Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tea Party Foreign Policy

PJ O'Rourke mentioned at the NH Taxpayer Barbeque I attended that he was going to write about the event, and I've been waiting for it. It is now up. He focuses on his discovery that the Tea Party - or this one, at least - doesn't seem to have a coherent foreign policy. He has a solid point here. The Tea Party is focusing on reducing spending and getting corrupt politicians out. A PJ notes, foreign policy ideas are described in vague, rather cliched terms: defending America's interests, respect for the military, that sort of thing.

I'm not certain that's entirely a problem. A group that focuses broadly on fiscal restraint and government transparency, giving guest but not mainstage attention to other postliberal issues, isn't necessarily a bad thing. A small observation from history.

Nations with rising economies don't tend to get attacked. They get attacked when they are declining. While this is hardly universal, there's a lot of evidence for it. One would expect that an attacking nation would measure opponents in more absolute terms - that a country with 10x wealth would be a harder target than one with 5x wealth, regardless of whether the 10x is currently ebbing or flowing. But in fact that doesn't seem to be the majority case. Groups or nations on the rise convince themselves that their strategic advantages, however few, will overwhelm a stronger opponent. This has certainly been the attitude of jihadists toward America, of Bolsheviks toward Czarist might, of WWII Germany toward Europe and Russia or Japan toward China and the US. These Davids feel they can defeat Goliath - and sometimes they do. 9/11 was hatched while the US was in recession and carried out just as recession started to recede. Gulf War I, stemming from Saddam's bet that he could get away with attacking Kuwait unmolested, occurred during the previous recession. Argentina took the Falklands in defiance of a much more powerful UK because it calculated that the British wouldn't have the stomach to fight back. The North Vietnamese launched a suicidal Tet offensive and lost, and yet apparently calculated correctly that the Americans would find even the victory would be too expensive.

Even on an individual level, fighters will tell you that there is always one person who really wants to fight and one who doesn't in any combat, and the former will prevail. In sport fighting this is less true because anything with rules favors the superior athlete, but even there one can see insane determination overwhelming a better opponent - which is why in all sports the coaching aspect that provides motivation is crucial. The more controlled and genteel the sport, the more the motivation is applied to the preparation phase...

Wait, I'm getting distracted here. Respect for the military follows similar lines. The psychological aspect, in and of itself, seems to provide a warning to would-be attackers. In less-visible ways, a country's support for its businesses, schools, churches, or any other institution is a part of its effectiveness.

It's not all attitude, of course. Eventually nations or institutions are called on to back up their claims, and you'd better have something more than a "by golly, we can lick 'em" attitude. But it bears mentioning that economic recovery and respect for the military have their own deterrent effect, especially on primitive attackers. Fewer attacks, whether military or economic, means fewer foreigh policy problems to solve.


Anonymous said...

Exactly right. This concept, writ small happens all the time with smallish people - that radiate "don't mess with me" - and larger bullies who mostly attack those who act fearful.

Ymar said...

The rate at which nations get attacked increases with rich, up to a certain point and then gets squashed by the security variable at a certain point.

It is only the success of an attack that is dependent upon a nation's wealth and status.

Nations that have stagnancy issues, are more likely to fall to attacks that pierce the outer defenses. While growing nations that are self-confident and willing to work and fight for greater gains, those don't tend to lose until their inner walls are breached.

Ymar said...

Predominantly dependent upon a nation's wealth and status, that is.

The reasons for the initiation of an attack can be many, since we are dealing with human subjective issues. But the success of an attack is objective and can be rated according to a standard, regardless of which side it is from.

A vibrant and young nation, like Rome, could absorb increasingly brutal setbacks, yet come back for the kill-win.

But a rich nation that was slowly but irrevocably sliding into decadence and status quo protection of the rich/powerful, like Carthage, didn't make a comeback. Even when they were handed victory on a platter. Perhaps precisely because they were handed a victory they had not earned. They as a nation did not earn it with sacrifice and determination.

Another issue is that rich but weak nations tend to like paying Danegeld. They like bribing threats away, perhaps because they got rich using bribes in the first place. Those are not nations that need to be attacked, per say, since they will give free money away just like that. At the drop of a hat, aka spear butt.

It's the rich nations that will fight that tend to be hard shells to crack. And the success rate (of defense) for those nations tend to be greater than the success rate for poor nations that have the heart for war.

Which brings us to the low hanging fruit truism. Given a choice between poor people to bully, rich people to extort, and rich but powerful warriors to die fighting with, people normally choose the weakest of the lot. Not the strongest.

Of course, what tends to happen is that the conqueror gets fat on the bones of the weak and eventually he decides to try for greener pastures. And when he does, he will do filled with additional resources, manpower and wealth, to sustain his next attack.

The US is not so much in danger of a direct attack that cracks the last or even second to the first defense wall. The US is in danger, right now, of allowing neutrals or allies that are too weak to defend themselves to be conquered and eaten by an enemy. Growing that enemy such that the enemy will now think to attempt to attack the US, regardless of how many walls they have to scale.

What happens next is perfectly predictable. Rich and powerful nations are a hard target but the rewards are often worth the risk for the victor. Esp. when the resources of the whole world is arrayed against only one such nation, bereft of its allies, it's only a matter of time before the rich and powerful nation falls.

A side factor is that US recessions automatically affect the world, making it a world wide recession. This increases the clout of criminal organizations and anti-American tyrants in control of oil and other natural resources. It gives them more clout and influence, which concurrently means that they have a greater desire and a greater ability to strike at America.

With the globe weakened, many nations would prefer to pay ransom and bribes to the evil than actually get to work improving things for their people or training an army to protect their nation with. To bureaucrats, a substantial, but still small in comparison to the defense budget, bribe can be a very useful promotion ticket if it accrues temporary safety from the barbarians.