The Strong Do What They Can and the Weak Suffer What They Must

I normally stay out of the domestic politics side of things here at Balloon Juice, especially around the current Presidential primaries – on either side, other than posting debate open threads. But I’ve been watching tonight’s GOP Primary Debate on delay – I set the DVR as I had some stuff to do and I’ve just gotten to Dana Bash’s questions on Social Security. As I listened to the different candidates’ answers to her question I was struck by Mr. Trump’s response. Mr. Trump, as part of his answer to the Social Security question, delineated a number of the places that we have military personnel deployed on a more or less permanent basis. While I’m paraphrasing, he stated that we protect Saudi Arabia and Japan and South Korea and we don’t get anything for it. That the Saudi’s were, at one point, making a billion dollars a day and they weren’t doing anything for us, despite our protecting them. And that we’re going to renegotiate and get better deals for what we’re doing militarily and that will provide the funds to shore up Social Security.

This is a very important glimpse into how Mr. Trump understands foreign and defense policy. Intimating that the US would, under his leadership, negotiate foreign basing of US military personnel and security alliances in exchange for payment is a major break with how the US has and continues to do business. What Mr. Trump is proposing is that America would stop being a superpower and instead become an empire. This is something that not even the most hawkish neo-Conservatives or neo-liberal interventionists have proposed. At least not publicly or in any forum I’ve ever seen or heard.

The US, despite being the remaining superpower, is not an empire. We do not require tribute from those we partner with or protect. This is why, despite some political rhetoric that the Iraq invasion and Operation Iraqi Freedom would pay for itself, we didn’t seize Iraq’s oil fields or take over their petroleum resources, processing, and distribution system and infrastructure. The reality of what we do is just the opposite. Quite often, through various programs covered under Foreign Military Sales and other military to military diplomatic programs, we pay for some of our partners and allies to participate with us. And at other times and with other allies and partners, they pay to purchase our weapons and training packages. These interactions, both those that we pay for and those that our allies and partners do, can run the gamut from providing material and equipment and training to providing financial assistance for foreign military officers to come and attend our Professional Military Education programs.*

What Mr. Trump is suggesting in his answer about where to get the money to shore up Social Security is a radical change to how the United States does business. It means changing the United States from being the sole remaining superpower into being an empire. Empires seek tribute in exchange for their beneficent protection. One of the major changes in Athens, and Athenian democracy, a change that was not for the better, occurred prior to and as one of the contributing factors to the Peloponnesian War when it started abusing the tribute collected by the Delian League. While American democracy and Athenian democracy are not very analogous, the Athenian slide into empire should stand as a cautionary tale for the US and place charging for basing American military personnel beyond the pale. The Athenian envoy to Melos stated, in one of the most important and cautionary portions of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, that: “the Strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. The taking of tribute and the path of empire leads to the Athenian destruction of Melos and that is not a path that the US should follow.

* Full disclosure: during my assignment as the Cultural Advisor at the US Army War College (2010-2014), I was the academic advisor (front line supervisor), the primary research advisor, and/or the faculty/community sponsor for almost a dozen senior foreign officers attending the US Army War College resident course as International Fellows. In my professional opinion the presence of these gentlemen in the schoolhouse provided as much, if not more, benefit to the American officers in the resident program than it did to these officers themselves. They brought unique perspectives to the global strategic problems that we were grappling with in the seminar room, as well as important cross-cultural perspectives to critical and strategic thinking and how to go about making strategy and policy.

170 replies
  1. 1
    gwangung says:

    And basically the Republican electorate will respond with “Why not?”

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    Every liberal blog talks about the American Empire as something that already exists. Your distinction will not over well.

  3. 3
    cmorenc says:

    @Adam Silverman:

    Intimating that the US would, under his leadership, negotiate foreign basing of US military personnel and security alliances in exchange for payment is a major break with how the US has and continues to do business. What Mr. Trump is proposing is that America would stop being a superpower and instead become an empire.

    What Mr. Trump’s proposal also amounts to is making the US Armed forces into mercenaries-for-hire abroad. Or alternatively, the muscle in a giant protection racket.

  4. 4
    jl says:

    Strong men make demands and other lessers obey. This is the GOP foreign policy.

    It is the Cruz ‘We Win They Lose’ strategy. It is so simple, so complete, and it contains all the answers for every contingency, I just don’t see how anyone can argue with it.

  5. 5
    patrick II says:

    Adam Silverman:

    what Mr. Trump is proposing is that America would stop being a superpower and instead become an empire. This is something that not even the most hawkish neo-Conservatives or neo-liberal interventionists have proposed.

    This is a pretty famous quote by a Bush administration high level official generally agreed to be Karl Rove:

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

    I don’t know a word for something more than mere hubris.

  6. 6
    J R in WV says:


    Thanks for the note about this unfortunate proposal. It just goes to show how uninformed Mr Trump is about how the world operates, and what a catastrophe he would be if elected.

    You should probably go ahead and participate in geo-political discussions, you have far more formal training in historical and cultural issues than the average person walking the streets preparing to vote. Plus, you seem to be picking up the snark load quite well!


  7. 7
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Baud: Some of the things we do are similar, some times too similar, to what an empire does. But we aren’t one and we should resist every temptation to act more like one, let alone become one.

  8. 8
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @cmorenc: Very much so.

  9. 9
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @efgoldman: Yes, and I mentioned that – that we some Foreign Military Sales we finance and some we charge for. It depends on the country.

  10. 10
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @patrick II: Taking military advice from Karl Rove would be a very dangerous thing.

  11. 11
    Regnad Kcin says:

    @cmorenc: so, basically, the NYC Inspectional Services team?

  12. 12
    Mike in NC says:

    Cheney wanted an empire. He proposed that America prevent large countries like India and Russia from trying to establish regional influence by any means necessary. Under Clinton and Bush NATO expanded everywhere that it could. Seems like no politician really wants to shut down many of our 700-800 bases around the world.

  13. 13
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    Perhaps Trump read, or heard about, Goldberg’s piece on Obama in The Atlantic:

    Obama’s patience with Saudi Arabia has always been limited. In his first foreign-policy commentary of note, that 2002 speech at the antiwar rally in Chicago, he said, “You want a fight, President Bush? Let’s fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East — the Saudis and the Egyptians — stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality.” In the White House these days, one occasionally hears Obama’s National Security Council officials pointedly reminding visitors that the large majority of 9/11 hijackers were not Iranian, but Saudi — and Obama himself rails against Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned misogyny, arguing in private that “a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population.” In meetings with foreign leaders, Obama has said, “You can gauge the success of a society by how it treats its women.”

    His frustration with the Saudis informs his analysis of Middle Eastern power politics. At one point I observed to him that he is less likely than previous presidents to axiomatically side with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with its archrival, Iran. He didn’t disagree.

    “Iran, since 1979, has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, is a genuine threat to Israel and many of our allies, and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” the president said. “And my view has never been that we should throw our traditional allies” — the Saudis — “overboard in favor of Iran.”

    But he went on to say that the Saudis need to “share” the Middle East with their Iranian foes. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians — which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen — requires us to say to our friends as well as to the Iranians that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” he said. “An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.”

    Do note, though, that I haven’t read the whole thing yet…


  14. 14
    jl says:

    IIRC pumping tribute out of neighboring allies was the real downfall of Western Rome, the first, and very hypocritical, Christian nation. The allies were, mostly pagan tribes protecting Rome from other more dangerous pagan tribes just a little bit further away.

    My history is rusty, but that is what i recall from reading books.

  15. 15
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @J R in WV: Geopolitical is one thing, I will either be working as a contractor/consultant, term appointment, and/or civil servant (either Title 5 or Title 10) hopefully for many more years to come. This means I will be serving, in one capacity or another, administrations of both political parties. So I try not to discuss my party affiliation or who I may or may not be supporting for President.

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: I’ve read it. As much as I have trouble with Goldberg, this was a good and informative piece.

  17. 17
    smintheus says:

    Athens did not start demanding tribute during the Peloponnesian War. “Tribute” or its equivalent was part of the foundational agreement of the Delian League, which the Athenians slowly transformed into something more compulsory after the League succeeded in its original purpose of taking the on-going war to the Persians.

    Just as obviously, not all empire’s require subordinate states to provide tribute.

