimo and his colleagues at the 1898 ‘Indian Congress’ in Omaha as utterly foreign.

The most reliable data about indigenous North American cultures comes, then, from points of first contact.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Different Kind of Southern Strategy

Historians often use the phrase ‘Southern Strategy’ to refer to a set of tactics designed to get white voters in the deep South away from “their old comfortable arrangements with the local Democrats,” as Kevin Phillips, a Republican Party strategist, told the New York Times in May 1970.

The Republicans had consistently attracted large numbers - often a majority - of the Black voters in the South, from the late 1860s onward. But in order to have more victories, the GOP also wanted white voters.

The ‘Southern Strategy’ was the Republican Party’s attempt to crack the bloc of segregationist voters to whom the Democratic Party was fiercely loyal. The whites of the deep South had voted reliably Democrat, also since the late 1860s.

This, then, was the Republican Party’s ‘Southern Strategy,’ and it was probably a factor in the Nixon victories of 1968 and 1972.

But there was an earlier plan, on the part of the Democratic Party, which could also have been called a ‘Southern Strategy’ of a sort.

From the 1860s onward, any hope for the Democratic Party in national electoral politics was based on the party’s solid hold on the segregationist and secessionist deep South. As the Republican Party had a solid foundation among the South’s African-American voters, so the Democratic Party had its base among the whites in the South, who were still angry about the Reconstruction-era civil rights which the Blacks had obtained.

Explaining how the Democratic Party played on the racism of its base, Patrick Buchanan writes:

How did presidential nominees like Al Smith and FDR of New York and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois sustain the allegiance of northern liberals and Southern segregationists? By balancing progressive candidates with Southern or border-state segregationists on every national ticket between 1928 and 1960, except 1940. Those vice presidential nominees were Joe Robinson, of Arkansas, in 1928; John Nance Garner, of Texas, in 1932 and 1936; Harry Truman, of Missouri, who had flirted with the Klan, in 1944; Alben Barkley, of Kentucky, in 1948; John Sparkman, of Alabama, in 1952, who would sign the Southern Manifesto denouncing the Brown decision; and Estes Kefauver, of Tennessee, in 1956.

The African-American voters of the era understood the Democratic Party’s commitment to its segregationist base, and so the Republican Party received a steady majority of Black votes.

The Democrats, meanwhile, experienced considerable success, with party leaders like Orval Faubus, George Wallace, and Lester Maddox.