31 August, 2010

Addendum to "Dreaming Grand Strategy"

Much of what is written below is pulled from my comments on Zenpundit's critique of my earlier post "Dreaming Grand Strategy." If you have already read them, you will find little new here.

In the post "Dreaming Grand Strategy" I set out to explain why America is suffering a crisis in grand strategy. Doing so required me to lay out my thoughts as to what grand strategies are, how grand strategies are crafted, and the means whereby grand strategies are used.  As I see things, it is impossible for any state to possess a "grand strategy" without first possessing a sense of "national purpose." Using the grand strategies of America's past as my example, I argued that it was only when the citizenry shared a common identity and were bound by a popular vision of the role their country should play in world affairs that the Republic had identifiable grand strategies. Lose this purpose and you lose the strategies designed to fulfill it. 

This is central to the definition I give "grand strategy": A grand strategy is any comprehensive strategy statesmen develop or utilize to fulfill their state's chosen national purpose.

My original post centered upon America and her past strategies. This was a mistake. The United States and her sister democratic-republics are a historical anomaly. I ought to have ventured further afield, and if I had I would have made a further distinction that I have thought much about but nowhere articulated. This shall be remedied below. 


We declare that ours is a rule "of the people, by the people, and for the people." If any political unit is to compete successfully its decision making apparatus must work in harmony and with long term consistency. For America, the decision making apparatus was always the demos.  It is difficult for a coherent American strategy to evolve if the demos is not itself coherent. A state shipped by the people requires a national ethos capable of uniting the people into one cohesive working body.

Few kingdoms in man’s history have operated under such restrictions. Bismark’s Prussia is a case in point. There was no demos for Prussia. Even the Prussian aristocracy had little influence on the kingdom’s foreign policy. There was only Bismark. And by extension, the purpose of Prussia was the purpose Bismark chose for it. His purpose did not need to be overtly ‘moral’ –  it was not forged by the shared experiences of the masses, but by the calculations of one man.

This general principle can be extended to all political systems. The ‘purpose’ is not the purpose agreed to by the entire population of a kingdom or state; it is the underlying vision that unites the efforts of whatever man or grouping of men decides affairs of state. In some polities the purpose is decided by dictator. In others it is the fruits of aristocratic consensus and self interest. And in others still it is the ethos of entire peoples.

Perhaps the use of the word "purpose" in my original post was a mistake. It is too easy to assume that "purpose" is a concept expressed in explicitly moral terms. All of the American examples are so - but this is because Americans have had a knack for moral indignation since the founding. 

But again, the United States is something of an anomaly when seen in the long view.

Perhaps a substitute for "purpose" would be "end goal." Or even "self-selected role." Both strip the concept of its moral connotation. Both stress the practical consequences of its development. The idea is for the decision making class to have a common picture or unifying vision as to what role their state should play in the world – what the end goal of all their efforts should be.

However, I think I shall stick with "purpose." Any extra cognitive baggage it may carry is redeemed by the word's elegance.


 The state is built as an instrument. But an instrument for what? It is only when the decision making class has reached a consensus on this matter the crafting of grand strategy can begin. 


29 August, 2010

Chinese Troops Move Into Pakistan, Western Media Hardly Bats An Eye

Earlier this weekend The New York Times reported that Pakistan has allowed some 11,000 Chinese troops into Gilgit-Baltistan, a strategically significant part of the contested Kashmir region. Steve Hynd (of NewsHoggers) beat me to posting on the news. As his thoughts on the situation mirror my own, I direct my readers to his post:

Steve Hynd. NewsHoggers. 29 August 2010.

To Mr. Hynd's excellent analysis I can add very little. There are but three points left unaddressed:

1.The most striking aspect of this story is the way it is currently being covered by Western media outlets: it isn't. A quick perusal of Google news shows that the Indian papers were quick to pick it up, but that no Western paper other than the Times has touched it. Even the Grey Lady buried the story at the back of its opinion section. Given the scope of these deployments this silence is astonishing.

2. Over the last few weeks Gilgit has been the site of much religious and ethnic strife. It is unclear if the decision to deploy in Gilgit was prompted by this, or if the Chinese have simply grown impatient with Pakistan's inability to reopen the Karakoram Highway, the one existing connection between Gilgit-Baltinstan and Xinjiang, which has been closed since a major landslide destroyed at least 12 miles of the road seven months ago. The limited access foreign journalists have to Gilgit means it is unlikely we shall know the full truth of the matter any time soon.

3. Indian analyst Bahukutumbi Raman reminds us that this is but a small part of China's broader Kashmir policy. To quote from his post:

 Bahukutumbi Raman. Raman's Strategic Analysis. 27 August 2010.

The international community treats Jammu & Kashmir as a de facto----but not de jure --- part of India. Similarly, it treats Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as de facto---- but not de jure---parts of Pakistan. In pursuance of this policy, other countries honour the Indian passports held by the residents of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) and issue them normal visas on those passports when they want to travel. Similarly, they honour the Pakistani passports held by the residents of POK and GB and issue them visas on those passports.

China used to follow a similar policy till last year. It has now modified that policy in a significant manner. While it does not question the validity of the Indian passports held by the residents of J & K, it has stopped issuing visas on those passports.It has not debarred them from traveling to China, but they are allowed to travel only on the basis of a plain paper visa which is stapled to their Indian passport. The entry and exit stamps of the Chinese immigration are affixed on the plan paper visa and not on their Indian passport.

