Saturday, September 09, 2006

 

Ralph Peters on Pax Americana & American Culture

LTC Ralph Peters (US Army, ret.) has an article, "Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look" in the June 2006 issue of the Armed Forces Journal that's making the rounds on e-mail and in the blogosphere. Peters argues for, among other things, dividing Iraq into three separate countries.

Back in 2003, I heard NPR's Neal Conan yucking it up with Peters and wrote the unpublished "Open Letter to National Public Radio's Ombudsman" that appears below:
March 29, 2003

Dear Mr. Dvorkin:

Last Thursday, I heard the host of National Public Radio's (NPR) Talk of the Nation, Neal Conan, joking with retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Ralph Peters as they began a discussion of the US invasion of Iraq. This isn't the first time I've heard Peters on NPR but hearing him again got me wondering how many NPR listeners and staff members are familiar with his work--I doubt very many

So, as a courtesy, I thought I would provide some representative selections from LTC Peters' 1999 book for you to share with NPR listeners:

There are two obstacles to a genuine Pax Americana in the coming century. The first is a series of technological barriers. We shall overcome these. The second--and far more challenging--is moral relativism. We must leave behind this era of self-debasement. American civilization is the most humane, hopeful, decent, magnetic, and generous of opportunity in history. It marks a break with all that has come before, leaving behind even northwestern Europe, with its drab cubicles of the spirit and pared-down lives.

With America, the twenty-first century might see the triumph of good. But we must accept the responsibilities of our power and our civilizing mission. We will be in a position to bring the world lasting peace. But to do so, we must say good-bye to the crippling notions that all cultures, no matter how odious, enjoy equivalent validity, and that even the most wicked foreign leader is inviolable in his person. The American peace will have to be on American terms, and those terms cannot be negotiable.

The goal, initially, is not to interfere in the affairs of foreign states, as long as they behave humanely toward their populations. The first--realizable--step is to force an end to interstate warfare. We alone will have the wealth and power to do it--plus, we could collect defense taxes from states that benefit from our actions. As the world's only extant empire of law and justice, we also have the right and responsibility to do it. We need have no moral reservations about outlawing aggression and then enforcing that prohibition.

Should we have the moral authenticity to grasp this opportunity, we may at last see the withering away of military establishments, since they will prove unusable. Only constabularies and police forces need remain, except for our own forces and those of a few morally coincident allies, such as the other English-speaking, law-cherishing states.

There is no real legal or moral requirement to grant foreigners the same rights and protections as we do our own citizens. To do so is pompous stupidity that endangers our own citizens while preventing us from helping the foreign victims of dictators, criminals, and terrorists.

We must regain a sense of who we are and pride in what we are about. We do have a right to act abroad, whether in cyberspace or on foreign soil, if it benefits our citizens and the global rule of law.

The greatest opportunity for us, and the greatest danger to us, will come with the development of behavior-control weapons by the middle decades of the next century, if not sooner. On the one hand, these will be the weapons most horrible to our civilization, but we will be unable to prevent their development. In their perfected form, they will permanently alter the perceptions and beliefs of men and women.

Attacking the human body has been a sloppy and inefficient means of making war. Attacking the mind may prove the culmination of military history.

This is our choice: Shall we dominate the earth for the good of humankind? . . . Or will we continue to insist that diplomatic niceties and the social prejudices of global elites demand that we wait, decade after decade, for evil men to act first?

The passages that appear above are from the title essay of a collection entitled Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph? published by Stackpole Books. The essays first appeared in Parameters, a journal of the US Army War College and Strategic Review, a journal of the Strategic Studies Institute. The book was favorably reviewed by US Navy Captain Jan Van Tol, in the spring 2001 edition of the Naval War College Review.

According to the biography on the book jacket, Peters is "a best-selling and critically acclaimed novelist" whose "profoundly influential" analysis is the "result of firsthand experience in more than forty countries . . . and in assignments that took him from an infantry battalion to the Executive Office of the President. He campaigns for military and policy reform in a wide range of media outlets and lectures internationally on cultures in conflict and the future of war." Peters was interviewed for the PBS Frontline documentary "The Future of War."

