Welcome Stephen Glain, and Host Zaid Jilani (Think Progress).

State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire

Host, Zaid Jilani:

As a Pakistani-American, I’ve grown up caught between two worlds: the United States, the rich country that is the world’s lone superpower, and Pakistan, the troubled land of my parent’s birth. Thus, I’ve always been drawn to the interaction between the two countries.

As U.S. drones continue to take flight over Pakistani soil and that country’s restive population becomes more and more resentful of what it views as excessive foreign meddling in its affairs by various actors – the West, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists, and its old rival India – I think the topic of empire is more relevant than ever to the two countries that I consider my own.

And when it comes to the topic of empire, Stephen Glain’s book State vs. Defense: The Battle To Define America’s Empire, provides a well-researched and exhaustive look at how the United States finds itself enmeshed not only in conflict on Pakistani soil but also with a large military presence across the world.

Glain traces the roots of American empire back through the Second World War, and demonstrates how policy planners who favored an aggressive and militaristic response to the rise of the Soviet Union and nationalistic movements in the developing world beat back those who favored more diplomatic approaches to world affairs.

Thus, a powerful Pentagon was born and the State Department’s ability to engage in diplomacy and peacefully resolving global conflicts was slowly diminished. By documenting the activities of civilian figures such as Paul Nitze and military leaders like Douglas MacArthur, Glain demonstrates how hawks built political power in the United States.

State vs. Defense examines the various military engagements the United States has participated in, documenting how the country found itself in a disastrous Indochina war that took 58,000 American lives and the lives of millions in Asia.

Yet there are hopeful stories to be found in Glain’s book as well. The author shows how even relatively hawkish presidents such as Ronald Reagan were able to engage in successful arms control negotiations and significantly reduce the threat of nuclear war. A wide array of civilian and military leaders are praised for warning against escalating tensions with foreign powers, from Kennedy adviser George Ball to Nixon’s Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird.

The book’s last sections deal with the September 11th attacks, which is a fitting conclusion not only because these terrorist atrocities occurred most recently in history, but also because they originated, at least partly, as a result of the foreign policy that Glain documents in the rest of the book. The author notes that the motivations of Al Qaeda were obscured or misinterpreted in the major media narratives about the attacks, and that the terrorists viewed themselves as retaliating against American foreign policy that sided with dictators and the state of Israel over the welfare and well-being of captive Muslim populations.

Glain’s book is an enticing entry into the growing and needed field of literature dealing with America’s rise as a military empire and its perilous disregard for diplomacy.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev] [To refresh your browser, PC=F5, MAC=Command+R]

104 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Stephen Glain, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire”

BevW September 11th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Stephen, Zaid, Welcome to the Lake.

Zaid, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 1:59 pm

It’s great to be here with both of you, Stephen and Bev.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Good to be here.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Stephen, with today being the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, many Americans are reflecting on that tragedy and how it impacted them. Scholars of international affairs are certainly looking at how the terror attacks altered the geopolitical landscape and set off a series of wars.

How would you say September 11 fits in the narrative of the book — that American foreign policy has been taken over by militarism and how our diplomatic capacity has diminished — and in the wider history of American foreign policy and our empire?

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

What do you think of Wilkerson, who wanted to disappear State Dept into Defense, on theory (LOL) that Defense had so much bigger budget that more would go into negotiations than currently.

Elliott September 11th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Greetings, the perfect day to have this discussion.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 4

A leitmotif of the book is the way in which US presidents distort the nature and motives of American adversaries. That was certainly the case with 9/11, when then-President Bush grossly inflated the capabilities of Al Qaeda and misinterpreted what the attacks were about. We were told “they hate our freedoms,” when in fact Bin Laden made clear as far back as 1996, in his fatwa against what he called the Zionist-Crusader alliance,” that the attacks were about US policies in the Middle East.

By hyping the threat in such a way, Bush created a climate of fear – the same such environment that his predecessors indulged into to maneuver the country into war going back to the Truman administration.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

By Wilkerson, you mean then Sec of State Powell’s close aid? One could argue that a convergence has already happened, given how the US military has assumed so much of the missions and responsibilities that was one the domain of diplomats and aid workers. This is a key point of my book’s final chapter.

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 7

Why don’t our leaders learn anything? Can the explanation be as simple as Ike’s MIC warning? What is the lure of such belligerence?

