Guest article: To Trump or Not to Trump

By Peter Viggo Jakobsen*

Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president has rocked the U.S. security establishment and its allies around the world. Trump has claimed that allies are “ripping the United States off,” dismissed NATO for being “obsolete,” and mused that the time may have come for Japan and South Korea to develop their own nuclear weapons. He insists that U.S. allies have to pay and do more for their defense. Many in the United States and abroad have decried these statements as destabilizing and dangerous; The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists captured the general mood moving their doomsday clock 30 seconds closer to midnight in response to Trump’s inauguration.

This concern is massively overblown.

Trump’s aggressive statements and erratic behavior will most likely strengthen America’s web of alliances. Trump’s aggressive communications strategy and his “America First” approach to international negotiations have already frightened allies into doing something his predecessors could not: increase defense spending. The question in allied capitals is no longer whether defense spending should increase, but how much. In Europe allies are now scrambling to produce concrete plans for how they will increase defense spending in time for President Trump’s first visit to NATO in late May 2017. His perceived unpredictability is also making military provocations and risk-taking by America’s adversaries less likely.

The concern triggered by Trump’s election stems in no small part from the rise of what I call “Trumpology” – the incessant scrutiny of Trump’s personality, his statements, and his tweets. Trumpology is a new growth industry because Trump’s communications meet all the criteria journalists look for in a good story: anxiety, comedy, conflict, and outrage. Many experts now spend their time putting Trump’s words under the microscope to identify all the disasters they might create. In addition, psychologists are busy analyzing his personality and upbringing in order to explain why he is acting so weird.

The American intelligence community has used personality profiling since World War II to better understand how leaders in closed authoritarian systems think and act. The results have been useful on occasion, but the study of personalities and intentions is insufficient with respect to predicting foreign policy actions and outcomes. One must also analyze the consequences and the opposition that proposed actions are likely to generate.  If one considers the consequences of undermining existing U.S. alliances and how much opposition such action would trigger, one gets a far more positive picture of Trump’s impact on world security than the doomsday scenarios that Trumpologists have mass-produced since his election.

Since the late 1940s, U.S. allies in Europe and Asia have based their national security on the assumption that the United States will assist them in a crisis. This assumption and the post-Cold War downsizing of Europe’s military forces have rendered Europeans incapable of conducting even relatively small-scale military operations without substantial American support. The situation in the same in Asia: Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan have all based their defense forces and defense spending on the assumption that the U.S. cavalry will come to their rescue if necessary.

If Trump withdraws these security guarantees, the allies will face a stark choice between deterrence and appeasement. In Europe, deterrence is the most likely choice because Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are strong enough to constitute the core of a new alliance that can deter Russia. In Asia, China will become so strong that most states bordering the East China Sea will have no choice but to appease Beijing and accept its hegemony. Regardless of the outcomes, Europe and Asia would face a period characterized by high instability and a heightened risk of war. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan would likely develop nuclear weapons. Germany and Poland would have a strong incentive to do the same unless France and Britain offer them nuclear protection.

John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt have long recommended that the United States withdraw most of its forces from Asia and Europe because the costs of the existing onshore presence dwarf the benefits. In their view, the existing security guarantees amount to “welfare for the rich” and increase the risk of entrapment in wars that do not involve American national interests. They believe that the United States would be much better off by copying the offshore balancing strategy that the British Empire employed in Europe before World War II.

Offshore balancing did not serve the British well in the end, however. It threw them into two world wars that brought the empire to its knees. Britain’s fate highlights the weakness of offshore balancing: a loss of the ability to shape the security politics onshore decisively. The failure of British offshore balancing dragged the United States into both world wars.

The United States has benefitted tremendously from the onshore balancing strategy it adopted after World War II in Asia and Europe to deter Communist aggression. Its permanent military presence, coupled with the allies’ military dependence, enabled Washington to shape developments to align with U.S. interests. Washington repeatedly gave their allies Mafia-style offers they could not refuse. U.S. economic assistance programs provided to allies in the wake of World War II came with conditions that forced the recipients to buy American goods and liberalize their markets in ways that were highly beneficial to American firms. Washington forced Great Britain and France to withdraw their troops from Egypt during the Suez Crisis (1956), coerced Germany to support U.S. monetary policy (1966-1969), and thwarted nuclear weapons ambitions and programs of many allies, including Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Military dependence on the United States also induced many allies to support American wars in faraway places that did not affect their national security directly. Since 9/11 allies have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, closed their eyes to secret detention and extraordinary rendition programs, the use of torture, and the massive surveillance of their own citizens. Allies have given the United States access to bases, facilities, as well as their airspace and territorial waters. Finally, many allies buy American weapon systems to maintain inter-operability and their security guarantees. The F-35 is the latest example of this.

The consequences of a U.S. military withdrawal from Europe and Asia would be dramatic. The United States would lose most of its military bases, American firms would find it much harder to gain market access, the American defense industry would lose billions of dollars, and European allies would stop supporting the United States militarily in faraway conflicts. The United States would be reduced to a regional power with little say in the management of Asian and European affairs. This is why it will not happen. This outcome is not only at odds with America’s economic interests, it is also completely at odds with the widespread belief in American exceptionalism and greatness that Trump and his supporters also embrace.

