What A Difference 23 Years Doesn’t Make


Last week I attended an in-house foreign policy discussion with New America Foundation Schwartz Senior Fellow Peter Beinart, who provided a tour of 20th century American foreign policy and introduced me to Walter Lippmann’s concept of “solvency.”
The solvency concept – which implies that a country’s foreign policy is “solvent” when its overseas commitments do not exceed its national resources – caught my attention as particularly relevant to the United States’ strategic position today, in which we seem to be overextended, thus contributing to a situation of what Lippmann would have called ‘insolvency.’
I have been investigating this concept to determine whether it can provide insight into the United States’ recent difficulties with its allies and specifically its relationship with Turkey.
In the course of my research, I came across an essay by Samuel Huntington from a 1987 volume of Foreign Affairs called “Coping with the Lippmann Gap.”
Toward the end of the piece, Huntington outlines several steps that the United States must take to preserve its position in the international system.
I was struck by how relevant these prescriptions remain today.
Here is what he said:

First, there is the need, as everyone recognizes, to resolve the fiscal crisis and reduce the federal deficit. This means a firm and possibly lower ceiling on defense spending, cuts in domestic programs and entitlements, and increased revenues, which could come from a variety of possible taxes, some of which might have positive effects on investment and economic growth.
Second, the United States must, as again almost everyone recognizes, do what Britain failed to do: adopt national policies to promote higher-quality education, more rigorous standards, more widely available technical training programs, research and development, and public, corporate and individual investment in promising technologies and industries. In the longer term only programs such as these will result in increased productivity, technological innovation and beneficial economic growth. Creating these requisites of a sound economy is essential both to restore U.S. economic competitiveness vis-à-vis Japan, Europe and the newly industrializing countries and to create the economic and technological base for American military security.
Third, movement toward deficit reduction and economic renewal will in large part depend upon development of a more comprehensive and balanced approach to the problems of national security and economic development than has existed in recent years. In the aftermath of World War II, in which U.S. industrial capacity was decisive, there was widespread awareness of the close interconnection between the economic and military dimensions of national security. Early national security planning documents, such as NSC 68 of 1950, devoted much attention to the economic underpinnings of security. Questions of industrial base, economic mobilization and technological innovation were central to the discussion of security issues. Government agencies concerned with security made significant contributions to industrial development, those of the intelligence agencies to the computer industry being only the most dramatic. Over time, however, as the experience of total war faded into the background and after the emergence of a distinct defense industry or military-industrial complex following the Korean War, the connection between economic policy and national security began to weaken. National security planning documents tended to focus increasingly on purely military strategy.
The National Security Council was created in 1947 to be the forum for integrating the various elements of security policy. Its legislative mandate was and is to advise the president on “the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security.” Economics became, however, the weak sister and often the absent partner in the national security policymaking process. The result was less attention than should have been given both to the trade-offs between policies to promote economic strength and those designed to promote military security, and to the types of policies that may constructively contribute to both economic and military security. Reestablishing the link between these two should be high on the agenda of the next administration.

Sadly, those words could have been written today. 23 years later the United States remains saddled by an enormous debt burden, ineffective industrial policies, and a disturbing disparity between its overwhelming military power and its underwhelming economic and moral standing.
— Ben Katcher


16 comments on “What A Difference 23 Years Doesn’t Make

  1. DonS says:

    I see that shortly after I posted 2:44 citing the international perspective, voila, Steve hosts a guest post by a furner.
    My initial reaction is “optics”, but I guess I’ll re-read it and, sigh, maybe comment.


  2. DonS says:

    POA, it may very well be in the president’s job description to look forward rather than backward at times; but not when fundamental and massive violations of law and practice are involved. In that case it makes him an accessory to the crimes.
    You probably meant that.
    What is interesting is the blindfold that the rest of the world seems to be wearing — out of misguided affection for our new president — on this issue. But if many Americans buy the hoax I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that large ongoing international outcry is not heard about the offenses of the big dog. Maybe as Obama’s lustre wear thinner internationally some of that will emerge, for whatever it’s worth.
    Tony Blair has been counting on massive amnesia to try to ply his pathetic wares on the same notion of onward and forward. It’s not working out so well for him although, financially, of course, he cant fail. Alberto Gonzales out to check in for some advice.


