A Second Henry Kissinger

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

If America had been able to tolerate a second Henry Kissinger, David Samuels says, that person would have been Edward Luttwak — but Luttwak does not agree:

Kissinger at 88 is writing brochures for Kissinger Associates. His last book on China is one such work written by the staff at Kissinger Associates. It is designed to curry favor with the Chinese authorities and nothing else.

I know him personally very well, but he is such a deceptive person; he’s a habitual liar and dissembler. Although I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him, I have no insight on him at all. His book ends with a paean to U.S.-Chinese friendship and how every other country has to fit in. I have to review it for the TLS, but I’ve been delaying it by weeks because I don’t know whether it is a case of senility or utter corruption.

Not the Usual Washington Think-Tank Product

Monday, September 12th, 2011

I love David Samuels’ introduction to his interview with Edward Luttwak:

Edward Luttwak is a rare bird whose peripatetic life and work are the envy of academics and spies alike. A well-built man who looks like he is in his mid-50s (he turns 70 next year), Luttwak — who was born in 1942 to a wealthy Jewish family in Arad, Romania, and educated in Italy and England — speaks with a resonant European accent that conveys equal measures of authority, curiosity, egomania, bluster, impatience, and good humor. He is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University, and he published his first book, Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, at the age of 26. Over the past 40 years, he has made provocative and often deeply original contributions to multiple academic fields, including military strategy, Roman history, Byzantine history, and economics. He owns a large eco-friendly ranch in Bolivia and can recite poetry and talk politics in eight languages, a skill that he displayed during a recent four-hour conversation at his house, located on a quiet street in Chevy Chase, Md., by taking phone calls in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese, during which I wandered off to the porch, where I sat and talked with his lovely Israeli-born wife, Dalya Luttwak, a sculptor.

The walls of Luttwak’s donnish study — which is by far the nicest room in the Luttwaks’ house, with the best view, and might otherwise have served as the dining room, if Edward and Dalya were more like their neighbors — are lined with bookshelves containing the Roman classics, biographies of Winston Churchill, works on military history and strategy, intelligence gathering, Byzantine art, old atlases, and decorations and plaques from foreign governments. Luttwak’s work as a high-level strategic and intelligence consultant for the U.S. Defense Department, the National Security Council, the State Department, the Japanese government, and the defense departments and intelligence services of other countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East (he appears to be spending a lot of time in South Korea and China) is also augmented by a parallel life as an “operator,” about which he is both secretive and obviously proud.

While the details of Luttwak’s life as a private intelligence operative are sketchy, he has been actively involved in military and paramilitary operations sponsored by the U.S. government, foreign governments, and various private entities. By his own admission, he has been directly involved in attacks on physical targets, interdiction efforts, and the capture and interrogation of wanted persons — although “admission” is clearly the wrong word here, since he is almost boyishly eager for visitors to understand his familiarity with the nuts and bolts of special ops and cites his own field experience to support his estimations of people like Gen. David Petraeus, whose reputation as a counter-insurgency genius he dismisses as a fraud. He is also careful to state that his activities have never violated U.S. law. The Walter Mitty-ish component of Luttwak’s enthusiasm for his other life — academic by day, special operator by night — seems less significant in his psyche than a driving appetite for physical risk that has helped him understand military strategy and related policy questions in a way that the current generation of Western policymakers often does not.

Loved and loathed, and capable of living multiple lives, any one of which would quickly tire out a less intellectually and physically robust man, Luttwak glories in the undeniable fact that he is not the usual Washington think-tank product. His instinctive tendency to reject common wisdom as idiotic, combined with his need to prove that he is the smartest person in every room, has deprived him of the chance to shape events in the way that every policy intellectual not-so-secretly craves. Yet his first allegiance is clearly to the habits of mind that have made him one of the most brilliant strategic thinkers in America, capable of understanding the psychological and practical necessities that drive human action in a highly original, insightful and counterintuitive way.

We met last month, at the height of a rainstorm. What follows are selectively edited portions of the transcript of our interview, during which I made a point of not asking him about his childhood experience as a Jewish refugee in Europe, which seemed like a subject for a different conversation.

Edward Luttwak on Conversations With History

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Edward Luttwak appeared on Conversations With History a few years before his recent visit to promote The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire.

He makes a number of points. He emphasizes that since liberal democracies won’t do what it takes to pacify an insurgency, they shouldn’t try to occupy foreign lands; they should disengage and rely on targeted strikes, if they resort to violence at all.