But if the costs of abandoning allies are prohibitive, why is Trump threatening to do so? Schelling’s classic work on game theory suggests an answer: it shows that you can obtain greater concessions in negotiations by appearing mad or unpredictable. In this perspective, Trump’s statements and seemingly erratic behavior make a lot of sense as a negotiation tactic aimed at pressuring U.S. allies to increase their defense spending. His perceived unpredictability is adding credibility to the threat that he might actually withdraw U.S. forces even if it is not in the United States best interest to do so. There is genuine concern among U.S. allies about what Trump might do if they do not take immediate steps to increase their defense spending. The South Korean government reacted to Trump’s election by vowing to increase defense spending significantly if he insists on it. Likewise, the Danish Prime Minister promised to increase defense spending after his first phone conversation with Trump. In Germany Trump’s election triggered a hitherto unthinkable public debate on whether Germany should develop nuclear weapons.

President Trump’s unpredictability will also put America’s opponents on the defensive. President Obama’s reluctance to threaten and use force likely emboldened China and Russia to take greater military risks in Eastern Ukraine, Syria, and in the East and South China Seas. While Beijing and Moscow could be fairly confident that Obama would not take military counter-measures, they have no way of calculating what President Trump might do. It is easy to imagine him giving the order to down a Chinese or Russian plane to demonstrate that “America is great again.”

Paradoxically, Trump’s tweets and theatrics are good news for world peace. They create unpredictability and anxiety that the United States can use to obtain greater concessions from friends and foes. The likely result is strengthened U.S. alliances and U.S. opponents that will favor negotiation over provocation in their efforts to settle differences with the United States and its allies.

A longer version of this article first appeared on War on the Rocks, March 2, 2017.

* Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen is an Associate Professor at the Royal Danish Defence College and a Professor (part-time) at the Center for War Studies at University of Southern Denmark.

Are You Listening, President Trump?

Fifty-six years ago, President Kennedy entered office eager to show how weak his predecessor, Eisenhower, had been and how brave and decisive he himself was. He sent his troops to Vietnam, and the rest is history. Two months ago, President Trump entered office eager to do the same in respect to his predecessor, President Obama. To do so, he has hit on the brilliant idea of sending more American troops to Syria. In response, President Assad of Syria has told him that such troops, deployed without his permission, would not be welcome. Also that, over the last seventy years or so, almost every time Western, specifically American, troops went into the so-called developing world they failed to achieve their objectives. In quite a few cases the outcome was to open the gates of hell, as the Koran put it.

As the following, extremely partial, list of their failures shows, Assad is right.

1944-1948. A few hundred active “terrorists” hound the British out of Palestine, leading to the establishment of the State of Israel.

1946-1954. French troops are defeated in Indochina, leading to Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian independence.

1948-1960. British troops fail to hold Malaya and end up by withdrawing from the country. Thanks to a masterpiece of propaganda, the Brits make most of the world believe that they had actually won the war. But this does not prevent Malaysia from becoming independent state.

1950-1953, Western forces, operating under UN auspices, wage against North Korea and China. The outcome, stalemate, is probably the best that could have been achieved.

1953-1960. British troops fail to defeat the Mau Mau Revolt in Kenya, ending up by withdrawing from the country, which gained its independence.

1954-1962. The War in Algeria, which had been a French colony for well over a century, ends with a humiliating defeat for France.

1955-1960. An insurgency forces the British to give up Cyprus, which becomes an independent country.

1963-1967. Another insurgency forces the British to surrender Aden. Ditto.

1965-1972. The Second Vietnam War, which was the largest of them by far, ends with the decisive defeat of the US and its allies and their final withdrawal.

1970-1975. As part of the Second Vietnam War, the US invaded Cambodia. In 1975 it had to throw in the towel. With the US cowed and decolonization all but complete, major Western attempts to intervene in the developing world came to a halt.

1982-1984. A small continent of US troops enters Lebanon, but quickly leaves again after terrorists start blowing them up.

1991-1992. The US and its allies, provoked by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, go to war. In almost seventy years, this is the only campaign that resulted in a clear victory. As a result, President George Bush declares that the US “has overcome the Vietnam Syndrome.”

  1. The US and its allies send troops into Somalia. To absolutely no avail, except for turning that country into an even worse hell than it already was.

2002-present. To avenge 9-11, the US and its allies invade Afghanistan. The resulting mess is still waiting to be cleared up.

2003-present. The US and its allies invade Iraq. Saddam Hussein is overthrown and, ultimately, killed. However, once again the outcome is a mess that has still not been resolved.

2005-present. French and British forces, initially supported by US cruise missiles, assist local militias in overthrowing Dictator Muammar Gadhafi. The outcome is the same as in Iraq.

2011-present. Small NATO contingents take part in Syria’s murderous civil war, but achieve practically nothing. Thanks in part to Russian aid, the side whom the US and its allies oppose, i.e. President Assad, seems to be gaining the upper hand.

Are you listening, President Trump?

Just Published!

Martin van Creveld, More on War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017

When the chips are down, the survival of every country, government and individual is ultimately dependent on war. That is why, though war may come but once in a hundred years, it must be prepared for every day. When it is too late—when the bodies lay stiff and people weep over them—those in charge have failed in their duty.

In almost every field of human thought and action, good philosophers abound. They have examined their subjects, be they aesthetics or ethics or logic or the existence of God, and dissected them into their component parts. Next they re-assembled them, often in new and surprising ways that helped students to expand their knowledge and gain understanding. Some even helped improve the ability of the rest of us to cope with real-world problems. Yet in two and-a half millennia there have only been two really important military theoreticians: Sun Tzu (544-496 BCE) and Carl von Clausewitz (1779-1831). All the rest, including quite a few who were famous in their own times, have been more or less forgotten. Today they are of interest, if at all, almost exclusively to the military historian.

