A comment on a post over at Lex’s Place caught my eye, and got me thinking, difficult as that might be to believe at times. The particular comment is extracted by Lex from a post by Eric Posner:

The persistence of policies across ideologically divided administrations is good evidence that those policies are now mainstream rather than partisan and ideological.

The rest of Posner’s paragraph discussed specific policies and techniques in the War on Terror from the Bush Administration kept in place by President Obama, in many cases despite extreme criticism during the 2008 campaign. However, the larger point is a very interesting one. Effective policy tends to be consistent across politically diverse administrations. Do we need, then, to forge a national security policy document that is to the War on Terror what NSC-68 was to the Cold War?

Seldom in US history have we had a persistent and grave threat that lasted for several administrations, over several decades. Perhaps Germany in central Europe from 1890 to 1945 could be considered as such, but in that time really was two different entities. Imperial Germany under the Kaiser differed greatly from a Nazi Germany under Hitler. As did the dangers each posed, and the measures necessary to defeat them. And there was an uneasy 20-year peace in the interim.

It was, rather, the Soviet Union (with China, before the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s) that presented a common threat, a common theme, for the national security policy of every US President from Truman to Reagan. The document that outlined the US approach to the Soviets in a bi-polar Cold War world was the famous 57-page NSC-68. Written by Paul Nitze in April of 1950, the document was a summation of the ideas of George F. Kennan, former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union and other influential figures.

The tenets of NSC-68 as a basis for US response to the Soviet threat are brilliantly put forth in John Lewis Gaddis’ masterpiece “Strategies of Containment” published in the early 1980s. NSC-68 formally was the basis for US foreign policy during the years of Truman’s “containment” strategy, as the title of the book alludes. But the clear and effective statement of the Soviet threat, and the US response, resonated far beyond Truman’s years in the Oval Office. Indeed, NSC-68’s basic assertions held true during Eisenhower’s “New Look”, JFK’s “Flexible Response”, the Vietnam years under Johnson, Nixon’s “Detente”, Carter’s years, right up to the Reagan Administration’s final challenge of the “Evil Empire” (which, Maggie, is NOT the Yankees).

NSC-68 presents Soviet Russia as an enemy having a “fanatical faith… antithetical to America”, a phrase that rings true of the radical Muslims who oppose the United States and the West. The threat, in all its forms, is not going away any time soon. Like the Soviet threat, we must be prepared for a decades-long struggle against it. Also like the Soviets, radical Muslim fundamentalism is not merely a military threat, with nations and groups on the periphery whose dislike for America and Western society will cause them to look for economic opportunities in the problems and threats that the fundamentalists pose to us. Nor, like the Soviets, is it our only threat. But it is, for the near future, our gravest.

It is time, perhaps, to craft a US national security document that effectively and definitively states America’s intentions and position regarding the threat of radical Muslim fundamentalism. Such a document does not yet formally exist, though like the development of NSC-68, there is much to draw from. A new NSC-68 would bring a consistency to US national security policy that would endure past the four year Presidential election cycles, and dampen what can be at times the commands for radical course change before the rudder swings back toward amidships.

Harry S Truman was a President not considered a foreign policy success, one who got America into an unpopular and undeclared war described as the “wrong place, wrong time”. Yet, his actions to contain the Soviets were, in the end, effective. And it was his Administration that produced a policy document that provided direction for succeeding Presidents for the next four decades. The historical view of Truman has changed definitely for the better, and in part, NSC-68 is a reason why.

George W Bush is not now considered a foreign policy success. He also got America into an unpopular war that some claim was the wrong time and place. But, like Truman, his actions to contain the fundamentalist Muslim threat were, in the end, effective. Out of his Administration’s seven years of the Global War on Terror may come the next NSC-68, shaped perhaps, by the new Administration. And the historical view of George W Bush may undergo a similar revision.

The fact that so many of the Bush-era policies are still in place in the Obama Administration, one so widely divergent in political philosophy from its predecessor, points to the usefulness and value of those policies. Such, as Posner rightfully points out, is the litmus test of effectiveness.




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy, History, Homeland Security, Uncategorized


You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • RickWilmes

    It is a mistake to think that the Republicans and Democrats are ideologically opposed.  At the root, their ethics is the same.  Selfless selfsacrifice  for the state.  The result is that they argue about how to put such an ideology into practice not whether or not it is correct.

    It is true and a logical consequence that  their approach to fighting the ‘War on Terror” is the same because their ethics is the same.

    For an opposing view and a radical view that is true I offer the following 

    http://winningtheunwinnablewar.com/.

  • http://bostonmaggie.blogspot.com/ Maggie

    Yes it is.