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Agreed. A solemn occasion for the discussion of such important matters.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Just a little more historic context. U.S. had empire aspirations from bef it was a country. One of the early battles of the Rev War was a colonialist’s attack on Quebec. Then were all the continental empire expanding warz in North America, against Indians & Mexicans. And let us not forget Seward’s folly (Sarah Palin thanks you), not a war bc natives didn’t fight but not a diplomatic success either. Then there was the U.S. should own the Pacific in Hawaii (1893), Philippines, Guam, etc.

I don’t see the diff bet State & Defense. Latter, like under Dulles brothers, is often handmaiden of former. It’s all about “defending” U.S. corps’s need to dominate biz everywhere.

Comments?

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 7

You mention that the Bush Administration actively inflated the terrorist threat to craft its foreign policy agenda. One of the most interesting parts of the great history told in your book to me was how there was a robust cast of characters within the American government — ranging from Truman-era diplomat John Service to Kennedy adviser George Ball — who actively resisted more hawkish policymakers to argue against the imperial impulse in American foreign policy.

A great question to ask today would be, how do these people relate to individuals in our foreign policy apparatus today? Who is today’s Eisenhower, Ball, Service, or Carter? Do you think that the imperial mentality has at this point all but been internalized in American policies, or are there intelligent diplomats and brave policymakers pushing back as hard as these figures (often unsuccessfully) did in the history you chronicle?

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Oh, and as an adjunct to my 11, do you think there’s a hair’s width of diff betw Rice, Powell, (Hillary) Clinton, W, O on “foreign policy?”

Or, as I have been prone to characterize it, the diff bet Rs & Ds on foreign policy is that Ds want to bomb them for humanitarian reasons too.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to RevBev @ 9

That’s part of it, though I don’t think Ike could have imagined how the constituents of the MIC have proliferated the way they have. Our Cold War military commitments, for example, from NATO to our alliances in Asia, are clearly outdated yet they survive because so many parties are invested in their perpetuation. Host nations are generally happy to live on the cheap under the US security umbrella and diplomats and military attaches can use rotations through forward bases to get their tickets punched to new and better assignments. Plus where the US military establishes bases a huge black market congeals around it, which benefits the gray economy. Plus of course, there’s Congress and the promise of large weapons factories in their districts. It goes on and on.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 14

I don’t think Ike could have imagined

Beg to differ. If there’s anything less imaginable, it’s how the MIC complex would take over an empire. One of the most predictable events, outside of financial bubbles bursting.

How does your book differ from Carroll’s House of Wars?

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 11

Very good points indeed. What was “Manifest Destiny” if not one big imperial power grab. What distinguishes the nature of American empire after WW II was how the US established the ability to project military power anywhere in the world, which only intensified militarization and marginalized the diplomats. You are also correct about the Dulles brothers (and don’t forget Eleanor, the sister), and how “diplomacy” and covert operation worked hand in hand. I go into that in detail in the book. See also Steve Kinzer’s Otherthrow and All the Shah’s Men.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 13

This brings up an interesting point. There are significant differences between D’s and R’s on domestic policy issues in the sense that the Democrats have a large labor constituency, women, immigrants, etc. On foreign policy, though, they tend to hover around a smaller set of elites who set policy. We’ve even seen that under some Republicans — like Bush Sr. — a greater willingness to deal more strictly with countries like Israel in a way that progressives would appreciate.

How would you define the party division on foreign policy issues, Stephen?

mzchief September 11th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 14

Our Cold War military commitments, for example, from NATO to our alliances in Asia, are clearly outdated yet they survive because so many parties are invested in their perpetuation. Host nations are generally happy to live on the cheap under the US security umbrella and diplomats and military attaches can use rotations through forward bases to get their tickets punched to new and better assignments. Plus where the US military establishes bases a huge black market congeals around it, which benefits the gray economy. Plus of course, there’s Congress and the promise of large weapons factories in their districts.

I think that’s a spectacular point made which tracks with my prior reading and conversations over time with the refuges of such “host nations.”

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 12

Wise heads still exist, but they are routinely ignored. In the runup to the war in Iraq, for example, both ambassador Ryan Crocker, an Arab specialist, and General Tony Zinni, the former head of CENTCOM issue prescient warnings about everything that could go wrong following the invasion. The warnings were summarily binned or got lost through channels.