Both Sun Tzu’s the Art of War and Clausewitz’s On War have had praise heaped on them by generations of soldiers and scholars. With very good reason, needless to say. Nevertheless, both are marked by serious problems. In part, that is because there are entire fields which they address hardly if at all. Including the causes of war, the relationship between economics and war, the technology of war, and the law of war. This even applies to naval warfare, an age-old but critically important topic that neither of them mentions in a single word. In part, it is simply because they are old. Being old, they have nothing to say about the many forms of war that have emerged since they were written and whose role in contemporary conflict is often decisive. Such as nuclear war, air- and space war, cyberwar, and asymmetric war.

What is needed, in other words, is a new theory of war. One that is succinct, comprehensive, and easy to read and understand. And one that, by taking a contemporary approach, filling the gaps, and expanding into new fields can take the place of the above texts both in military and civilian life, both in- and out of the classroom.

The purpose of More on War is to provide just such a theory.

 

“Van Creveld is incapable of writing an uninteresting book.”

Prof. Lawrence Friedman, Foreign Affairs.

Yes, They (Sometimes) Can

I have in front of me a book by a British scholar, Peter Greenhalgh, named Early Greek Warfare. Published by Cambridge University Press as far back as 1973, it is a scholarly treatment of the topic clearly aimed at the specialist. On the cover there is a sixth- or early fifth-century BC image of a two men amicably riding side by side. Originally it was painted on a vase now at the Martin-von-Wagner Museum in Wuerzburg. The vase shows the couple twice, once from the right and once from the left. As you can see, the older man is a warrior with powerful shoulders. He is wearing a tall helmet of the so-called Chalcidian type as well as greaves; he is also carrying a shield and two spears. The younger looks more like a teenager and is not nearly as strongly built. Unarmed, all he wears is a light tunic with very short sleeves, showing his slender, immature arms.

The men are probably on their way to war, and the eagle at their back was meant as an auspicious omen. Never mind. To anyone at all familiar with ancient Greek history, the image—in my view, a beautiful one indeed—strikes a chord. What we see is neither a casual encounter nor a so-called “Platonic” one. It is a homosexual couple consisting of the lover, or erastes (from eros, sexual attraction), and his beloved, or eromenos. The latter was usually a young boy in his teens. Modern scholars agree that such relationships were socially approved. In some cases they may even have formed part of a semi-official initiation rite. One not too different, say, from those practiced until not so long ago by some tribal societies in Papua-New Guinea during which the novices were made to fellate grown men as part of obtaining the essence of masculinity. Provided only the relationships were consensual—there was, nota bene, no age of consent—Athenian law allowed them. Indeed one scholar has claimed that they formed “the principal cultural model” for what a free relationship between citizens could and should be.

The Summer of 1942, a 1971 novel that was later made into a film, told the story of an affair between an American teenager and a woman several years older than he. It was based on real events; however, so considerable are the differences between the film and the book (by Herman Raucher) on which it is based that it is hard to say what really happened. Hence I shall not discuss it here.

Fast forward to 1998. In Germany the book, “Wir waren Hitlers eliteschueler” (“We used to be Hitler’s Elite Students) was published. It is a collection of short essays, each written by a former student at one of the so-called Napolas, short for Nazional-Sozialistische Politische Erziehungsanstalten. Taking the place of the old Kadettensschuelen, or schools for cadets, which the Allies after World War I ordered closed, the Napolas enlisted twelve-year olds and graduated them six years later. Somewhat similar to America’s military academies, they emphasized history, “racial science,” drill, and sports. Competition to enter them was keen, and looking back on their experience many of their absolvents had little but praise for them.

I shall not go into the question as to how good or bad the schools were, the extent to which they were and were not responsible for all the terrible things the Nazis did, and so on. My point is rather that one of the former students, who was fifteen years old at the time, tells how he befriended a young woman living nearby. She was lonely—perhaps her boyfriend or husband was at the front. The rest followed of itself. Again, looking back on his experience, he only had good things to say about it.

Four years later another book made tis appearance. The author was the world-famous Israeli writer Amos Oz; the title, A Tale of Love and Darkness. It, too, has been made into a movie, albeit one that never attracted as many viewers as The Summer of 1942 did. Oz, who was born in 1939, moved to a kibbutz after his mother killed herself. There while still a teenager, he either seduced or was seduced by—it is hard to tell—a female teacher twice his age. In the end it was she who put an end to the affair. Decades later, while on a lecture tour in the US, Oz met a woman who looked strikingly like her. Going up to greet her, it turned out that she was his former teacher’s daughter who had come to listen to him. The mother was also present. She was, however, in a wheelchair. Suffering from Alzheimer, she did not recognize her former student.

Any number of similar episodes, some involving boys, others girls, could be cited. Let me make myself absolutely clear: I am not saying that people should start breaking the law and have sex, even consensual sex, with minors. The law is the law, and it has to be obeyed. Still it is useful to know that in Japan, not exactly the most backward country on earth, the age of consent is 13. In China, Brazil, and several other South American countries it is 14. The same applies to Austria, Estonia, Hungary, Italy Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, and Germany. The total number of people who live under these laws, as well as in some “developing” countries I did not list, must be little short of two billion. The German case is particularly interesting. As long as a person over the age of 21 does not “exploit” a 14- to 15-year-old youth, there is no problem. For such a person to be put on trial, a complaint from the younger individual is required; in which respect German law resembles ancient Athenian one.

As the above examples show, there is some evidence that having sex with older people, whether hetero-or homosexual, can be good, or at any rate not bad, for at least some boys. As to the law, not only is it quite arbitrary but it is rooted in social attitudes. Attitudes which, since they vary from one civilization to the next, have little if anything to do with what young people do or do not understand, can or cannot do, want or do not want. Let alone with “basic” human nature at this age or that. Such being the case, it is quite possible that, in at least some cases, the “cure,” which today usually consists of punishing the older partner and actively compelling the younger one to assume the role of a victim, does more harm than good.

