Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogrolling: National Interests

Instead of imitating our betters and faffing about in central Asia, perhaps we might venture over to Defense and Freedom and talk about the larger questions of:

1. What are "national interests"?

2. How do nations define them? How does the U.S., circa 2010, define them?

3. Is the U.S. doing a good job of defining these, and, once defined, a good job of addressing them?

Sound like a topic worth kicking about.


  1. Chief,
    The first step to doing this project is to determine if our NI is offensive or defensive in nature.This would be very important to your conclusions.
    Should we rename DOD the D of Warriors.This would include the Air Force.
    I'm not being flip.

  2. As to national interest: First action would have to be regaining a national political consensus. Getting back to being a republic that operates under the rule of law.

    How to do that? Reorganize democratically at the "local level" - the point where "the people" and "the state" "meet". Get more government functions in the hands of local people. Form new political parties from the various movements and run a list of at least five candidates in 2012. Have Congress pass and the president sign special legislation for the election - making it possible to elect both a president and vice-president from the first and second place election results of a list of multiple candidates. Give up on all the Empire boondoggles and swindles currently in place and bring our people home. Rebuild the country.

    This is the opposite of political patronage btw, since we know that there are absolutely no free lunches, least of all for the rich, powerful, or with a hand in the government till. The country faces wrenching change under duress. We will reach the point where we will have to literally change in order to survive as a functional political entity, these United States. That would be characteristic of the nature of basic political questions, from a theory perspective, especially those left to fester over a long period of time.

    This first action would have to be carried forward simultaneously with the second . . .

    The second being rather widespread political purges . . .

  3. Love the comments, guys, but...ummm...I was trying to (nudge, nudge)...suggest we talk over at Sven's place. 'K?

    I'm fine with bringing it here, but seems like finding one spot to talk would be less...chaotic.

  4. Chief,
    I don't nudge too well and as you know i'm rather limited.
    I was thinking on this topic last nite.We as a nation must get an idea of what we are doing-is the DOS or DOD the definer of our national interest? Why not just combine the 2 agencies and do diplomacy and war from 1 office?
    It's not been working since WW2 the way we do it as 2 agencies..
    Istm that we automatically kick into a military mode when we even think the words national interest.This is twisted thinking.I can't help but thinking of Sweden when discussing this topic. They were violent and warlike and kicked a lot of ass in their day UNTIL they decided that a peaceful approach was preferable. Surely the same idea should pop into somebodies head in our NCA.
    If i'm OT, i'll cork it.
    PS, in all fairness you must keep a tighter leash on us old Infy types, we do drift a bit. Especially when we're sober.

  5. There was a time...a long time ago, when our national foreign policy was clear, concise, and though unfreakingbelievablyAmericancentric it was something we followed as a nation.
    Literally, it was stupid, but it was understandable...but now...oh, we got a whole pile of shit steaming up the works and it all started with the marriage between politics and lunatics...sorry, I meant to say, between the Republican party and psycho-dominionists who fancied themselves the Pathfinders for all things deifically Christian.
    Big business, always out to cushion their bed with the tanned skins of others efforts found common ground with the dominionists and now, voila, we have a polygamists marriage between Big Business (ala Financial and Insurance industries along with the usual government tit-suckers called the "defense industry"), Religious fascists, and the Republican party (I would throw in the Dem's, but they seem to be the social/political punching bag devil for the polygamists even though their both two sides of the same coin).
    So, now, we have competing desires in our government one of which is the polygamists Republican party's hard on for absolute power (driven mainly from the dominionist side of the menaige trois), big business's desire to be able to financially rape whomever they can lay their hands on, and the Dem's...who can't seem to sort out their own underwear much less a coherent foreign or domestic policy they can all agree on.
    And that is where we are at today.
    Afgahnistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South America...pfft, the world, are all playgrounds for the real struggle which is right there in D.C.
    G-d help us all, and save us from those moronic assholes!

  6. FDChief-

    No offense meant, but what's the use of having our own blog/watering hole if we ain't going to use it? I guess Sven's is a bit too spiffy for me, although I have commented there.

    I mean we've got Wernesgrüner Pils on tap and and a full liter bottle of Woodford's Reserve on the shelf. What more could we want? ;-)>


    Can I put you down as a purge-coordinating officer for your state? Just in case?