While doing so, Beijing has not changed its visa issue policy in respect of Pakistani residents of POK and GB. It is believed they are still issued visas on their Pakistani passports. Moreover, ignoring Indian protests, it is going ahead with its project to assist Pakistan in the upgradation of the Karakoram Highway which runs across GB and in the construction of hydel power and irrigation projects in GB. It has also agreed to participate in a feasibility study for the construction of a railway line to Xinjiang through GB. It has not yet agreed to assist Pakistan in the construction of an oil/gas pipeline from Gwadar to Xinjiang through GB.

The modifications in the Chinese policy have the following implications:

  •  Firstly, China has started treating POK and GB as de facto and de jure parts of Pakistan. It does not recognise Indian claims to these territories.
  • Secondly, it has diluted its past acceptance of J & K as a de facto part of India. This would give satisfaction to Pakistan, which projects J & K as Pakistani territory under the illegal occupation of India. This would also lend support to the Pakistani contention that it has a political, diplomatic and moral right to support the so-called freedom struggle in J & K.
  • Thirdly, by questioning the legitimacy of India's sovereignty over J & K, the Chinese may be creating a future option for themselves of questioning India's locus standi to negotiate with them on the future of the Indian territory in the Ladakh area occupied by them in the past. They could use this option in future if their relations with India deteriorate.
Mr. Raman goes on to argue that China's changing stance on Kashmir reflects the active assistance she is receiving from Pakistan in containing Turkic separatists in Xinjiang and Xinjiang's anticipated economic growth if it is integrated with a stable Pakistani Kashmir. While I do not disagree with this analysis, I think China's policy is designed to frustrate  external threats as well as internal ones. China's competition with India has just as much bearing here as does its fears of Xinjiangi separatism.

As a parting thought, I offer a post (written by this author at an earlier date) that may prove itself useful to those discussing this news:

T. Greer. The Scholar's Stage. 25 June 2010.

EDIT (31/08/2010): The Pakistani foreign ministry is disputing the claim that it allowed Chinese troops into Gilgit. The Indian government has declared that it will verify independently whether the Times is correct in its coverage.

EDIT (01/09/2010): The Chinese foreign ministry has also denied sending troops into Gilgit.

EDIT (01/09/2010):  Selig Harrison, the author of the New York Times' report, has been caught fabricating details in the past. Unless the Indian government's report verifies Harrison's claims, it looks as if the Times will have to publish an apology column. 

24 August, 2010

Manifest Destiny - A Case Study in National Purpose?


(Sorry I keep throwing these things on you guys)

An interesting discussion has been enfolding over at Zenpundit's place. The topic of the day is grand strategy and its relation to moral and national purpose. My previous foray into the topic, "Dreaming Grand Strategy", drew the attention of Mark Safranski (the Zenpundit) and he was quick to devote a post to my argument that the decision making class must agree upon a common sense of purpose before a grand strategy can be formulated. His critique of my piece is valid and more than worth reading.

Another critique was made by Democratic Core, one of the commentators participating in the thread following Zen's post. Democratic Core sees the U.S.-Mexican War as an essential counter-point to those claiming American foreign policy is driven by the sentiments of the American demos. Says he:

Daniel Walker Howe’s outstanding book What Hath God Wrought makes a case for the conclusion that the [Mexican-American] war was largely the implementation of the vision of one man, President Polk.  The election of 1844 was one of the closest in US history and Polk won largely because of a fluke: the Liberty Party siphoned off votes from Clay in upstate New York and the nascent Democratic machine in NYC generated enough fraudulent votes of Irish immigrants to put NY in the Democratic column.  There was no vast public support for either annexation of Texas or war with Mexico, the pillars of Polk’s campaign.  Nor is it clearly the case that Polk was simply serving the interests of the "slave power" by promoting the war, as abolitionists argued.  Polk’s key motivation for pushing for a war with Mexico had less to do with the annexation of Texas, which was basically a fait accompli before the war started, than with the annexation of California, something with which Polk was obsessed.  California was never viewed as a likely slave state, and ironically, it later became the backbone of the Republican Party in opposing westward expansion of slavery.  After the war started, again, primarily because of provocations Polk created, public support for the war remained highly divided with little of the country expressing much enthusiasm for the war.  The two highly competent generals responsible for winning the war, Scott and Taylor, were outspoken Whigs and were personally opposed to the war.  Hard to see that demos or anything other than Polk’s personal nationalistic vision had much to do with this war.

I found Democratic Core's comment to be quite interesting, as it was through study of the U.S.-Mexican war my ideas on grand strategy and national purpose were first born. Needless to say, I respectfully disagree with Democratic Core's view. However, as I am currently 5,000 miles removed from the library I would use to strengthen my position, I cannot write a direct response. I will have to settle for something not quite as good: the essay I wrote that prompted my first musings on the nature of grand strategy.

The essay is only loosely related to grand strategy itself. Its  fiery darts are not aimed at those dismissing the role purpose plays in developing grand strategy, but in economic  determinists and realists who believe that culture and ideology are  bit players on the international stage. However, it throws light on the links that tied the ethos of antebellum America and the extraordinary territorial expansion that occurred during this time. It should thus suffice as a response to Democratic Core's critique.


America's Expansionist Identity, 1846-1848

The 11th President of the United States attained to office on March 4, 1945. By the time he left Washington D.C. four years later the United States had doubled in size, gaining sovereignty over more than a million square miles of new territory. While in the present it is easy to take the United State’s current shape and form for granted, the republic’s rapid westward expansion was in its time an incredible and controversial event. The incorporation of the Republic of Texas, the territory of Oregon, and the two Mexican territories of New Mexico and Alta California was unprecedented; not once had the America state acted with such great aggression for the sake of land. While disquieting to contemporary European observers, America’s expansionist bout offers an unparalleled case study for modern scholars investigating ideology’s relationship with a state’s foreign relations: during the 1840s there were few forces with larger influence on the American polity than the unique mission Americans claimed as theirs. Far from being an irrelevancy, American culture became the determining factor of her fate. The antebellum expansion of the United States was, first and foremost, an exercise in American self-identity.

