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« 13 days until Great Powers comes out | Main | New Atlanticist Great Powers review series »

Director's Commentary On Chapter Two: A Twelve-Step Recovery Program For American Grand Strategy

First off, let me offer the direct comparison of AA language to the stuff I generated:

The AA list comes from: "A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous," Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, found online at


1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

becomes ...

1. Admit that we Americans are powerless over globalization.

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

becomes ...

Come to believe that only a bipartisanship far greater than that displayed by our national leaders can restore sanity to America's foreign affairs.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

becomes ...

Make the decision to coordinate all elements of America's national power according to a grand strategy that we have collectively defined.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

becomes ...

Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of the "global war on terror."

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

becomes ...

Admit to the world and to ourselves the exact nature of our mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

becomes . . .

We are entirely ready to work with the international community to remove these defects of wartime injustice.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

becomes ...

Humbly ask the incoming president to reverse America's recent unilateralism.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

becomes ...

Make a list of all the great powers whose national interests we have harmed, and become willing to make concessions to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

becomes ...

Make direct overtures to violent nonstate actors whenever possible, except when doing so would damage existing alliances.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

becomes ...

Continue to review our goal of accelerated democratization and, when we are wrong in our strategic approach, promptly admit it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

becomes ...

Seek to create strategic alliances with rising powers through diplomatic linkages and military-to-military cooperation.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

becomes ...

Having had a strategic awakening as the result of these steps, America must try to sell this grand strategy to the world, and practice these principles in all its efforts to shrink the Gap and make globalization truly global.

You can see where I had fun. Two simple rules: 1) had to change the past tense to present/future, given my purposes here, and; 2) had to zero-out the God references (just too diversionary). Other than that, everything falls into place nicely and, even more so than the 7-sins construction, here I get to repurpose a lot of cool bits from past columns that would otherwise be lost to the book. So this is largely an exercise in a lot of ground-covering, so no reviewer could say, "Well, too bad he didn't bother to bring up X!"

In short, this chapter was the easiest to write by far, because I had spent the past three years practicing for it, polishing rock-hard paras.

A general point: Remember this chapter moves up from #6 in the original writing to #2 in the editing, leap-frogging the history chapter. This creates some problems/opportunities, because I make several historical allusions in the original write-up that had to be reshaped a bit so as to not lose the reader once we shifted the history chapter behind this one. But having written the two chapters in that order, I was turned on to those historical references, which enriched the text nicely, so it pays to do things backwards sometimes.

Page tripping:

The opening line of the chapter is Mark's: "Now that we know the sins, there must be penance. If not for Bush and Cheney, then it must come for America."

At least I'm pretty sure he wrote that. I think the chapter lacked an intro para that worked and thus he provided.

The bit about "For the past eight years, America has remained somewhat trapped in angry isolation, cherishing its fears and nurturing its resentments" is a paraphrase of Richard Nixon in his 1967 Foreign Affairs article, "Asia After Viet Nam" (cited later in the book with that exact quote), where he previewed his desire to reach out to China, in combo with his inaugural address.

From the article: America "simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors."

From the speech: "we seek an open world--open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people--a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation."

The reference to finding something at the bottom of a bottle labeled . . . comes from an email a reader sent me a few years back about licking alcoholism. Seemed like the right allusion.

"Trail of tears" is another historical allusion to Andrew Jackson's ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee in Alabama and Mississippi--the "trail of tears" march westward.

The "powerless" bit as easy to write because it's been a staple concept of mine for a long time (globalization comes with rules, not a ruler).

Ditto with the "younger versions of ourselves"--a driving theme of the book.

The contractor sub-contracting out the lesser-value portions comes from Steve DeAngelis--a basic business philosophy of his.

The "Yeah, I said it" reference to U.S. financial markets. That bit I steal from Chris Rock's latest HBO comedy stand-up special. It is in my nature to go counter-intuitive during crises.

The nativism reference (once inside our system, new immigrants want to shut the door) comes from Ben Friedman's book.