  7. Two empty Wernesgrüner kegs in the yard out back. Second bottle of Woodford's half full . . .

    Guess, I'll give another "drunken speech", the kind I like best after a fine time. Mostly just us'ams here now anyway . . . any kids go play.

    Conservative? What exactly does that mean today? After all the sleazy betrayal, what exactly does it mean? Let's start from the beginning. Does it mean that you're against gambling for instance?

    Yes, simply because it used to mean that.

    Like my grandmother - she was death on gambling; Prussian Catholic and all that. Which leads me to comment on how our grandparents are so much different from ourselves. They believed in a lot, had in most cases a whole systematized view of the world and the universe, including God's place in it.

    Think about that if you can conceive it: specifically what I'm talking about - the Catholic/Conservative Christian (including most Baptists; Methodists, CofC, . . .) at the time (US South 1960-80s) view. It was solid. There were no doubts. There was also very little fear. People didn't really fear death, they just in many cases awaited it. I can think of countless examples of stoic Christian will in facing inevitable death growing up. Many of our grandparents had lost parents and/or siblings as children.

    Amazing how we have absolutely nothing like it today, not even a remnant . . . which is the point.

    All pissed away in the space of two generations, and for what exactly?

    Empire? Money or swindles for all? To each according to themselves?

  8. I'm with Seydlitz and the Ranger. FDChief has done a good job in importing Sven's excellent question over here, and I see no reason to express my thoughts anywhere else. I'd also note that Sven, interesting fellow that he is, inevitably views these things through his German prism. We Americans, or at least this American, often view things differently, specifically because that's the thread running through our history. IMO, whenever we begin viewing things through a European prism, we risk losing our identities as Americans.

    How are Americans different? And what does that have to do with "national interest?" Well, to begin, we're the nation where it's legal to espouse the overthrow of the existing government. We can also march in support of ideas that get you jailed in European countries, e.g., Skokie. We're the nation that has serious reservations about the legitimacy of "from each according to his means to each according to his needs." We're the nation where the individual, not the state, is supreme.

    ISTM that, when considering national interest, most people leap right into a discussion of foreign policy and how best to deal with presumed enemies. The domestic quotient is entirely ignored, even though if you read our Constitution and other founding documents, you'll see that domestic issues can never be ignored. ISTM that whenever we're thinking of how we're going to deal with foreign devils, we also have to consider the effect on the homefront. This is what has been ignored over the past eight years, with the result being a near-depression and massive increase in debt. If Americans' lives aren't improved through involvement in wars that aren't existential, one must wonder if any national interest is being served.

    For "national interests," I think you could do worse than consulting Washington's farewell address. Mr. Lincoln also helped with: "....that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." There's your national interest. As Seydlitz points out, it was a scant two generations ago when Americans knew this and used that knowledge as a unifying principle in defining our principal national interest.

  9. "How are Americans different? And what does that have to do with "national interest?" Well, to begin, we're the nation where it's legal to espouse the overthrow of the existing government."

    That's true in Germany as well. There's even a constitution article that legalizes resistance against the government if nothing else would stop a too far deviation from the constitution's core values."

    "We can also march in support of ideas that get you jailed in European countries, e.g., Skokie."

    The G8 Seattle Summit suggests that the difference isn't great at all. The only demonstration that would not be allowed in Germany would be a contra-constitution demonstration, usually associated with the use of Nazi symbology.

    "We're the nation that has serious reservations about the legitimacy of "from each according to his means to each according to his needs.""

    Indeed, national solidarity seems to be vastly underdeveloped.

    "We're the nation where the individual, not the state, is supreme."

    That's actually true in all NATO nations except Turkey.

    The difference isn't that great.
    The most relevant difference between continental Europe and US/UK in foreign policy is that the latter turned away from the 1944 consensus that was dominantly its own idea: The Charter of the United Nations.

  10. To Sven and Publius,
    Do you all really believe that the individual is supreme in todays America?
    If so, i missed that episode.

  11. Hey all,

    Just a clarification, are we talking about national interests as they are or national interests as we would like them to be or the concept of "national interests" more generally?