Also, our understanding of war is terribly distorted, he says, by the bias our experts bring to the subject. The academics studying international relations all come to the problem of conflict hating war — but plenty of people throughout history have been quite happy to go to war.

His opinions on the Middle East and China are perhaps more contrarian.

The Double Life of a Military Strategist

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Anyone who writes a book called Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook is bound to be an interesting individual, but Edward Luttwak goes so far as to lead a double life as a public intellectual and an operator:

There’s one thing Edward Luttwak wanted me to know, before he asked if I had a cell phone, and if so, could I turn it off and remove its battery, presumably if improbably so that he couldn’t be traced. We were sitting in his office library in his family’s sprawling Victorian home in suburban Chevy Chase, Md., full of books from floor to ceiling in Greek, Latin and from the modern era, volumes by Clausewitz, Walter Lacquer, Theodore Draper’s account of Iran Contra and thousands of others. These included a recent U.S. Military Balance survey, cataloguing the F-14s, F-7s, Phantoms and every other significant piece of military anti-air equipment estimated to be held by Iran — statistics that Luttwak looked up and ticked off during the course of our interview.

“I am an operator,” Luttwak said.

Indeed he is, one who carries out field operations, extraditions, arrests, interrogations (never, he insists, using physical violence), military consulting and counterterrorism training for different agencies of the U.S., foreign governments and private interests. When we met, in February, the Drug Enforcement Agency was his latest client; Luttwak says he went to Colombia to help arrest and deliver a couple of Mexican drug runners wanted by the DEA.
Why is this 65-year-old intellectual — on the editorial boards of Harper’s, Britain’s Prospect and France’s Geopolitique, an emeritus fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies — still in the business of arresting fugitives and interrogating drug dealers, I asked Luttwak. It was evident he didn’t even believe in some of the missions he was doing (the drug war is futile, he howled, a fraud, and the heads of the DEA know it’s a fraud). Is it a thrill? Luttwak admitted, that yes, it’s thrilling. He enjoys the physical thrill of it all.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family in Arad, in Transylvanian Romania, in 1942 during World War II, Luttwak and his family fled soon after to Italy, where his father started one of the first Italian plastics factories. At the age of 9, he was sent off by his family to a Jewish boarding school in London, where he would later attend the London School of Economics. Given his background — part cosmopolitan, part refugee — from all over Europe, it’s no surprise that Luttwak speaks a half dozen languages fluently and with evident pleasure (his phone message at home is in three languages). He still travels frequently to Europe, South America and Asia for his consulting assignments. In addition to their Maryland home, Luttwak and his wife, sculptor Dalya Luttwak, also own an ecologically friendly cattle ranch in Bolivia. (Luttwak, who told me he conducts his family’s Passover Seder in the ancient Aramaic, says he doesn’t consider himself religious, but enjoys the traditions.)

Luttwak’s career as an international defense consultant, military strategist and operator, was launched when, in 1968, as a 26-year-old graduate of the London School of Economics, he wrote what would become his seminal book, “Coup d’etat: A Practical Handbook,” about how countries and groups can both launch a junta and protect themselves from one, and which, Luttwak noted proudly, is still in print some 40 years later. “This short book is…wicked, truthful, and entertaining,” the New Yorker wrote in its review of “Coup,” which has been printed in 14 languages. Recruited to Johns Hopkins after advising the French, Israeli and other governments on military matters, Luttwak earned a PhD in international relations and started consulting for the U.S. Department of Defense, military services, the National Security Council, State Department and nascent U.S. special operations command. Soon he was doing actions for, among others, the undersecretary of defense for policy in El Salvador.

(Hat tip to Joseph Fouché.)

The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I’ve been meaning to read Edward Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire — and his earlier The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire — but have settled, for now, for watching this Conversations with History interview:

The first seven minutes are about his academic career and the research that went into writing the book. Then he gets into why strategy is full of paradoxes — because there’s an enemy.

(Hat tip to Joseph Fouché.)

The Most Dangerous Years in the History of Human Civilization

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

It’s difficult for Americans to appreciate the fact that the 1980s were probably the most dangerous years in the history of human civilization, NerveAgent says:

In his 1983 book The Grand Strategy of the Soviet Union Edward Luttwak correctly diagnosed the terminal illnesses plaguing the communist superpower, and argued that it was highly likely that the Soviet Union would attempt to consolidate its position by invading the remote western provinces of China and setting up client governments in the newly conquered territories.