TR reference needed to be reworked in editing. First version had "stationary state" reference that was previously before this bit, so needed to edit out.

Reference the other Friedman (Thomas) on optimism here.

The Brownstein section (#2 = bipartisanship) is a good example of the 12-steps, gave me natural spots to include good stuff that otherwise maybe does not get in.

The bashing of Boomers is a familiar bit for me (on the politics, that is).

Bringing up Morris Massey's stuff again: I did this first in BFA, but felt the need to revive in this book. That was a question for me, time and time again: how much to repurpose great bits from BFA (not widely read). If you do, you regurg a bit, but if you don't, you leave yourself open to charges of, "You didn't say anything about ....X"

Note that Obama is really the only candidate I reference regarding possible positive change.

#3 on the DIME was designed originally to reference the DIME entry from the A-to-Z lexicon (original chapter 2).

More praising of Bush, so not just limited to up front bit of Chapter 1.

Re-intro of DoEE: felt that was easily justified, reminding readers that I proposed this one years ago.

This is basically the good cop (State)/bad cop (Def) slide from my old brief, which makes it into the new brief.

Deal with the Intell Community quickly here. No one was waiting for my IC book, so I kept it short and sweet.

Here I basically re-intro Leviathan-v-SysAdmin here.

Referencing India in the 12-steps is--to me--sort of like Paul chiming in at the end of "All you need is love" with the chorus, "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sort of an insider joke if you know the history of my writing.

#4 entry on doing moral inventory: leverages the "State of the World" piece from Esquire a while back, along with a column I did a while back on Al Qaeda.

Women's bit is a repackage from BFA: just too good not to re-use.

Ditto with disaggregating Muslim threat.

Preview of great compromise on connectivity versus content control. This one hearkens back to PNM and BFA. Key theme of my work since mid-1990s--parental controls.

Line from "Rent," cited as such in the endnotes. "The opposite of war isn't peace, it's creation." As soon as I heard that on the DVD, I knew I would slip it into the book.

The "cause célèbre" argument is also slipping in some pro-Bush analysis.

Lawn guy bit is actually from my lawn guy, Doug Wesemann. He's taken care of my lawn since 2006.

The rising regional financial connectivity argument: derives from my time in Egypt, Jordan, UAE (especially the Dead Sea FDI argument).

This is the "time is on our side" slide that I've long used re: the Long War. I read through BFA to make sure I didn't already give the analysis. What I found is that I did a very glancing presentation of some of the arguments here, but not all, and those that I did cover were almost cryptically delivered. So it made sense to make another, stronger attempt here.

Admit mistakes on Iraq bit: since I cover Iraq from multiple angles, it really behooved me to carefully plan out what I would raise--in terms of issues--across the several chapters that touch upon it. In short, need to watch repetitiveness. The right sort of repetition is called a "theme," but the bad type suggests poor editing.

I liked the casualty analysis here a lot. Did it for a column that didn't turn out the way I wanted, but I felt the info was solid and worth explaining--better, this time.

The praise for Bush-Cheney in moving the Iraq situation from a pile-up of scenarios to a sequence of situations hearkens back to PNM and my X-Y quad of scenarios--basically the Balkans redux scenario. You want a sense of progress, so you have to process challenges sequentially. People get a story and they get long-term strategy, but only if you explain it to them.

The ICC bit reworks both a column and an Esquire entry in the "state of the world" article. Both yielded much-polished paragraphs.

Nod to FDR on the Atlantic Charter: reflective of the order in which the chapters were actually written (history before 12 steps).

On the "reversing our recent unilateralism" (#7), I love the little bit about mea minima culpa, which captures Bush's unwillingness to admit mistakes in a nutshell. As one BET commentator put it recently on CNN: Bush's farewell address basically declared that "I might not always be right, but I'm never wrong." This is the essence of Bush's hubris/lack of humility. He always pretended that making tough choices was everything, no matter how bad the decisions made.