    The three big interests are, IMO:

    1. National defense, which is the first priority for any government.

    2. Establishment and maintenance of an accountable system of governance that meets the needs of the governed.

    3. Economic strength. Without economic strength it becomes very hard to accomplish #1 or #2 to say nothing of anything else.

    I think most of our foreign policy actually is based in #3. We are, ISTM, currently trying to maintain the stability of the international system from which we derive a host of tangible and intangible economic benefits.


    I don't think the individual reigns supreme - the individual reigns supreme over what exactly? Individuals are arguably more protected from government interference in their own affairs - at least that's the idea if not the reality. I think one could argue that federalism reigns supreme, but that is going the way of the dodo too.

  12. "National defense" is merely a tool. What do you really want to protect?

    Protect sovereignty?
    Protect fishing?
    Protect sea trading?
    Protect air traffic?
    Protect against damages caused by violence?

    The U.S. tries "to maintain the stability of the international system"? Since when? Since January last year? I recall lots of rather contrary, destabilizing actions AND INTENTS.

  13. Sven,

    In answer to your questions, yes to all of them. I don't think national defense is merely the protection from foreign invasion.

    That we are sometimes bad at maintaining the stability of the international system does not mean it's not our goal to do so. The Wolfowitz faction in the Bush Administration, for example, really believed that the overthrow of Iraq would bring stability and cause a wave of Democracy over the region.

  14. I'm not ready to make a statement yet, but this post has tickled my brain and I did a quick search for some information. Found this "Commission on America's National Interests," report dated 1996, with some familar names in the group.

    Let me express my immense amusement that the number one national security interest is: "Prevent, deter, and reduce the threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical
    (NBC) weapons attacks on the United States." As a WMD analyst, let me say that this is pretty damned idiotic, but very interesting from multiple points of view.

  15. Re: Ranger "is NI offensive or defensive?"

    Wouldn't it be better if the devoutly-to-be-wished national debate figured out ends before deciding on the means?

    Re: Seydlitz -- all those prerequisites before deciding what the NI is.

    I agree with all of them but, let's face it, it looks as though the chances of getting them done are nil. It's like the old saw about catching a bird -- it's easy if you can get close enough to sprinkle his tail with salt.

    Re: Publius "Well, to begin, we're the nation where it's legal to espouse the overthrow of the existing government."

    If by this you mean electioneering, ok. But espousing the violent overthrow of the goverment is against the law. The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act (18 U.S.C. § 2385) of 1940 is a United States federal statute that makes it a criminal offense for anyone to do this:

    "Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof - Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction. ”

    I really do think that there needs to be a national debate on this, no matter how unlikely I believe that to be. In the meantime, I think many of you are already acting in the national interest -- that bit about defending the constitution against all threats, donchaknow.



  16. Thanks Publius-


    "Skokie" refers to a planned march by the American Nazi party through a Chicago neighborhood that had a significant number of Holocaust survivors back in the 1970s. After a long legal battle the march was allowed.

    I don't think you can march under a Hakenkreuzfahne in Germany . . . and I don't think hardly anyone would want to.

    At the same time I don't think you are in the same political crisis we are. I too have family in Germany, and in Portugal as well, and all agree that the situation in the US - my situation and that of my children and the other Americans in my family in Europe - is something altogether different than what European relatives have here in Europe.

    My point in regards to "National interest" is that our political situation at home has to be stable and functioning before we can even consider foreign matters, let alone adventures.

    Given that the government is unable to deal with the pressing and real problems we face, that a former high government official admits having committed felonies on TV and nothing happens, that the country is essentially broke and we spend like there's no tomorrow . . .

    Why let the same corrupt clique that got us in this mess define what our national interests are . . . ?

    We have to get back to the basics. Stop avoiding the basic political questions as to what our national values are, what America stands for. Either one stands with the neo-con swindlers and their stooges, or one stands with those who resist said swindlers and stooges. In comes down basically to that. Either we submit, or resist, and by resisting I mean organizing politically. Developing a new political consensus to replace the corrupt elite that has betrayed this country.

    I sit here in Europe and wait. I wait for a new American politics. Should it come I'll try to be part of it. Should it not come, I'll continue as I always have . . . being just another voice in the wilderness, but a steady voice, unrelenting since since this American identity that I cherish is essentially who I am. There are many who share this view, and some post on this blog, which is why I am here.