The Soviets would not consider a direct nuclear attack on the U.S. unless they felt themselves in a dire emergency:

Rather than destroy the guarantor of Western Europe’s independence, a more sensible policy was to gradually undermine the NATO alliance, driving a wedge between the U.S. and the European allies. This was the primary objective of Soviet grand strategy ever since the formation of NATO, but it could have been well-served by a short and sharp military operation on the extreme flanks of the Alliance, namely in northern Norway or northeast Turkey. These poorly defended regions could be seized in one night by a well-planned invasion, after which the USSR could declare a “unilateral armistice” and offer to open immediate negotiations, which of course would be inconclusive. If NATO agreed to such negotiations, confidence in the alliance would be shattered beyond repair. If it decided to take military action to retake the lost territories, political considerations about “demonstrating unity” would no doubt mean that the task force would be a multinational hodgepodge, thus guaranteeing failure and the collapse of the alliance.

However, even though a lighting operation on the fringes of NATO could reap enormous political benefits for the Soviet Union, it also involved a great deal of risk. It was possible that the U.S. might decide to mount its own counteroffensive, unencumbered by NATO politics. It might even launch a retaliatory action against Soviet interests elsewhere in the world. Whatever the case, the risk of escalation was beyond the level acceptable for imperial aggrandizement. Anyway, by the early 1980s Soviet diplomacy was succeeding in pulling Western Europe away from the United States; there was no point to risking that progress in a blitzkrieg on the desolate frontiers of NATO. Thus, Soviet planners were likely to aim elsewhere.

Carving out small client states from Iran’s many disparate nationalities and unstable politics offered some possibilities for consolidating the Soviet hold on the Caucasus, but for the long-term security of the empire, the major threat — aside from the U.S. — was China: “…the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic are both Great Powers in a world that now counts only three, and they are adjacent, while the third is removed from both.” (p.92) In other words, the two communist powers were destined to be enemies.

Read the whole thing. (Hat tip to Joseph Fouché.)

Lessons from Byzantium

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Edward Luttwak’s new book argues that we could learn some lessons from Byzantium, a poor and weak empire that nonetheless lasted almost a millennium longer than it richer, more powerful Western Ancestor, Rome:

The Byzantines continuously relied on deterrence – any power confronting other powers must do so continuously, if only tacitly – and they routinely paid off their enemies. But they did much more than that, using all possible tools of persuasion to recruit allies, fragment hostile alliances, subvert unfriendly rulers, and in the case of the Magyars, even divert entire migrating nations from their path.

For the Romans of the Republic and the undivided empire, as for most great powers until modern days, military force was the primary tool of statecraft, with persuasion a secondary complement. For the Byzantine Empire it was mostly the other way around. Indeed, that shift of emphasis from force to diplomacy is one way of differentiating Rome from Byzantium, between the end of Late Roman history in the east, and the beginning of Byzantine history.

This difference in approach led the Byzantines to rely on cavalry rather than heavy infantry:

For the Romans, who believed in destroying enemies not wise enough to recognize the advantages of submission, the cutting and thrusting and besieging heavy infantry was the most important arm, because it could best achieve decisive results. By contrast… the Byzantines believed in containing but not destroying their enemies – potentially tomorrow’s allies. Therefore for them the cavalry was the most important arm because its engagements did not have to be decisive, but could instead end with a quick withdrawal, or a cautious pursuit that would leave both sides not too badly damaged.

What can America learn from Byzantium? NerveAgent summarizes:

America is neither Rome nor Byzantium; it has the military strength to annihilate its enemies utterly, but it is unable to exercise that power because of its own legalistic moralism, its fear of contravening international norms of state behavior, the opposition of other major powers in the system, and the irregular nature of most of its enemies. Yet it continues to proclaim maximalist objectives (e.g. the eradication of terrorism) while abiding by the constraints that prevent it from reaching those objectives, gradually exhausting itself in a vain pursuit of final victory and the End of History. If America should learn one thing from Byzantium, it is that war is eternal; to exert strenuously against a particular enemy is only to hasten decline, for a new enemy is always on the horizon.

(Hat tip to Joseph Fouché.)