  3. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Not so sure about that, Carroll. Its seems like a lack of common sense from those outside the beltway is what lubricates the lack of common sense within the beltway. Just consider our idiotic circle jerk of self-destructive partisan finger pointing while the Washington criminals on BOTH sides of the aisle give us a royal screwing.


  4. Carroll says:

    The insight Katcher discovered in Huntington is what those of us outside the Washington incest circle generally call common sense.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Obama has been in office for about 25% of a first term compared to all the other clowns who had 8 years to leave their garbage all over the world while in office and people want miracles from Obama..HELLO.the USA IS BROKEN…he was given this mess he didnt make it”
    Don’t be stupid. He STARTED his term by casting aside the rule of law with his ridiculous admissions that he had no respect for the law. It is NOT in our President’s job description to “look forward rather than backward”. It IS in his job description to uphold the laws laid out in the United States Constitution. He is not doing so.
    Is it your ridiculous assertion that he will now about-face and support the equal and just dispensation of the law? Your optimism is
    idiocy in every sense of the word. The only thing demonstrated by the early stage in Obama’s tenure is the fact that he has revealed himself as inept and criminal in record time. Usually history requires far more time before the “legacy” of a president is revealed. George Bush and Obama have successfully bucked that age old phenomena. To some of us, we knew they were posturing criminal sacks of shit before they even managed to worm their way into the Oval Office. Obama’s “legacy” is already sealed. From this point forward, he can, and will, only make it worse. He has utterly and completely betrayed the image he painted us, and has already proven himself, irrevocably, to be a cowardly fraud.


  6. Scott says:

    Obama has been in office for about 25% of a first term compared to all the other clowns who had 8 years to leave their garbage all over the world while in office and people want miracles from Obama..HELLO.the USA IS BROKEN…he was given this mess he didnt make it


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    BTW, Naomi Klein’s website is miles ahead of the rest of the blogosphere with its reportage on the Haiti disaster.
    In a devastated society with no existing infrastructure, is someone removing food from a collapsed market really a criminal? Or do we need to call them “looters” so we can justify distributing troops faster than we are distributing aid????
    And is the IMF really foregiving Haiti’s debt, or are they simply removing the debt so that the global vultures that are capitalizing on this disaster don’t have to repay it, after they have put in place a puppet willing to steal whatever the Haitians have that is worth stealing?


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “US officials today declared that it was entirely up to the Palestinian Authority to revive the stalled peace talks with Israel, and if the group wanted US support on a final settlement of borders they would have to resume the talks unconditionally”


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Then we have these ignorant RW assholes chiming in as if the sell out is some sort of “right versus left” dynamic. I am beginning to believe the American people are some of the most ignorant on the planet earth.
    Keep blathering this partisan crap, Clay, while both sides of the aisle pull your rights, your freedoms, and the Constitution out from under you.
    Use your fuckin’ brain, if you have one.


  10. clay barham says:

    America was a success in a world still unable to achieve prosperity from freedom. A psychological tradition for prosperity exists, cited in Save Pebble Droppers & Prosperity on Amazon and claysamerica.com. It demonstrates many Tea Party justifications for those new to politics who want to apply the brakes to Obama’s headlong rush to European Marxism and bigger government. The tradition of individual freedom resists the kind of centralizing power-grab we are experiencing today. Claysamerica.com


  11. JohnH says:

    Strange that Obama couldn’t seem to find people like Ellie Light to support his “attempt” at providing universal health care, closing Guantanamo, ending warrantless wiretapping, etc.


  12. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “An Obama fan named Ellie Light is popping up in newspapers everywhere Cleveland Plain Dealer Sabrina Eaton notices that virtually identical letters from Ellie Light in support of President Barack Obama have run in more than a dozen newspapers, and that every letter claims a different residence that happens to be in the newspaper’s circulation area”
    Gee, Obama must be renting Elizabeth Miller from Joe Biden.


