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Very Hot Topic (More than 25 Replies) American military power (Read 683 times)
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Re: American military power
Reply #10 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 2:49pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 1:10pm:
At our apogee, do you think we would have trouble getting Turkey to back off in Syria?


I would immediately argue that influence was squandered by our adventurism over the past 15 years and has little to do with our current situation.

In fact, a strong argument can be made that Trump is trying to strengthen that influence after decades of the past 3 presidents squandering it through both the misapplication of force and the misapplication of diplomacy.  (Continuing to antagonize Russia for example with the predicted outcome of a "strongman" rising to power coming true in the form of Putin.)

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Yes. Of course, this is relative. Even in decline, we're still more powerful than most nations, but we're not perceived as a serious threat anymore. China's actions in the South China Sea are evidence of this. And this isn't about Obama vs Trump (for me anyway). This has been a long term problem. Its systemic, resulting from our fiscal policies, which the new budget agreement doesn't resolve. And this isn't unique to America (see Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of Great Powers).


And we probably agree here primarily that this has been a longstanding development not something that's "new" because of the present administration.  Major powers through the world have seen our wishy washedness in the Middle East ... have seen how beholden to the shifting whims of the electorate our government is ... and they no longer fear our military as a result.

North Korea included.

It almost makes one see some logic to putting on a massive military parade as a /flex moment to remind people like we used to do regularly during the Cold War era.  We saw value in these displays from the 40s all the way to 1991.  We don't anymore.  That doesn't mean the rest of the world doesn't.  That's the thing I think the left is failing on.  They think the rest of the world thinks like we do because that's how logic works.  But people aren't logical.  Never have been.  History is full of entertaining and horrifying stories about the illogical behavior of people.

It also makes me pause at my normal kneejerk reaction to such a pubescent display and try to consider all variables rather than just the ones *I* think are important.

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Well, the question is more about how successfully we use our military to influence outcomes in the places we choose to use it. Also, which outcome are we talking about? The ones set forth by Tillerson or the ones by Mattis? That in itself is part of the issue.


That's an interesting puzzle.  But I'm willing to bet the most important ones are the ones set forth by Trump.  To quote another president "He's the decider."

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If we don't know what our own aims are how can we influence the outcome?


Is it important or relevant that you or I know what those aims are?  Is it important that others around the world know what those aims are?  I find myself retreating to the wisdom of the ancients more often now than at any time I've spent dealing with politics.  Here's a quote from Sun Tzu I've puzzled over ever since I read "The Art of War" 30 years ago (ironically to enhance my wargame skills)

"Can you imagine all I would do if I could do all I can?"

Do you think foreign heads of state are versed in the writings of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu?

Another Sun Tzu quote I think applies here:

"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."

I remember reading about how Bill Clinton (like most politicians of his day) kept a copy of Machiavelli's "The Prince" with him at all times.  It's why I bought a copy myself and read it in the early 90s. 

I think modern politicians and modern "statesmen" have disregarded the "wisdom of the ancients" because they think it doesn't apply anymore and THEY'RE the new wise ones.

Seldom do Trump's musings on foreign policy disturb me.  They make me think "This guy read the classics."

I'm not sure Demos, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be acknowledging our World Influence has been on the decline for some time.  Unless I'm misunderstanding your position, every single one of your responses seems to indicate that.

In that way ... aren't you kind of agreeing with Trump?

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Re: American military power
Reply #11 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:11pm
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Queshank wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 2:49pm:
I would immediately argue that influence was squandered by our adventurism over the past 15 years...

I wouldn't disagree.

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...and has little to do with our current situation.

Except that the adventurism continues.

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In fact, a strong argument can be made that Trump is trying to strengthen that influence after decades of the past 3 presidents squandering it through both the misapplication of force and the misapplication of diplomacy.

By continuing the same policies in the Middle East (which is essentially what Tillerson is proposing)? 

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And we probably agree here primarily that this has been a longstanding development not something that's "new" because of the present administration.  Major powers through the world have seen our wishy washedness in the Middle East ... have seen how beholden to the shifting whims of the electorate our government is ... and they no longer fear our military as a result.

Pretty much.