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 7

Aloha, Stephen and Zaid…! OBL’s biggest gripe was Pappy Bush’s little soiree in Kuwait, and, having all those infidels stationed in the ‘Holy Land’ of Mecca and Medina…!

Zaid, it truly is shame that as Pakistan is experiencing massive flooding, we’re still pounding them with hellfire armed Drones…! Just like we did during last year’s floods too…!

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 13

I think Colin Powell was exceptional in his opposition to the invasion of Iraq (which he had to wage through back channels, for obvious reasons), though I do wish he would have resigned rather than give that dreadful speech at the U.N.) But you’re certainly right about the lack of daylight on these issues between lawmakers, particularly when it comes to the Middle East. I also think the contrast between liberal interventionists like H Clinton, Susan Rice and Anne Marie Slaughter is more of degree and not of kind. Remember Clinton’s motto: “Defense, Diplomacy and Development,” in that order.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 15

House of War was a huge inspiration for me when I was considering writing the book four years ago and it is a major source of material for SvD. Carroll writes beautifully and the conceit of the book as both history and memoir is superb.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 16

Oooh. Missed the Dulles sister. Worth the read just to get a handle on her.

Overthrow was a book I was looking for after 2003, that finally popped up on my screen. Yeppers. Exactly what I thought.

Am reading Wright’s book on Iranian Rev at the moment. One of the many formative books in my reading odyssies is Kermit Roosevelt’s memoir on Iran romp in the park. Written after 1979, he shows no recognition of possible blowback from 1953 to 1979.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 20

Regarding the drone strikes, see The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s interactive timeline of strikes here, a great resource:

http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/08/10/timeglider/

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 17

You mean R party divisions? There is of course this interesting neo-isolationist seam with the Tea Party quotient, which supports a reduction in US military commitments and defense spending cuts. I think the latter is more likely than the former, simply because of the array of forces that militate in favor of not only maintaining alliances but increasing them as is the case in Asia, where the Pentagon seems to be preparing for a war with China.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to mzchief @ 18

Indeed. It’s perverse kind of dependency theory.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 20

Yes. It’s dispiriting that ten years after 9/11, there has been no honest meditation in the mainstream press about the real motivation behind the attacks. Out of respect for the victims, if nothing else, there should be a full accounting of what inspired the dreadful events of that day.

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 27

But doesn’t that omission fit with the whole narrative that, like the Commission, there has been no honest accounting of 9/11, as I understand it.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

One story of American empire and the defense establishment that I find really telling is the case of Jimmy Carter. Growing up in Georgia, I have some natural affinity for the Carter family and a lot of what they brought to American politics.

In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, Carter explained (http://www.democracynow.org/2007/9/10/fmr_president_jimmy_carter_on_palestine) that he didn’t know what was happening in Indonesia when the United States was backing to it to a hilt despite its committing atrocities in East Timor. What does this say about a country that it can be assisting in what for all intents and purposes was mass slaughter and its chief executive not be properly informed about it (I take Carter at his word, human rights are a real cause to him)?

Stephen and FDL readers, what explains a foreign policy where the president themself can be sidelined in its execution?

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 21

Oh Clinton’s model be damned. Talk is cheap. You can’t believe word one of what these jerks say (my vocabulary: Is lip service better than no service at all. A: NO)

WRT Colin Powell, I was coyly warned to google My Lai Colin Powell by an army major eacquaintance with whom I was in touch from about 2003-2006. (He had been a Rummy gofer, and was against Iraq invasion, but eventually it was clear that he & I were too far apart on all sorts of fundamentals to continue to eexchange productively.)

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 23

Eleanor was in many ways the most impressive of the Dulles siblings, though she was just has hawkish as her brothers. Among other things, she was regarded as the architect of the post-German Deutsch Mark.

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 24

I’d read somewhere that Obama has already launched more Drone strikes just this year, than Shrub had during his entire 8 year term…!

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to RevBev @ 28

Of course. The commission was part of the whole failure of leadership at the highest levels. And the absence of an honest accounting became the wellspring for 9/11 conspiracy theories.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 29

I call BS on Carter. Zinn’s chapter is Carter-Reagan-Bush continuum. Carter started S&L dereg with disasterous eventual consequences. On foreign policy, the Carter Doctrine was to defend U.S. interests in ME oil militarily. He expanded the MIC (unlike his campaign promises to reduce it).