  • http://gmapalumni.org/chapomatic/ Chap

    Yeah, I’ve been worrying about this for about near a decade. What we need isn’t just an equivalent to NSC 68. In that event, the idea of containment was socialized as Kennan was at the War College, and then three documents drove national thinking, all released closely together and driven by the same hands:

    The “X” article in Foreign Affairs, for the American intellectual class
    NSC 68, for executive oomph
    The “Long Telegram” from the Moscow Embassy, for the administration’s security establishment.

    Right now we don’t even have an agreed-upon name for the enemy, and they understand COINTELPRO’s lessons better than we understand Kennan versus Acheson. The national moment that allowed the ambassadors and generals of the future to study together as FS-2s and colonels isn’t here like it was then. Too many people who should be thinking national strategy don’t even recognize names like Sayyid Qutb, or even recognize when an organization they’re working with is working against national interest. Look how much effort it took to bring the Small Wars Journal crowd into being–and that’s below the strategy level we’re talking about here.

    This is going to be *tough*.

    Here’s me admiring the problem from January 2007. Nothing much has changed, really, except I’m dark of blog these days while I am stationed here.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Chap,

    Your assertion that this will be tough is without challenge. But I see things a bit differently. To my view, we DO know what to call our enemy, and some have well recognized the Sayyid Qutbs and others. But those people have had to express such behind closed doors, and the accuracy of their analysis is watered down. Why? The rampant political correctness that doesn’t allow the USG to say what is meant.

    I wonder how we would have done trying to defeat Hitler and the Nazis, with the overall strategic objective of not offending the Germans….

  • SwitchBlade

    I’d like to submit a couple of points for consideration.

    1. I don’t believe the Obama Administration (STARTING with Obama) views the issue anywhere near the same as the Bush administration did. The Republican view is in my opinion substantially different than the mainstream Democrat view – much less the left wing of the Democrats. For examples;
    a. the Democrats are just now even beginning to refer to the issue as a war. It’s been “human causes incidents,” etc.
    b. the terrorist caught in the U.S. (Christmas attempted bombing of the airliner) are treated as criminals instead of enemy combatants.
    c. the administration is doing what they can to close the prison camp in Gitmo – trying some of the terrorist as criminals and attempting to repatriate (read release) the rest. (Some of this has slowed with the recent attempt – we’ll see if it stops or they are just look for a less obvious was to do it.
    d. Obama’s tour of speeches apologizing for the U.S. behavior before his oh so enlightened administration.

    Bottom line – I don’t believe this administration really believes this is a war. The only significant policies that I can think of WRT this issue are an attempt to control Afghanistan before pulling out and the UAV strikes in Pakistan. In every other policy there has been a significant repudiation of the Bush foreign policy.

    2. While the Bush presidency may be more favorably looked at in the future – I suspect that it will only be with regard to his foreign policy because domestically him and the Republicans (which controlled both the House and Senate for his first 2 years) were a disaster. I certainly don’t expect that to change and if I read of justification or attempts to explain away the failures in that area I’ll be one of the first to throw the BS flag!

  • SwitchBlade

    I’d like to submit a couple of points for consideration.

    1. I don’t believe the Obama Administration (STARTING with Obama) views the issue anywhere near the same as the Bush administration did. The Republican view is in my opinion substantially different than the mainstream Democrat view – much less the left wing of the Democrats. For examples;
    a. the Democrats are just now even beginning to refer to the issue as a war. It’s been “human causes incidents,” etc.
    b. the terrorist caught in the U.S. (Christmas attempted bombing of the airliner) is treated as a criminal instead of enemy combatant.
    c. the administration is doing what they can to close the prison camp in Gitmo – trying some of the terrorist as criminals and attempting to repatriate (read release) the rest. (Some of this has slowed with the recent attempt – we’ll see if it stops or they are just looking for a less obvious way to do it.
    d. Obama’s tour of speeches apologizing for the U.S. behavior before his oh so enlightened administration.

    Bottom line – I don’t believe this administration really believes this is a war. The only significant policies that I can think of WRT this issue are an attempt to control Afghanistan before pulling out and the UAV strikes in Pakistan. In every other policy there has been a significant repudiation of the Bush foreign policy.

    2. While the Bush presidency may be more favorably looked at in the future – I suspect that it will only be with regard to his foreign policy because domestically him and the Republicans (which controlled both the House and Senate for his first 2 years) were a disaster. I certainly don’t expect that to change and if I read of justification or attempts to explain away the failures in that area I’ll be one of the first to throw the BS flag!

  • Cap’n Bill

    I support any reasonable effort to decide exactly where the USA stands in the world community, as well as making a full-horizon effort to determine where the political-diplomatic-military combine should seek to take us. Shucks! We all do.

    But under whose sponsorship might such a study be conducted ?

    I see no group that has adequate public respect for such an effort. And there is no obvious devotion to such a cause within any of the existing polital parties.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “But under whose sponsorship might such a study be conducted ?