  18. 18
    patrick II says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Agreed, but Rove had an important voice in the Bush administration policy (as well as politics) and it was a dangerous thing. And I had the sense that he was conveying a broader consensus in the Bush administration. Think Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet. Especially Cheney who seems to live in a separate reality where Iraq was a success and torture is effective and ethical.

  19. 19
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @jl: That was some of it. Some of it was also that a lot of these tribes that were being tapped for personnel or material or resource wealth as tribute wound up becoming Roman and ultimately became Rome.

  20. 20
    CaseyL says:

    Trump’s proposal also kind of begs the question, what if the Saudis, Japan, and South Korea aren’t willing to pay?

    Japan is re-militarizing, and South Korea has consistently been on military alert since the “end” of the Korean War.

    Playing protection racket with countries that are armed, have strong national identities, and have nukes, is… astonishingly stupid.

    Of course, Trump’s fans will think it’s a great idea.

  21. 21
    Davebo says:

    A great post Adam.

    Though I probably wouldn’t have used the Athenian metaphor.

    And I really doubt Trump puts more than 5 minutes into the ideas he decides he’ll bless us with.

    @Mike in NC:

    Seems like no politician really wants to shut down many of our 700-800 bases around the world.

    Unless you are including every embassy and consulate as a military base as well as tiny FOB’s that’s wildly inaccurate. In fact, it’s probably so even if you do!

  22. 22
    smintheus says:

    @cmorenc: Almost a century ago, Gen. Smedley Butler concluded that the US military (the USMC in particular) were being used as muscle in an international protection racket.

  23. 23
    BBA says:

    I was following him up to a point – we have our military bases in all these countries, we don’t get anything in return, sure. He loses me on the shaking them down for tribute.

    I say, why not just withdraw, and spend the money we save on domestic policy goals?

    (I know, I know, geopolitics is complicated. Spare me. After the Libya disaster I’m convinced isolationism, as impossible as it sounds now, is the only sane way forward.)

  24. 24
    Kylroy says:

    Trump’s suggestion strikes me as the natural endpoint for the “run government like a business” canard. We spend more on our military than any other government program, *shouldn’t* they do what they can to help the bottom line?

  25. 25
    CaseyL says:

    @smintheus: The whole Cold War was an international protection racket.

  26. 26
    jl says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I’ll have to go back and re-read some history (doubt Wikipedia will help). But I remember reading horrific exploitative practices toward the end that weakened the allied pagan tribes and eventually made the tribes indifferent between the enemies of Rome and Rome itself as to whom to hate and fear more.

    So, same could happen to us with the Trump plan. I doubt Visogpths will flood the country (hell, they are already here in the GOP). But we would lose a lot of valuable good will from our allies.

    I bet if the Trump proposal has been tried repeatedly in history and it has a record of miserable failure.

    Only good news is that Trump is still able to come up with stupid thuggish new bright ideas that will hurt in among a saner audience in the general election.

  27. 27
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @smintheus: Good catch, I fixed it. Thanks.

  28. 28
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @jl: When in Rome, do as the Goths! You’ll have more fun that way.

    That’s ancient Goths, not the modern, fashion based ones.

  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @smintheus: My favorite Marine Corps general.

  30. 30
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Davebo: Don’t just tease us, what would you have used as the compare/contrast case?

  31. 31
    benw says:

    This just goes to show that Trump’s a small-time thinker. Just get money from countries that have US troops in them? Pfft. President Trump should make it clear to every country in the world that if they don’t pay up, the US will fire off a bunch of ICBMs. Hey, this is a great city you got here, be a shame if somebody dropped 50 megatons on it, knowwhatimean?

  32. 32
    mclaren says:

    Adam Silverman’s fantasy that the United States is not an empire is absolutely hilarious.

    America demands vast amounts of tribute, merely in a different form than traditional talents of silver or bars of gold bullion. The TPP, which America has rammed through across the world using a combination of threats and economic sanctions and spying and blackmail, involves enormous tribute paid to America from countries all over the planet — since the TPP in effect enlarges America copyright law to cover the entire planet. This means that greedy corrupt American monopolies like Disney can now extort limitless payments from other countries that formerly allowed copyright to expire after sane intervals, like 28 years. And Disney and other companies and extort money from the rest of the world forever. Disney and Apple and Microsoft and other similar greedy corrupt monopolies have systematically extended copyright until it now lasts effectively forever. Thus, any piece of software, any movie, any embedded device like a iPhone linked up with proprietary software or network OS, will in effect force the rest of the world to pay tribute forever.

    Make no mistake — this is an empire demanding tribute. In former times, the tribute-paying provinces conquered by force sent huge wagonloads full of American dollars (the world’s reserve currency) to the imperial throne in Wall Street. Today, the tribute-paying countries conquered by proprietary monopolistic copyrighted American technology and software send vast boatloads of gold in the form of immense balance of payments sums extorted to America from all over the planet.

    This is imperial raubwirtschaft economics — the economics of plunder and extraction. Having once created the iPhone, Apple now uses corrupt American laws amplified worldwide to sue out of existence any competitors anywhere in the world and extract tribute from every other tech company on the planet for using any feature even remotely comparable to anything on the iPhone. Anything similar to any feature of the Microsoft Operating System used in any other software on the planet requires similar extortion payments. And anyone anywhere on the planet who ever presses the PLAY button any media device winds up also pressing a PAY button that extorts money directly to the coffers of the greedy corrupt media and software and hardware monopolies run from America, based in America, profiting only America.

    China, which builds the iPhones, captures only a few percent of the value of each iPhone sold. The rest of the $750 per iPhone gets extorted through various contorted and bizarre extensions of insanely unfair copyright and patent laws back to America. It’s a rigged game, exactly like the British Raj in India. Only the British empire profited from its operations in India, just as essentially only Apple profits from its iPhone manufacturing operations in China. The imperial analogy is direct, brutal, and ruthless.

    The fact that Adam Silverman realizes none of this should not surprise us. Inside the bubble world of the U.S. military, America is seen as a belevolent force for the greater good. Outside the bubble, the rest of the world realizes what the U.S. military and the U.S. economy really is: engines of rapacious extortion bent on strip-mining the wealth of the rest of the world in a form of New Colonialism, whereby the U.S. military coerces the rest of the planet into selling us their resources dirt cheap, then America turns those raw resources into copyrighted patented technologies and software which get sold back to the rest of the world at stupefying markups (think profit margins of 10,000% or more) and the rest of the world gets bludgeoned by imperial engines of economic warfare like the TPP into paying those princely extortion sums forever and ever, without end, for copyright that never expires, to pay for monopoly products which never become part of the public domain, and any attempt to reverse-engineer or compete with triggers a tidal wave of lawsuits and global economic sanctions that leave the competing countries in economic ruins.

  33. 33
    Kylroy says:

    @CaseyL: Eh…the U.S. and U.S.S.R. really were opposing each other, and they really did represent a genuine, existential threat to each other and anyone who got in their way. Not saying their wasn’t some racketeering going on, but it wasn’t like the Soviets were conspiring with us to shake down smaller countries.

    Smedley’s complaint was about the U.S. intervening repeatedly in Central America and the Pacific, where we were *definitely* shaking down people who had no ability to threaten us as a nation, or ally with someone who could.

  34. 34
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Kylroy: And that we were doing it on behalf of United Fruit Company. Or on behalf of Standard Oil.

  35. 35
    Kylroy says:

    @mclaren: Yes, their utter, crushing defeat of international media piracy is a testament to the iron fist of American commerce.

  36. 36
    oldgold says:

    I detest Trump. I disagree with him on almost everything.

    That expressed, Trump had a big night. He crushed his opponents.

    He is going to be very tough to beat in November.

  37. 37
    Kylroy says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Absolutely. And we ended up doing some similar things in the Cold War (like ending Iranian democracy for the benefit of British Petroleum), but it was not a constant. And so many people forget, a quarter-century after the U.S.S.R. imploded, that it *really was* a genuine threat to the U.S. and Western Europe, on a scale with fascism before it and, really, nothing since.

  38. 38
    Anonymous37 says:

    While I’m paraphrasing, he stated that we protect Saudi Arabia and Japan and South Korea and we don’t get anything for it. That the Saudi’s were, at one point, making a billion dollars a day and they weren’t doing anything for us, despite our protecting them. And that we’re going to renegotiate and get better deals for what we’re doing militarily and that will provide the funds to shore up Social Security.