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 29

I’d blame Brezinski’s ‘Grand Chess Board’ designs, and his apparent failure to inform Carter all about it…!

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 32

CIA is nothing more than a covert drone military op any more.

And you know about Priest’s work on JSOC.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 29

It’s a measure of how extensive is America’s imperial writ that no one person, even the POTUS, can keep track of every dimension to it. The Pentagon has made collaboration with foreign military leaders a major priority and in terms of intelligence and access (of seaways, land-bridges, and air corridors, etc.) I’m sure its yielded some good returns. In fact, since DOD was given its own funding authority (versus having to make requests via State) the oversight for all this relationship-building has become even less transparent.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 35

You don’t really think Carter was unaware…

If so, he was the least competent prez ever.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 34

The Carter doctrine is explored in Stephen’s book as well as other places fairly well, and certainly on domestic policies Carter moved the U.S. to the right. That being said, Carter did make some fairly strong moves on human rights, and his post-presidency and the way he has exposed himself to defend human rights makes me feel like his motivations are sincere (Noam Chomsky, a close friend of Zinn’s agrees with this). But even though he was probably our most peaceful president, he certainly engaged in a fair amount of entanglement with foreign violence in terms of his strategic doctrine and alliances, perhaps a testimony to the nature of the U.S. in the 20th/21st century.

In a recent interview in the Guardian, Carter’s one accomplishment he wanted to boast about was the fact that the U.S. did not engage in any warfare under him, the last president that can say so:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/11/president-jimmy-carter-interview

What he’s most proud of, though, is that he didn’t fire a single shot. Didn’t kill a single person. Didn’t lead his country into a war – legal or illegal. “We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. But still we achieved our international goals. We brought peace to other people, including Egypt and Israel. We normalised relations with China, which had been non-existent for 30-something years. We brought peace between US and most of the countries in Latin America because of the Panama Canal Treaty. We formed a working relationship with the Soviet Union.”

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 34

Absolutely. Particularly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which was completely misread by our national security team as a hegemonic lunge for Persian Gulf oil. As I make clear in my book – using fascinating transcripts of Politburo meetings available on the Woodrow Wilson Center website – Moscow was only trying to protect its secular client in Kabul from an Islamic insurgency. Sound familiar?

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 35

It’s interesting that Brezinski is considered today to be one of the dovish voices (and he legitimately is, he defended Carter extensively on the record of Palestinian human rights following the publishing of Palestine Peace Not Apartheid) yet he was a fairly cynical foreign policy strategist under the president. Perhaps it’s a testament to our times.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 37

Have you gone back to see where in the timeline of empire destruction the U.S. currently is situated?

I have cavalierly raised the possibility that U.S. is about the stage when Rome became a dictatorship and the senate was a castrated bunch of RWMs. About 200 years after founding. Took another 200 years for Rome to be militarily defeated by enemies it had created. I wouldn’t take analogy too far, but any comments?

maa8722 September 11th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

A good piece here today. And yet, here’s another take on “State vs Defense” plus a reply that way:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903480904576510502556813690.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904787404576532283199126072.html

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 39

All post-WWII prez had military engagements. Carter’s was “hostage rescue.” The only reason he can boast and you can believe his boast is that hostage rescue was a complete & utter failure. If you want to give credit for a prez who failed to kill anyone bc his military action failed at its mission, be my guest. I’ll feel free to disagree.

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 41

Yes, a sad testament to how far right the Overton Window of our FP has shifted…!

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Brezinski, who I respect for his candor on the Israeli-Arab front, was a real hawk whenever it came to the Russians, which some attribute to his Polish background. He declined my request for an interview, so I don’t know how he would respond to the declassified Soviet documents regarding the Afghanistan invasion.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 40

Yeppers. And Soviet client in Kabul survived for what, a decade?, after Soviet troops withdrew, despite still strong support of Taliban & war lords by U.S.

I look forward to reading your book. So much pravdaganda by U.S. on all these topics. Seems like you cut thru a lot of them.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 43

What I find interesting about this section of the review:

“Mr. Glain’s denigration of armed force may provide comfort to American internationalists who believe that military power is more a hindrance than a help to diplomacy. But it may also embolden isolationists, on both the left and right, who seize on the lack of terrorist attacks on the United States since 9/11 but know very little about the costly overseas operations that account for our safety. In the coming budget battles, the most important conflict may not be State versus Defense but State and Defense versus the isolationists.”