    God Bless America!

  17. "That we are sometimes bad at maintaining the stability of the international system does not mean it's not our goal to do so."

    Actually, the neocon clique wanted to DEstabilize the region. Stability causes continuity, but they wanted change.

    Rumsfeld didn't plan for an Iraq occupation effectively because he wanted to do the next invasion (some place on their to-do-list) ASAP. The whole clique would not have escaped the Nurembourg trials if it were accused there for planning and executing a war of aggression.

    They did not want to preserve and stabilize the world order - they wanted to break the old order and change it as they liked. They did not accept that the Charter of the United Nations (signed and ratified by the U.S. and basis for much of its political power) forbids wars of aggression.

    And don't get me started on how they and their political wing at home treated the UN itself. They saw the UN as a tool that helps at times and should be ignored if not helpful. That is far from maintaining the stability fo the international system.

    Oh, and how about the push for NATO expansion? Did that stabilize? Maybe the Baltics, but certainly not the international system as a whole.

    The U.S. foreign policy of the Bush2 years did neither stabilize the world nor create more security nor create more peace - nor did those people want anything like that. They wanted what can at best be called creative destruction.

  18. Sven,

    Yes, the neocon's acted inimically to US interests in several ways - where did I say otherwise? That a few of them believed they were doing what they felt was best for American interests doesn't change the reality that they were wrong. Whatever the neocons believe, the US is tied up in the international system and our alliance relations which provide us economic and other benefits. We are, I think, afraid to rock that boat.

  19. Wrong or not - the Neocons dominated the government of the USA and made U.S.foreign policy for eight years.

    It's not legitimate to claim that the U.S. does attempt to maintain the stability of the international system when in fact it gave its best to trash said system for eight years (with democratic consent of the own people at half-time).

    And don't get me started about cruise missile diplomacy against fertilizer plants and such.

    Fact is the U.S. does not and does not attempt to stabilize the international system. It's been engaged in bending and changing the international system to its own idea since about 1940 when FDR began to engage Japan (and it also did so in 1917-1919).
    The U.S. does only stabilize facets of the international system that (preliminarily) match its idea of how it should look like.

    This reminds me of the wrong "world policeman" analogy. That's also one such claim that has no grounding in reality. A policeman serves the law, he's not supposed to beat up whom he dislikes.
    A better analogy would be that of a 150 lbs bully with a clique of friends on the schoolyard of forth graders who does what he wants and refers to rules only it they benefit him.

  20. Sven
    I sure wish that i could argue with any of your last statements.
    I wish.
    Publius-are you going to explain to me how the individual reigns supreme in the good ole US of A?

  21. Sven,
    The saddest part of your comment is that at half time we had a choice-sorta-and we continued the march.
    All we did in 04 was a super bowl moment-we just focused on the commercials.

  22. Sven,

    Can't you see a difference between American interests and neocon interests?

  23. I wrote about that I saw no difference between Neocon ideology and U.S. foreign policy for eight years.
    The latter showed no resemblance to "stabilization of the international system".

  24. Sven-

    You didn't really answer Andy's question. What would you see as US National Interests . . . ?

    Trashing the Neo-cons is a popular sport at this point in our history, something anyone can do.

    But, from your perspective, what are our real national intersts, not international interests?

  25. In regard to external security in this order:

    (1) Protect sovereignty.
    (2) Protect sea trading.
    (3) Be (stay) allied with significant, peaceful powers to prevent a situation in which pursuit of (1) and (2) could fail.
    (4) Protect air traffic.
    (5) Protect fishing.

    Economic interests would be added to this, but they wouldn't justify violence ((3) wouldn't either).
    These economic interests are mostly about access to markets and protection of the own currency against counterfeiting (which can happen if powers are very hostile to each other).

    I wouldn't rate oil very high, though. It's merely a matter of time when the addict needs to go into rehab in order to avoid his premature end - why spend much to delay the inevitable?

    I'd also rate the development of rare earth resources in a reliably accessible market as a higher economic interest than oil, for example. China has a 95+% market share with some raw materials that are essential for modern electronics like mobile phones.

    Lesser interests are basically about good connections with other countries. This affects trading success, travels and much more.