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It almost makes one see some logic to putting on a massive military parade as a /flex moment to remind people like we used to do regularly during the Cold War era.

I don't think people underestimate that we still have the fire power; just doubt we have the will and ability to project that power. 

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That's an interesting puzzle.  But I'm willing to bet the most important ones are the ones set forth by Trump.  To quote another president "He's the decider."

Well, he needs to decide what we're doing there. He has in other areas: surge in Afghanistan, diplomacy with North Korea, etc (agree or disagree with those policies). Our aims in Syria and the greater Middle East seem to be a bit of cluster at the moment (so par for the court I guess).

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Is it important or relevant that you or I know what those aims are?

Given that we live in a democratic/republican government where popular support is an important factor, yes. If Americans don't know or understand the goal, then you can't really maintain support for a conflict. (Of course, if we understand the goals, we might not support it anyway).

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Is it important that others around the world know what those aims are?

When that knowledge can avoid unnecessary conflict, yes (e.g., when dealing with North Korea, we need to be very clear about our aims). 

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"Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate."

That's great military tactics, which is what the Art of War is about. He wasn't really writing about diplomacy, and Sun didn't live in a democracy either.

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I'm not sure Demos, and correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be acknowledging our World Influence has been on the decline for some time.  Unless I'm misunderstanding your position, every single one of your responses seems to indicate that.

That is correct.

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In that way ... aren't you kind of agreeing with Trump?

Not necessarily in terms of our response to that decline. The most obvious issue being things like TPP. I find those helpful to our foreign policy aims (and no downside economically, because I'm definitely a classical liberal at heart) to balance against rising powers like China. As our power declines, we need to leverage these alliances to our advantage, imo.

  
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Re: American military power
Reply #12 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:32pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 1:10pm:
Ok. I'm talking about actual policy. And our policy has been to participate in these agreements. That policy appears to be changing (emphasis on appears as so far these are only short term changes and long term policy may be different). 


Here's the rub tho Demos.

Do you think the past 20 years have been good foreign policy?  That's definitely one place where I don't agree with the average leftist.  I don't think Bill Clinton or Obama were very good on foreign policy.  I think they were pretty uninterested in it to be honest.  They both wanted to have domestic agendas.  Ironically tho, Trump seems to understand that foreign policy is the sphere of the presidency ... and domestic policy is the bailiwick of Congress thru the People's House.

Not that I think Bush was any better and perhaps was worse incidentally.

But it is this that I struggle with the most today.  Everybody seems to be wigging out because Trump is doing things different.  He's going to ruin everything because he's doing everything different.  That's the narrative from the left and from the left's anti Trump partners on the right.

I'm just not so sure that's a bad thing.  I'm not sure it's a good thing either.  Don't get me wrong.  But ... I do know ... I haven't agreed with our foreign policy in the whole time I've been paying attention to politics.

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I think Victor Cha made a convincing argument for American involvement (see Powerplay: The Origins of the American Alliance System in Asia).


Was it based on the thinking of prior foreign policy developments?

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You're looking at TPP solely as an economic issue; I'm not. It was also a way to restrain and balance against China, and protect our interests in the region. And while people may still want to sell to us, another example of our influence waning is that the TPP is still moving forward without us, Mexico and Canada are entering other trade agreements, and Latin American is growing closer to China (through trade).


At what cost?  There's always unintended consequences when we think we're "manipulating" people.  I spent a multi page thread outlining all of the unintended and unforeseen consequences of NAFTA we've been dealing with for the past 20 years.  What would be the costs of TPP in that regard?

Are Mexico and Canada going to make more money selling to each other than to the United States?  How about Latin America tapping that gold mine of consumerism ... China?

I don't think you're giving enough credit to the words "We are 5% of the population and consume between 25% and 1/3rd of the world's goods and products." 

That is power.  Having a domestic population that can afford to buy consumer goods.  Mexico doesn't have that pull.  China doesn't have that pull.  It's a gravitational pull.  It's as real and as scientific as gravity.  You saw everybody flipping into "Maybe Trump isn't going to be so bad" in Davos ... with Trump saying "America is open for business."  I don't think you're giving enough weight to how powerful that is.