It’s a common refrain of militarists to fear isolationism. Isolationism is a legitimately poor international strategy to have, but where is there any evidence that we’re on road there? We have hundreds of bases in scores of countries and we seem to be making little progress in winding down our nation’s longest war (Afghanistan). Stephen’s book also makes the case for strong diplomatic engagement and the perils of not being involved in such endeavors. Any assistance it gives to the case for isolationism is happenstance.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

I’ve made references to the same trajectory, though not with such depth. In my book, I make it clear that the magnitude of America’s military profile abroad is more consistent with an empire than with a republic.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 43

As a veteran WSJ foreign correspondent – ten years in Asia an the Middle East, with a brief stint editing on the page one desk in NYC – I have a native understanding of the characters who run the Opinion page. That being the case, I would have been deeply disturbed if the Journal HADN”T panned my book.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 40

Oh, and other interesting aspect of your comment is use of the word “secular.” I don’t know a lot of that history (yet another reason for reading your book), but one aspect of the Soviet occupation that is seldom referenced in the U.S. (total war in sections of the country notwithstanding) are the education exchange programs, the promotion of women’s rights (Nye’s “soft power”) (why all the docs in Afghanistan were women & why medical care disappeared after the Taliban took over), and prolly a lot of other aspects I don’t know about.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 47

Thanks. I was assisted greatly by the release of Soviet documents as well as Pentagon studies, in particular something called Soviet Intentions, which was declassified last year. In great detail the authors explode DOD’s own Cold War myths about Moscow’s intentions and capabilities.

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 46

He baited the Russians into invading Afghanistan…!

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 50

A badge of honor, eh…? ;-)

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 48

Yeah. In militarists circles, appeals to dissolve Cold War commitments are characterized as “isolationist” the same way secularists have become tarred in the conservative imagination as atheists.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

You bet!

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 52

You make me think of the VN blinders and the domino theory.

U.S. always (?) misreads foreign intentions.

Why.

Intentionally bc it fosters the hidden agenda of MIC?

BC they are in a bubble?

Anyone of a thousand other possibilities?

On domestic econ policy, more my area of expertise, I still haven’t come to a final conclusion on intentions. Goals (enriching the rich) are clear as sky on 9/11. But how conscious are they of all the pieces they’ve put together to accomplish the goal, and are they aware at all of downside and blowback and what they must do to counter it. Or do they just do kneejerk reactions to latter when it happens.

BTW, my highest kudos go to people who look at, you know, actual evidence. So if you source Soviet archives, yippee.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 53

Well, accounts of the invasion in great books like Ghost Wars and Legacy of Action make it clear that there was no such mental agility going. It wasn’t until the Sovs had taken over the airport in Kabul that the WH understood what was going on, despite satellite footage of a massive USSR military buildup on the border.

The same is true for the HW Bush team and Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, btw, at least according to the official record.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

One thing I find interesting in more contemporary American foreign policy politics is how the recent Bush administration involved in many ways a very similar cast of characters as the Reagan administration. Yet in a number of ways this crew was significantly more radical this time around than in the 1980′s. What about Reagan, who was certainly a right-wing and hawkish president, made him more resistant to the whims of the neocons than George W.? And how would all of you say the GOP as it will emerge in 2012 be in relation to Reagan and Bush W. in terms of foreign policy?

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 58

I meant Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner.

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 58

Are you talking about simple ignorance or willful ignorance?

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 59

Could the resistance you describe be a function of the role of Dick Cheney?

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 59

In my research I found Reagan to be far more complex than the “amiable dunce” caricature. Setting aside his record of reckless deregulation at home – something embraced by the Clinton WH, it should be noted – RR showed the maturity that allowed him to do an about-face regarding Soviet relations, which is something I go through at length in the book. Tragically, his obsession with Star Wars, which was manipulated at Reykjavik by Richard Perle, was a deal killer.

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I guess we are near the end….I wonder if you see any signs that we will find our way back? And are there any strong voices?