Any investigation of the identities and ideologies of the past is reliant upon the public rhetoric of those who were living there. There are certain weaknesses to this approach; Jacksonian democracy was rife with party machines, factional infighting, electioneering, and self-serving policies shrewdly hidden in ornate expressions and orations. These realities cannot be denied. However, alone they cannot destroy the value public rhetoric holds as a tool for historians examining the intersection of ideology and policy. The democratic nature of American political institutions ensured this; if statesmen ignored popular opinions and discourse when drafting their orations they risked losing both influence and, when the bridge between their views and the public’s was too great, office. Even the most stringent of realists was beholden to the ideological whims of his constituency. His pronouncements, out of necessity, resonated with the polity that elected him.[1] The same principle applies to the editor and pamphleteers of the day: it is safe to assume that wherever a political doctrine was preached in abundance its believers were abundant as well.[2]

The picture painted by such antebellum rhetoric – that is to say, America as her citizens described her – is that of a virgin land populated by a chosen people. Americans, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, spoke of themselves as a unique race that was destined to enact the great experiment that was democracy. By starting this experiment, by freeing themselves from the shackles of monarchy, the American people had been released from the old world’s regime of toil and tyranny. Editorials of the day championed the life of the American citizen, reminding Americans that theirs was the gift of liberty, happiness, and progress. In contrast, the masses of the Old World had to “endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of the beast of the field.”[3] The United States had escaped history; her advancement was the advancement of the entire human race. She was, in the words of one the Democratic Review’s most passionate editorials, “The nation of human progress.”[4] Now the American people were free to attain the fate ordained for them on the nation’s seal: Novus ordo Seclorum, “A New Order for the Ages”.

Americans went about constructing the new order with gusto. The Antebellum was the golden age of religious millennialism; spiritual fervor expressed itself in dozens of attempts to build a new Zion on American soil.[5] Obsessed with “improvements”, Americans tirelessly sought to improve the moral and physical conditions of both the polity and the state.[6] Fitting for a country that left behind the normal course of history, “Go ahead” became a national motto: the United States was a “go-ahead” country, and Americans were a “go-ahead” people.[7]

This ethic of can-do improvement was not limited to internal affairs. The logical extension of equating American improvement with the progress of humankind was that the United States had a providentially assigned role to improve the entire world. The Democratic Review explained that America’s “high destiny” was to “establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen”.[8] Cyrus Dunham, a Representative in the House, stated this vision with language even more theatrical than the Review’s:

I believe, Mr. Chairman, that we were placed here for a wise and glorious purpose – to restore poor, downtrodden humanity to its long last dignity, to overthrow despots, and shed abroad a genial influence of freedoms, to break the bonds of the oppressed and bid captives go free, to liberate, to elevate, and to restore… by the sword and the spirit of the genius of our institutions.[9]

The providential destiny to “shed abroad” freedom and liberty translated easily into a policy of expansion. Significantly, Representative Dunham proclamation of American mission was part of his argument in favor of the Homestead Act. Dunham could see no better way to bring freedom to the world than to open up the American plains to those who would have them. Dunham’s position reflected a broader attitude of period; freedom was seen as contingent on a society of independent yeomen who would not be corrupted by financial interests, equal before each other and the law. The preservation of liberty, and by extension, the progress of humanity, was thus dependent on opening up land.[10]Other aspects of the American conception of self lent themselves to expansionism; the conviction that America was, in the words of the New York Sun, “leaven to millions[in Europe]—a light and fire, illuminating their souls and warming their hearts and hand” which would cause the poor oppressed masses of the world “to shout in the ears of their tyrants, “we too are men – we will be free!”’[11] This was America as the pole star of liberty, the torchbearer that illuminated the world with freedom. The flame of liberty, it was thought, would reach its greatest brilliance if the institutions of liberty were to stretch from tropic to arctic, proving that freedom could take root in any place possessed by those who valued it.[12]

It was within this context the phrase “extending the area of freedom” first came to being. The phrase had originated with a well publicized letter written by Andrew Jackson in support of the annexation of Texas, but three years later Americans were using it to argue for territorial concessions in the War with Mexico.[13] The phrase was emblematic of both the arguments used in favor of expansion and the popular perception of the nation’s growing territory. “Acquisitions of territory in America” the New York Morning News proclaimed in a similar vein, “are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of states in the old world… our way of lies not over the trampled nations but through desert wastes, to be brought with our industry and energy into the domain of civilization…. We take from no man, the reverse, rather—we give to man.” [14] While Polk – the originator of expansionist drive – was not one to use florid rhetoric, historians have pointed out that he too justified the war as “a moral duty….. [that] would advance the cause of republican liberty itself.”[15]

Yet not all Americans were as quick to justify expansion by conquest as President Polk. While the majority congressmen and essayists supported territorial acquisition, a large and vocal minority intensely opposed the annexation of more land. Viewing the flood of editorials, petitions, and orations that ripped apart the young republic after Congress declared war, there exists a temptation to portray the America of the 1840s as a union bitterly divided by expansion. However, this partisan rancor was never a reflection of widespread opposition to continental expansion. It was a reflection of opposition to the means by which continental expansion was taking place.