    Japan would be in a perfect position to call that bluff — they’d love to have an excuse to remilitarize at the expense of their neighbors, and Trump would have handed them a perfect excuse to do so. Saudi Arabia might not want to antagonize the U.S., even with Donald Trump as its President, but would probably do so because the alternative would be to make every other Middle Eastern state its enemy by so cravenly submitting to paying a tribute.

    South Korea? I don’t know enough about their domestic politics. Maybe Trump’s threat might actually work on them.

  39. 39
    patrick II says:

    What Mr. Trump is suggesting in his answer about where to get the money to shore up Social Security is a radical change to how the United States does business.

    And they really have nothing to do with each other. If the U.S. should charge for military protection, then they should do that. If the Social Security system is a good program then we should keep that independently of whether foreign bases bring income.

    If Trump’s plan to get foreign countries to pay homage fails in spite of his legendary negotiating skills, why would we cancel Social Security? There is no linkage, no cause and effect, nothing other than someone blowing yet more smoke up our ass.

  40. 40
    Prescott Cactus says:

    Sounds like protection money to the mob.

    Next thing you know we’ll being selling drugs and buy guns with the money we generate. . .

    As Stan Laurel would say “Here’s another nice mess I got you into, Oliver”

  41. 41
    GregB says:

    What’s the over/under on the possibility that Grifted Hands author and right wing somnambulist Dr. Ben Carson maintains consciousness through his entire Trump endorsement?

  42. 42
    Felonius Monk says:


    Republiklowns don’t read books, and they definitely don’t know nothin’ ’bout history.

    All they ever needed to know about bullying they learned in kindergarten.

  43. 43
    Mandalay says:

    @patrick II:

    I don’t know a word for something more than mere hubris.

    This is final sentence in the late great Chalmer’s Johnson’s excellent “The Sorrows of Empire“:

    …Nemesis, the goddess of retribution and vengeance, the punisher of pride and hubris, waits impatiently for her meeting with us.

  44. 44
    Ruckus says:

    Isolation would only work when, 1. your nation is the strongest no matter how many wars are going on at a time. 2. When you have all the natural resources that you could ever want or waste. 3. Food is never an issue. 4. Air and water in unpolluted over abundance. 5. None of the neighbors want for any of 2-4. 6.You don’t mind living in a dictatorship.
    Other than that you have to be part of your neighborhood. You can play the bully but at some point if you don’t have 2-4 in abundance someone will bloody your nose at the very least looking for some. We’ve already seen over the last 40+ yrs that the largest, best armed, etc military can not be everywhere, be everything for those wanting to be bad neighbors.

  45. 45
    Peale says:

    @patrick II: yeah. It’s kind of like “legalize the lottery and the money will go to improving public schools”

  46. 46
    🚸 Martin says:


    Trump’s proposal also kind of begs the question, what if the Saudis, Japan, and South Korea aren’t willing to pay?

    Forget that. Someone needs to ask him how much he thinks we can get out of Israel. Could we get them to pay for Medicare too if we open bidding up to Iran as well?

  47. 47
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    This very important glimpse into how Trump understands foreign policy confirms what we already knew: Trump is an idiot who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room because he’s rich and talked over everybody else.

  48. 48
    patrick II says:

    Very apt. I wish I could write like that. And Mr. Johnson’s book is one more reason Adam should consider that many people on the right, even if they don’t name it ( and I don’t really think they are shy about that), think of our country as a functioning empire.

  49. 49
    Mandalay says:


    Unless you are including every embassy and consulate as a military base as well as tiny FOB’s that’s wildly inaccurate.

    Well here’s what Chalmers Johnson had to say about that a few years ago:

    Johnson wrote, “The United States maintains 761 active military ‘sites’ in foreign countries. (That’s the Defense Department’s preferred term, rather than ‘bases,’ although bases are what they are.)”

    I’d be interested to see you explain why he is wrong.

  50. 50
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q): I have the released police reports into the Finicum shooting – all 366 pps. I’ll post them as your Friday fix for you tomorrow.

  51. 51
    LAO says:

    It seems to me, Trumps also misunderstands how the world sees the United States. If you accept the premise that we engage our military strength to suit our interests (or the interests of the administration in power) then demanding payment for said military presence or assistance takes American interests out of the equation. I’m sure there are many countries that would like to be rid of our overseas bases and this gives them the power to veto American foreign policy.

  52. 52
    Peale says:

    @Anonymous37: yeah. The South Koreans take the whole security thing a bit more seriously than Belgium or the Netherlands. As does Taiwan. I can’t really see them blowing off the U.S. Because they aren’t likely to find someone else. South Korea is a much better ally to have than North Korea. Maybe China would offer to provide support to both sides in the event of hostilities if South Korea would throw the U.S. Out.

  53. 53
    Davebo says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I’m not sure there is a good compare/contrast example.

    Obviously no comparison would be a perfect fit for today but I have serious doubts about our knowledge of what was really happening at the time.

    In retrospect I suppose it’s as good an example as any. Perfection is the enemy of good after all!

    On the whole, you’re spot on. Some we pay, some we charge. It’s the way it’s done and I sure can’t come up with a better solution.

  54. 54
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @Adam L Silverman: You’re the best.

  55. 55
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Davebo: No worries. I was curious if you had something in mind.

  56. 56
    Goblue72 says:

    @BBA: You’re preaching to the wrong crowd. Silverman is a military hawk in sheep’s clothing. He thinks we should be playing the Great Game, just more doing it more politely. He thinks he’s somehow espousing the alternative to GOP Warhawkism, when he’s just a different flavor of the same tired policies.

  57. 57
  58. 58
    Peale says:

    @LAO: I think it is the places that don’t have military bases that would want us to have fewer of them. The leaders of the countries that have them probably want them there.

  59. 59
    Davebo says:


    The elite gave up the Gulfstream 5’s long ago. Big iron executive aviation is now the new goal! Boeing BBJ’s on the short end and 767’s on the longer end.

  60. 60
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @efgoldman: Unrelated, but as soon as Alain adds a “like” button I’m going back to give props to your “payment in kine” post on the Bundy Ranch thread

  61. 61
    xenos says:

    To extend it a bit, the Athens ans discredited Democracy for nearly 2, 000 years. There is a reason nobody tried it again for a long, long time.

    The tote-bagger sentimentality about the glory of ancient Greek democracy has more to do with idolizing what they take to be their own reflection in the past than the cruelty in Milos or the foot of invading Sicily.

  62. 62
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Goblue72: Actually, I think where we disagree is that I know that the Great Game exists, whether we want it to or not, and that we are playing it now. What I’m usually advocating is that we play it smarter. While the computer’s admonition from War Games in regards to global thermonuclear war is prescient, the Great Game is a bit different. The US can either play it or get played by it and the participants in it. I just think we should play it smarter.

  63. 63
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Steve in the ATL: I saw that too and it was excellent!

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @srv: The Ledeen Doctrine.

  65. 65
    Steve in the ATL says:


    It seems to me, Trumps also misunderstands how the world sees the United States.

    Everyone seems pretty impressed with me when my 300-pound body is riding around Disneyland Paris on a Rascal scooter wearing Jams shorts and a baseball cap and complaining loudly that they don’t speak American good enough.

    Yes, “good enough.” Adverbs are for pinkos and gun haters.

  66. 66
    Goblue72 says:

    @Adam L Silverman: like I said, same flavor. And your job depends on it.

    The idea of not spending more than of warmongering than the next 10 countries combined somehow conveniently always gets left out of your posts. You’re a warmonger. And you think that makes you mkre knowledgeable or more astute. It just make you a warmonger.

  67. 67
    Steve in the ATL says:


    We need to think bigger. There’s a narco state right on our border, and it has plenty of oil. Much more convenient than KSA or Iran.

    I had advocated for an invasion of Canada, but the Blackhawks are so good now that we really don’t need their hockey teams anymore.

  68. 68
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @Peale: There’s a sizable segment of the South Korean population(especially the under 35 portion) that would love to have the US leave yesterday.

  69. 69
    Steve in the ATL says:


    The idea of not spending more than of warmongering than the next 10 countries combined somehow conveniently always gets left out of your posts. You’re a warmonger. And you think that makes you mkre knowledgeable or more astute. It just make you a warmonger.