As to girls, there seems to be a near-universal consensus that they develop faster, and reach maturity earlier than boys do. So draw your own conclusions.

Definitions

ADHD: A disease that spreads when teachers are inexpressibly boring.

*

Adultery: That which, by some estimates, over half of all men and women in a relationship commit.

*

Brain scientists: Researchers who can tell you what goes on in your brain when you are bored, but not what boredom is.

*

Cash: One of the last remaining defenses against tyranny.

*

China: A civilization masquerading as a state.

*

Computers: Useless machines. They may be able to provide answers, but they cannot ask questions (Picasso).

*

Courage: When a woman avenges herself on someone who, twenty years ago, got ahead of her in queue by accusing him of “sexual harassment” (see below).

*

(A) c–t: What all of us, from the son of God down, have issued from. So why is it the worst thing anyone, male or female, can be?

*

Democracy: The worst form of government, except for all the rest (Winston Churchill).

*

Educational: Something that is neither useful nor fun.

*

Elections: An exercise held to see whether the pollsters had it right.

*

(An) expert: Someone you listen to as long as he tells you what you want to hear.

*

Falsehood: When people revolt against the government and the media and believe Facebook instead.

*

Fashion: A form of ugliness so bad that it must be changed every year.

*

Feminism: When women put themselves first (Carol Gilligan).

*

(A) fighter: An Israeli soldier who, along with his comrades, shoots and wounds a Palestinian girl armed with scissors.

*

Gender Theory: The belief that you can be a man even though you do not have a penis.

*

Godwin’s Law: The longer a discussion goes on, the more inevitable it is that someone will call someone else “Hitler.”

*

History (1): A tale as filled with lies as the body of a prostitute is with syphilis (Schopenhauer).

*

History (2): A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (Shakespeare).

*

Interference in another state’s internal affairs: When Russia dares do what the U.S has been doing for decades.

*

Justice: Something you will hopefully get if you pay the right lawyer the right sum.

*

Love: When your partner’s shortcomings make you smile.

*

Marriage: An alliance between a man and a woman aimed at creating a third who is more than either of them. Otherwise it is just two animals licking one another (Nietzsche).

*

Mathematics: The one science able to provide absolute certainty, but only because it deals with things that do not exist.

*

Nuclear weapons: If we have had no World War III, then only thanks to them.

*

Offensive: Whatever someone, somewhere, with or without reason, does not like and wants to prohibit.

*

Patriotism: The last refuge of the scoundrel (Voltaire).

*

Political correctness: The belief that, if we see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, evil will be abolished.

*

Populism: When voters, how dare they, stand up against the political class.

*

Racism: The belief that races exist and that there may be differences among them.

*

Rape: See under sexual harassment.

*

Ritalin: A form of cocaine legalized so as to enable the drug companies to make gigantic profits.

*

Russia: A sort of Saudi Arabia with an arms industry.

*

School: An institution for enslaving children so their liberated mothers can turn themselves into wage slaves.

*

Sex: Consensual rape.

*

Sex education: Forcing adults’ hang-ups down children’s throats.

*

(A) Sexist: Anyone who refuses to accept even the craziest feminist ideas without argument.

*

Sexual Harassment: Whatever a woman choses to call by that name, even if it takes decades for her to understand it has ever taken place.

*

Taxes: If anyone but the government levied them, they would be called extortion.

*

(The) US: A less civilized Canada.

*

Terrorists: The other side’s freedom fighters.

*

Wisdom: Knowing when to shut up.

My Country, More Wrong than Right

I am an Israeli. And proud of it. Several times on this blog I have praised my country’s virtues. As I tried to show in my book, Land of Blood and Honey (2010), over the last century no country on earth has achieved more. Demographically—there are now a hundred times as many Jews living here than there were in 1914—economically, politically, militarily, scientifically, culturally, you name it. When I first arrived I was just four years old. Not only have I spent almost my entire life here, but I very much hope my children and grandchildren will do the same.

That is why I am worried, more than worried, about certain things that have been happening in my country. Today, I want to share my worries with my readers.

* Some months ago, the Knesset passed a law which enabled a majority of 90 to vote and dismiss any one of its 120 members simply for speaking their mind about certain topics. For example, saying, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak once did, that, if he or she were a Palestinian, he might join a terrorist movement against Israel, might cause the trigger to be pulled. As if speaking up is not what the members of Israel’s parliament, like those of any other legislative assembly in democratic countries around the world, have been elected for.

* Israel has some forms of communal settlements in which members have the right to vote on which new residents to admit. This has been used to bar Arab citizens. Though a court order has reaffirmed the right of Arab citizens to join the settlements in question, that order has never been implemented.

* For years now the police has been demolishing houses built by the Bedouin in the Negev. In the latest incident of this kind, mayhem broke out and a Bedouin as well as a policeman were killed. All because the government has suddenly decided that the permit to settle the area, issued sixty years previously, had been illegal.

* Bezelem (In the Image: after a sentence in the book of Genesis, according to which God created man “in His image”) is a voluntary Israeli organization. For many years now, it has been collecting and publishing evidence about the way Israeli troops in the West Bank, both IDF and Border Police (in practice, there is hardly any difference) have been treating and mistreating the local Arab population. In 2013, its tax-free status was revoked.

* “Shovrim Shtika” (Breaking the Silence) is a somewhat similar organization. The difference is that it is made up of officers and soldiers who spent time serving in the Occupied Territories. As the name implies, it too has something to say about the chicanes to which the local population has been and is being subjected. Recently its members’ right to speak in schools and certain public buildings has been curtailed.