There were few statesmen who so adamantly opposed both the admission of Texas to the union or the seizure of Northern Mexico as John Quincy Adams. As a Representative in the House he voted and spoke adamantly against both.[16] But two decades years earlier, as President, Adams had a remarkably different view of expansionism. In 1819 he declared to his cabinet

The world shall be familiarized with the idea of [our] proper dominion of North America. From the time we became an independent people it was as much a law of nature that this should become our pretensions as that the Mississippi should flow to the sea.[17]

Adams was one of the first statesmen to articulate the ideal of continental expansion as the inevitable destiny of the union.[18] Why then, when expansion actually came, did he oppose it with unparalleled vehemence?[19] The answer can be found in Adam’s strong abolitionist views. Famous for his oratorical attacks on slave power, Adams feared that expanding America’s borders in the southwest extended not the area of freedom, but of slavery.[20] When Oregon, a land in little danger of becoming a slave state, was placed upon the national agenda, Adams became one of the most eloquent expansionists in the house.[21] Adams was hardly against expansion; he was simply against expansion coupled with slavery.

Near every opponent of territorial expansion followed this pattern. John C. Calhoun, a stalwart conservative who decried the U.S.-Mexican War, had no problem with expansion itself, but preferred “growing and speeding out into unoccupied regions, assimilating until we incorporate” over conquest.[22] Henry Clay, leader of the Whig Party, whose election planks opposed both the incorporation of Texas, and later on, the annexation of Mexican territory, wrote that he supported expansion if it “if it could be accomplished with the common consent of the Union and without war”. [23] Whig journals were to follow Clay’s position, calling for the United States to purchase, not conquer, California and the West.[24]

At first glance the most powerful expression of anti-expansionist sentiment was the Whig Party’s lockstep endorsement of “No Territory”. However, a closer look reveals that Whig unanimity was just as much an attempt to hold together a party rife with sectionalism as it was a protest against expansion. Ever a unionist, Daniel Webster opposed incorporating large swathes of land before they had seen American settlement, predicting that it would inflame sectional tensions and ferment disunion across the country.[25] While prophetic in the long term, Webster’s vision reflected more present realities: the question of territory had thrown the Whig Party into a crisis matched only by the Party’s dissolution a decade later. The infamous “Wilmot Proviso”, an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have forbid the establishment of slavery in any territorial acquisitions made by the United States, split the party in two.[26] On this count the Congressional votes on the proviso are telling. The proviso was accepted in the House, 85 to 79, but all those in favor (save two Democrats) were Northerners. The party breakdown was quite different: 53 Whigs supported the bill, 28 Whigs opposed it. [27] Facing a war within their own ranks, the slogan “No Territory” became an escape from sectional infighting; it was, in the words of a noted historian, “a tent sheltering all. In both sections it would keep Whig clothes dry in the storm that was rending the Democratic Party over the issue of slavery in the Mexican cession.” [28]

The failure of the “All Mexico” to gain widespread public support also seems to undermine connections between ideology and policy: if expansionism was an integral part of the national mission, why did annexation stop at the Rio Grande?  The answer is once again found firmly rooted in the American polity’s sense of identity – an identity limited to those belonging to the “Anglo-Saxon race”.

Declarations of American purpose and destiny often doubled as avowals of the unique characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon race. Anglo Saxons were, as a rule, viewed to be more industrious, more responsible, and more capable of self-governance than any other people in the world. In the summer of 1846 the New York Herald, the nation’s most popular newspaper, outlined the relationship between race and American progress in front-page editorial. According to the editor, America was a success because her people had wisely “kept aloof from inferior races… and barbarism [had] receded before civilization.”[29] Robert Stockton, the commodore who captured San Francisco and a confidant of President Polk, confirmed this, stating that he was “unwilling [to believe] that the Anglo-Saxon race shall perpetually recoil from any given boundary”. For the Anglo-Saxon, expansion was “an inevitable destiny”.[30] Whigs, who believed that governmental institutions were a reflection of cultural and racial attributes, also credited American success to her Saxon heritage.[31]

Thus the central problem with “All Mexico” was the Mexicans. Incorporating the entirety of Mexico’s territory was impossible without incorporating the people who lived there. Americans were not prepared for such a policy; few thought that Mexicans had the capacity or restraint to hold aloft the torch of freedom. In 1847, ardent expansionist Edward Hannegan summarized this view on the Senate floor: “Mexico and the United States are peopled with utterly unhomogenous races. In no reasonable period could we amalgamate.” The Mexicans appeared “utterly unfit for the blessings and the restraints of rational liberty, because they cannot comprehend the distinction between regulated freedom and that unbridled licentiousness which consults only evil passions of the human heart.”[32] The Democratic Review agreed, proclaiming, “The annexation of the country [Mexico] to the United States would be a calamity. 5,000,000 ignorant and indolent half civilized Indians… would scarcely be a desirable incumberance [sic], even with the natural wealth of Mexico."[33] As long as annexing territory entailed integrating large numbers of Mexicans into the union, the project lacked public support. [34]

The most significant aspect of these varied attacks anti-expansionist orations and essays was that missing from them: a serious attack on the idea of national expansion. Some opposed territorial enlargement because they feared the spread of slavery; others stood against it because they thought freedom could not be spread by the sword. All, however, believed that freedom should be spread. America was not divided whether she should expand, but on how she should do so. As the Wilmot Proviso showed, the true divide was not drawn on partisan lines, but on sectional ones. Unfortunately for the republic, this division did not turn out to be as illusionary as that between the expansionists and their detractors. It was, perhaps, the irony of expansion: American continentalist sympathies brought about the destruction of their source. The decade following the United State’s Westward expansion was a tumultuous one; the United States became embroiled in a bitter sectional debate to decide who would govern the lands she had conquered. As the regional divides grew more pronounced the old national identity that drove expansion wore away, replaced by two new identities, and two new Americas. As with the old, these new identities would also lead policy makers to war, though theirs was of a much deadlier sort than that what went before.