    Holy shit I’m not the drunkest one here tonight?!

  70. 70
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Goblue72: Its the next 8 countries with the current defense budget, but whats a nation-state or two among friends.

    And when was the last time you saw me advocating to invade somewhere? Or that drone strikes, where we get large amounts of collateral damage, make sense? There’s a lot more to playing the Great Game than military power. There’s the rest of the DIME – Diplomatic, Information, and Economic power. And there’s the FIL – Financial, Intelligence, and Law Enforcement power. Knowing when to use each – individually or in combination – is the key to smart policy and strategy.

  71. 71
    chopper says:


    least he’s not one of those goddamn baby boomers, amirite?

  72. 72
    Prescott Cactus says:

    @mclaren: Have not given TPP a glance. These copyright powers may last forever but our technology is ever changing. Yeah, Disney flicks are probably going to be popular with kids for quite some time, but Lincoln logs and green plastic soldiers were great when I was a kid.

    Costco has a 50″ TV on sale for $400. Thats about $300 then the floor model Sony 39″ tube that I still have from around 1998.

    Apple & Disney will be hear in 50 years. IBM, Amdahl, Ford, Chrysler, United Artists, New Line Cinema ? Some have a beating heart, some flatline. Now.

    Staying atop the economic and military empires is always a rapid paced game that changes faster than one ever believes. President Trump, FSM bless our meatballs can very well usher in a new empire and it may not be ours.

  73. 73
    Fair Economist says:


    Trump’s proposal also kind of begs the question, what if the Saudis, Japan, and South Korea aren’t willing to pay?

    There’s no “what if”. We normally have to *pay* to have bases and even with that it’s sometimes hard to keep them. Many countries want us out. If we demand to be paid all our troops will be coming home. That would, actually, be a very good thing, and a good consolation prize for a Trump presidency – if he weren’t a lying cheat whose promises are about as strong as wet tissue paper.

  74. 74
    mclaren says:


    The elite gave up the Gulfstream 5’s long ago. Big iron executive aviation is now the new goal! Boeing BBJ’s on the short end and 767’s on the longer end.

    Indeed. The Gulfstreams are now used to ship 4 tons of cocaine from Mexico to the U.S. — except, of course, when they crash.

    Incidentally, the Gulfstream in question is a former CIA torture jet. No connection with the CIA, naturally. And certainly no connection to Homeland Security. Pay no attention to the details — nothing to see here, folks, move along. America’s involvement in Mexico’s drug trade is purely limited to military advisors. You can be certain that there’s nothing going on in Mexico like, oh, say, the CIA shipping tons of drugs to the U.S. and selling them to pay for lots of black military programs that they don’t want to show up in the official U.S. budget. That would be crazy talk, like claiming that Ronald Reagan ran an arms-for-hostages deal to fund illegal CIA American black ops in Nicaragua in the late 1980s, or that the CIA started the whole crack cocaine epidemic with mass shipment of drugs into the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s designed to fund off-the-books black ops in South America.

  75. 75
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Fair Economist: Don’t our bases generate a lot of revenue for the host countries–restaurants, bars, brothels, criminal defense attorneys?

  76. 76
    Seebach says:

    Trump destroying the GOP is the most needed karmic comeback in the history of schadenfreude. Pray he doesn’t destroy America entirely.

  77. 77
    scav says:

    Usual suspect showing up for their five-plus minutes of self-adoration and universal hate?

  78. 78
    Seebach says:

    @mclaren: Isn’t the new Clinton line that Iran Contra was good because BernieBros like the filthy Sandinistas?

  79. 79
    LAO says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Holy shit, Jams shorts!!! Just google them (wanted to see if still sold). The’re advertised on eBay as vintage. LMAO

    Eta: googled not Google. I’m not 80 years old. Just tired

  80. 80
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @Steve in the ATL: GOBLUE72 seems to have taken seriously the joke about lawyers only passing the bar once, and stopping by each one thereafter.

  81. 81
    Steve in the ATL says:


    CIA started the whole crack cocaine epidemic with mass shipment of drugs into the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s designed to fund off-the-books black ops in South America.

    I was actually told exactly this by a homeless black man with clearly diminished metal faculties on a sidewalk in Athens, GA in 1990.

    So…where were you in 1990?

    Kidding! I try to avoid conspiracy theories but the CIA does so much fucked up shit it’s hard to be skeptical of any claim no matter how seemingly outlandish.

  82. 82
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Yes they do generate a lot of local revenue. When my BCT was getting ready to deploy to Iraq at the beginning of 2008, the local town of Baumholder and the Rheinland-Pfalz state government were very, very concerned that once the brigade left they wouldn’t come back. And a s a result Smith Barracks would likely be closed and this would cause terrible economic upheaval for the town.

  83. 83
    Mike in NC says:

    @Mandalay: We were in Germany in December, where we were told the US is trying to draw down the massive “footprint” of forces even though there about 50,000 troops still there 70 years after WW2. Meanwhile, new bases are being built in Central Asia to support the failed Global War on Terrorism. Okinawa remains mostly a huge US military base and nothing is happening in Japan and South Korea.

  84. 84
    Prescott Cactus says:

    @Peale: South Korea is a wonderful ally but Seoul, South Korea and it’s 10 million occupants could be blown off the map with conventional artillery in a few hours. No nuke needed. Taiwan and it’s 23 million folks are 81 miles from China.

    We can’t be the worlds policeman with this big of a beat to walk. BFF is fine, but when the the rockets are glaring red, we won’t be able to stop some things if bad people do bad things.

  85. 85
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: In my defense, I started at my cousin’s book signing/reception, and continued when I returned home and found my house full of people. As is required by my Episcopalian upbringing, we worked through a few bottles.

  86. 86
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @LAO: Did you just keep on drinking from yesterday’s celebration?

  87. 87
    Aleta says:

    I think one reason Trump is so obsessed with the wall (even if he’s not president) is because it’s a profitable construction-development project (with a lot of places for his name! And the ad space!) A lot of contracts …a lot of pavement, all the other stuff he likes to build. It’s what he does.

    As for the bases, it’s odd to me when US-Americans talk about how much we pay to have bases in other countries without acknowledging the benefits to the US. It’s not the same as giving money to a country, but people like Trump speak of it that way. (I’m not ignoring the economic effects a base has on its neighborhood; I just want to mention that people with Trump’s views don’t have a realistic picture of what the US receives and how the neighborhood also pays.)

  88. 88
    LAO says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Stop talking to my mother, I’m not an alcoholic. Lol

  89. 89
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Actually that one has been subsequently substantiated. Some material has been declassified to the National Security Archives over the past few years that basically validated Gary Webb’s reporting and vindicated his reputation. Unfortunately, this can’t reverse his suicide and bring him back to life.

  90. 90
    NotMax says:

    Last time I checked, we had a military presence (based, non-based, or known to be present but officially unacknowledged) in something close to 160 of the 196 countries on the planet (that last number includes entities unrecognized by the U.S., such as Taiwan).

  91. 91
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Prescott Cactus: Every time I’ve ever been in a war game where China invades Taiwan, going back to one I was in in grad school in 1994, there was no way to prevent China from invading and taking the island. All that could be done was to then try to dig them out and liberate Taiwan.

  92. 92
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:

    @oldgold: Trump is a short-fingered vulgarian coward with a glass jaw. He can be defeated. It will take some work. But we shouldn’t panic.


  93. 93
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @LAO: She wants you to call her. She worries.

  94. 94
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Seebach: In the mid to late ’80’s, at the height of the Iran/Contra scandal, I went to college with Oliver North’s daughter. His first time on campus, when he walked out of Lee Chapel (where Robert E. Lee is buried and whose flag flew at half-STAFF NOT MAST today for Nancy Fucking Reagan), most of the students on the hill stopped and burst into spontaneous applause for him. I was stunned. Even though I read the Washington Post every day back then, I still understood that he had committed treason. But then, so had Robert E. Lee….

  95. 95
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    I’m starting to suspect that pot makes Goblue72 paranoid and he’s the only one who doesn’t realize it.

  96. 96
    Prescott Cactus says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    I had advocated for an invasion of Canada

    Oh Canada ! Don’t forget they have great beer.

  97. 97
    Mnemosyne says:


    Don’t our embassies all have Marine guards assigned to them? Or is that only the larger embassies?