BevW September 11th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to RevBev @ 64

The Book Salon goes until 7:00pm Eastern.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 63

According to House of War, Reagan was yet another prez who couldn’t take yes for an answer. Seems like you disagree with Carroll on that? Carroll gives total credit to Gorbachev & also bills RR as a bumbling fool, or perhaps tool.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to RevBev @ 61

I see what you’re getting at. It’s true that a Soviet move on Afghanistan would have played into Zbig’s agenda for a get-tough approach with Moscow. The problem is that excellent journalists like Weiner and Coll have never unearthed evidence of a conspiracy. Neither has anyone been able to prove that the Bush team manipulated Saddam into Kuwait. In the latter case, however, the empirical evidence certainly suggests that the WH would have preferred a showdown with Saddam after he emerged as the strongest Arab leaders after the Iraq-Iran war.

Elliott September 11th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Any thoughts -either of you- on Gen. Petraeus taking over at CIA?

gigi3 September 11th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 42

I think the debasement of the currency was a major factor in the decline. Emperor Augustus was the one who introduced the silver denarius. It was 95% silver. Caracalla took it down to 50%. The expense of funding a world empire became so overwhelming that by 168 AD the denarius was only 0.5% silver. Prices throughout the empire rose by up to 1,000 percent. Roman mercenaries then refused to accept the denarius and demanded gold.

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 58

From Brzezinski’s own lips…

B: We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q: You don’t regret supporting Islamic fundamentalism, giving arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: … Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviets? Some stirred-up Moslems or the end of the cold war?

Q: Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said that Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

B: Nonsense! That is stupid. There isn’t a global Islam.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 59

One of the most revealing books on U.S. foreign policy I ever listened to was Dallek on Nixon & Kissinger. When I started it, it seemed like he dashed it off as an easy money maker after some new tapes were released, but the more I listened the more fascinated I became. Nixon & Kissinger were talking about VN STRICTLY in terms of how it would influence domestic political prospects. There was NOTHING in the discussions about the reality of what was actually happening in VN. I suspect this is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy and not unique to Nixon-Kissinger.

So I would reframe your Q to ask what has changed about the U.S. ability to get elected from RR times to W times that made neocons have more power. RR couldn’t, after all, get elected on R ticket today.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to RevBev @ 62

Regarding Cheney, I found a question that Salon’s Justin Elliott to be most interesting — he suggested that perhaps Cheney was the one who gave the orders to shoot down Flight 93 rather than Bush, which would be a huge overstepping of boundaries. There’s a lot of interesting things to say about Cheney.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 66

Gorbachev was the hero of the Cold War. Rapprochement was his initiative and your right – the WH was reluctant to go along, particularly at first. My research was greatly influenced by a short book called The Reagan Reversal, by U of Toronto professor Beth Fischer. She provided evidence that Reagan did come around as a result of three seminal events in 1983, and he did so despite the recalcitrance of his aides. The Fischer book, which was also mined by heavyweights like Richard Rhodes in his book Arsenals of Folly, does not appear as a source item in House of War. So yes, I suppose I would diverge from Carroll on this point while agree totally that Gorbachev was the real turbine for change.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 69

Sounds a little like Bubble Greenspan & Bubble Bernanke. But we better shelve this for another thread. (Thanks!)

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:32 pm
In response to Elliott @ 68

Its symptomatic of US foreign policy militarization and the blurring of lines between civilian and military realms.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 73

Thanks! Will check out those other sources too.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 70

A good point. Yes, Carter gave Robert Gates the go-ahead to supply the rebels before the invasion. In fact, Gates uses that directive in his book as proof that Carter was not the soft-liner re Moscow he is thought to be. Carter also began what would be interpreted as the Reagan military buildup.

maa8722 September 11th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 50

I’d agree, but WSJ’s is just another opinion of an issue which is age old and will never go away. Most of us will selectively “back in” our own take on this, feel comfy doing so, and are free to do so.

I generally agree with your own position having spent a career in the military myself. But readers need to be mindful of all angles here, not denigrate any of them, but come to their own informed conclusions.

Thanks for your contribution!

gigi3 September 11th, 2011 at 3:41 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 72

I recall reading that some parts of COG were put into play that day. Perhaps, that is what allowed Cheney to make that call, if in fact he actually did so.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 71

The Dallek book was also very important to my research.