It’s not an accident

Friday, September 12th, 2008

In explaining how to occupy and govern a foreign country, Mencius Moldbug notes that military malpractice is often not an accident:

So a Western government that uses its military as an occupying force in a foreign country, without a strong occupation based on the principle of mixed authority, without suppressing competing political and military activity, and with rules of engagement that mimic criminal-justice procedures designed for a civilized Western society, is abusing said military. I find this imprudent. You can kick a poodle. You can own a wolf. But if you own a wolf, don’t kick it.

Worse, while Professor Luttwak’s concept of “military malpractice” is technically accurate, it makes the situation sound like an accident. It is actually much worse than that.

A failed occupation, like that in Afghanistan, or a Pyrrhic half-success such as Iraq or Vietnam, is of considerable political utility to those whose theory of government predicts that military occupation of a hostile population can never succeed. This would be the “democratic,” or “progressive,” or simply “left,” side of your radio dial. Not coincidentally, this is also the side which is vending the “hearts and minds” theory, and doing its best to eradicate the “grasp the nettle” theory from human memory.

And the cycle works. When an occupation fails, it is because it failed to win “hearts and minds.” And the next occupation will be even more tender-handed. It will cower even more abjectly before the delicate flutter of the native heart. It will completely forget the fact that the native has a mind, too, and it is far easier to communicate with a mind than with a heart. It will kill more and more American soldiers, and devastate more and more foreign countries. (And other foreign countries will be devastated not by occupation, but by the lack of it — in the person of a Mugabe, a Saddam, an Idi Amin.)

Moreover, who are the soldiers who are dying in these theatrical exercises? Overwhelmingly, Amerikaners. Whose political fortunes are advanced by the repeated demonstration that “war never solves anything?” Certainly not the Amerikaners.

Thus these sabotaged occupations are revealed in their true nature: they are civil wars by proxy. The goal of war is political power. In a sabotaged occupation, the left gains political power, not in Iran or Iraq or Vietnam, but in America, by using the deaths of thousands of American soldiers to prove to the TV audience that reality and progressive reality are the same thing.

The fact that no one is thinking this consciously — progressives are overwhelmingly sincere — does not change the fact that it works.

How to occupy and govern a foreign country

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Mencius Moldbug explains how to occupy and govern a foreign country:

[Grasping the nettle] is an old English metaphor known to all colonialists. As the rhyme goes:

Tender-handed, grasp the nettle, and it stings you for your pains.
Grasp it like a man of mettle, and it soft as silk remains.

(Supposedly the toxin injectors of the stinging nettle are activated by a light brush but deactivated by firm pressure. I have not tested this personally.)

The substance of the nettle metaphor comes from a theory of civil war that is the polar opposite of the “hearts and minds” theory. Under the nettle theory, insurgencies happen because, and only because, the insurgents perceive a chance of winning.

Like all men, they fight for glory, power, and plunder. Any government can prevent and/or terminate all internal violence by making it clear to its opponents that victory is impossible, and the only results of any struggle will be ignominy and imprisonment at best, mutilation and death at worst. To convey this message is to grasp the nettle “like a man of mettle.”

The solution to the problem of colonial government, then, is to govern: to enforce order instantly, completely and without compromise, tolerating no challenge to the occupying authority whether military or political, religious or criminal. Lord Cromer, for instance, would have been simply aghast at the fact that the US occupation authorities tolerated not only native political parties, but parties with armed paramilitary wings. It has taken five years to mostly, sort of, pretty much correct this amazing elementary howler.
In summary: the theory that it is impossible, in the 20th century, for an effective modern military to occupy and govern a foreign country is simply not tenable. This illusion has been fostered by a pattern of “tender-handed” occupations, combined with a “hearts and minds” theory of insurgency that prescribes more tenderness as soon as the nettle starts to sting. Unsurprisingly, this prescription does not work. By sustaining the illusion that the quack medicine of “hearts and minds” is effective, military experts sustain the illusion that no other medicine exists and no occupation can be successful.

This is not a novel observation. My point is the same as Professor Luttwak’s: trying to run an occupation without “grasping the nettle” is military malpractice.

How Technology Almost Lost the War

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Noah Shachtman explains How Technology Almost Lost the War in Iraq, where the critical networks are social, not electronic:

The network-centric approach had worked pretty much as advertised. Even the theory’s many critics admit net-centric combat helped make an already imposing American military even more effective at locating and killing its foes. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar were broken almost instantly. But network-centric warfare, with its emphasis on fewer, faster-moving troops, turned out to be just about the last thing the US military needed when it came time to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. A small, wired force leaves generals with too few nodes on the military network to secure the peace. There aren’t enough troops to go out and find informants, build barricades, rebuild a sewage treatment plant, and patrol a marketplace.

