T Nation

The Rational Hawk - Beyond Neocon


Here is an opinion piece by Blackfive. He's a military blogger who is well knows and well thought of among the troops.

His site is blackfive.net

Thoughts or comments?

Beyond Neocon- Rise of the Rational Hawk

I spend considerable time writing about Iraq, the War on Militant Islam, and US Security & Foreign Policy. I have always understood intuitively what my reasons were and why they made sense, but I had no ideology to hang my hat on. Even though I held many positions consistent with the neo-con view, I am not Jewish so the media would only allow me to be a fellow traveler or associate cabalist, and I require a primary role in any scheme for global domination. So I was a man without a cloak for myself and the like-minded, and I thought about who I had the largest number of important beliefs in common with.

It became apparent that there is one group which cuts across all the segments of society minus the very rich and the very liberal, that is current and former military and their families and friends. That is not to say that there is ideological lockstep among these people, no happily there is plenty of disagreement but it is never taken to the extreme of harming the mission. There is an implicit and explicit understanding that together we were engaged in something more important than ourselves and that every situation has a time where it is proper to shut your mouth, salute and move out sharply. Beyond that it requires the embrace of the idea that you may give your life, not just to save a buddy in combat, but for the much more ethereal ideas of Duty, Honor & Country. Nicely this environment required tolerance and I have no doubt society at large would take a large step to be as inclusive as the military family.

Rational Hawk Culture

Colleges nationwide cheat to artificially create a diversity that the military has long been a shining example of (the current policy against gays serving openly excepted, so lets change that). Working, living and dying in the close proximity of all races, religions and flavors of people renders the need to classify them using these descriptors irrelevant. In the military the only classification that matters is competence. If I am lying by the road bleeding, I don't care if the medic coming to save me is gay. I just hope he is one of those buff gay guys who are always in the gym so he can throw me over his shoulder and get me out of there.

Another facet of military life conducive to forming a coherent and rational worldview is the incredible amount of time spent killing time. Long deployments allow long explorations of good and evil, politics, religion, and everything else we could think of. Rarely were agreements reached, and that was what makes it valuable because you must determine and then defend your belief against brutal examination from people with no restraint in belittling your intellect, parentage or anything else. This meant accommodation had to be made, both to the beliefs of others and to the absoluteness of your own. This forms a tolerant, flexible environment where the exigencies of the mission far outweigh any differences of opinion and the pressure cooker combines disparate ingredients into a whole focused on a higher purpose.

The worldview of the Rational Hawk is definitely not limited to those directly tied to the military, as it?s core is simply abandoning pre-conceived notions, looking at what you want to accomplish and pulling together to make it happen. The interesting thing is that the domestic or social policy component of this is the simplest part. Once again using competence as the standard, anyone pulling their weight to the best of their ability is entitled to all the privileges and protections afforded by the group. Someone lollygagging or worse, violating is subject to censure, punishment and in extremis, expulsion. This sounds harsh and that is true, but it is based on the tolerance for major differences mentioned previously and the expectation is ?Do the best you can? so a safety net for the least able is in place. The attitude is very much ?Do unto others? and sets aside many of the most contentious differences in support of a goal all can share, the preservation and spread of the freedoms we enjoy. Translate this to social policy and as long as you are not hurting others or society as a whole, then have at.

A Rational Hawk?s place in an irrational world

The most useful way to look at a Rational Hawk view of military force is to follow Von Clausewitz ?War is the continuation of diplomacy by other means?. The US maintains relations with several hundred nations most of whom qualify as allies or no threat to us, but there are a not insignificant number that threaten their own people, their neighbors and the security of free countries. These may be UN accepted nation-states or rogue groups and their relative dangers must be assessed and policies developed to mitigate or remove those dangers. The question currently is who will do that and how.

The US is the sole superpower and in reality, the only country capable of projecting overwhelming, or even whelming, force worldwide. Diplomacy relies on two forces for it?s efficacy, economic self-interest or greed, and fear of military consequences. The past hundred years contained two major challenges, the first half involved containing German militaristic expansion and the growth of fascism. This required two great wars and the combined efforts of all the major powers to defeat, but once done the balance of power was shifted completely. The US and Soviet Union emerged as superpowers and the second challenge, the Cold War, was begun. This pitted the free west against the totalitarian Soviets and the desire for Communist global domination.