  98. 98
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Sorry if I was unclear–I understand that the CIA did that. It was shocking though to learn that (1) the CIA actually did something that horrible and (2) a homeless dude with brain damage knew about it before the newspapers.

    And the Gary Webb story is tragic.

  99. 99
    LAO says:

    @Adam L Silverman: on that note, good night. I look forward to your Bundy update tomorrow. Twitter kept me entertained today, especially when I read that Cliven refused to enter a plea at his arraignment because he doesn’t recognize the authority of the federal courts. I may try that tomorrow before Jack Weinstein. It will not work.

  100. 100
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @Mnemosyne: I thought that was more a side effect of acid, pot just made me incredibly introverted which is why I preferred booze. That didn’t work out that well in the long term.

  101. 101
    TOP123 says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: Yes, thanks for pointing that out. As someone who doesn’t comment often, I was thinking of saying something about how Korea is actually rather contentiously divided over this issue, among a number of others, with a big left-right and generational divide. With a spring riot season, and everything! And that’s just US-ROK issues (remember beef a while back?), not bringing in East Sea/Dokdo and other highly flammable issues with other U.S. allies in the region.

  102. 102
    oldgold says:

    I would agree Trump is a vulgarion. As far as being a glass jawed coward – not so much.

    I am not panicking, but recognize Trump is going to be a formidable opponent. He is a talented socio-path.

  103. 103
    BBA says:

    What I’m proposing is, we confuse the enemy by giving up without a struggle.

    (This is a joke. Maybe.)

  104. 104
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @LAO: We want a full report if you go full metal Bundy tomorrow.

  105. 105
    Mnemosyne says:


    It affects different people in different ways, and one of the possible ways is paranoia.

  106. 106
    Steve in the ATL says:


    Twitter kept me entertained today, especially when I read that Cliven refused to enter a plea at his arraignment because he doesn’t recognize the authority of the federal courts. I may try that tomorrow before Jack Weinstein.

    Enjoy your contempt of court!

  107. 107
    LAO says:

    @Adam L Silverman: @Steve in the ATL:
    Come on guys. I’m all hat no cattle.

  108. 108
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @Mnemosyne: I haven’t smoked it on a regular basis in 35 years and it’s been 5 1/2 years since I gave up the booze.

  109. 109
    Mnemosyne says:


    I don’t partake myself, but I went to college, so I’ve seen it in action.

  110. 110
    FEMA Camp Counselor says:


    I’ve been lurking here on and off for a few years now and I don’t ever remember him being this scrappy. I’m half convinced it’s a different person using the same username as a joke.

  111. 111
  112. 112
    Mnemosyne says:

    @FEMA Camp Counselor:

    I’m not entirely joking — he said last night (or the night before?) that he was going to have a glass of wine and smoke a bowl and then came back even more belligerent than before.

    I don’t know if you were here in 2007/2008, but there were some similar commenter meltdowns during the Democratic primary that year (which was when I first discovered the site and was relieved to see I would not be called an asshole for supporting Obama). I think it’s mostly an effect of the primary and hopefully things will be back to normal once the general election starts.

  113. 113
    mclaren says:

    The point GoBlue is making (which everyone including Silverman seems to miss) is that America currently spends somewhere in the ballpark of 25% of its annual budget on military/national-security operations, broadly defined. That comes out to somewhere north of 1 trillion dollars per year.

    The reason I say “somewhere in the ballpark” is that no one actually knows how much America spends on its military & national security ops. The Pentagon has never passed an audit. Unbelieveable, yet true — despite being required by law to pass an audit, the Pentagon never has. As a result, we (and by “we” I mean the president, congress, the OMB, etc.) don’t really know exactly what the Pentagon and CIA and NRO and NSA spend money on, or exactly how much, or when, or why. There’s such an incredible amount of money sloshing around, and it’s all so poorly documented in so many overlapping interlinked accounting systems, that what actually gets spent is a guesstimate. But 1 trillion dollars a year seems to be the consensus total for everything including (broadly defined) spy satellites, JSOC black ops in 134 countries, particle beam and laser weapons (like the ones installed on the new Zumwalt-class Navy cruisers), hypersonic suborbital drones (AKA the X37 or possibly Aurora), drone strikes, codebreaking & sigint, plus conventional armed forces including navy, army, air force and marines. That total also includes military pensions (which don’t get included in the regular military budget) and the department of homeland security (ditto).

    The point is that 1 trillion dollars a year in military/national security spending is real money. It creates a lot of military capablities. And, as the U.S. War College likes to point out, capabilities create intentions.

    Connect the dots. It’s not hard.

    Details: for evidence that the U.S. spends more than a trillion dollars a year on national security (broadly defined), see the article “America’s 1 Trillion Dollar National Security Budget.” The article actually significantly underestimates the expenditures, since it does not include the NRO (estimated 50 billion/year), the NSA (estimated 50 billion/year), the CIA (estimated 50 billion/year) but does include the share of national debt due to military spending, which to my mind is not accurate accounting. We need to subtract the 76 billion dollar share of the national debt but add the other 150 billion, leading to a figure closer to 1 trillion 74 billion dollars per year on military/national security.

    For evidence that the Pentagon is unable to audit its own books, see the article “Why Can’t the Pentagon Audit Its Books? The Excuses Pile Up.” The Fiscal Times, 30 November 2015.

    Limitless growth in military spending leads to a militarized society operating under undeclared martial law and the usual hubris and endless unwinnable overseas wars. The more America spends on its military, the louder grows the clamor of Madeleine Albright’s foolish question: “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

    It’s what Chuck Spinney calls the defense death spiral: the more military spending, the more interventions, the more interventions the more failures and setbacks, the more failures and setbacks the louder the hue and cry for more military spending. Rinse, wash, repeat.

    As William S. Lind pointed out in his final “On War” column in 2009:

    …[T]he U.S. military is largely an intellectual void. Its two implied (and related) theories, that wars are decided by comparative levels of technology and by who can put the most firepower on targets, have both been proven false. Were they true, we would have won the Iraq and Afghan wars quickly. In fact, the Pentagon was so blinded by its false theories it thought we had won them quickly. Sorry, guys.

    While many junior and field grade officers in the U. S. military have found value in the Four Generations framework (which says that American armed forces are not one, but two generations behind), the brass studiously ignores it. “Not invented here” is part of the problem, but the larger part is that our major headquarters think little if at all about war. What they think about is money. 4GW does little to justify bigger budgets. On the contrary, it suggests that most “big ticket” weapons programs are irrelevant to where war is going. That is not what the brass, or the defense companies they plan to work for after retirement, want to hear.

    What might change that picture? Nothing will change in DOD until the money simply isn’t there anymore. The news, which is simultaneously good and bad, is that the money soon won’t be there. Like every previous imperial power, we are bankrupting ourselves. A trillion dollars here and a trillion dollars there, and soon it adds up to real money. The twin financing mechanisms of piling up debt and debasing the currency can only go on so long. We can already see the night at the end of the tunnel.

    There is no better way to end this series of columns, at least for a while, than to recommend a book. The best book on where America now stands and where it is going is J. H. Elliott’s The Count-Duke of Olivares: A Statesman in an Age of Decline. Olivares was what we would now call the prime minister of Spain in much of the first half of the 17th century. His era saw Spain go from “the only superpower” to a downward plunge that lasted three centuries. Unusually, the more one looks at the details, the more the parallel holds. Then, as now, the root problem was the same: the court was controlled by interests that lived off the nation’s decay.

    Source: “Finis,” On War #365, 2009, William S. Lind.

  114. 114
    Prescott Cactus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Did a couple of month long stints there helping the effort to restart Lungman Power plant. It was a 1/2 finished nuclear power plant that wasn’t mothballed. It sat for 8 years until they decided radiation wasn’t as bad as high oil prices and they really, really needed the power.

    I have no military experience, but I imagine it would be difficult to liberate after capture. Enjoyed a typhoon and got to see a bit of the country. Very friendly to Americans willing to spend a moment allowing them to improve their English skills.

  115. 115
    Mnemosyne says:


    I guess that’s what’s puzzling me — what exactly does the DoD consider a “presence”? If you have, say, 10 members of the US Army assigned as liaisons in Jamaica, is that a “presence” or is more required? Do you need to have an actual base?

  116. 116
    NotMax says:

    @NotMax – @Mnemosyne

    Would be simpler to just say that embassy guards are assigned to and operate on what is considered U.S. soil.

