People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests:
The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC — can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.
For the past 30 years, Luttwak has run his own strategic consultancy — a sort of one-man security firm — that provides bespoke “solutions” to some very intractable problems. In his long career, Luttwak has been asked by the president of Mexico to help eliminate a street gang that was burning tourist buses in the city of Mexicali; the Dalai Lama has consulted him about relations with China, European governments have hired him to root out al-Qaida operatives, and the US army has commissioned him to update its counterinsurgency manual. He earns around $1m a year from his “jobs”. “It’s always important to get paid,” he likes to insist. “It protects you from the liberal problem of good intentions and from being called an intriguer.”
It is tempting to imagine Luttwak as a man exiled to the wrong place and time, whose fate, like a character in Nabokov, has been reduced from old-world brilliance to something less grand in 21st-century America. It is not hard, after all, to picture him conniving at the Congress of Vienna, or plotting murders in the Medici court. He has the air of the seasoned counsellor to the prince who is dispatched to deal with the Mongols and returns alone, on horseback, clutching advantageous terms on parchment.
But only in America was the career of Edward Luttwak possible. The perpetually renewable reservoir of naivety at the highest levels of the US government has been good for business. During the cold war, Luttwak was often identified as a peculiar American species known as the “defence intellectual”. These were academics who served power, who were often impatient with democratic procedure, and who enraptured audiences — from thinktanks to military academies — with their elaborate projector-slide frescoes of nuclear apocalypse.
Read the whole thing.