I confess, Mr. Dvorkin, that I find LTC Peters' analysis and vision of the future disturbing, as many other NPR listeners might. What is more disturbing, though, is that views such as those expressed above have achieved considerable acceptance among the ruling elite of this country. See, for example, last year's US National Security Strategy which I mentioned in a letter to the United Nations' Security Council last year.

Nevertheless, despite my misgivings I am not, by any means, asking to have Peters banned from NPR. On the contrary, I hope NPR will do several in-depth segments on this "new thinking" in US foreign policy and military doctrine and the chilling technologies Peters envisions. More importantly, though, I hope you will endeavor to bring more enlightened commentators on NPR to critique or offer alternatives to the Bush Administration's and LTC Peters' dark visions of a global "Pax Americana" imposed and maintained by force and "behavior-control weapons." Perhaps, the readers of this letter can provide you with some suggestions.

Author's note: You can e-mail the NPR's Ombudsman at ombudsman@npr.org. Talk of the Nation can be contacted at totn@npr.org.
In some ways, the imperial candor of guys like Peters is refreshing. I'll share a few more 'gems' from Peters' writings. He published "Constant Conflict" in Parameters in Summer 1997 while he was still on active duty. Here are a few excerpts (emphasis in bold added):
We have entered an age of constant conflict. Information is at once our core commodity and the most destabilizing factor of our time. Until now, history has been a quest to acquire information; today, the challenge lies in managing information. Those of us who can sort, digest, synthesize, and apply relevant knowledge soar--professionally, financially, politically, militarily, and socially. We, the winners, are a minority.

For the world masses, devastated by information they cannot manage or effectively interpret, life is "nasty, brutish . . . and short-circuited." The general pace of change is overwhelming, and information is both the motor and signifier of change. Those humans, in every country and region, who cannot understand the new world, or who cannot profit from its uncertainties, or who cannot reconcile themselves to its dynamics, will become the violent enemies of their inadequate governments, of their more fortunate neighbors, and ultimately of the United States. We are entering a new American century, in which we will become still wealthier, culturally more lethal, and increasingly powerful. We will excite hatreds without precedent.

We live in an age of multiple truths. He who warns of the "clash of civilizations" is incontestably right; simultaneously, we shall see higher levels of constructive trafficking between civilizations than ever before. The future is bright--and it is also very dark. More men and women will enjoy health and prosperity than ever before, yet more will live in poverty or tumult, if only because of the ferocity of demographics. There will be more democracy--that deft liberal form of imperialism--and greater popular refusal of democracy.
Commentary: The phrase "clash of civilizations" comes from Samuel P. Huntington who, in the same book, also wrote:

"The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do."

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) pg. 51.
... (of note, the internet is to the techno-capable disaffected what the United Nations is to marginal states: it offers the illusion of empowerment and community). ...
Commentary: On the UN and diplomacy, a couple of quotes come to mind:

"It is part of the wisdom, I think, of the religious tradition always to be skeptical of what governments are doing. If their acts are done in secrecy, all one can do is to draw into that darkness the light of one's own nonviolence, plus the lessons of their past conduct. ... One has to keep reminding oneself and other people that an exalted contempt for human life lies at the basis of diplomacy; and that one had better think of the unprotected and innocent, and be prepared for the bad news when the leaders meet."

Daniel Berrigan and Thich Nhat Hanh. The Raft is Not the Shore: Conversations Toward a Buddhist/Christian Awareness. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975) p. 69.

"It would be some time before I realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy. This is why the weak are so deeply concerned with the democratic principle of the sovereign equality of states, as a means of providing some small measure of equality for that which is not equal in fact. Coming from a developing country, I was trained extensively in international law and diplomacy and mistakenly assumed that the great powers, especially the United States, also trained their representatives in diplomacy and accepted the value of it. But the Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States. Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness."

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in his book, Unvanquished: A U.S.-U.N. Saga (New York: Random House, 1999) p. 198.
These noncompetitive cultures, such as that of Arabo-Persian Islam or the rejectionist segment of our own population, are enraged. Their cultures are under assault; their cherished values have proven dysfunctional, and the successful move on without them. The laid-off blue-collar worker in America and the Taliban militiaman in Afghanistan are brothers in suffering. ...

