Posted by Curt on 8 January, 2017 at 10:30 am. 4 comments already!


Brian Stewart:

On the first page of Zero to One, Peter Thiel’s idiosyncratic manifesto on start-ups, the technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist reveals his preferred strategy for recruiting new talent. “Whenever I interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question,” he writes. “‘What important truth do very few people agree with you on?’”

Thiel explains that the question is daunting for two reasons. “It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something he knows to be unpopular.” A proper response would not only be contrarian, it would likely elicit a snort of derision from the evaluator.

My own answer (which wouldn’t get me far with Thiel, who is a strident critic of American global hegemony) is that military might is an indispensable instrument of national power. Bereft of America’s preparation and frequent employment of armed force, the liberal world order would swiftly deteriorate, and perhaps even collapse.

In today’s political climate, it is difficult to exaggerate how out of fashion it is to utter this truth. Neither major political party is willing to count itself among the tribe that still believes unapologetically in America’s rightful role and responsibilities in the world. The Obama presidency has been distinguished by its narrow reading of U.S. interests and its reluctance to use force in defense of any wider mission civilisatrice. The incoming Trump administration promises to accelerate this trend away from global responsibility and toward a more common status for the United States in the order of nations.

In The Big Stick, Eliot Cohen dissents from this reigning consensus. A professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a former counselor to the State Department, Cohen assigns himself the task of defending American military power — what Theodore Roosevelt called “the big stick” — as the linchpin of international order. The result is a bracing argument that restores this woefully neglected dimension of statecraft to its proper position as “the last argument of kings — or presidents.”

Cohen’s analysis is ineluctably shaped by his dark view of human nature. Like Plato, he grasps that peace, not war, is the aberration in human affairs. If history is any guide, order is not a natural feature of the international environment but almost always an imposition by empires and great powers — or, as the case has been since the end of the Second World War, by a single great power: hence, Pax Americana.

After the war, the United States became the guarantor of world order, as that role had been vacated with the long, withdrawing roar of British power. With vast tracts of the world in ruins, America crafted an economic order at Bretton Woods to stimulate the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. It also constructed a political order to promote liberal and democratic institutions. And so the world has enjoyed, for more than 70 years, an era of unprecedented prosperity and freedom.

This progress took place in a world without major global conflict, and that essential condition was made possible by a dominant power maintaining order by force of arms. The forward deployment of U.S. forces in Western Europe and East Asia suspended the cycles of war that historically made those regions cauldrons of slaughter. This feature of the post-war world has received scant attention precisely because few have noticed the absence of industrial-scale violence. It is no less of an achievement because it has been unsung.

Against the intellectual fad of a post-American world, Cohen notes that America remains “immensely strong across many dimensions of power.” The evidence for this claim is compelling. From its demographic trends (the best of any developed country) to its dynamic economy to its resilient political system (albeit less resilient than it seemed before the election of Trump), the United States maintains a clear edge over its competitors. It also boasts an alliance portfolio that includes not only longtime friends but also traditional adversaries (see Vietnam).

Read more

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x