Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Destiny's Children: Gen X and the NSC

"9/11 changed everything."
-- Dick Cheney

-- Anonymous

I'm fond (maybe too fond) of saying that there's nothing about our so-called war on terror that Thucydides didn't write about in his History of the Peloponnesian War in 400 B.C.

That's why I found this article by WaPo's Dafna Linzer somewhat disturbing.
The NSC's Sesame Street Generation

They headed off to college as the Berlin Wall was coming down, were inspired by globalization and came of age with international terrorism. Freed from a constant nuclear standoff as a dominant fact of international life, members of Generation X no longer fear war or upheaval in the global status quo…

…[N]early a dozen thirtysomething aides, breastfed on "Sesame Street" and babysat by "The Brady Bunch," are now shaping those strategies in unexpected ways as senior advisers at the National Security Council, the White House's powerful inner chamber of foreign policy aides with routine access to Bush. This small group of conservative Gen Xers -- members of an age cohort once all but written off as stand-for-nothing underachievers--is the first set of American policymakers truly at home in a unipolar world…

…Is it any wonder that some of the generation's best conservative minds serve a president who has staked his legacy on transforming the Middle East by force of arms?

Let's take a look at the inherent fallacies in the phrase "best conservative minds."

One of these bright young lights is 32-year-old Michael Allen, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley's special adviser for legislative affairs. Hadley apparently likes to tell sea stories about his years as an arms control negotiator during the cold war. What's Allen's reaction to these history lessons? "We're like 'Arms control, what's that?'" he says.

Um, actually, Michael, "that" would be like, um, the stuff we're trying to do with Iran right now. You remember Iran, don't you? The country with the new meanie president who says crazy stuff? You know--kind of like Iraq only with an "n" at the end of it instead of a "q."

Another of these 100 watt bulbs is 36-year-old Meghan O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan. "You have to think about what are the defining features of the age we live in," she says. "For me, that's American primacy, globalization, terrorism and WMD, which is why we do what we do. This wasn't applicable during the Cold War."

Is that so, Meghan? Let's see. What was America trying to gain over the Soviets during the Cold War? It was "primacy," wasn't it? And when do you think globalization started? I bet your grandpa owned a Toyota or two. (No, come to think of it, your grandpa was probably a Mercedes man.) Terrorism is a whole lot older than your grandpa, but I bet he remembers who helped Osama bin Laden form his al Qaeda terrorist group to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. And all those nuclear thingies we and the Soviets had pointed at each other, were they weapons of totally massive destruction or what?


To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure rhymes a lot. Understanding history won't give you all the answers, but ignorance of history is a sure fire recipe for repeating its disasters.

The "best young conservative minds" shaping policy today have no memory of Vietnam. That was something their poor friends' dads fought. The first Gulf War was a reality TV show.

What little history they know they learned from their mentors, the Dick Cheney generation of neoconservatives who had better things to do than fight in Vietnam, who wrote the script of the first Gulf War, and who literally invented a history to justify the second one.

X Generation neoconservatives have no grasp of reality. They think it's something they can cook up in a think tank. As one White House aide told NYT's Ron Suskind in 2004, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

In other words, the Brady Bunch of young Republicans forming U.S. security policy think they're gods.

And as Second City TV's Count Floyd would say, Scary, huh kids?

Oh. I forgot. The little rascals in the National Security Council don't remember Second City TV. That was, like, pre-iPod, right?


  1. The problem isn't the Brady Bunch; the problem is Empire.

    The Romans had the same problem, believing that they could rewrite the human condition to suit their fantasies. Only now we have video games that let us put in another quarter, again and again. Your plan doesn't work out? Redo the level.

    Only in national security policy and global power projection, you can't redo a level. You have to live with the consequences. If a battle doesn't go my way in Civ, I can just restart the round and get more forces together, and it was like it never happened. The real world isn't so forgiving.

    Every empire has had the hubris to assume that it could project its expectations on the world around it. This one's no different. It's terrifying to hear people older than me, involved in public policy, ask "What's arms control?" Very terrifying. But every empirial power thinks that it can play god, and every one does, until the natural forces that have governed all of human history redistribute the balance of power so that the dominant empire topples.

    So we'll have these whiz kids think that they can get away with anything. And everyone else will resent them for their arrogance. And the rest of the world will slowly, subtly work to treat us not like a collaborative partner but rather as a competitor. And our bloated economy will encourage our feelings of superiority and entitlement. And we'll get fat and bloated and decadent while the rest of the world stays lean and hungry. And we'll collapse. It might be militarily, it might be socially, or it might be economically (which is my guess), but it will happen. It ALWAYS has, and none of the identifying conditions have changed.

    Hypothetically, we could change the model. Hypothetically we could work towards creating a multipolar world in which the major values of the Western enlightenment were dominant throughout the majority of the world. We could work with Western Europe, with whom we have a common ideological history, and bring Eastern Europe into the fold. We could bring moderate nations of the Middle East on board economically. And then we could leave everyone else alone, telling them that they can play ball if they want to embrace our values. The ideals that only America embraced at the founding of our country have been internalized by about 15 to 20 percent of the world's population, consisting of something like 75 percent of the world's economy. Democracy and human rights are now the most influential and powerful trend in the world, and they'll continue to be so, I suspect, unless we screw things up.

    Arrogance is the problem, people. Arrogance about our power.

  2. I've written about what I see as the coming multipolar world before. I think we'll see a multi-tiered collection of nations, with the three big economies (US, China, EU) at the top.

  3. I think you're right. Second tier nations will include Russia, India, and Canada, with the possibility of a Middle Eastern bloc as well (if they can reform their financial sectors.) But in twenty or thirty years, India's going to bypass China as a rising economic power, and it's going to be even MORE confusing at the top.

  4. Sadiq,

    Right now, I consider the "second tier" (which I call "balance powers") to be England, Russia, and Japan. I don't think India's quite there yet, though it could well move into that tier.

    England, Russia, and Japan have at one time or another held extensive empires, and have a long history of being key players in global affairs. And all three of them have, at one time or other, had extensive friendly and hostile dealings with the big three--US, China, and Japan.

    I'll get back to this subject eventually. Thanks for your interest in it. I look forward to your further comments.

  5. Hmm. You have a point. On Japan, I'm not sure. Their pacifist constitution and decades of non-involvement in political jockeying lead me to believe that they have bowed out of the game for the time being in any arena other than economically. They tend not to engage in the political wrangling in the UN the way that the Big Three do, and their economy has... plateaued.

    As for England, I keep forgetting about it. Something about them being our proxies in Europe, a extra-continental European state that has resisted the EU's seductions and continues to support us. You're definitely right about them, though; I would definitely put them ahead of Canada. But I think that Canada does for the Europeans to America what Britain does for us to the Europeans. Hmm... interesting research paper topic....

    I would definitely contend that India is on its way to surpass China this century. It has everything that China has and a lot of things that China doesn't, like a vibrant telecommunications infrastructure, an English-speaking population, and a familiarity with western business practices. But I guess we'll find out.

  6. Sadiq,

    Good observations. I think India could do a lot of things, I just hesitate to place them in the second tier just yet because of their relative inexperience at influencing the world stage. But you never know.

    My model is a lot looser than others I've seen. Mine is more of a "starting point," based largely on national histories and economic rankings.

    If you haven't seen it, here's the GDP ranking from the CIA World Factbook.