* Another organization whose tax-free status has been subjected to re-examination is Amnesty, the largest of its kind world-wide. In the end its status was re-established, but just for one year.

* As some of you will have heard, last week a high court decision issued a long time ago was finally carried out. Amidst scenes of considerable violence Amona, a West Bank settlement that had been built on private Palestinian Land, was demolished. So far, so good; no sooner had Amona been taken apart, though, than the Knesset passed a law that officially “regulated” the status of thousands of other Jewish houses built on private property in the West Bank. This is not just contrary to international law: it is robbery, pure and simple.

* Last not least, Israeli law has an arrangement known as BAGATZ, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Under this arrangement any citizen or organization—not just the parties involved in a legal dispute—has the right to approach the supreme court as a court of first and last instance, asking it for a resolution against government actions that, in their opinion, violate the law. It was a BAGATZ that ordered Amona to be evacuated. And it is a BAGATZ that will hopefully counter the “Regulating Law” just passed. What I find worrisome, very worrisome, is the attempts of certain right-wing politicians to curtail the power of the BAGATZ and/or change the system by which supreme justices are selected in such a way as to make the court more compliant.

What did the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir say? Often it is not those who criticize their country who love it the least.

 

PS Last week this site had a technical problem which blocked access for a few hours. Thanks to all of you on Facebook who inquired and took the trouble to let me know. As we Dutch say, het geeft de burger moed (it gives the citizen courage).

Why I Blog

Some three years have passed since I started this blog, and it is time to draw up a balance. No, my site has not drawn very large numbers of readers and has not developed into the equivalent of the Huffington Post. And no, I do not do it for profit; though at times I was tempted by offers to open the site to advertising, in the end I rejected them all. As a result, never did I receive a single penny for all the work I have been doing (normally, about two hours per week). More, even: since I am not very computer literate, I rely on my stepson, Jonathan Lewy, to run the site for me. But for him it would not have been possible. So let me use this opportunity to thank him from the bottom of my heart.

What I have received and am receiving is feedback. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some people have used the appropriate button on the site to say what they think of my work or simply in order to get in touch. Others suggested that they write for me or else responded to my request that they do so. Others still have asked, and received, my permission to repost my work on their own sites. A few have even taken the trouble to translate entire articles into their native languages. Except for a few yahoos who ranted and swore, almost all my contacts with the people in question, many of whom were initially complete strangers, have been courteous, informative, and thought-provoking. Thank you, again, from the bottom of my heart.

Most of the ideas behind my posts are derived from the media. Others have to do with my personal experiences; others still, such as the series on Pussycats, have to do with the research I am currently doing or else were suggested by various people. Perhaps most important of all, I often use my posts as what Nietzsche used to call Versuche. By that he meant attempts to clarify his thoughts and see where they may lead. The most popular posts have been those which dealt with political and military affairs. Followed by the ones on women and feminism, followed by everything else. Given my background and reputation as a longtime professor of military history and strategy, that is not surprising.

At one point I tried to enlist the aid of a friend to have the blog translated into Chinese and make my posts available in that language too. No luck; I soon learnt that the Great Chinese Firewall did not allow them to pass. Why that is, and whether my work has fallen victim to some kind of dragnet or has been specifically targeted I have no idea. Thinking about it, the former seems more likely; to the best of my knowledge I have never written anything against China. But one never knows.

That brings me to the real reason why I write: namely, to exercise my right to freedom of thought. And, by doing so, do my little bit towards protecting it and preserving it. My heroes are Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. The former because he has exposed a few of the less decent things—to put it mildly—out dearly beloved governments have been saying and doing in our name. The latter, because he has shown how vulnerable all of us are to Big Brother and called for reform. Both men have paid dearly for what they have done, which is another reason for trying to follow in their footsteps as best I can.

Freedom of speech is in trouble—and the only ones who do not know it are those who will soon find out. The idea of free speech is a recent one. It first emerged during the eighteenth century when Voltaire, the great French writer, said that while he might not agree with someone’s ideas he would fight to the utmost to protect that person’s right to express them. Like Assange and Snowden Voltaire paid the penalty, spending time in jail for his pains. Later, to prevent a recurrence, he went to live at Frenay, just a few hundred yards from Geneva. There he had a team or horses ready to carry him across the border should the need arise. Good for him.

To return to modern times, this is not the place to trace the stages by which freedom of speech was hemmed in in any detail. Looking back, it all started during the second half of the 1960s when it was forbidden to say, or think, or believe, that first blacks, then women, then gays, then transgender people, might in some ways be different from others. As time went on this prohibition came to be known as political correctness. Like an inkstain it spread, covering more and more domains and polluting them. This has now been carried to the point where anything that may offend anyone in some way is banned—with the result that, as Alan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind has shown, in many fields it has become almost impossible to say anything at all.

Let me give you just one example of what I mean. Years ago, at my alma mater in Jerusalem, I taught a course on military history. The class consisted of foreign, mostly American, students. At one point I used the germ Gook. No sooner had the word left my mouth than a student rose and, accused me of racism. I did my best to explain that, by deliberately using the term, I did not mean to imply that, in my view, the Vietnamese were in any way inferior. To the contrary, I meant to express my admiration for them for having defeated the Americans who did think so. To no avail, of course.

And so it goes. When the Internet first appeared on the scene I, along with a great many other people, assumed that any attempt to limit freedom of speech had now been definitely defeated. Instead, the opposite is beginning to happen. Techniques such as “data mining” made their appearance, allowing anything anyone said about anything to be instantly monitored and recorded, forever. All over Europe, the thought police is in the process of being established. Sometimes it is corporations such as Facebook which, on pain of government intervention, are told to “clean up” their act by suppressing all kinds of speech or, at the very least, marking it as “offensive,” “untrue,” and “fake.” In others it is the governments themselves that take the bit between their teeth.