And I'll point out again what I pointed out multiple times in the campaign.  Trump has never said he was an opponent of free trade.  He has in fact said the opposite.  That he's a big free trade supporter "but it has to be smart trade."  I laughed like hell at the news articles I read following his Davos speech where reporters called that exact stance "a flip flop" and a "reversal" from Trump.

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Not up on monetary theory, so I had to look it up. As such, not sure I can give an informed opinion on it. I'll just say that I think reducing debts and balancing budgets (or at least maintaining low deficits) are better for our longer term fiscal health and our ability to project power (but that's based on my reading of Kennedy, Mandelbaum, and Bacevich).


I'm with you there.  We are rolling the dice and gambling pretty hardcore on the idea that MMT is a functional and valid theory.  But I think the reason it's so attractive is we are in such a big hole I don't think there's any way we get out of it now.  What do we do?  Raise taxes 100% across the board?  Eliminate all spending and cut the military budget down to 100 billion a year?  None of those things are going to happen.  I think Washington is looking for an out in MMT ... and it's probably going to be the way of the future simply because there isn't a sustainable path forward out of this mess.  Whoever balances the budget or cuts social spending will be out of office in the next election and replaced by people who will simply go back to spending.

I'll leave this with one more Sun Tzu quote.  I've been thumbing through an old copy quite a bit here.

"Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."

Do you suppose the Chinese have heard of Sun Tzu? ... Wink

How about the North Koreans?

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Re: American military power
Reply #13 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:33pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:11pm:
Except that the adventurism continues.



TRUTH

I'm willing to reserve judgment on this for a bit.  But I'm not going to be patient for long. 

But let's be honest.  We haven't re invaded Iraq or started any new wars lately.  *crosses fingers*

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Re: American military power
Reply #14 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:38pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:11pm:
That's great military tactics, which is what the Art of War is about. He wasn't really writing about diplomacy, and Sun didn't live in a democracy either.


That's not true.

I mean what do you think he meant when he said:

"The greatest victory is that which requires no battle."

Or...

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

The entire book (all 8 pages heh) is a book on diplomacy.  Warfare just happens to be one form of diplomacy.

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Not necessarily in terms of our response to that decline. The most obvious issue being things like TPP. I find those helpful to our foreign policy aims (and no downside economically, because I'm definitely a classical liberal at heart) to balance against rising powers like China. As our power declines, we need to leverage these alliances to our advantage, imo.


What do you think of Reich's criticisms about the TPP?  Does he have any legitimate points?

And like I said in the prior post.  At what cost? 

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Re: American military power
Reply #15 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:57pm
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Queshank wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:32pm:
Do you think the past 20 years have been good foreign policy?

I tend towards the realist school of foreign policy, so no. 

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That's definitely one place where I don't agree with the average leftist.  I don't think Bill Clinton or Obama were very good on foreign policy.  I think they were pretty uninterested in it to be honest.  They both wanted to have domestic agendas.  Ironically tho, Trump seems to understand that foreign policy is the sphere of the presidency ... and domestic policy is the bailiwick of Congress thru the People's House.

Not sure if Clinton or Obama were disinterested (Obama didn't seem to be), but foreign policy isn't solely the sphere of the President. Constitutionally, Congress has a lot to say on that issue: the power to declare war, the power of the purse, defining "offenses against the law of nations," providing a navy, and making rules to govern our military. Part of the problem, imo, is Congress ceding it foreign policy and war powers to the executive.

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Everybody seems to be wigging out because Trump is doing things different.

Outside of his rhetoric, not sure that he is (militarily at least). Our actions in the Middle East seem to continue along the same lines as past administrations. Our policy towards North Korea (which I don't really have a problem with) also seems to be continuing along the same lines as past administrations.  He might want to handle Iran and some other issues differently, but whether it's because of his advisers or whatever, he's not really shaking things up all that much. IMHO of course.

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Was it based on the thinking of prior foreign policy developments?

It was based on his analysis of our alliances in Asia (specifically the Far East), which in the past were mainly bilateral. He goes through why these relationships were initially bilateral and why multilateral alliances, like TPP, would be beneficial moving forward.