  13. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Can someone point to one of Obama’s eloquent speeches that wasn’t perfumed bullshit? I can’t seem to find one. He’s the Edsel of American Presidents.
    EVERYTHING that comes out of his mouth can be erased with one swipe of some toilet paper.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    The following article underscores just what a cowardly, flip-flopping, and backstabbing sack of shit we have squatting in the Oval Office.
    This should dispel any optimism Steve has about Barack Obama. Truth is, Obama’s disrespect for the rule of law shoulda done it long ago, but I guess “law” doesn’t mean squat to the carreer optimists that make a living seeing if they can make beauty queens out of skunks.
    US: Up to Palestinians to Revive Peace Talks
    Mitchell Says Palestinians Must Accept Talks Without Any Conditions
    by Jason Ditz, January 22, 2010
    US officials today declared that it was entirely up to the Palestinian Authority to revive the stalled peace talks with Israel, and if the group wanted US support on a final settlement of borders they would have to resume the talks unconditionally.
    Palestinian officials have insisted that Israel halt expansion of its West Bank settlements before resumption of the talks, and demands from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retain permanent military control over the demilitarized future Palestinian state have left the prospects for talks weaker than ever.
    Netanyahu, who has repeatedly rejected halting settlement freezes since taking office last year, mocked today’s meeting between PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and US envoy George Mitchell as a “waste of time,” and insisted that only the Palestinians are standing in the way of peace and prosperity.
    Though President Obama had initially made the peace talks a top priority he has recently insisted that the issue is “just really hard” and that breakthroughs probably aren’t likely. Today’s comments from Mitchell suggest the administration is returning to the default American position of insisting that it is entirely up to the Palestinians to solve the issue.


  15. OiOi says:

    “… the lifespan of most superpower/empires is typically measured in the hundreds of years.” (WigWag)
    I think you may find that, due to modern technology etc, the rate of change is now far greater. Time (as in ‘used by:’ date) is now much less than previous, and none of these empires were as globally stretched and dependent on energy resources.
    The Europeans, (e.g. the Spanish and later the British) largely had primitive people to dominate and the initial impacts of colonization was mass disease among the indigenous populations. That is no longer the case. The disparity between the ‘haves’ (e.g. Iran) and the ‘have mores'(US) far less. The de-industrialization of the US and greater dependence on financial activity may not provide what the British gained from London being a financial center. As they are now finding out, the shift towards Asia is on and their relevance in the future is fast fading.
    With the shift away from the $US towards mixed currency and bilateral trading blocks I do not think the USA has hundreds of years in its dominant role: read it as few decades imo. The biggest risk to US hegemony (and its military-industrial complex) is global peace may break out! Let’s hope so.


  16. WigWag says:

    “I have been investigating this concept to determine whether it can provide insight into the United States’ recent difficulties with its allies and specifically its relationship with Turkey.” (Ben Katcher)
    It’s an interesting article, Ben, but there was nothing particularly unique about Huntington’s comment even a quarter century ago. Others, including Paul Kennedy were making precisely the same point about matching resources and imperial aspirations.
    Superpower/Empires always obsess about whether or not they’re losing their mojo. They constantly worry about whether their resources match what they view as their global responsibilities. It was true of the British, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans and others. Despite the skittishness about this issue, the lifespan of most superpower/empires is typically measured in the hundreds of years.
    Forgive me for being obtuse, but I fail to understand what precisely the Huntington essay has to do “specifically” with relations between the United States and Turkey.
    As far as I can tell, the only thing Turkey has to teach us about any of this is that an empire (in the Turk’s case the Ottoman Empire) can be brutal, corrupt, incompetent and at times destitute and can still last for centuries.
    During its lifetime, the Ottoman Empire lost literally hundreds of battles, a few of them quite significant. Relations between Europe and the Ottoman Empire changed constantly as did relations between the Ottoman Empire and the nation s they captured. The Empire experienced numerous setbacks but for the most part, those setbacks were largely irrelevant.
    When the Ottoman Empire died in 1922 (largely as a result of allying itself with the Germans in World War I) it was 623 years old.
    Concerns about imperial overstretch by the United States are mostly overblown.


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