Regrettably, one of the governments which is doing so is that of the U.S. Naively, I hoped that Trump’s election would signify the beginning of the end of political correctness. Instead, he is even now trying to prevent people in- and out of the government from discussing such things as global warming and the need to preserve the environment. Not to mention his attacks on the media for, among other things, allegedly misreading the number of those who came up to witness his inauguration. Should this line continue and persist, then it will become imperative to do without him and go against him. Not because of what he has to say about both topics is necessarily wrong, but to ensure the right of others to think otherwise.

This won’t do. That is why I promise my readers, however few or many they may be, one thing: namely, to go on writing about anything I please and go on speaking the truth as I see it. The English poet W. H. (Wystan Huge) Auden, 1907-1973, might have been referring to blogging when he wrote:

I want a form that’s large enough to swim in,

And talk on any subject that I choose.

From natural scenery to men and women

Myself, the arts, the European news.

No Exit

As some readers will know from some of my previous posts, I have been interested in the future and, even more so, the methods people of various times and places have developed in their attempts to predict it. One day, perhaps, I shall write a book about that endlessly fascinating topic. Until then, here are some preliminary reflections on it.

* Attempts at prediction are as old as humanity. As far as we can make out, Stone-Age hunters going on an expedition used to ask their shaman whether they would return alive, return loaded with quarry, and so on. We today are always looking for some device that will enable us to see where the stock exchange is heading.

* We today tend to see prophecy, astrology, divination, and similar practices as leftover from former, less sophisticated times. However, Cicero’s brother Quintus, took the opposite view: he held that only civilized societies could bring them to perfection.

* Historically, predictions have often taken poetic form. To this day, no one has been able to improve on the Old Testament in this respect. Or on good old Nostradamus (1503-66), perhaps the most famous seer who ever lived, whose quatrains (four-lined poems) have been read, interpreted, and believed by immense numbers of people over four and a half centuries. But no longer. Present-day “scientific” forecasts tend to consist of prose texts illustrated with the aid of tables and graphs.

* It used to be that practically all attempts to look into the future involved some kind of divine assistance. The old Hebrew prophets claimed that God had got hold of them—on occasion, as with Jonas, even against their will—and spoke through their mouth. So did St. John. At the Oracle in Delphi, supposedly it was Apollo who gave his advice by way of the Pythia. As Nostradamus put it, without religious faith even mathematical calculations, which he and others used to cast horoscopes, did not work. That, however, no longer applies. Regardless of whether it takes the form of mathematical modeling, or surveys, or “data mining,” most “serious” attempts at prediction have become strictly secular.

* Prophecy used to be closely linked with madness. The abovementioned Pythia uttered her prophecies while seated on a tripod positioned over a deep split in the ground from which emerged some kind of gas—said to be Apollo’s breath—which befuddled her. Casandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy who was cursed in that no one ever believed her (quite accurate) predictions, was often portrayed as incoherent and half mad. When Saul, the future King of Israel, went chasing his lost she asses and suddenly found himself prophesizing, people thought that he had gone off his rocker. That, too, no longer applies. Looking into the future, or trying to do so, is now often considered a rational, quite sober, activity. One on which billions are spent and on which some of the best minds, from that of computer guru Ray Kurzweil down, are engaged. By contrast, modern psychiatrists would like nothing better than to consign those who try to predict the future on the base of ecstasy to the loony bin. As, in fact, they not seldom are.

* Except when it was used in astrology, past attempts to look into the future seldom involved mathematics. Even as late as the early years of the twentieth century, it never occurred to the famous British science fiction writer H. G. Wells that models might have something to do with it. Basically all the tools he had were his knowledge of some recent inventions, a few rather simple trends, and his own extraordinarily fertile imagination. That is no longer true. To the contrary: the more mathematics such an attempt involves, and the fewer therefore the people who understand it, the better.

That said, there are also some things that have not changed:

* Some of the oldest methods, astrology in particular, are still in use. True, they have been pushed off center stage by supposedly better, more rational and more sophisticated, methods employed by economists e.g. As newspaper and magazine columns confirm, however, that does not mean many people do not take notice of them and are not interested in them.

* Many prophecies used to be rather obscure, often deliberately so. To adduce but one famous example, the Pythia told King the envoys of Croesus that, if he went to war with neighboring Persia, he would bring down a great kingdom. He believed her, took the offensive, and was defeated. The explanation? The Pythia had not said which kingdom would be destroyed.

Similarly, many of today’s forecasts are “probabilistic.” Meaning that, instead of providing yes/no answers, all they yield are estimates of the chances of this or that happening. From the point of view of those who make them, of course, such forecasts have the advantage that they are always right.

* To pursue this thought, here is a story that used to be told about a former Israeli chief of staff, General Rafael Eitan (served, 1978-83). One day he was asked to approve some operation the air force was preparing. When he asked about the weather, he was told that there was a twenty percent chance of rain. “Wrong,” he said. The correct answer is fifty percent. Either it will rain, or it won’t.” He had a point, didn’t he?

* The use of computers, models and mathematics notwithstanding, to date there is not a shred of evidence that we secular, supposedly rational, moderns are one bit better at looking into the future than, say, Babylonian astrologers exercising their craft four thousand years ago used to be. If the book of Genesis may be believed, the seven good and seven lean years which Joseph, on the basis of Pharaoh’s dream, predicted did not come as a surprise as much as the 1929 and 2008 depressions did. Or, for that matter, as the boom of the Clinton years.