Yes, I do see the turnaround on Bush's second term, but that was completely under duress, meaning that, without the various uprisings within the USG and voting populace. Mr. Hyde only went away when enough friction occurred and the administration basically had no choice, so all the "tough choices" BS we're now being sold is an attempt to gloss over the fact that Bush-Cheney's bad choices would have never ended absent our collective willingness to stand up to them.

A certain amount of repurposing here from the "turning back the clock" column on Bush.

The defense of Kerry here re: the 2004 election choice may strike some as odd, but I maintain what I've maintained all along: after Katrina and especially after the 2006 midterm, we ended up with Kerry's foreign policy without the far smarter leadership in tow (unfortunately). As I have said many times: Bush was fine as a one-termer and he should have been one, just like his dad.

#8 step is very much a repackaging of BFA's logic regarding the U.S. needing to shift to new allies.

The rundown of great powers' ties in the Middle East is another theme that goes back to BFA. This section yielded a very cool slide by Bradd.

#9 overtures to non-state actors is the first of two repurposing uses of a report I wrote for Strategic Command last January, just before starting the book. I took the gig with just those uses in mind, realizing the overlap between STRATCOM's work and my book. I like this section a lot, because I love taking on the hysterics within the national security community re: terrorism.

The truism from IT about everybody simultaneously being both friend and foe is something I've learned working for Enterra these last four years.

Lexington Green helps me sharpen the language regarding religion v. globalization here.

I love that line about "more Bladerunner than Mayberry R.F.D.. I realize the quick "globalization of hip hop" argument is a bit cryptic here. Didn't want to repurpose that whole bit from BFA.

#10 on accelerated democratization: the chicken v. pig thing, as I note in the citation at the end of the book, comes from Enterra colleague Harry Ulrich.

The use of the dedicated-v.-committed on war, like much of this page, is repurposed from an old column written not long after my time with Harry in Italy/Greece in 2007.

The Krueger column gets reworked here. His book (What Makes a Terrorist?) was an important but misleading argument that I felt needed to be included in the book.

I love the bit about feeding stomachs and wallets first, and then the hearts and minds will follow: economics always leads.

Globalization as "both contagion and cure" is another gem.

#11 on pushing mil-mil ties: see CENTCOM talking to Russia on new logistical land routes and see the PLA proposing more mil-mil cooperation with the USA on the day of Obama's inauguration (news cycle-wise). Of course, this has been a core argument of mine for years now.

"Shrink the Gap" and "make globalization truly global" sneak into the 12th step.

As soon as I wrote the hedgehogs v. foxes column, I knew I would repurpose in the book. Honestly, the majority of my columns over the past two years have been designed as dry runs of arguments I knew I would make in the book, so I used my column as a testing ground.

This section has yielded a very cool slide, thanks to Bradd.

The last couple of paras in this chapter read like a speech.

Overall, I thought this chapter was great for me and the book: allowing me to quickly run through a lot of subjects thanks to the construct of the 12 steps. Simply put, the more you organize, the more you can pack in and the more ground you can cover, because the reader feels confident that they know where they are in the book--and that's key. The minute the reader doesn't know why he or she is reading some section, you lose them.

Reader Comments (2)

Make a list of all the great powers whose national interests we have harmed, and become willing to make concessions to them all...

I am looking forward to reading the book, and am enjoying the detailed accounts here in the blog. A question about the above step, and relationship to the second part of the title of the book "and the World" Are there discussions about what the rest of the world must do to atone for their failures to act, harm to our national interests, concessions they must make? Can and should the rest of the world help more in trouble spots than they have? Great to blame it all on Bush the US, but some effort and leadership from others would, on occasion, be nice to see. I look forward to restoring our leadership position in the world , but would love to see others step forward as well.
January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Cheney
"...I used my column as a testing ground. "

This is your best book in large part because most of the parts have already been field-tested. You have made good use of all of your media avenues -- blog, column, articles, email, briefs -- to let your crowd of collaborators (knowing and unknowing) hack away at it in bits and pieces. All the parts have survived this process, so the final assembled product is robust.
January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLexington Green

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