It is fashionable among world intellectual elites to decry "American culture," with our domestic critics among the loudest in complaint. But traditional intellectual elites are of shrinking relevance, replaced by cognitive-practical elites--figures such as Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Madonna, or our most successful politicians--human beings who can recognize or create popular appetites, recreating themselves as necessary. Contemporary American culture is the most powerful in history, and the most destructive of competitor cultures. While some other cultures, such as those of East Asia, appear strong enough to survive the onslaught by adaptive behaviors, most are not. The genius, the secret weapon, of American culture is the essence that the elites despise: ours is the first genuine people's culture. It stresses comfort and convenience--ease--and it generates pleasure for the masses. We are Karl Marx's dream, and his nightmare.

Secular and religious revolutionaries in our century have made the identical mistake, imagining that the workers of the world or the faithful just can't wait to go home at night to study Marx or the Koran. Well, Joe Sixpack, Ivan Tipichni, and Ali Quat would rather "Baywatch." America has figured it out, and we are brilliant at operationalizing our knowledge, and our cultural power will hinder even those cultures we do not undermine. There is no "peer competitor" in the cultural (or military) department. Our cultural empire has the addicted--men and women everywhere--clamoring for more. And they pay for the privilege of their disillusionment.

American culture is criticized for its impermanence, its "disposable" products. But therein lies its strength. All previous cultures sought ideal achievement which, once reached, might endure in static perfection. American culture is not about the end, but the means, the dynamic process that creates, destroys, and creates anew. If our works are transient, then so are life's greatest gifts--passion, beauty, the quality of light on a winter afternoon, even life itself. American culture is alive. ...

Ours is also the first culture that aims to include rather than exclude. The films most despised by the intellectual elite--those that feature extreme violence and to-the-victors-the-spoils sex--are our most popular cultural weapon, bought or bootlegged nearly everywhere. American action films, often in dreadful copies, are available from the Upper Amazon to Mandalay. They are even more popular than our music, because they are easier to understand. The action films of a Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris rely on visual narratives that do not require dialog for a basic understanding. They deal at the level of universal myth, of pre-text, celebrating the most fundamental impulses (although we have yet to produce a film as violent and cruel as the Iliad). They feature a hero, a villain, a woman to be defended or won--and violence and sex. Complain until doomsday; it sells. The enduring popularity abroad of the shopworn Rambo series tells us far more about humanity than does a library full of scholarly analysis.

When we speak of a global information revolution, the effect of video images is more immediate and intense than that of computers. Image trumps text in the mass psyche, and computers remain a textual outgrowth, demanding high-order skills: computers demarcate the domain of the privileged. We use technology to expand our wealth, power, and opportunities. The rest get high on pop culture. If religion is the opium of the people, video is their crack cocaine. When we and they collide, they shock us with violence, but, statistically, we win.

As more and more human beings are overwhelmed by information, or dispossessed by the effects of information-based technologies, there will be more violence. Information victims will often see no other resort. As work becomes more cerebral, those who fail to find a place will respond by rejecting reason. We will see countries and continents divide between rich and poor in a reversal of 20th-century economic trends. Developing countries will not be able to depend on physical production industries, because there will always be another country willing to work cheaper. The have-nots will hate and strive to attack the haves. And we in the United States will continue to be perceived as the ultimate haves. States will struggle for advantage or revenge as their societies boil. Beyond traditional crime, terrorism will be the most common form of violence, but transnational criminality, civil strife, secessions, border conflicts, and conventional wars will continue to plague the world, albeit with the "lesser" conflicts statistically dominant. In defense of its interests, its citizens, its allies, or its clients, the United States will be required to intervene in some of these contests. We will win militarily whenever we have the guts for it.

There will be no peace. At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts in mutating forms around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. The de facto role of the US armed forces will be to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. ...
Commentary: Several quotes on the military and the US economy come to mind here:

"In spite of the enthusiasm Americans affect for general freedom of commerce when such liberty is favorable to them, they will be equally warm for an exclusive system when they can apply it advantageously to their commerce. They share this way of thinking with all merchants, alternately zealous for a monoploy and for free trade according to the interest of the moment."