A very good point about RR being unelectable today (except perhaps as a Democrat!) I think the dissolution of the Soviet “empire” removed an important restraint to what would become a unipolar American hegemony, so that Washington could wage war anywhere in the world at comparable low cost – until now, of course. We’ll see about Rick Perry’s prospects, but my guess is hawks in Washington – either of the neoconservative or liberal interventionist stripe – will lie low during this campaign season because Americans do seem to be exhausted with endless war.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 78

And for yours! I hope you read my book and share with me your thoughts.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 79

Ah yes. Continuity of govt is a really fascinating & murky part of the ongoing story, esp the part about how Cheney & Rummy continued to participate in the exercises when they weren’t in the USG.

Read a post in the past week that NORAD ignored Cheney’s shoot down order bc it didn’t come chain-of-command.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 71

Certainly, see something I wrote for thinkprogress — Reagan sounds more progressive than Obama on immigration. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/09/09/314473/1980-reagan-bush-immigration/

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 78

I served 20 years in the Army too, maa…! ;-)

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 81

What have been some of the reactions to your book among the press, readers, policymakers? What are some of the reactions you are hopeful to get?

freeman September 11th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Oh no ,late to the party as usual , Nice to see Zaid here at FDL though .

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to RevBev @ 64

I wish I could be optimistic. The MIC, as I’ve pointed out, has become such a political hydra that it would require a sustained, multi-pronged strategy to slay it. The political and economic dividends associated with maintaining these massive forward bases regardless of their relevance are simply too powerful to overcome. Plus, China has given the militarists among us a huge favor by behaving in an unreasonably provocative manner – with help from the Pentagon, which is engaged in extremely intrusive surveillance campaigns. My fear is we’ll trade a war on radical Islam for a war with China.

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 80

It seems that like minds think alike. *g* (=grinning)

I’ve been trying to think more meta on what demise of USSR means.

You’re right about ability of U.S. to horn in everywhere. I visited Polish relatives in June 2001. On a car trip in NE Poland where they live, we passed by a site with about 6 or 8′ high stucco walls, and my distant cousin remarked: The Russians moved out & the U.S. moved in. Embarrassment & language difficulties precluded a response from me, but in 2007 I learned that was the Polish site of secrud renditions. Clinton went out of his way to go back on all RR’s promises, by moving U.S. and NATO into all the Russian spheres of influences.

On domestic policy, the disappearance of any leftie thinking has made extreme corporatist policies possible.

BevW September 11th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Stephen, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book.

Zaid, Thank you very much for Hosting this interesting Book Salon discussion.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Stephen’s website and book

Zaid’s website

Thanks all
Have a great week!

Next week:
Adam Winkler / Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America; Host – Mark Kleiman

Dean Baker / The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive; Host – William D. Cohan

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

TarheelDem September 11th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

A very interesting conversation so far. Thanks for being here, Stephen.

My sense is that the Bush administration failed to understand that power that is believed and not used is greater than power that is forced to be used. That his reckless action exposed the real limits of US military capabilities.

Which means that any remaining imperial ambitions on the part of the US are sheer illusion.

If that is the case, how open is the US national security establishment to being an equal power in the real and complex power situation in international relations? Are they willing to explore how to manage a diminished role in the world? Are they open to the radical change in national security institutions (an architecture that hasn’t changed in 64 years) that such a diminished role requires?

eCAHNomics September 11th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 83

Thanks for the link. I remember RR on immigration.

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 87

Maybe your note above about the public’s war fatigue will be some push-back. We will see. Your book looks very interesting.

Zaid Jilani September 11th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thank you very much for being here all of you and a special thanks to Stephen for joining us and sharing with us his wealth of knowledge. And as always thanks to Bev for bringing everyone together and ensuring everything ran smoothly!

gigi3 September 11th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 87

“My fear is we’ll trade a war on radical Islam for a war with China”

I share that concern. There have been a number of times I’ve told my husband that whatever is going on in the ME/NA, don’t take your eye off what’s going on with China & Russia, especially China.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to Zaid Jilani @ 85

The response, from thoughtful quarters at least, has been positive. People who know the issues and the history understand that this is not a hawk vs dove issue and that efforts have to be made to match our commitments with available resources. In particular I’ve received encouraging words from people in the military who are simply exhausted after doing three and four tours Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 88

Spot on, particularly about NATO expansion, which I go into at length in the book. What a scandal!