  117. 117
    FEMA Camp Counselor says:


    Oh no, I wasn’t really into the political blogging scene then.

    From the old war stories I hear, primaries in general just seem to rip the band-aids off of a lot of the divisions we try and paper over the rest of the time. To an extent that’s a good thing, keeps the debate fresh, but after a whole year of inter-party sniping I kind of just want someone to end this so we can focus on the real enemy.

  118. 118
    NotMax says:


    Shall happily defer to Adam for proper terminology.

  119. 119
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @mclaren: Just an FYI: There’s a US Army War College, there’s a National War College, which is part of the National Defense University, there’s a Naval War College, there’s an Air War College, which is part of Air University, there’s a Marine War College, which is part of Marine Corps University, and there is the Eisenhower School (formerly the Industrial College of the Armed Forces), which is also part of the National Defense University. There is no US War College.

  120. 120
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: This is a couple of years out of date, but it should help:

  121. 121
  122. 122
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mnemosyne: @NotMax: From the DOD Dictionary:

    (DOD) 1. A locality from which operations are projected or supported.
    Source: JP 4-0

    (DOD) 2. An area or locality containing installations which provide logistic or other support.
    Source: JP 4-0

    (DOD) 3. Home airfield or home carrier. See also facility.
    Source: JP 4-0

    JP stands for Joint Publication, which is the Joint Force doctrinal publication.

    All the definitions for the different types of bases can be found here:

    And there’s a lot of them!

  123. 123
    scav says:

    @mclaren: I don’t think you’re quite clued into the concept that sometimes people don’t mention things because we already are acquainted with the basic concept. Or, maybe you just like to type and lecture a lot.

  124. 124
    mclaren says:


    Embassy guards are the least of America’s military “presence” overseas.

    The U.S. currently has black ops/JSOC/special forces teams operating in 134 foreign countries.

    See “America’s Secret War in 134 Countries” in The Nation, Nick Turse, 16 January 2014. Note that these estimates do not include “black sites” which are not officially acknowledged to exist by America overseas, like the black site prisons at which people were tortured after being sent overseas for “extraoridinary rendition,” the black sites at places like Diego Garcia which apparently include prisons as well as the usual refueling bases for B2 stealth bombers etc.

    For details about the various overseas black sites, see the article “Absolute Power” by Robert Koehler, 2 July 2015, in The Huffington Post, as well as articles in The Guardian like “UK urged to admit that CIA used island as secret ‘black site’ prison,” 13 April 2014.

  125. 125
    NotMax says:

    @Adam L. Silverman

    Thanks mucho for the link.

  126. 126
    mclaren says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    There is no such thing as “FYI.” There is an abbreviation “F.Y.I.”

    Adam, two can play at the game of nitpicking typos. I meant U.S. Army War College, obviously, but neglected to type one word.

    Incidentally, there is no such as the “US Army War College.” There is such a thing as the “U.S. Army War College.”

    We can continue this game of one-upping each other with minutia as long as you like. It is not a substitute for a serious conversation.

  127. 127
    mclaren says:


    Not to mention all of we black ops CIA sleepers at Balloon Juice.

    You meant “all of us black ops CIA sleepers at Balloon Juice.”

  128. 128
    Aleta says:

    @mclaren: You too?

  129. 129
    Anne Laurie says:


    Trump had a big night. He crushed his opponents.

    He is going to be very tough to beat in November.

    That he did, but none of those three brought much of a challenge, either. You’ll have noticed Trump was a lot more subdued as well. He’s getting tired, and whatever ‘most excellent health’ notes he might flash around, he’s a fat old man who eats too much red meat and gets his exercise riding a golf cart between putts.

    There’s lots of grueling public campaigning between now and November. The GOP have done their very best to stress-test Hillary, including those eleven hours of BenghAIEEE!!! showboating, and she’s held up magnificently. Trump has some advantages over Cruz as an opponent in the general election, but his age is a severe drawback for RNC to worry about.

  130. 130
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anne Laurie: When he turned around to walk to his podium after the introductions and National Anthem he neither looked well (posture) nor moved well. And he moved very, very slowly. I don’t know if this is structural, as in his knees and/or hips are shot or he’s got a lower back problem or if there’s something else wrong with him. But it was very apparent that he was physically uncomfortable moving to take his place at the podium.

  131. 131
    Adam L Silverman says:

    And now to bed!

  132. 132
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Adam L Silverman: My loathing of Ledeen cannot be measured. This guy needs to get into a bar fight with a couple of Infantry squads and find out what it’s like to be thrown against a wall a few times.

  133. 133
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Mandalay: And even before Nemesis, Sekhmet, Goddess of Consequences, represented by the solar disc. Without the sun, life would be impossible; but if you go into the Egyptian desert unprepared you will die, be you never so young, strong, innocent, powerful, rich, or otherwise worthy in the eyes of humans.

    Of course, according to Repubs, believing in Consequences is un-American.

  134. 134
    goblue72 says:

    In 2012 – $682 billion spent by the U.S. on military spending. Vs. $652 billion spent by China, Russia, the U.K., Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil – COMBINED – U.S. Military Spending Dwarfs the World.

    That’s the system Professor Silverman insists on defending. A system that has no sane defense. In actual liberal circles, this concept is not controversial. In actual liberal circles, its a basic core principle that the U.S. spends way, way, way too much on its military and is involved, way, way, way too much in foreign adventurism and that a massive drawdown is needed. With the savings re-directed to domestic needs.

    Guarantee – if there’s a President Clinton and first foreign war she gets involved in against Hitler of the Month, the lot of you will be rah-rah-ing all the way to its inevitable, miserable failure.

    Stone cold sober, jackholes. But I am sure I’ve made a typo for which Herr Silverman will needle over.

  135. 135
    goblue72 says:

    And P.S., with respect to Martin masturbating over free trade raining down manna on the proletariat in an earlier thread – Paul Krugman say you’re full of it and the free trade Ponzi scheme is a sham.

    That would be Krugman whose academic work is in international trade, which work was the basis of his Nobel.

    Keep rooting for the laundry over principles. Quite entertaining.

  136. 136
    🚸 Martin says:


    That’s the system Professor Silverman insists on defending. A system that has no sane defense. In actual liberal circles, this concept is not controversial. In actual liberal circles, its a basic core principle that the U.S. spends way, way, way too much on its military and is involved, way, way, way too much in foreign adventurism and that a massive drawdown is needed. With the savings re-directed to domestic needs.

    I’ve never seen him defend this. He explains why it is this way, but that’s not a defense.

  137. 137
    fuckwit says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: We have a president who, himself, PERSONALLY, grew up living in Indonesia under Sukharto. That’s pretty remarkable. This is a man who personally lived under a dictatorship. He knows his shit. And it’s no surprising he has no tolerance for the Saudis and was happy to let Mubarak hang out to dry.

  138. 138
    goblue72 says:

    @🚸 Martin: Arguments that take the position that “its just the way it is and we just need to accept it”are just a passive-aggressive form of supporting the status quo and arguing in its favor. Its a neat rhetorical trick – but its just that – rhetoric.

  139. 139
    Anne Laurie says:

    @efgoldman: Oh, c’mon. Under the well-known Repub rule that It’s Always Projection, the “mclaren” commentor is actually a series of low-level CIA trainees in a Langley basement. Its purpose is to inoculate us common sheeple against THE TRUTH; we’re being behaviorally indoctrinated to ignore all “leftist” information as the TL;DR babble of a late-night troll

    That’s why the mclaren character is so inconsistent — trainees get promoted, or burnt out, or even get converted to our side of the political argument.

    I hope they like the pet pics, while they’re here!

  140. 140
    🚸 Martin says:


    its just the way it is and we just need to accept it

    No, he’s saying that if you want to change it you need to present a credible alternative policy. Most positions from the left complaining about defense spending are no more substantive than demands to repeal Obamacare or eliminate the IRS.

  141. 141
    goblue72 says:

    @I’mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet: From same article:

    Obama generally believes that the Washington foreign-policy establishment, which he secretly disdains, makes a fetish of “credibility”—particularly the sort of credibility purchased with force. The preservation of credibility, he says, led to Vietnam. Within the White House, Obama would argue that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”

    Obama also shared with McDonough a long-standing resentment: He was tired of watching Washington unthinkingly drift toward war in Muslim countries. Four years earlier, the president believed, the Pentagon had “jammed” him on a troop surge for Afghanistan. Now, on Syria, he was beginning to feel jammed again.