NATO was the organization nominally arrayed against this threat, composed of the US and Rumsfeld?s Old Europe. The stakes rapidly went from expanding spheres of influence to potential destruction of the planet itself as the focus shifted to nuclear arms. Old Europe played along for a while, but having experienced two great wars and the attendant death and destruction up close, they lost the will to equip for or fight a war. Increasingly the US faced opposition from the very European countries that our troop presence and nuclear umbrella safeguarded. Defense spending among these countries decreased every year and their mindset became more focused internally.

President Reagan arrived in time to revive the US resolve and bet our military-industrial complex could beat the Soviets. He was right and the threat of totalitarian Communism was defeated, but the Euros were basically spectators and had no skin in the game. This detachment from responsibility for their own security was only possible because of US strength and will, and that was now taken for granted. The rise of the European Union (EU) further weakened the militaries and consequently diplomatic power of these countries. They focused on providing extensive social programs and began to look at all security dangers with an eye to co-existence or to try to buy them off with trade and assistance. This was driven as much by the lack of military options as by pacifist trending.

The threat for our time is nowhere near as clear cut, and much more amorphous than Fascism or Communism. However Islamic Jihadism is as diametrically opposed to liberal, western democracy as either of the others, and allowed to ferment could present a comparable challenge. Currently our battle against it?s spread is joined somewhat by Old and New Europe as well as others around the globe, but only the US is at war. Once again this is because we are the only ones able; no other country can do more militarily than augment our forces with specialty troops. This led most of the countries who could have joined our efforts to suggest methods for dealing with the threat more in line with their capabilities and non-confrontational mindsets.

The Rational Hawks looked at these suggestions and noticed they had been tried and failed. There must be a continuum from diplomacy and economic engagement that leads to military force if the others fail to achieve desired goals. The EU and the UN had eliminated their ability to project or even threaten effective military action and so were self-handcuffed and limited to larger economic bribes and appeasement. Tremendous pressure has been placed on the US to emphasize multi-lateral efforts and institutions but multi-lateral means many-sided and we found out that often puts these groups and countries on the side opposing us. We have the option of bowing to the neo-pacifist Euros and the feckless UN, but that would not be rational as they are incapable and unwilling to help make the world safer.

The run-up to war in Iraq was the perfect example of this, as both the UN and Old Europe were actively involved in assisting our enemy. They gave him political cover, they funded his illegal activities and they obstructed all efforts we made to back him down by convincing Sadaam they would prevail in the UN and we would not act without it?s seal of approval. Rational people looked at that situation and unsurprisingly concluded that if they were not interested in disarming those they had required to disarm, we would be. Not only did Sadaam need to be turned upside down and shaken to see what he had hidden, but a message needed to be sent to malefactors worldwide. ?Toe the line or you might be the latest travel addition to the Marine Corps hymn? The French Foreign Legion and it?s Roman predecessors used a concept ?Pour encourager les autres?, to encourage the others. This understands that you need not smack down all threats, just establish that you will smack down one, the rest then don?t know who is next.

We had plenty of beefs with Sadaam and he represented a good opportunity to introduce our policy of preemptive elimination of threats. We stated that we will no longer take the first punch; if you point a gun, or provide one to bad guys you are on notice. Play nice and the Euros and the UN will reward you with money and stature, screw around and you meet the iron fist in the velvet glove. There can be no chance of successful negotiation with those don?t believe their threatening interests are threatened. The model has now been cast and we will see how it plays out in the ongoing war against Jihadism and our interactions with rogue states.

Helpfully this shift in our rationale provides the best hope that diplomacy can actually succeed by restoring the essential element of the potential boot to the ass. Secretary Rice is reaping the reward of this as she is well known to have the ear of the Cowboy himself, and those negotiating with her know one phone call could let loose the Dogs of War. It is vital to note that force was never an end to itself, but a factor to motivate an evil-doer to act in self-preservation if nothing else. No one would be happier to act as a sheathed sword than the military and it was a rational assessment of the effectiveness of being a credible threat to bad guys that leads to support for our current actions and others as required.

A Rational Hawk is the person who sees a man abusing his wife or kids and rather than ?what a shaming? with those around, goes over to demand he stop, ?Or else?. That ?Or else? is what the rest of those most involved with international affairs have given up. The Taliban and Sadaam have now met ?Or else? and many other tyrants, petty and otherwise, have been encouraged. This lessens the possibility we will have to actually fight and that was the goal all along.