Stephen Glain September 11th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Many thanks, all!

CTuttle September 11th, 2011 at 4:05 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 97

Mahalo Nui Loa, Stephen and Zaid…! Hopefully your book will convince and inspire some of our Beltway’s ‘Big Thinkers’…!

maa8722 September 11th, 2011 at 4:38 pm
In response to Stephen Glain @ 81

I’ll certainly read your book. I had clipped out that WSJ review and put it on my list — now it’s on top of the pile!

I think there’s a reason this dilemma will never be resolved in a big, long term way. DOD and State don’t speak the same language, and they come from different worlds.

DOD inserts a lot of its own home grown analysis of int’l relations into its training and culture, and it sticks. It’s generally a “lite” version intended just to reinforce a sense of urgency and mission among the troops who, after all, are not Ambassadors themselves (despite claims in the MSM nowadays). The particulars are often not current (how could they be?) or detailed enough to reflect comprehensive viewpoints in that area. I recall the slap-dash nature of Air War College from the 1980s and doubt it has improved since then — there is a syllabus in play. Think of it as a career checklist square filler. The distortions are embedded.

State’s problem is a lack of serious experience in military matters. They do not understand the capabilities, costs, purpose, or anything else about it. Yet a convenience beckons.

Since Vietnam my own conclusion has been that the US military should be much smaller, more focused, and not used as any adjunct to State at any time. That way State’s erroneous expectations of what the military can do will not be in play nor will misplaced presumptions be taken on within the military, itself.

TarheelDem September 11th, 2011 at 4:56 pm
In response to maa8722 @ 99

Since Vietnam my own conclusion has been that the US military should be much smaller, more focused, and not used as any adjunct to State at any time. That way State’s erroneous expectations of what the military can do will not be in play nor will misplaced presumptions be taken on within the military, itself.

So what understanding of the world will drive the rightsizing of the military? And how will it be driven by or drive foreign policy?

As I said above, I think that our entire national security institutions have to be changed to deal with the current global situation. What is required for authentic US national security? What are the authentic interests that those efforts are protecting?

Can not progressives start to have that conversation in more detail? National security institutions have not changed since the beginning of the Cold War except to divide and grow larger and more expensive. They were sized to the Cold War.

And what should the basis of our foreign policy with the 200+ nations of the world be?

RevBev September 11th, 2011 at 5:43 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 100

More and more expensive with a tiny hint of let up at the “end” of the Cold War….probably really scared the MIC. Between the race/cost for the space programs and MIC it is a wonder that there has been $$ for anything. Plus all the travel and other perks for our very well-paid DC employees. The picture is flat out crazy…There was a time…think Truman, LBJ, Sam Rayburn….when very good people, hard workers were not paid outrageous sums of $$….we should recall.

TarheelDem September 11th, 2011 at 5:54 pm
In response to RevBev @ 101

I am advocating progressives get a vision of national security institutions that reflect progressive principles in view of the current state of the work.

maa8722 September 11th, 2011 at 7:03 pm
In response to TarheelDem @ 100

That’s an uncompromising list of useful questions.

They seek how interventionist or isolationist we want to be or can afford to be, and in what ways. No one will be completely satisfied with the outcome.

I think our inclination for intervention too often trumps because there remains a large military, money (or the perception thereof), hubris, expectations from overseas that we will fight their wars, our assuming western values need to be adopted worldwide, and other such habits. It would be a hard frame of mind to kick.

I don’t know what the troop count is nowadays, but it is certainly a lot smaller than during the cold war — but is still too large as we maintain permanently stationed troops in Europe and East Asia. To do what? Show the flag, shake a stick at a potential adversary in an old fashioned way.

We remain habitual busybodies in the Middle East, because we have always been so. We are effectively paying adversaries NOT to mend their ways, because then the gravy train would stop. Too often it seems what we are doing will have an opposite outcome than expected.

I think US national security relies more than ever on intelligence (or at least since WWII). We dropped the ball in the ’70s, and have tried to catch up since 9/11, and I don’t know how to navigate around the resulting privacy issues and other freedoms we expect to maintain. There are nefarious aspects to this subject.

Regarding the basis of foreign policy, would Bismarck minus a big army suffice?

cdblizzard862 September 12th, 2011 at 11:31 am
In response to gigi3 @ 94

I agree.

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post