“It is hard to write a history” the American Whig Review told its readers, for though “the statistics may be correct, the spirit is wanting.” The great challenge facing those who will write histories of the U.S.-Mexican war would be capturing “the spirit of the people, the deep emotion under laying all” that was of “equal importance” to “the muster of our forces or the maps of our battles.”[35] The importance of “spirit” in the course of human events was well recognized in the antebellum; having witnessed their nation brought to war by its dictates, they could not deny its influence. The same awareness of “spirit”, or ideology, is not common today. It is easy to see why: identity is an elusive thing. An intangible item, “spirit” does not leave a clear and irrefutable mark on the historical record. There are no archeological remains, causality reports, shipping logs, or annals that cry out, “this was the spirit of my time!” To find the character of a people is to labor, to search through the scaffolding, to piece together hundreds of accounts and narratives into one cohesive whole. Much easier is to describe events in terms of economic relationships or political power plays. Yet the cost for ignoring culture’s impact on history is high. Ideology and identity create empires. In the late 1840s, they did just that.


[1] Michael Hunt, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy, (New Haven: 1987), 15.
[2] Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in America. (New York: 1965), 35.
[3] “The Great Nation of Futurity”. Democratic Review. Issue 23. (Nov. 1839), 430.
[4] Ibid. 427. Democratic journals were hardly the only ones to describe America as the manifestation of humanity’s ultimate potential. Consider this passage from the American Whig Review:  “The highest glory and the chief hope of safety for our [American] civilization, lie in the fact that it gives free scope to the great leading tendencies of human nature and human society that it embraces and, to some extent, harmonizes them all.” Excerpted from “Civilization: American and European”,  American Whig Review, vol. 4, issue 1, (July 1846), 27.
[5] Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought, (Oxford: 2007), 285-292.
[6] Ibid, 255, 283, 552, 629.
[7] Robert Johansson, “Young America and the War with Mexico” Dueling Eagles:Reinterpreting the U.S.-Mexican War, ed. Richard V Francvigla and Douglas Richmond, (Fort Worth: 2000), 157; Heitala, Manifest Design: American Exceptionalism and Empire, (Ithaca: 2003),  95-96.
[8] “Great Nation of Futurity”, 30.
[9] Congressional Globe (here after CB), 32 Cong., 1 sess. Appendix, 410 (April 6 1852).
[10] This argument is expanded in Henry Nash Smith, Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. (Cambridge: 1950). See also: Heitala, Manifest Design, 95-151
[11] New York Sun, May 6, 1848. Quoted in Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission, 200.
[12] Ibid, 200-201.
[13] Howe, What God Hath Wrought, 703; Allen Weinberg, Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansion in American History. (Baltimore: 1935), 101.
[14] New York Morning News, editorial, October 13,1845. Quoted in Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission, 16.
[15] Ronald Lee, “Justifying Empire: Pericles, Polk, and a Dilemma of Democratic Leadership”, Polity, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer, 2002), 226.
[16] For Quincy’s resistance to the annexation of Texas, see John Quincy Adams. Memoirs. Ed. Charles Francis Adams. (Philadelphia, 1874.) XII, 171. For his resistance to annexing Mexican territory, see John Quincy Adams to Albert Gallatin, Dec 26, 1847, quoted in Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1847. (Oxford: 2007), 812.
[17] Adams, Memoirs. vol I, 438-437.
[18] Weinberg, Manifest Destiny, 36.
[19] Adams went so far as to say that the annexation bill reduced the constitution to “a menstruous [sic] rag!” See Adams, Memoirs. XII, 171.
[20] Howe, What Hath God Wrought, 671.
[21] For a typical example, see Congressional Globe. 29 Congress. 1 Session, 342. (Feb 9 1846).
[22] Quoted in Weinberg, Manifest Destiny, 160.
[23] Henry Clay to Thomas Peters and John Jackson, Aug 31, 1844.
[24] Stephenson Anders, Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right, (New York: 1995), 56.
[25] Heitala, Manifest Design, 187.
[26] For the full text of the amendment, see CB. 29th Cong, 1rst Sess. (August 8, 1846). 1217.
[27] Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission, 175.
[28] Ibid, 173. For a more thorough overview, see Michael Morrison, “New Territory vs. No Territory: The Whig Party and the Politics of Expansion”, Western Historical Review, vol. 26, (1992) 39-48.
[29] Quoted in Hietala, Manifest Design, 155.
[30] Glenn Price, The Origins of the War with Mexico: The Polk Stockton Intrigue, (Austin: 1967), 67.
[31] Morrison, “New Territory vs. No Territory”, 39. 
[32] CB. 29 Congress, 2 Sess. 516 (Feb. 26, 1847).
[33] “Mexico—The Church and Peace”, Democratic Review, Issue 21, (August 1847), 101.
[34] Support for “All Mexico” was strongest in the urban Northeast, among the urban poor targeted by Democratic leaders. As the majority were immigrants or the offspring of such, they were considerably less concerned with the notion of assimilating a foreign culture. Still, even the Northeastern Democratic Review came out against “All Mexico.” 
[35]Critical Notices: The Mexican War. Edward D. Mansfield”, American Whig Review. Vol. 7, Issue 6,(June 1848), 653.

