The Machiavelli of Maryland

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

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.


  1. Wilbur Hassenfus says:

    “The great stupidity of the Michael Brown trial was that they announced the verdict late at night, which was begging for riots.”

    Weirdly naive remark.

  2. Slovenian Guest says:

    From this interview with him on Romanian TV:

    Interviewer: Often great powers have the interest to keep conflicts alive, because in turmoil they can extract natural resources or sell weapons…

    Luttwak interrupts: That is really a horrible fantasy, the reason great powers do what they do, the reason why human history is a history of crimes and follies, is because people get ideas. When somebody goes somewhere to steal something, there is a logic to it. But the United States has never taken one barrel of oil from Iraq, not one barrel! A, and B, they have not sold any weapons, so the Americans have never sold one weapon in Iraq, not one, and then never taken a barrel of oil. I wish they had. Unfortunately it’s much worse, there’s something much worse than stealing, and it is to have stupid ideas.

    He also wrote about Putin recently:

    Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is guilty of a very great crime: He defends his allies and attacks his enemies, conduct particularly reprehensible in the eyes of the Obama Administration, which does the exact opposite.

    Such primitive notions (of empire) are no doubt incomprehensible to Obama and his officials, as well as to their intellectual milieu, for which empire can only be an embarrassment, power cannot be purposeful, peace is obtained by good will and not by assured security, war is purposeless destruction (and all warriors are merely future PTSD cases), and diplomacy should be a multilateral pursuit, having to do with Global Warming if at all possible. These are all useful stances for rank-and-file Obama officials as they prepare their future with Bill and Melinda, Bill and Chelsea, and the rest of the PC foundation universe with its light lifting and ceaseless conferencing travel to yammy destinations, but to conduct the foreign policy of the United States they are hopelessly off-target. Putin and Netanyahu, by contrast, are determined to hit their targets hard.

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