    “Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

    “isis is not an existential threat to the United States,” he told me in one of these conversations. “Climate change is a potential existential threat to the entire world if we don’t do something about it.” Obama explained that climate change worries him in particular because “it is a political problem perfectly designed to repel government intervention. It involves every single country, and it is a comparatively slow-moving emergency, so there is always something seemingly more urgent on the agenda.”

    If Obama ever questioned whether America really is the world’s one indispensable nation, he no longer does so. But he is the rare president who seems at times to resent indispensability, rather than embrace it. “Free riders aggravate me,” he told me. Recently, Obama warned that Great Britain would no longer be able to claim a “special relationship” with the United States if it did not commit to spending at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense. “You have to pay your fair share,” Obama told David Cameron, who subsequently met the 2 percent threshold.

  142. 142
    goblue72 says:

    @🚸 Martin: Spend less money on defense, by a lot, is a credible alternative. Defining away spending less money on the military as somehow not a credible alternative is just rhetorical bullshit.

  143. 143
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I don’t know if this is structural, as in his knees and/or hips are shot or he’s got a lower back problem or if there’s something else wrong with him.

    Hey, I’m almost his age & equally sedentary — could be all four!

  144. 144
    🚸 Martin says:

    @goblue72: Eliminating the IRS is therefore also a credible alternative. So is getting Mexico to pay for a wall.

  145. 145
    Arclite says:

    The analogy is that we’re policemen for the entire county, but only one of the largest towns in the county pays for the police. While I don’t think we should be getting tribute, something needs to be done. The US should work to set up and train more regional alliances to handle issues locally instead of relying on the US to handle things.

  146. 146
    BillinGlendaleCA says:


    Paul Krugman say you’re full of it and the free trade Ponzi scheme is a sham.

    He didn’t quite say that, he said that the redistribution necessary to make free trade policies equitable can’t be achieved in the current political environment(aka Republicans won’t do it). Any person who has studied international trade knows that while both economies benefit from trade(the Theory of Competitive Advantage) there are losers that MUST(and that’s what Professor Krugman was saying) be compensated. The only question is to what level and what means to compensate.

    P.S. Professor Krugman, a young Economist in the Reagan administration at the time, was required reading in my IT class.

  147. 147
    goblue72 says:

    “Look, this theory is so easily disposed of that I’m always puzzled by how people make the argument. I don’t think anybody thought that George W. Bush was overly rational or cautious in his use of military force. And as I recall, because apparently nobody in this town does, Putin went into Georgia on Bush’s watch, right smack dab in the middle of us having over 100,000 troops deployed in Iraq.” Obama was referring to Putin’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, a former Soviet republic, which was undertaken for many of the same reasons Putin later invaded Ukraine—to keep an ex–Soviet republic in Russia’s sphere of influence.

    “Putin acted in Ukraine in response to a client state that was about to slip out of his grasp. And he improvised in a way to hang on to his control there,” he said. “He’s done the exact same thing in Syria, at enormous cost to the well-being of his own country. And the notion that somehow Russia is in a stronger position now, in Syria or in Ukraine, than they were before they invaded Ukraine or before he had to deploy military forces to Syria is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of power in foreign affairs or in the world generally. Real power means you can get what you want without having to exert violence. Russia was much more powerful when Ukraine looked like an independent country but was a kleptocracy that he could pull the strings on.”

    “But let’s examine the Nixon theory,” he said. “So we dropped more ordnance on Cambodia and Laos than on Europe in World War II, and yet, ultimately, Nixon withdrew, Kissinger went to Paris, and all we left behind was chaos, slaughter, and authoritarian governments that finally, over time, have emerged from that hell. When I go to visit those countries, I’m going to be trying to figure out how we can, today, help them remove bombs that are still blowing off the legs of little kids. In what way did that strategy promote our interests?”

    Many people, I noted, want the president to be more forceful in confronting China, especially in the South China Sea. Hillary Clinton, for one, has been heard to say in private settings, “I don’t want my grandchildren to live in a world dominated by the Chinese.”

    “I’ve been very explicit in saying that we have more to fear from a weakened, threatened China than a successful, rising China,” Obama said. “I think we have to be firm where China’s actions are undermining international interests, and if you look at how we’ve operated in the South China Sea, we have been able to mobilize most of Asia to isolate China in ways that have surprised China, frankly, and have very much served our interest in strengthening our alliances.”

    The Obama “Doctrine” of not doing stupid shit, working through international alliances and treaty organizations, and generally telling the military (and the war hawk interventionists in his own party) to go cool their heel in the corner is a heck of a lot more sane, far more encouraging of global prosperity, and one requiring a lot less money be spent on the DoD. And it doesn’t require some Grand Game, Unifying Field Theorem of Foreign Affairs Strategy.

    Obama’s “grand strategy” in a nutshell – Don’t Go Invading Third-World Countries. Go Be Better Friends with Asia. Deal with Climate Change.

  148. 148
    goblue72 says:

    @🚸 Martin: You MBA types were never that bright.

    The IRS is a necessary component of collecting taxes, which is a core function of a government.

    In contrast, it is certainly possible to conduct foreign affairs in the manner Obama has – basically a highly restrained, mostly non-interventionist policy that operates mostly diplomatically and utilized force sparingly – which foreign affairs strategy does not require a DoD budget nearly as big as it is. And which reduction of said budget poses no threat to our national existence.

  149. 149
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @🚸 Martin: Personally, I like the Baud! plan for a Huge(and very Classy) Wall of China; paid for by the Chinese, of course.

  150. 150
    goblue72 says:

    @BillinGlendaleCA: And Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl, which is totally relevant to nothing.

    Krugman goes beyond saying that the only problem is a failure of political leaders to redistribute the gains from trade. Leaving aside your overly simplistic referral to the Ricardian benefits to trade, Krugman notes in that very blog post that the GATT-era benefits to trade are grossly over-stated by its proponents. Back of the envelope – around 10% of growth in global GDP – http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c.....n-wonkish/

    He also points out that there’s a nagging issue that post-GATT era trade – and really, what we are talking about here is post GATT 1994 trade – may have played a role in secular stagnation in the U.S.


    All of which further begs a question for political elites – if the benefits are grossly overstated and fairly limited, and if those limited benefits are almost entirely accrued to economic elites, and if the consequences of those benefits for economic elites come at the cost of severe dislocation for domestic lower class workers – what exactly is fricking point? Cheaper cell phones and TVs? Cheap TV serves as a bread-and-circus distraction I guess, but no substitute for a pension, higher wages and affording a home.

  151. 151
    scav says:

    It’s such a privilege to witness the truly pute, unsullied and perfected of mind lecture to the vast majority of us corrupted political mudbloods.

  152. 152
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @goblue72: I think I captured Professor Krugman’s primary objections in my first comment and you failed to address it, only referring it to simplistic Ricardian benefits; 10% in growth in global GDP is a rather large number. You’re conflating quite a bit here with respect to the trade deficit and attributing it to a freer trade policy. You’ve left out changes in tax policy and the regulatory regime that have occurred in the past 40 years that contribute, in my view, more to the chages in pensions, wages, and wealth of working class Americans.

  153. 153
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    @scav: I know, I feel humble as well. I should get some rest, though, the ice floe departs tomorrow morning.

  154. 154
    NorthLeft12 says:

    Sorry to get here so late, but I think Trump’s proposal is more modest than that. He is simply taking advantage of the US’s overwhelming strength and specialty; the military.

    He is planning to monetize the current free service you provide to numerous countries around the world. You think that this presence somehow gives you influence in the country that the forces are stationed, but that is an illusion. Against a determined and willful opponent, they use these troops to actually strengthen their cause rather than weaken or threaten it.

    America; security guards to the world.

  155. 155
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @FEMA Camp Counselor:

    From the old war stories I hear, primaries in general just seem to rip the band-aids off of a lot of the divisions we try and paper over the rest of the time.

    To some extent it’s big elections in general. 2012 didn’t have a contested Democratic primary, but there was still a lot of blogosphere controversy over people like Conor Friedersdorf arguing that Obama’s military policies should be a “deal-breaker” driving progressives to vote third-party or stay home.