    I see no group that has adequate public respect for such an effort.”

    Disagree, Bill. The drafting of such a set of fundamentals will likely not be a public debate. NSC-68 certainly was not. Much of the analysis has long been done. And some very solid set of policies have come out of it. Which is the point. Much as BHO and his supporters criticized and protested them, he has since found a very large number of the GW Bush policies more than reasonable and highly useful. Those policies, and the underlying views and assumptions that brought them about, are a very good starting point for such a “backbone” to National Security Policy.

    Nothing the cold water splash of reality to wake one up. We shall see how long it lasts.

  • http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com CDRSalamander

    URR,
    You also need to understand the mindset of those we as a nation desire to run our national security entities. Eroll Southers is the nominee for the head of the TSA. I would offer that a review the first segment of this interview and of the last two segments of this interview might give you some pause that what you wish will give you what you want.

    Ammo up.

  • http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com CDRSalamander

    URR,
    You also need to understand the mindset of those we as a nation desire to run our national security entities. Eroll Southers is the nominee for the head of the TSA. I would offer that a review the first segment of this interview and of the last two segments of this interview might give you some pause that what you wish will give you what you want.

    Ammo up.

  • http://www.whydoyoufearme.com Jeffrey Goines

    I think there are definitely some interesting thoughts in this article as it pertains to policy and defending our country. I find the title of this article to be personally difficult. I feel that every time I see the phrase Muslim Extremism that in the US that it is quickly aligned with Muslims in general. There is so much fear related to this topic that I think we need to consider changing some of our language before some of the words that we use start to lose their meaning.

    I was just reading some great blog posts on the topic of FEAR in the US toward Muslims and general at http://www.WhyDoYouFearMe.com. There was one from a former governor on the topic of Yemen from his experience that was particularly insightful: http://tr.im/K6tc

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Phib,

    I well understand the “mindset”, to use the term loosely. But the point is that solid, useful policies tend to last. Knuckleheads such as Southers may endanger us with their stupidity and ignorance, but such policies are not useful. Unless you are a terrorist, of course.

  • RickWilmes

    @ Jeffery Goines

    Last time, I checked the common link between the morons strapping bombs on themselves and blowing up innocent victimes is the fact that they are Islamic Extremists or Fundamentalists who want to impose sharia law on the rest of us. I don’t fear them but despise them. It also angers the hell out of me that a TSA agent thinks that I would put bomb material in my crawling daughter’s shoes.

    So American’s are properly justfied to identify who our enemy is and expect our government to formulate a policy to properly deal with these abominations. For a further discussion on this issue the following Op-Ed may be of interest.
    http://blog.aynrandcenter.org/disconnected-dots/#more-5335

  • http://fareastcynic.com Skippy-san

    You are mistaking politically tenable choices with those that actually work. Most of the Bush era policies are wrong-especially the invasion of Iraq. Obama has enough alligators on his plate without having to suck up the added heat of actually calling these endeavors the loss leaders they are.

    If there is any analogy to NSC 68 it would be that the idea of invading every country that happens to have terrorist in it-is pretty stupid. The corollary is that terrorism is not the biggest threat to America, failure to arrest the trends that that fuel it, in particular the wealth gap between the northern hemisphere and the southern.

    If anything-the things Obama gets lambasted for-the supposed “apologizing” for US stupidity over the last years are paying more dividends than anything Bush did.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Wow, Skippy. Where to start….

    So, arresting the trends that fuel terrorism. The goal of the extremists is to re-establish the Caliphate and either convert or kill the non-believers. I am sure such poverty stricken figures such as bin Laden and the Saudi princes appreciate the wealth gap. Not sure screaming about that like a Bolshevik labor organizer is quite seeing the point.

    I was going to say something about hanging onto GITMO, keeping extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, etc., but I don’t think it would be a particularly fruitful discussion. Some of those policies are those of Clinton, by the way.

  • http://pinione.blogspot.com/ Nicolo Machaevelli

    As I pointed out in a recent blog posting , NSC68 was the foundation in which the military industrial complex could grow upon and the exaggerated threats to American security that it promoted to sustain its existence.
    Although the United States was at its zenith of power, Paul Nitze and the authors of NSC 68 declared in the spring of 1950 that the United States was facing its “deepest peril” and the American system was “in greatest jeopardy than ever before in its history”. If someone did not know what country the report came from, some of the statements in the previously highly classified document might lend the reader to think that the document was describing the threat facing the Soviet Union in the spring of 1950, which was nearly flattened in World War II and was barley in the recovery phase when Nitze and the other authors of NSC 68 described the USSR as “already enjoying a clear preponderance of power”.
    http://pinione.blogspot.com/2009/11/nsc-68-and-its-role-in-american-history.html

2014 Information Domination Essay Contest