But suppose, someone might say, we had been able to accurately predict the future; what then?

* If it happens, it will probably form the most important “singularity” ever, far eclipsing anything those who so often play with that concept have come up with. More important, say, than the development of artificial superintelligence which Ray Kurzweil has been trumpeting. And more important than meeting with an ex-terrestrial civilization.

* Such a world would require that all information at the predictors’ disposal be correct, accurate, and comprehensive. Right down to what is happening in each one of the hundred billion or so cells and trillions of connections (synapses) which make up the brain of each and every one of us. All causes and all effects would have to be known and perfectly understood.

* In such a world movements and impacts would still be possible, as they are e.g. in the atmosphere or in the heavens. However, those movements and those impacts would be blind, occasioned solely by natural laws. The reason is that such a world would have to do without intentionality, because intentionality is the greatest obstacle to certainty of all. But beware. No intentionality, no feelings to choose the objectives we are aiming at; nor thought about the best way of achieving them. In other words, no conscious life, either emotional or intellectual. Purely physical phenomena apart, such a world would be frozen in concrete. With no exit.

Make up your own mind, if you can, whether you would want to live in such a world.

Guest Article: George Michael and Brexit A View from the Thames Valley

By Prof. Beatrice Heuser

Overnight, during the Christmas news doldrums, our village became the focus of world attention. For a month ago, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, better known as George Michael, born in London to a British mother and a Cypriot father, ended his life in his country house on the Thames in the idyllic village of Goring. Following the example of the new ritual of mass mourning which Britain invented at the death of Princess Diana, the access to his house is now strewn with bouquets of flowers in their white plastic wrappers and many very odd donations from balloons and a guitar to T-shirts inscribed “Choose Life”, the motto of an anti-suicide campaign he sponsored. Even now, a month later, fans make their pilgrimage to Goring to pay homage. One wonders whether they cared or even knew as much about the decision they took in the “Brexit” Referendum on 23 June 2016 as about the life of George Michael.

Seven months after the Brexit vote, some of us are still rattled. The outcome is proof that Europeans in different countries have always thought of the European Union in different ways. In Spain and Greece, membership of the EU is seen as a way of escaping the great divides within the country itself, with the Union at the highest, not at the lowest common denominator. Countries that were in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire – above all France and Germany – had (but do young generations still have?) some emotional identification with this historic heritage that preceded nationalism and frontiers. A (declining?) majority within those countries embrace the narrative that nationalism had bad effects, leading to the creation of barriers and the wars of many centuries. Most continental peoples associate the EU with human rights and a larger, liberating identity, and with a peaceful, civilised way to settle problems.

In Britain, by contrast, most people have never seen European integration in that light. Before or after membership of the European Economic Community (EEC, the forerunner of the EU), they could travel; they still prefer taking the ferry to taking the time-saving Channel Tunnel, and therefore their passage experience is still one of Britain being separate, and passports being controlled, as it has always been. They only identified the “Common Market” with free trade (good) and otherwise see the EU as an alien empire dictating rules and regulations (bad, like the Roman Empire, and unsuccessful attempts to subject England by the Catholic Church through the agency of Philip II of Spain with his Inquisition and the Armada, of Napoleon and Hitler). Against this, England/Britain defended its Freedom – a nice flexible catch-all that throughout European history has expressed anything and everything, and now stands for poorly paid jobs with little social security, and a romance of Britain as part of a seafaring Anglosphere but not of the European Continent.

As an unemployed blue-collar worker in his late 50s said on BBC Radio in early September 2016, he had no hope of finding employment again, and could not afford to pay the medicines for his wife, and had voted for Brexit to “make Britain great again”. Unpack those assumptions: i.e. Britain was great before it joined the EEC in 1973, he would have been employed, and the National Health Service would have paid for all health needs. None of this would have been true. Labour minister Aneurin Bevan already resigned in 1951 when the young NHS was so overstretched that it could not pay for dentures any longer, and Britain joined the EEC because it was economically at rock bottom with high unemployment, labour unrest, and much poverty. But clearly, if this man is anything to go by – and a recent study suggests he is, see https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/brexit-vote-explained-poverty-low-skills-and-lack-opportunities – there is a myth prevalent among the British white lower classes of a golden age that was lost when Britain joined “Europe” (never mind geographic and historical facts).

In short, The whole narrative of the Pax Romana and Charlemagne and how the Holy Roman Empire managed most internal conflicts peacefully (until the religious wars) and co-ordinated external defence, and finally settled for religious tolerance, is never taught in British schools, nor all the wonderful things that EU does for ethnic minorities. (For a provocative book written by another fan of the Pax Romana, read Ian Morris’s bestseller War: What is it good for.)

What is incomprehensible unless it is lighting finding the only available conductor is the anti-Polish actions and other displays of xenophobia against EU citizens immediately after Brexit. Back in the early 1980s, with Solidarność and Lech Wałesa, the Poles were every Briton’s darlings. Even in the 1990s, people supported EU and NATO extension because, having guaranteed Poland in 1939, the British and the French felt rather sheepish about their inability to stop the Wehrmacht, and then the Red Army, from overrunning Poland. Everybody talked about the gallant contribution the Poles had made to the RAF and to decrypting Enigma.