I'm not sure that a philosophy of might makes right is really the way into the future.

However, there are certainly times that force is required...


that's a killer post. and thanks for the link. why don't state of the union speeches and those weekly presidential radio addresses don't lay it out like that ?


Where was 'might makes right' even rferenced in the blog?

Is that just your interpretation of having enough military muscle to deal from a position of strength?

You seem to have filters that skew towards the extreme - even when the extreme is not an issue.

Do you think we should have a foreign relations policy like Canada?

Whose skirt can the U.S. crawl under when the going gets rough?


It's no surprise that I like the position of the Rational Hawk, but a lot of people won't. Why? Because it takes some huge fuckng balls to make a stand like that, and even bigger ones to act on it.
People with no balls don't like stuff like that. They can talk around it and skidbitch from issue to issue hoping that they can find something to be right about, but in the end it realy boils down to the lack of testicular fortitude required to do something more than talk.


Rainjack, if you can't see what I'm talking about, then I'm sorry, but there's no point in trying to discuss it with you.

Go pick a fight somewhere else.


If you can't understand that I asked a pertinent question - then then I am the one that is sorry.

I'm not trying to pick a fight. You drew conclusions about a quote that I just don't see.

You use the term "might makes right" - I asked why.

I'll ask again - WHY?

Asking you to clarify your position is not picking a fight. You know that.

So why the dodge?


Did I miss a war or something? When has Canada crawled under our skirts?


For some reason I'm not very trusting of this...

Anyhow, the quote I picked appeared to be a premise. The premise appeared to be that only financial or military might could hold sway.

I disagree with that. I think that is only accurate if you are dealing with an enemy -- and I think it is unwise to conduct diplomacy with everyone as if they are your enemy.

It is a sure way to find yourself with more enemies. However, as I said, there are times when you do have enemies and force is going to be required, either to entice negotiation or if negotiations aren't possible.

Drop the insults and I'll by happy to discuss it.


C'mon. Do you really think that Canada would have such a small military of they weren't neighbors to the most powerful nation on earth?

They have built their socialisitc welfare/healthcare programs knowing that they don't have to really spend that much on defense. They know full well that the U.S. will take care of them if trouble starts.

They will also continue to use phrases like "might makes right" as a slam against U.S. foreign policy - until they need us. They learned from their cousins very well.


First off - I insulted no one. But I'm not going to play your game and take this topic off on a tangent. If you don't trust me - then don't respond to my posts - but don't accuse me of starting something just to avoid the question, or take thinly veiled insult.

Having financial, or military superiority is not something to hide, or be ashamed of.

Regardless of how you may or may not feel about negotiating from a position of strength - someone will always be in the position of strength.

I would much rather have that country be the U.S. Does it win friends? I doubt it. But it is not a position I would be willing to give away just to be more popular with weaker, poorer countries.

That being said - strength is still a very far cry from "might makes right" - at least the way you seem to use the term in your first post.

I think the U.S. buys a crap load more foreign deals than they get militarily.

Might and wealth can and will be used by whichever countries at the table have the most. That is just the way it works.

That doesn't make the U.S. evil, or imperialistic. It just makes us unpopular with the have-nots.


Oh, so the digs against Canada weren't meant to be baiting?

As for the rest, you've either missed my point, made it for me or assumed I have viewpoints (that I don't) because they are easy to argue against.

Have fun.


Whoomp, there it is!


I explained my remarks in a previous post. Read it and see if you think I was trying to bait you.

Imagine that - I ask for clarification and you refuse to give it. I went off of what you wrote in the absence actually giving me the clarification that I asked for. But you feel the need to tell me I am putting words in your mouth. I even prefaced what I said by sating that this is the way I interpret your use of the phrase.

I'll ask it for the third time. After this - I'll assume you aren't really here to discuss - but only to launch barbs: What do you mean by the phrase "might makes right"?

Honestly - what is so hard about calsrifying a term that you introduced with no explanation?


I already explained this... in detail, above.


Well, evidently you did a shitty job of it, or I would not still be asking you to clarify what you meant. I directly addressed what you said and you accuse me of putting words in your mouth.

I am actually trying here - but you continue the same tired old game.

I think you are just being the same old look at "my ass and read my mind" vroom.

I wish I could say I was disappointed in your refusal to do what was asked. But sadly, you have proven yet again that you are not to be doubted, questioned or refuted. And doing so will result in name calling, excuse making, and outright refusals.