  156. 156
    I'mNotSureWhoIWantToBeYet says:


    And it doesn’t require some Grand Game, Unifying Field Theorem of Foreign Affairs Strategy.

    After being so far off the trail earlier in the evening, you almost found it in this post. So close!

    But no.

    Not participating in the Grand Game means being an isolationist. It means, among other things, turning the blue water Navy into a glorified Coast Guard. Obama is not and will not do that. Obama is showing in his policies with Putin and China that he understands the Grand Game very, very well.

    Recognizing reality doesn’t mean that you think the present state of affairs is the Best of All Possible Worlds.

    Maybe read Adam’s posts again more carefully.


  157. 157
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    There is no US War College.

    You know, you also claimed that there is no such thing as a US Superior Court judge and yet they have already issued indictments against various FBI agents and county sheriffs and BLM workers. Clearly you need to read the Skousen Constitution and learn what’s what. Wake up, sheeple!

  158. 158
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Adam, on the off chance that you might still be attending to this thread, I just wanted to say that I finally did get a quiet moment or thirty to read the paper you sent me…I would love to ask you a couple questions about it if I may. Catch you on the flip side.

  159. 159
    sherparick says:

    @jl: Our problems are not the Roman problems. But Trump does bring the mentality of a thug and the extortion racket to the brink of the U.S. Presidency. George Wallace was far more constrained by the rules of the game then Trump is.

    Regarding Rome’s fall (it was some ways a sudden collapse and not a decline) the conditions that made it possible were the result of a long, subtle, and nuance process that went on for over 700 years, from Rome’s conquest for Gaul, Western & Southern Germany, and Great Britain in the last century BCE and 1st century CE (BC and AD) to the Arab/Islam conquest of the old Roman provinces in Asia and Africa and Spain in the 7th and early 8th centuries C.E.

    Trade and economic development led to larger populations and political units beyond the borders with Empire. This in-turn made these political units targets for both Roman and other tribes looting expeditions. Meanwhile members of the German tribes migrated into the Empire to be soldiers, for work and trade, and as captive slaves (the slave trade being one of the more lucrative trade between Rome and its barbarian neighbors). In the 3rd century there was major barbarian incursions and raids, but the Roman state rallied, remain unified, and drove out, annihilated, or assimilated these German groups (mostly they were called Goths and Alemmani) and some non-German groups (Sueves and Sarmatian). But beyond the borders these groups built big and increasingly complex political units that could afford to support full time warrior/military cadre for a King or lord. After a long period of political unity under dynasty of Constantine the Great, and a creation of a second, Eastern and Christian capital at Constantinople (Istanbul today), a perfect storm of events hit. While the Empire collapsed into a civil war between the West and East, the Huns attacked and defeated the Goth ruling class in Eastern Europe. Separate groups of Goths, along with Vandals and Sueves, facing annihilation or subordination to the Huns, moved into the Roman Empire, initially as “guests.” The warrior bands tactical and military skills had improved immensely over 300 years of frequent wars with Rome, and then an over confident Emperor Galens was outgeneraled by a Goth and defeated at Adrianople in 378. This set off a chain of events that eventually led to the crisis of the early 5th century as the Vandals, Goths, Burgundians, and Sueves migrated, invaded, raided, and then occupied large parts of the Western Empire. This occupation destroyed the tax base of the Empire, which resulted in a decline in the Roman Army, and the vicious circle continued. A good book to read on this is Peter Weathers “Barbarians and Empires.”

  160. 160
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: Sure, no worries. You’ve got my email address.

  161. 161
    Steve in the ATL says:


    A good book to read on this is Peter Weathers “Barbarians and Empires.”

    Not sure we need to read the book now!

  162. 162
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Great gasbags! The eye of the Panopticon *does* see all… ; )

    Thankee, sir, y’are a gentleman and a scholar. I’ll marshall my thoughts.

  163. 163
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Miss Bianca: It might help if you read the two previous reports in the series on the Syrian Civil War and Iran and Hezbulllah…

    Also, don’t tell GoBlue72, but there’s a fourth paper, written right after it was reported that bio-chem weapons had been used in the Syrian Civil War that laid out the policy argument for, and strategy to, not, I repeat not, bomb Syrian military targets as punishment for violating the so called ethical red line. I don’t want him to think I’m not mongering war 24/7.

  164. 164
    Linnaeus says:

    Thread’s probably dead, so I guess I’ll keep this brief:

    1. Trump’s proposal is silly.

    2. I think Adam’s working with an overly formalistic definition of “empire”.

    3. Considering new foreign policy priorities with an eye to depending less on a large military establishment strikes me as a good idea.

  165. 165
    Miss Bianca says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    I would be happy to read the other papers – have you links for them? (is there NO END to my demands?!) Because I thought I understood something about how complicated the socio-political-religious situation was in that part of the world.

    Turns out I had little understanding HOW complicated they are. I am humbled. See, that’s the problem with learning things…you think you have a grasp on the truth, and the whole truth, and then you realize, to your dawning horror/chagrin, that you’ve still only got a part of it.

    As for That Person, I wouldn’t tell him anything but to go straight to…well. That ‘warmonger’ crack being just one of many that has flicked me on the raw from that quarter.

  166. 166
    Big Picture Pathologist says:


    Nice post.

    The rest of you: I’m not sure I could call myself an isolationist because I know if I were a member of an oppressed group I would want help.

    Maybe we should redefine the role of the miltary : send it to liberate slave labor camps, to enforce labor and safety regulations, and provide protestor/reporter security at Drumpf rallies.

  167. 167
    plpluky says:

    @patrick II: There is nothing “mere” about hubris. Rest easy, your word choice is apt.

  168. 168
    joel hanes says:

    When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. — usually attributed to Gibbon

  169. 169
    mclaren says:


    3. Considering new foreign policy priorities with an eye to depending less on a large military establishment strikes me as a good idea.

    A large part of the issue with America’s foreign relations is that America’s entire economy (crucially shaped for the last 65 years by Paul Nitze’s 1950 NSC 56 “military Kenesianism”) and military are co-evolved and molded and commensal with and adapted to a bipolar world with 2 superpowers, the USSR and the U.S.A.

    It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that in 1991 (25 years ago now), that bipolar world dissolved and disappeared. America now finds itself in a multipolar world. Moreover, America has no serious geopolitcal enemies in this new bipolar world. America did have serious enemies in the previous bipolar world, enemies committed to the existential destruction of the United States. America today has no serious enemies committed to its existential destruction — either the enemies qualify as minor nuisances of no account with no realistic prospect whatever of destroying America (North Korea, Al Qaeda, ISIS, throw in a few splinter groups like Golden Dawn), or the nation-states with the power to destroy America (Russia and its federation, China, France, Britain, India, Israel) have zero interest in doing so because they all benefit so greatly from dealing with America economically and culturally and geopolitically.

    America has simply not come to terms with this new multipolar world. It is a world much closer to the world of the 1860s than the 1960s.

    The American military has also never come to terms with the fact that nuclear weaponry and the Moore’s law of destructiveness+cost for conventional weaponry has meant the permanent end of large-scale land wars, and certainly the definitive historical end of “total war” in which one nation-state strives to entirely annihilate another major nation-state. WW I and WW II represented examples of “total war.” Ever since the advent of nuclear weapons, total war has been off the table for obvious reasons. With the exponential rise of cost/destructiveness of conventional weapons, large-scale wars have been prohibitive both in expense and in destruction. Conventional weapons like today’s fuel-air munitions, JDAMs, cluster bombs and nerve gas are comparable in destructiveness to 1945-era Hirshoma-type nuclear weapons (low tens of kilotons yield). This makes even conventional warfare absurdly too destructive and costly for any modern state to indulge in. See military historian Martin van Creveld’s The Transformation of War (1991) for details.

    America has not changed its military or its economy to reflect these realities. I strongly suspect that a large part of the reason for America’s current economic convulsions involves the fact that we are still operating with a 1950-era NSC-56-military-Keynesian economy designed for a bipolar 1950s-style factory-based world in which half the global population lay behind the Iron Curtain cut off from global trade, in a multipolar world of automation + big data + robots + deep mind neural networks operating within a framework of globalized capitalism.

  170. 170
    PT&S says:

    Adam, an incredibly evocative performed setting of the history:

    A nice description at

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