The bêtise of the angry white Americans who voted Trump into office seems akin to that characterising the unemployed man quoted above. Some patterns are reminiscent of the 1930s, when nationalism was rampant, and nationalist authoritarian leaders such as Piłsudski admired Hitler and Mussolini, and when Piłsudski’s successors thought they were being clever when they joined in the carving up of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. How do people not understand that a nationalist government of another country is by definition an adversary in a zero-sum game, and that any alliance with it can only be temporary? While democracies upholding human rights should logically co-operate (which the British found so difficult to understand vis-à-vis France in the 1920s and 1930s), nationalist countries by definition are each other’s enemies. What’s so difficult about that?

Any student of the history of European security and the construction of the fragile architecture that gave the Continentals the reassurance that they were covered by nuclear deterrence (to which Britain’s contribution was pivotal, and based on the unconditional mutual guarantee of the Brussels Treaty, now subsumed into the Lisbon Treaty of the EU), without further nuclear proliferation in Europe (!) should be terrified by the possible consequences of withdrawing the British pivot through Brexit. And while so far Putin “only” wants to rebuild the “Union” (so what about the Baltic states, members of NATO and the EU?), l’appetit vient en mangeant. Baltes and Poles are likely to dream about nukes – and probably want a very strong fence or wall. Call in the Israelis or the Chinese.

So when Trump thinks he can “do business with Herr Putin”, to paraphrase Chamberlain in 1938, and when Nigel Farrage and François Fillon and Marine Le Pen and the AfD in Germany and many other European leaders admire Putin (and Erdoğan? Probably…), history is clearly not taught properly to the masses.

In short, things are not looking good for human progress. Another Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. George Michael did not “Choose Life”, the British did not choose to “Remain” in the EU. The former, a personal tragedy. The latter may become one for the stability of Europe, perhaps for the rest of the world.

 

Beatrice Heuser, who holds the Chair of International Relations at the University of Reading, is the author of (inter alia) Evolution of Strategy (2010), Nuclear Mentalities? (1998), and Western Containment Policies in the Cold War: the Yugoslav Case (1989). Her next publication will be Strategy before Clausewitz (2017).

 

The Price to Be Paid

Ours is the age of equality between men and women, or so they say. Not a day passes without the media announcing some great achievement by women who have done this or that, conquered this or that field of previously male activity. Today it pleases me to focus on the price women have paid for succumbing to penis envy.

Follow a few highlights:

* Many women now work as hard as men. Fifty years ago, the time when the shift that made it normal and acceptable for married women to obtain paid jobs got under way, many of them started by working part time. Since then, however, the difference in the percentage of men and women working full time has been shrinking. Do you want to see the result? Just look at the bookstores. In them, one volume after another dealing with how to balance work, household and family is becoming a best-seller. As if wishful thinking could lead to a day of twenty-six hours.

* The rising cost of living. Most working women incur expenses non-working ones do not have; such as clothing, transport, help in running the household, and child care. In particular, the last two have led to the rise of entire industries that are worth billions and billions a year. Women who work and pay others to work for them also have the privilege of paying all kinds of taxes (income tax, VAT, social security, employers’ taxes), which otherwise would not have been the case. All this explains why, whereas fifty years ago most middle-class families could live on one salary, today such a blessing has become rare.

* Exposure to sexual harassment. Women who work outside the home are more exposed to sexual harassment than those who do not. Period.

* Difficulty in conceiving. Paid work often means preparing for it by undertaking some kind of academic study, and the years spent on academic study are one reason why the age at which people get married for the first time has been rising until it is currently the highest in history. The outcome: more and more women who live with a partner cannot have children and are forced to turn to artificial insemination labs or adoption agencies instead.

* Estrangement from children who suffer. Historically the fact that women spent far more time with little children in particular meant that mothers were considerably closer to their offspring than fathers were. That, however, is no longer the case; today’s newborn are likely to be handed to the care of strangers within months, or even weeks, of entering this world. At least some studies have concluded that mothers’ employment is “associated with negative child outcomes when families [are] not at risk financially (i.e., when families [are] middle or upper-middle class).” A fortiori, of course, for poor and/or single working mothers.

* Payment of child support and palimony. Half a century ago, for women to pay child support, let alone palimony, was almost unheard of. Such demands indeed, tended to be laughed out of court. No longer. The courts’ bias in favor of women, as well as the fact that most men still make more than most women, means that, even today, far fewer women than men are ordered to make these payments. However, the gap is shrinking.

* Crime and punishment. Starting at the time when Medea, in a fit of jealousy, killed her children to spite her philandering husband Jason but was never put on trial, women have always suffered much lighter punishments for the crimes they committed then men did. To a large extent, that is still the case. A man who killed his children is certain to be denounced as a monster and subjected to the heaviest possible punishment; a woman can expect much lighter punishment as well as sympathy and psychological help. Still, over the last thirty years or so the gap has been shrinking. As is shown, inter alia, by the fact that women’s incarceration rate has increased nearly twice as fast as that of men.

* Military service. Throughout history, in one form or another men have often been conscripted to fight and die for their dear countries whereas women were not. To-date, the only country that made women wear uniform even against their will is Israel. This, however, seems to be changing. At least one country, Norway, now has some form of conscription for women, albeit that it has so many loopholes as to ensure that no woman (or man) should serve against their will. In other countries the possibility of registering women for conscription, though not conscription itself, has become the topic of public debate.

* Declining life expectancy. As far back into history as we can look, men have always outlived women. That was as true in Neolithic times as it was in eighteenth-century Europe. Only after 1800 or so did the situation begin to change; first in Europe and the US, then gradually in other places as well. By 1975-80, in developed countries, women had come to outlive men by 6-8 years. In marches feminism and the idea that women have to work, and endure stress, and smoke, and join the military, just as men do. The outcome? In just forty years, in some of the countries in question, the gap in life expectancy between men and women has been halved.

Has it been worth it? Let women judge.