22 August, 2010

Don't Trust a WEIRD Man's Reasoning

Via Arts and Letters Daily comes this fascinating presentation by psychologist Jonathan Haidt on 'moral psychology'. More interesting than Hait's thesis is the qualifiers he adds to it, noting two important studies that gave him cause for intellectual humility. Says he: 

Jonathan Haidt. Edge. July 2010.
But before I come back to taste receptors and moral foundations, I want to talk about two giant warning flags. Two articles published in "Behavioral and Brain Sciences," under the wise editorship of Paul Bloom. And I think these articles are so important that the abstracts from these two articles should be posted in psychology departments all over the country, in just the way that, when you go to restaurants, they've got, you know, How to Help a Choking Victim. And by law, that's got to be in restaurants in some states. (Laughter).

So, the first article is called "The Weirdest People in the World," by Joe Henrich, Steve Heine and Ara Norenzayan, and it was published last month in BBS. And the authors begin by noting that psychology as a discipline is an outlier in being the most American of all the scientific fields. Seventy percent of all citations in major psych journals refer to articles published by Americans. In chemistry, by contrast, the figure is just 37 percent. This is a serious problem, because psychology varies across cultures, and chemistry doesn't.

So, in the article, they start by reviewing all the studies they can find that contrast people in industrial societies with small-scale societies. And they show that industrialized people are different, even at some fairly low-level perceptual processing, spatial cognition. Industrialized societies think differently.

The next contrast is Western versus non-Western, within large-scale societies. And there, too, they find that Westerners are different from non-Westerners, in particular on some issues that are relevant for moral psychology, such as individualism and the sense of self.

Their third contrast is America versus the rest of the West. And there, too, Americans are the outliers, the most individualistic, the most analytical in their thinking styles.

And the final contrast is, within the United States, they compare highly educated Americans to those who are not. Same pattern.

All four comparisons point in the same direction, and lead them to the same conclusion, which I've put here on your handout. I'll just read it. "Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies." The acronym there being WEIRD.

"Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature, on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity."

As I read through the article, in terms of summarizing the content, in what way are WEIRD people different, my summary is this: The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts.


Well, let's turn to the second article. It's called, "Why Do Humans Reason?  Arguments for an Argumentative Theory," by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. The article is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?


Why is the confirmation bias, in particular— this is the most damaging one of all—why is the confirmation bias so ineradicable? That is, why do people automatically search for evidence to support whatever they start off believing, and why is it impossible to train them to undo that? It's almost impossible. Nobody's found a way to teach critical thinking that gets people to automatically reflect on, well, what's wrong with my position?

And finally, why is reasoning so biased and motivated whenever self-interest or self-presentation are at stake?  Wouldn't it be adaptive to know the truth in social situations, before you then try to manipulate?

The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, and it's here on your handout, "The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things."

Now, the authors point out that we can and do re-use our reasoning abilities. We're sitting here at a conference. We're reasoning together. We can re-use our argumentative reasoning for other purposes. But even there, it shows the marks of its heritage. Even there, our thought processes tend towards confirmation of our own ideas. Science works very well as a social process, when we can come together and find flaws in each other's reasoning. We can't find the problems in our own reasoning very well. But, that's what other people are for, is to criticize us. And together, we hope the truth comes out.

But the private reasoning of any one scientist is often deeply flawed, because reasoning can be counted on to seek justification and not truth.

It gives much food for thought. Assuming you can still trust yours, that is.

21 August, 2010

Notes From All Over 21/08/2010


Joseph Fouche. Committee of Public Safety. 4 August 2010.

This is an important piece that addresses many of the themes found on this site. In good time I hope to write a response to it. Though the author does not claim as much, it lays bare one of the fundamental problems eating away the American political regime, and ought to be distributed more widely.

"Fabius Maximus." Fabius Maximus. 3 August 2010.

That the executive branch has claimed the authority to execute American citizens without public review is astounding. That the public remains mute in the face of such tyranny is even more so. In particular, this should put to rest the notion that the Tea Parties seek the limitation of the federal government to its constitutional bounds. When this story broke it was already  clear that they cared little about the unconstitutional largess of the security state. My hopes that this would snap them back to reality were in vain.  

 Glenn Greenwald. CATO Unbound. 9 August 2010. 

See the comment above. 

George Packer. The New Yorker. 9 August 2010.

Another well written expose on the decline of the "world's greatest deliberative body." Packer's complaints echo those made by Jessica Senior in New York Magazine earlier this year. As such, this author's response to Senior's essay is once again of worth. A link to it can be found below:

T. Greer. The Scholar's Stage. 29 May 2010.

However, I still recommend you read Packer's essay. Anyone who bestows the title "tweeting pygamies" to the men and women of the Senate deserves to be read in full.


Editors. Small Wars Journal. 12 August 2010.

I link not to the article itself, which is subpar, but to the comment thread beneath it. It is quite simply the best thread I have seen in a long time. If only all of Web 2.0 lived up to this promise.


Dominic Delany. East Asia Forum. 20 June 2010. 

Christina Larson. Foreign Policy. 17 August 2010.

Two looks at the future of China.  Xi Jingpi is the next in line to stand as the paramount leader of the People's Republic. Become well acquainted with his name; it shall be heard much in the future. This post at the East Asia forum is as good as any introduction to the man you will find online.