For the first three years of the Iraq insurgency, American troops largely retreated to their fortified bases, pushed out woefully undertrained local units to do the fighting, and watched the results on feeds from spy drones flying overhead. Retired major general Robert Scales summed up the problem to Congress by way of a complaint from one division commander: “If I know where the enemy is, I can kill it. My problem is I can’t connect with the local population.” How could he? For far too many units, the war had been turned into a telecommute. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon were the first conflicts planned, launched, and executed with networked technologies and a networked ideology. They were supposed to be the wars of the future. And the future lost.

What’s perplexing — infuriating, really — is that many experts and even non-experts knew the basics of counterinsurgency going into the war. And yet it still took three years to get American troops out of their fortified bases.

There are other obvious facts that we’d rather ignore, including what Luttwak (Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook) calls the easy and reliable way of defeating all insurencies everywhere:

Perfectly ordinary regular armed forces, with no counterinsurgency doctrine or training whatever, have in the past regularly defeated insurgents, by using a number of well-proven methods. It is enough to consider these methods to see why the armed forces of the United States or of any other democratic country cannot possibly use them.

The simple starting point is that insurgents are not the only ones who can intimidate or terrorize civilians. For instance, whenever insurgents are believed to be present in a village, small town, or distinct city district — a very common occurrence in Iraq at present, as in other insurgency situations — the local notables can be compelled to surrender them to the authorities, under the threat of escalating punishments, all the way to mass executions. That is how the Ottoman Empire could control entire provinces with a few feared janissaries and a squadron or two of cavalry. The Turks were simply too few to hunt down hidden rebels, but they did not have to: they went to the village chiefs and town notables instead, to demand their surrender, or else. A massacre once in a while remained an effective warning for decades. So it was mostly by social pressure rather than brute force that the Ottomans preserved their rule: it was the leaders of each ethnic or religious group inclined to rebellion that did their best to keep things quiet, and if they failed, they were quite likely to tell the Turks where to find the rebels before more harm was done.

Long before the Ottoman Empire, the Romans knew how to combine sticks and carrots to obtain obedience and suppress insurgencies. Conquered peoples too proud to accept the benefits of their rule, from public baths and free circus shows to reliable law courts, were “de-bellicized” (a very Roman idea). It was done by killing all who dared to resist in arms — it made good combat practice for the legions — by selling into slavery any who were captured in battle, by leveling towns that held out under siege instead of promptly surrendering, and by readily accepting as peaceful subjects and future citizens all who submitted to Roman rule. In the first two and most successful centuries of imperial Rome, some 300,000 soldiers in all, only half of them highly trained legionary troops, were enough to secure a vast empire that stretched well beyond the Mediterranean basin that formed its core, today the territory of some thirty European, Middle Eastern, and North African states. The Romans could not disperse their soldiers in hundreds of cities, thousands of towns, and countless hamlets to repress riot or rebellion; the troops were needed to guard the frontiers. Instead, they relied on deterrence, which was periodically reinforced by exemplary punishments. Most inhabitants of the empire never rebelled after their initial conquest. A few tribes and nations had to be reconquered after trying and failing to overthrow Roman rule. A few simply refused to become obedient, and so they were killed off: “They make a wasteland and call it peace” was the bitter complaint of a Scottish chieftain (as reported by Tacitus).

Terrible reprisals to deter any form of resistance were standard operating procedure for the German armed forces in the Second World War, and very effective they were in containing resistance with very few troops. As against all the dramatic films and books that describe the heroic achievements of the resistance all over occupied Europe, military historians have documented the tranquillity that the German occupiers mostly enjoyed, and the normality of collaboration, not merely by notorious traitors such as the incautious French poet or the failed Norwegian politician but by vast numbers of ordinary people. Polish railwaymen, for example, secured the entire sustenance of the German eastern front. As for the daring resistance attacks that feature in films, they did happen occasionally, but not often, and not because of any lack of bravery in fighting the routinely formidable Germans but because of the terrible punishments they inflicted on the population.