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At what cost?  There's always unintended consequences when we think we're "manipulating" people.  I spent a multi page thread outlining all of the unintended and unforeseen consequences of NAFTA we've been dealing with for the past 20 years.  What would be the costs of TPP in that regard?

What about the benefits? Did NAFTA really result in a net loss economically?

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Are Mexico and Canada going to make more money selling to each other than to the United States?

They're joining TPP, they're trading with the EU, etc., etc.  They're not going to be selling to each other. They're going to be trading with lots of other nations.

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How about Latin America tapping that gold mine of consumerism ... China?

That's more about what China gets out of Latin America rather than the other way around. It's why Tillerson is touring Latin American right now.

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...with Trump saying "America is open for business."  I don't think you're giving enough weight to how powerful that is.

To me, "open for business" doesn't mean protectionist trade policies.

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Trump has never said he was an opponent of free trade.  He has in fact said the opposite.  That he's a big free trade supporter "but it has to be smart trade."

"Smart trade" and "fair trade" usually turn out to mean protectionist policies, and regardless of what he's said, those seem to be the policies he's enacting (see solar panels and washing machines). 

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We haven't re invaded Iraq or started any new wars lately.  *crosses fingers*

Well, I think attacking Syrian government forces counts as a new war (particularly if we follow Tillerson's advice and remain there indefinitely to affect regime change).
  
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Re: American military power
Reply #16 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:58pm
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Queshank wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:38pm:
That's not true.

I mean what do you think he meant when he said:

"The greatest victory is that which requires no battle."

Or...

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

The entire book (all 8 pages heh) is a book on diplomacy.  Warfare just happens to be one form of diplomacy.

He does say that, but most of the book is about battlefield tactics. He doesn't really spend a lot of time expounding on how to avoid fighting, but rather what to do once the fighting starts.
  
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Re: American military power
Reply #17 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 4:07pm
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Relevant article in my news feed today:

America’s Unimportant, Unserious Wars
  
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Re: American military power
Reply #18 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 4:12pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:57pm:
"Smart trade" and "fair trade" usually turn out to mean protectionist policies,


Was NAFTA smart trade?

Was it free trade?

I think I made a pretty compelling case it was neither in a thread a few months ago and I went on for pages sharing data to that effect.

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and regardless of what he's said, those seem to be the policies he's enacting (see solar panels and washing machines). 


What were the reasons for that?

I mean ... it was a recommendation to the Trump administration from the "independent, bipartisan" U.S. International Trade Commission that he acted on.

New York Times

Four officials from the United States International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency that governs trade, announced a range of recommendations Tuesday aimed at protecting domestic makers of solar equipment from unfairly priced imports, especially from China. Those included limiting the imports of certain solar components and imposing tariffs of 10 percent to 35 percent on certain products.

Those recommendations will be sent to the president by Nov. 13; he will have 60 days to accept or reject these ideas as he determines the ultimate course of action.


Are you suggesting there wasn't a problem they were trying to address?  Or are you suggesting they're not as independent, bipartisan and "free tradey" as they pretend?  They've been the ones at the forefront of taking China to the woodshed of the WTO for a long time now (record setting number of times under Obama) ... was Obama a protectionist too?

My point is I don't think this is a fair example of a criticism against Trump.  For once he took advice from a bipartisan panel and he gets the shit end of that stick too?

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Well, I think attacking Syrian government forces counts as a new war (particularly if we follow Tillerson's advice and remain there indefinitely to affect regime change).


Well did we really attack them or were we defending ourselves?  We killed 100 of their troops because they were advancing on our and our ally's position.  That's not quite the same thing as you're presenting is it?

CNN

According to a coalition statement, its strikes were carried out after forces allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "initiated an unprovoked attack" against a well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters where coalition advisers were working with US-backed Syrian fighters.


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Re: American military power
Reply #19 - Feb 9th, 2018 at 4:12pm
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Demos wrote on Feb 9th, 2018 at 3:58pm:
He does say that, but most of the book is about battlefield tactics. He doesn't really spend a lot of time expounding on how to avoid fighting, but rather what to do once the fighting starts.


All diplomacy is a battle and a contest Demos.  You know this.

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