Chongqing is another name that should be more recognized in the West. The Chongqing administrative area has a population larger than the Republic of China and is by far the largest city in China's interior. Its development plan is widely seen as a model for China's future. Unlike the cities of the East, almost all of Chongqing's production is for domestic consumption. Bo Xilai, governor of Chongqing municipality,  is likewise seen as a rising star in the ranks of the CCP.

"Galhrahn." Information Dissemination. 19  August 2010

Dennis balsko. China Brief. August 2010.

And two looks at the Chinese navy of the present. Neither needs much in way of introduction; their titles describe their respective content perfectly.


"KK." Cool Tools.  Not dated.

A tip of the hat to Lawyers, Guns, and Money for pointing me towards this compilation of "the best magazine articles ever." I am not sure the list is truly deserving of its title.  However, I have not been disappointed yet (though I will concede that I have only read a fraction of its offerings).

William Deresiewicz. The American Scholar. 1 March 2010.

 Mr. Deresiewicz gave this  speech to last year's incoming group of freshmen at the USMA. I recommend it to all who enjoy the inspirational performances crafted for such occasions. I found particular solace in the speaker's rebuff of the braggarts proud of the speed with which they write their essays -- while more than proficient in the art, I have always found writing to be both slow and laborious. It is interesting to hear one of my cardinal faults championed as an advantage. 

The hat is tipped to Joseph Fouche for this one. 

Security Update: Venezuela

Boz (of Blogging by Boz) is perhaps my favorite Latin American hand publishing on the internet. This week he turned my attention to the violence that is wracking Venezuela. Writes Boz:

"Boz". Bloggings by Boz. 20 August 2010.
El Nacional reports that a government report from the National Institute for Statistics shows 19,133 people were assassinated in Venezuela in 2009. That is a rate of 75 per 100,000, higher than previously reported and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

To compare, Colombia's murder rate is around 35 per 100,000, Brazil's is about 22 per 100k and Mexico's is about 14 per 100k. So Venezuela is facing a murder rate that is more than double Colombia's and more than five times Mexico's. It's not a surprise that the Chavez government, in power for over a decade, wants to censor that record of failure.

Update: Via Southern Pulse, that same INE report says that Caracas had somewhere between 200-220 murders per 100,000 in 2009. That number would make it more dangerous than Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Columbia and Mexico are often heralded as prime examples of "hollow" or "failing" states. That Venezuela, a country more prone to violence than either of these, is never given such a label is a credit to Mr. Chavez. As Boz notes, foreign outlets are so engrossed with the political antics of the President that they have completely missed the underlying structural problems that threaten the country's stability.

President Chavez's most recent actions may change this. The Economist reports:

The Economist. 19 August 2010.
In 1998, before Mr Chávez became president, there were 4,550 murders nationwide, a figure that had remained broadly constant for several years. Had it stayed there, more than 70,000 of those who met violent deaths in the past decade would still be alive today. But the numbers have risen inexorably, and in 2009, says Mr Briceño-León, the total was 19,113.

When he revealed the level of violence during a televised debate on CNN’s Spanish-language channel earlier this month, he was greeted with raucous laughter by Andrés Izarra, Mr Chávez’s former information minister. Mr Izarra, who used to work for CNN and now runs a rival, Telesur, for the Venezuelan government, accused the channel of “journalistic pornography”. But he did not produce any alternative figures.
One of Venezuela’s main newspapers, El Nacional, responded to Mr Izarra’s guffaws by devoting much of its front page to a photograph, taken last December, of bodies in the Caracas morgue.

The authorities announced that they would prosecute the paper for contravening a law protecting children and young people from violent images. Even so, four other newspapers reproduced the photograph. The country’s chief detective said the picture had been taken in 2006, and conditions had improved since then. But with the media barred from the morgue, the point was hard to prove.

Mr Chávez speaks on television and radio for hours on end, several times a week. But for years he has said little or nothing about rising crime. The strategy of ignoring the issue worked politically. In opinion polls, a majority did not hold him directly responsible. As the violence mounts, that seems to be changing. “People are beginning to blame the president,” says Saúl Cabrera of Consultores 21, a pollster. In one of its polls, taken in early June, 55% of respondents held Mr Chávez directly responsible for their most urgent problems, with crime at the top of the list. 

To judge by the reaction of official spokesmen this week, Mr Chávez’s people are well aware of the potential damage this might do in the election. The courts, which are controlled by the government, barred El Nacional from publishing any information about violence and then barred all print media from publishing any photos about the subject for a month.

El Nacional's  response to the ban caught the government by surprise. The newspaper's front page once again carried a story about violent crime. However, the picture that accompanied the story was a bit different:

It seems that Mr. Chavez has reached the limits of government censorship.

18 August, 2010

Azar Gat on Narrative Building

In a previous discussion I mentioned the important part narrative building plays in human cognition. As it turns out, I am not the only person to reach this conclusion. This week's "intriguing passage" comes from the pen of Azar Gat, excerpted from his awesome War in Human Civilization. It excellently illuminates the human need to simplify the complexity of our universe into condensed narratives and myths:

In order to cope with their environment, humans strive to identify, understand, and explain the forces operating within and behind it, so that they can at least predict, and if possible, also manipulate these forces and their effects to their advantage. They are predisposed to assume that such forces are there. With respect both to their natural and human environment, humans achieved impressive successes in using these methods. The quest for an understanding thus evolved into a fundamental human trait. Humans must have answers as to the reasons and direction of the world around them. Stretching this faculty the furthest, humans have a deep emotional need for a comprehensive interpretive framework, or set of interpretive 'stories' that would explain, connect the various elements of, and give meaning to their world and their own existence within it. They need a cognitive map of, and a manipulative manual for, the universe, which by lessening the realm of the unknown would them a sense of security and control, allay their fears, and alleviate their pain and distress.

--Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization, (Oxford: 2006), p. 101.

13 August, 2010

Afghansistan 2050: Futures That Will Not Be

The following is my contribution to the Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable hosted by the proprietors of ChicagoBoyz. The opening post of the roundtable - which explains its purpose and methods - can be found here. My piece is cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz with the rest of the submissions.

The great challenge with interpreting the future is that it hasn't happened yet.

Our existence is a funny thing, filled to the brim with labyrinthine contingencies and hidden variables, kingdoms lost for want of nails and hurricanes raging by way of butterfly beats. The landscape of history is defined by its brilliant complexity. Understandably, the study of this complexity is a fractious discipline, divided by multiple schools and hostage to many a divisive reading. A conservative lot, historians seldom make their case without first stressing uncertainty and contingency. Their restraint is the fruit of experience. They know too well that interpreting the past is a difficult endeavor.

And all this despite the past having already happened.

Those who claim to know the pattern of the future betray their unfamiliarity with the pattern of the past. Our understanding of the past remains sketchy and uncertain, subject to constant revision and review. If our vision of what has been is hidden by this haze, how much harder is it to see what will be! Our understanding of the world is imperfect; our understanding of the future is even more so. Futuristics is a blind man's game, and I have little sympathy for those who ply the art without admitting that the intricate complexities of our Earth may throw even the steadiest trend off of its given course.

How then are we to analyze and interpret the future? One could begin with colorful depictions of our world to be. However, my preference is to keep as much fiction out of this analysis as humanly possible. I suggest an easier alternative: instead of trying to sketch what will be, we should try to sketch that what will not.

Afghanistan is a case in point. I have no pretensions of knowing the state of Kabul or Kandahar forty years in the future. However, I can say with some confidence that over the next forty years Afghanistan's fate will garner but a little attention. I do not know what major events will come to define the 21rst century. Epidemics, great power war, economic contraction, a global reduction in nuclear arms, democratic revolutions, totalitarian crackdowns -- the list of possible disruptions to the current world system is large and shall only grow as we move forward through time. It is a fool's game to try and predict the scale, shape, or timing of any one disruption, but we can be sure there will be disruptions. Yet it is unlikely that the American servicemen in Afghanistan will ever be the cause for a comparable shift in international affairs. We cannot know the events that will mark our future, but it is difficult to imagine any world-shaking catastrophe or triumph that historians of the future will find less important than America's war in Afghanistan.

The fundamental irrelevance of the Afghan War on the grand scale deserves a moments pause on the part of all Americans trying to decide whether or not the campaign is worth its price in blood and treasure.

Of course, the campaign is not truly irrelevant. Once again the crux of the matter is not found in what has happened, but what has not. The blood of good men is not the only cost of the Afghan campaign. Also lost is the freedom of American statesmen to act with any sort of initiative on the international stage. Our Bactrian expedition does more than tie American soldiers to the Hindu-Kush: it ties America into a series of outdated strategic relationships which cannot be altered while the war remains.

Consider the stakes the United States has in Central Asia. For the past twenty years America's policy for the region has been fairly straight forward: lend support to would-be democratic revolutionaries, contain the Russians, and do everything possible to increase America's political influence and military presence in region. As the vanguard of the color revolutions begin to show their true autocratic colors it has become clear that this policy was a mistake. The Sino-Soviet split was one of the greatest strategic coups of the Cold War; today's active intervention in Central Asia threatens to reverse what the diplomats of a generation past worked so hard to achieve. The interests of the United States could in few ways be better served than if China and Russia were jostling for strategic influence in Central Asia. The American presence in the region assures that this will never happen. Instead of competing in a new great game the two are drawn together to kick the imperial outsider out of their mutual backyard.

Whether American statesmen have realized the error in their ways is unknown. To be frank, it really doesn't matter. As long as the Republic has a substantial expeditionary force in Afghanistan it will do all it can to maintain its network of military bases in Central Asia. The logistical demands of the Afghan campaign cannot be met without them. The Russians realize this and are not above using it to their advantage. What can the Americans hope to do in response? The war has locked the United States into series of fruitless policies it cannot escape.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the curious case of American-Pakistani relations. Pakistan is the natural ally of America's clearest strategic rival and the avowed enemy of her most obvious friend. No matter how much American money is pumped through Islamabad this basic strategic logic will not change.  Moreover, the ISI has devoted a great deal of time and money to training, arming, and protecting the same insurgents who are killing American soldiers today. None of this has stopped the Republic from providing the Pakistanis with billions in arm sales and monetary aid. Nor is it likely to ever do so in the future. Stability in Afghanistan is impossible without the cooperation of Pakistan. As long as American servicemen patrol Pashtunistan, Rawalpindi's ill intent will be ignored.

The Afghan war is about much more than the plains of Bactria. It is the lynch pin of an entire set of strategic relationships. It defines American foreign policy in ways few politicians will admit. I will give no prediction as to how long American forces will remain in Afghanistan - that will be decided on the domestic scene, and any predictions I might give could only be less sure than those I offer in the more familiar realm of international affairs. While I do not know what year will mark the end of America's expeditionary adventures in Afghanistan, there is little impetus for American statesmen to reevaluate our Eurasian relations until this date has come. All that can be expected is the radical realignment that will not come.

The textbooks of the future will not have such things inside their covers. Textbooks rarely tell of what did not happen. Therein lies the root of my decision not to write a paragraph from our future. Of those things I am most certain there will be no school text. There are only empty pages for futures that will not be.