From your posts you are certainly taking my comment to be some anti-US statement, hence your Canada bashing and so on.

My comment concerns the writing in the initial post, and it's discussion of diplomacy and force.

I disagree with some of the underlying principles, specifically the premise that there are only two fundamental ways to influence via diplomatic means.

That premise, in my mind, implies or suggests a might makes right philosophy. I disagree with that conclusion and I've explained why above.

What more do you want? I have said nothing about the US or US policy, as you seem to have inferred.

So, what part of this explanation would you like me to clarify... I have answered your question. If you have a new one, let's hear it.


All this is saying is that you believe that there are in fact times in which force might be necessary.

However, I don't think most arguments on this subject have many adherents at the extremes, e.g. the "force is never the answer" group and the "kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out," group.

Instead, the arguments revolve around just how far things need to progress in order to bring "might" into the equation. Even Iraq was debated this way -- or, I should say, at least people tried to frame their positions in this manner.

BTW, I do think it's correct to note that countries with less "might" will be more disinclined to agree with its use. For one thing, it marginalizes them when they want to be seen as important in world affairs. This is especially true of bigger countries that could mount some "might" but don't enjoy looking like small contributors to a coalition. What's that old saw: When all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's the case with countries for which military force is not a viable option.

Also, I want to parse out your point about "treating everyone like enemies". Small coercive measures tend to work more effectively with allies than with enemies - and they don't turn countries into enemies without a lot more going on. Allies use coercion with each other all the time -- economic coercion that is. Diplomacy with allies is definitely more than coercion -- but it's surely not absent.

However, with enemies, even large coercive economic measures don't tend to work -- see sanctions in Iraq and Cuba, for example. This is especially true with dictators, who can push all the misery of sanctions onto their people. And it's even more especially true w/r/t unilateral sanctions (or even sanctions that aren't respected by one large market). So depending on the importance of the issue, military force needs to be considered as an option on the table -- and the likelihood of its use is proportionate to both the importance of the issue and the instranigence of the "enemy."


I guess my question is - why do you think that the mention of military strength is equatable to "might makes right"?

You seem to take the extreme position from the get go in this situation. Everything I have said addresses your assumption that those with an advantageous position will abuse that power to get what they want.

I am wondering why you are framing your opinion based on a position that is not being taken in this piece.

My counter to your point is that there will always be countries that have more military or economic power than others. They will use that edge to their advantage whenever possible. That doesn't mean that they will force their will on another country - but they will use what ever advantages they can for the benefit of their interests.

If my argument is misplaced - then please enlighten me on what I have missed.


Rainjack (and Boston),

I have already agreed that there are indeed times that force is required, and I'm not against the use of force when it is so required. I'm not sure why you seem to arguing against that viewpoint.

However, that being said, again, the premise of the article seems to be that military and economic incentives are the only means of diplomacy. I will repeat myself, this is only true for those with which you are already enemies.

Falling to the point of dealing with everyone as if they were already your enemy, when they aren't, in order to leverage your advantageous position with respect to those two diplomatic tools will cause problems.

I'm not providing a critique of US policy or otherwise complaining about anything the US has or has not done. I'm only talking about what appears to be a premise within the item posted.

For example, let's look at the case of the UK and Iraq. Neither economic nor military force was applied to the UK in order to gain partnership with respect to the Iraq war. In fact, application of such forces within a friendly or allied relationship would probably cause the relationship to become weaker.

Now, if you want to narrow the application of the article to only situations in which you are already enemies with the country in question, then it is much more appropriate. However, again, there may be ways of dealing with unfriendly countries, other than treating them as an enemy, that can improve the relationship.

Not so in all cases, obviously, but certainly not impossible in many cases.

To relate this back to everyday life, there are always people that are stronger than others. If these people abuse that power, then others will hate them. There are also strong people that don't abuse that power -- but will use it when required. The bully will create a lot more enemies and possibly not gain much advantage over the non-bully. Finally, there is often a creative solution to getting what you want, as opposed to force.

And no, I'm only talking about the school yard, I'm not trying to imply anything negative towards the US, relax on that.

This is an issue of policies, principles and perhaps even game theory and how they influence outcomes, not a critique of any particular action nor a suggestion that any particular outcome could have been improved.

I do realize the item presented went into detailed situations, I however, am not. I'm suggesting the piece appears to have some flaws it... nothing further.