Friday, December 12, 2014

Cato Institute's "A Dangerous World?"

Editor: Christopher A. Preble and John Mueller
Title: “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security
Contributors: Francis J. Gavin, John Mueller, Lyle J. Goldstein. Paul R. Pilla, Austin Long, Peter Andreas, Martin Libicki, Mark G. Stewart, Michael A. Cohen, Stephanie Rugolo, Daniel W. Drezner, Eugene Gholz, Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson with Sameer Lalwani, Brendan Rittenhouse Green, Christopher J. Fettweis, Bemjamin H. Friedman
Publication: 2014, Cato Institute, Washington DC, 389 pages, indexed, Introduction and 16 essays
Amazon link is here.
I attended a book forum at Cato about this book on Oct. 22; the forum is discussed that date on the International Issues Blog.
The overall tone of these essays, as for the forum, is that the existential threat to the American or western way of life from enemies (most of all radical Islam), is probably overstated and exploited, by right wing politicians as well as those who want to sell books (even right-wing oriented novels and movies).
By way of comparison, the Soviet Union, for a long time, centered around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, probably presented a much greater threat.
Austin Long, in Chapter 5, “The Management of Savagery: Policy Options for Confronting Substate Threats” does, on p. 82, does discuss the role of the war in Vietnam, with its reliance on male conscription, in molding attitudes toward subsequent conflicts.  It’s possible that the ability to use a conscripted force in conventional war, under “domino theory” doctrine, could be construed as part of a nuclear avoidance strategy, very real then (when  was drafted) but not now.  It worthy of note that there was talk of draft resumption when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 (more traumatic than the Iran hostage crisis). 
Matthew Libicki, in Chapter 7, “Dealing with Cyberattacks” somewhat downplays the threat of a really catastrophic cyber attack on US infrastructure by asymmetric terrorists. Why are critical machines in the power grid connected to the public Internet in such a way that they can even be reached?  Other books covered here have discussed the dangers of an outright EMP attack (Maloof’s book, April 13, 2013). Libicki, however, admits that a major incident could cause policy changes that make self-expression on the Internet more difficult, and that could raise the barriers to entry.
Christopher J Fettweis, in “Delusions of Danger: Geopolitical Fear and Indispensability in U.S. Foreign Policy”, makes an astonishing commentary about inequality on p. 272   “Rich people worry a great deal about their security…{They take measures] to protect themselves and their belongings from the throngs of have-nots they assume are plotting to take what is theirs.”  (What does “theirs” refer to?  A problem in the English language.  He seems to be referring to fear of forceful expropriation or what a friend of mine calls “purification”.  “Those who have more than what could be considered their fair share , perhaps bothered a bit by subconscious guilt, worry about losing what they have more than those who live in relative penury.”  This passage may deal more with wealth inequality and income inequality, and would take a left-wing stab at inherited wealth.  Volunteerism, with all its bureaucracy, may seem like a feeble response;  but it might send a message that everyone should get a fair shake.  There’s a taste of Maoism in this kind of thinking. On p. 268, Fettweis notes that "part of the reason our beliefs are so resistant to change is because they shape the way new information is interpreted, and they filter out what appears to be contradictory."  So much for critical thinking. 

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