French Minister Louis Guillaume Otto in 1785. Quoted in David P. Szatmary, Shay's Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. (Amherst, MA: Univ. of Mass. Pr., 1980) p. 20.

". . . I am decidedly of [the] opinion we should take no part in European quarrels, but cultivate peace and commerce with all, yet who can avoid seeing the source of war in the tyranny of those nations who deprive of us our natural right of trading with our neighbors? The produce of the U.S. will soon exceed the European demand. What is to be done with the surplus, when there is one? It will be employed, without question, to open by force a market for itself . . . "

"Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, Nov. 4, 1788." Michael Kammen, ed. The Origins of the American Constitution. (New York: Penguin, 1986) p. 372.

" . . . globalization requires a stable power structure, and no country is more essential for this than the United States. . . . The fact that no two countries have gone to war since they both got McDonald's is partly due to economic integration, but it is also due to the presence of American power and America's willingness to use that power against those who would threaten the system of globalization--from Iraq to North Korea. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designers of the US Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.

"With all due respect to Silicon Valley, ideas and technologies don't just win and spread on their own. 'Good ideas and technologies also need strong power that promotes those ideas by example and protects those ideas by winning on the battlefield,' says foreign-policy historian Robert Kagan."

Thomas L. Friedman. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999). p. 373. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist, is a staunch proponent of corporate globalization.
For a generation, and probably much longer, we will face no military peer competitor. Our enemies will challenge us by other means. The violent actors we encounter often will be small, hostile parties possessed of unexpected, incisive capabilities or simply of a stunning will to violence (or both). Renegade elites, not foreign fleets, should worry us. The urbanization of the global landscape is a greater threat to our operations than any extant or foreseeable military system. We will not deal with wars of Realpolitik, but with conflicts spawned of collective emotions, sub-state interests, and systemic collapse. Hatred, jealousy, and greed--emotions rather than strategy--will set the terms of the struggles.

We will survive and win any conflict short of a cataclysmic use of weapons of mass destruction. But the constant conflicts in which we selectively intervene will be as miserable as any other form of warfare for the soldiers and Marines engaged. The bayonet will still be relevant; however, informational superiority incisively employed should both sharpen that bayonet and permit us to defeat some--but never all--of our enemies outside of bayonet range. Our informational advantage over every other country and culture will be so enormous that our greatest battlefield challenge will be harnessing its power. Our potential national weakness will be the failure to maintain the moral and raw physical strength to thrust that bayonet into an enemy's heart.

Pilots and skippers, as well as defense executives, demand threat models that portray country X or Y as overtaking the military capability of the United States in 10 to 20 years. Forget it. Our military power is culturally based. They cannot rival us without becoming us. Wise competitors will not even attempt to defeat us on our terms; rather, they will seek to shift the playing field away from military confrontations or turn to terrorism and nontraditional forms of assault on our national integrity. Only the foolish will fight fair.

... Beyond the Beltway, the United States is wide awake and leading a second "industrial" revolution that will make the original industrial revolution that climaxed the great age of imperialism look like a rehearsal by amateurs. Only the United States has the synthetic ability, the supportive laws, and the cultural agility to remain at the cutting edge of wealth creation. ...

Yes, foreign cultures are reasserting their threatened identities--usually with marginal, if any, success--and yes, they are attempting to escape our influence. But American culture is infectious, a plague of pleasure, and you don't have to die of it to be hindered or crippled in your integrity or competitiveness. The very struggle of other cultures to resist American cultural intrusion fatefully diverts their energies from the pursuit of the future. We should not fear the advent of fundamentalist or rejectionist regimes. They are simply guaranteeing their peoples' failure, while further increasing our relative strength.

It remains difficult, of course, for military leaders to conceive of warfare, informational or otherwise, in such broad terms. But Hollywood is "preparing the battlefield," and burgers precede bullets. The flag follows trade. ... Our unconscious alliance of culture with killing power is a combat multiplier no government, including our own, could design or afford. We are magic. And we're going to keep it that way. ...

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