Postmodern classic?

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Review of Ralph Peters 'New Glory'

Ralph Peters recent book 'New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy' is a thoughtful, if overly emotional book. With some big problems, I believe it will still stand as a prescient look at America's strategic future and the choices which we face, even if it is ignored by most people.

Ralph has the intelligent and informed perspective of the military professional, although his prejudices (of which I share more than a few) undermine what I believe are coherent arguments outlining the problems of the future we face. If I was to simplify the book into one thought, it would be: America must move away from Euro-centric paralysis we are currently in to embrace our strengths and achieve our ideals in the world abroad. Failure to do this will just prolong the political and military battles of the future.

Tigerhawk was right in calling this a 'patriotic book'. Mr. Peters correctly points out the material and intellectual contributions America has given the world. It is refreshing in one sense, this glowing portrayal. However, it does the book discredit to gloss over our failings and hypocrisy so completely- while we shouldn't spend our time in constant 'mea culpa' for these mistakes, we need to acknowledge them as natural and show how we would improve them. Perfection is not the American ideal, but the opportunity to do better in a changing world.

His emphasis on human rights is more balanced to me, since he shows the military cost that we would pay in enforcing this ideal implies. When we can, we have to act- but not everywhere. We have to have a moral goal, for ourselves as well as the rest of the world and their hypocrisies. We too have shortcomings, but must not get bogged down with the misbegotten justifications of others failures- of which the Europeans are the leading example.

The book is consistent in it's criticism of Europe- France and Germany in particular, for good reason. The UK is treated differently, and there is much mention of the promise offered by the newly emerging Eastern European states. To me this is unbalanced. There is much truth and blame to go around, and I am in complete agreement there should be devastating consequences to those seeking to actively undermine our objectives (ie France). A more 'nuanced' view of Europe would not change my criticism of this- but we must accept their failings and make something more from it. Yes, NATO is a joke only dwarfed by the UN and other outdated zombies, but we were successful in dealing with Russia. Even in the worst of these offenders, there is a hope for a newborn commitment to international freedom, despite the feverish rants of an outdated bureaucratic elite trying to keep Communism alive.

Regarding Asia, he doesn't seem to know that much. Can't blame him for it, most don't and anyone who claims to is probably mistaken. Simplistic conclusions about the Koreans, Chinese and Japanese just don't cut it. Might've been better to avoid that.

Regarding the military-industrial complex and the insidious influence of 'contractors'; over the top. I'm a contractor myself, so I'm obviously sympathetic to that, but he doesn't even try to get a balanced perspective on their role. The Air Force's political maneuvers and acquisition accomplishments are rightly criticized as a travesty of corruption, but to paint everyone in that light is unbalanced. If I understand his portrayal accurately, the only reason anything still works is due to the 'saintliness' of NCO's and officers who persist amidst the decadence in Washington. My interpretation: when I was in the military, I wasn't around a lot of saints- we were hard workers focused on a common goal, but not saints. I might not've signed up were that the case. And among the workers 'on the outside' most are focused on the bottom line somehow, but wouldn't be there if they didn't think it was helping. Ultimately they do a job that the military shouldn't do or do it better- deal with it. There are some structural problems in how the military works with the private sector, but I don't think he really means that he would want it all run by the military... he hasn't thought that one through.

Regarding 'Rumsfeld and his civilian elite', a one-sided bashfest is all I can use to describe this. There is more than enough legitimate criticism of this guy and the workings of the Pentagon, but if you want a balanced assessment of what is going on there as the world changes- don't look here. Just one contemplation of oh, maybe a Kerry or Dean administration is chilling enough to rein in harsh invective on the problems encountered by the Department of Defense in the last year. But if we do address these problems, well, there is enough to go around outside of these scapegoats. Hate to say it, but some of those politically appointed generals have to take the blame for the ineptitude in Iraq. Oh, but they're 'saintly', and the civilians are 'corrupt'. Not buying it. We have a professional military, but there is a problem when it takes such a bureaucratic mess to support it- makes you wonder how much is just there to support itself in the typical self-perpetuation of bureaucratic infighting. I sometimes think when we fought the Cold War we ended up adopting the methods of the Soviets to understand them better, in that weird way armies mirror each other when trying to counter their opponent... but I digress. End result: it takes 10 men to support 1 warfighter. That seems a little out of balance. Can't blame that on the contractors or the shortsighted politicians who spend time in the Pentagon. That's part of the American constitution- the military is subject to civilian authority, and most of the time this works by keeping us involved in important affairs of the state. Mr. Peters leaves that little snippet of information out, resulting in a lopsided condemnation which undermines the purpose of otherwise legitimate complaints and criticism.

Conclusion: some good thoughts and important things to think over, but hamstrung by a one-sided evaluation of current events. Obviously a smart and dedicated officer, but not the grand vision of America's future I wanted, and frankly, kind of expected.

A little disappointed actually, but there still is Kaplan, whose 'Imperial Grunts' was nothing short of genius. Along with 'Coming Anarchy' in 1994 and 'Warrior Politics' in 2003. Looking forward to the next of his works. Might as well list my other favorites: Kagan's books also are standing the test of time and vision, 'Of Paradise and Power' along with his father Donald's 'On the Origins of War, and the Preservation of Peace'. Not all lost, by any means. Or Martin VanCrevelds 'Transformation of War'. Enough book porn- you get the picture. Open to any recommendations.


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