Occupiers can thus be successful without need of any specialized counterinsurgency methods or tactics if they are willing to out-terrorize the insurgents, so that the fear of reprisals outweighs the desire to help the insurgents or their threats. The Germans also established secure and economical forms of occupation by exploiting isolated resistance attacks to achieve much broader demonstration effects. Lone German dispatch riders were easily toppled by tensed wires or otherwise intercepted and killed, but then troops would arrive on the scene to burn or demolish the surrounding buildings or farms or the nearest village, seizing and killing anyone who aroused suspicion or just happened to be there. After word of the terrible deeds spread and was duly exaggerated, German dispatch riders could safely continue on their way, until reaching some other uninstructed part of the world, where the sequence would have to be repeated.

Likewise in the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were skilled in using terror to secure their pervasive territorial control and very ready to use any amount of violence against civilians, from countless individual assassinations to mass executions, as in Hue in 1968. The Communist cause had its enthusiasts, “fellow travelers,” and opportunistic followers, but Vietnamese who were none of the above, and not outright enemies, were compelled to collaborate actively or passively by the threat of the violence so liberally used. That is exactly what the insurgents in Iraq are now doing, and this is no coincidence. All insurgencies follow the same pattern. Locals who are not sympathetic to begin with, who cannot be recruited to the cause, are compelled to collaborate by the fear of violence, readily reinforced by the demonstrative killing of those who insist on refusing to help the resistance. Neutrality is not an option.

By contrast, the capacity of American armed forces to inflict collective punishments does not extend much beyond curfews and other such restrictions, inconvenient to be sure and perhaps sufficient to impose real hardship, but obviously insufficient to out-terrorize insurgents. Needless to say, this is not a political limitation that Americans would ever want their armed forces to overcome, but it does leave the insurgents in control of the population, the real “terrain” of any insurgency.

American Coup D’Etat

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

In American Coup D’Etat, “military thinkers discuss the unthinkable” — and all agree that it’s largely impossible:

LUTTWAK: You would sit in the office of the Secretary of Defense, and the first place where you wouldn’t be obeyed would be inside your office. If they did follow orders inside the office, then people in the rest of the Pentagon wouldn’t. If everybody in the Pentagon followed orders, people out in the military bases wouldn’t. If they did, as well, American citizens would still not accept your legitimacy.

RICHARD KOHN: It’s a problem of public opinion. All of the organs of opinion in this country would rise up with one voice: the courts, the media, business leaders, education leaders, the clergy.

Of course, the military doesn’t need to commit a coup:

BACEVICH: But this does bring up another crucial reason there could never be a military coup in the United States: the military has learned to play politics. It doesn’t need to have a coup in order to get what it wants most of the time. Especially since World War II, the services have become very skillful at exploiting the media and at manipulating the Congress—particularly on the defense budget, which is estimated now to be equal to that of the entire rest of the world combined.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can’t imagine a scenario leading to a coup:

LUTTWAK: Such a scenario would probably play out through a multi-stage transformation. After all, take any group of nice people on a trip; if five bad things happen to them in a row, they will end up as cannibals. How many adverse events are needed before a political system, arguably the most firmly rooted constitutional system in the history of the world, becomes uprooted? How many September 11ths, on what scale? How much panic, what kind of leadership? All of us can say that it is foolish to talk of a coup in the United States, but any of us could design a scenario by which a coup becomes possible.

Americans trust their military:

DUNLAP: Americans today have an incredible trust in the military. In poll after poll they have much more confidence in the armed forces than they do in other institutions. The most recent poll, just this past spring, had trust in the military at 74 percent, while Congress was at 22 percent and the presidency was at 44 percent. In other words, the armed forces are much more trusted than the civilian institutions that are supposed to control them.

Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran — Yet

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

Edward N. Luttwak presents Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran — Yet:

  1. Iranians are our once and future allies. Except for a narrow segment of extremists, they do not view themselves as enemies of the United States.
  2. In essence, we should not bomb Iran because the worst of its leaders positively want to be bombed — and are doing their level best to bring that about.
  3. The regime certainly cannot produce nuclear weapons in less than three years, and may not be able to do so even then because of the many technical difficulties not yet overcome.

Addendum: Dan Drezner looks at the same article, and one of his readers offers this comment:

We know that Pakistan, without much of an industrial base to speak of, developed nukes. Ditto for North Korea. One doesn’t need a vast industrial base to produce nukes, one just needs solid focus and some talented scientists, and some smuggling.