Ascent of Praetorian Liberalism

"apparently we now have an ‘Emperor of the United States.’"

"that’s maybe a criticism that the President wears with a badge of honor"

In 1973, American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. published The Imperial Presidency, a survey of the executive branch’s history and its accrual of powers since the Republic’s founding. Coming in the aftermath of American interventions in Vietnam and Cambodia, Schlesinger argued the space granted to presidents in foreign policy and war-making had exceeded their rightful constitutional scope. The argument achieved greater urgency as then President Richard Nixon became implicated in the Watergate scandal. A former member of the Kennedy Administration, Schlesinger acknowledged the occasion of an emergency could justify sweeping presidential authority, but as a stalwart liberal, he also signaled a growing liberal apprehension at an emerging Republican lock on the executive branch. Nixon’s re-election in 1972 had just marked the fourth Republican presidential victory in six elections.

Schlesinger’s concern is now the Republican Party’s concern. The Democratic Party has similarly achieved four presidential wins in the past six elections, the Republican Party is neither united nor poised to win in 2016, and President Barack Obama has just exercised sweeping executive authority on the matter of immigration. Obama conspicuously lacks a crisis to justify his actions and the sudden pivot to the issue only two weeks after devastating losses in recent midterm elections reeks of crass political maneuvering. Nevertheless, the episode marks the latest, and perhaps the most pernicious, phase of modern progressivism – praetorian liberalism.

Before Empire

As noted previously, In Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, American scholar James Piereson documented how the once optimistic liberalism of John F. Kennedy mutated into the dour and pessimistic “punitive liberalism” of George McGovern, Edward Kennedy, and James Carter. Piereson demonstrated how the incomprehensibility of the JFK assassination left some liberals grasping for explanations. Some crafted intricate and complex conspiracies while others assigned blame to the entire nation.

However these despondent liberals coped, the cumulative result was a doctrine of "punitive liberalism" whereby America was identified as the source of all misfortunes in the world. Punitive liberalism held that a racist, misogynist, greedy, and imperial America had enslaved Africans, oppressed its women, abandoned the poor, and installed dictatorships around the world.

In terms of policy, punitive liberalism included affirmative action and quotas, the expansion of welfare entitlements, environmental regulations, abandonment of longtime Cold War allies, and campaigns for unilateral disarmament.

The doctrinal shift upended the Democratic Party and sunk its future for a generation.

Despite the interlude of the successful William Clinton presidency, the McGovern-Carter coalition re-emerged and captured the party in full in 2008 and returned to the White House under Barack Obama.

Under the Obama Administration, the strength of punitive liberalism was evident in the characterization of America as cowardly on race relations, the partial nationalization of health care, and the disarray in foreign policy in which longtime allies have been derided and the actions of anti-American rogues go unopposed.

This latest round of punitive liberalism prompted a major but limited backlash in 2010. However, after four years of desultory growth and an ever more intrusive nanny state, the “silent majority” of the Democratic Party is now in revolt, helping to eject punitive-inclined liberals at all levels of government two weeks ago.

Stripped of the legitimacy provided by Senator Harry Reid’s regency in the Senate and his legislative legerdemain, progressivism can now only survive by latching onto unilateral presidential authority.

Punitive liberalism chastened America with the whips of regulation; praetorian liberalism will now unleash the scorpions of executive orders.

Praetorian Pretense

Again, the impetus is not emergency, but craven politicking.

To be more direct, the motivation is complete antipathy for any and all obstacles to the progressive agenda.

The bankruptcy of progressivism has become evident as praetorian enablers like Lois Lerner and Jonathan Gruber have given lie to the pretense of an apolitical technocratic meritocracy.

Lerner’s persecution of conservative citizens’ groups at the Internal Revenue Service was only one dimension. As noted previously, Lerner’s machination marked the distinction between Obama and Nixon. Nixon used the IRS to harass the opposition elite; Obama used the IRS to hound opposition citizens. Gruber’s failing has simply been to speak a long-known truth -- progressivism’s disdain for the democratic process and the American voter. (Lerner and Gruber are two sides of the same maleficent coin – and who knows how many other Grubers exist?! The bloated bureaucracy is potentially rife with Gruberitis…)

Such antipathy cannot thrive without inspiration (and acquiescence) from above and Obama’s duplicity has not only become increasingly suspect, but downright incontrovertible.

In rapid succession, the second term has collapsed under the weight of Benghazi evasiveness, an unfounded dismissal of ISIS, misdirection on Veterans Affairs, the health care lie of the year, and now immigration.

Obama is not a “bystander president,” he is an active and ruthlessly one-minded political combatant.

Obama believes the 2014 election results are only a minor setback in the establishment of a new Democratic majority but readily recognizes unrestricted immigration is central to its achievement.

The Democratic Party’s demise among white voters is becoming more and more apparent, and, as in the wake of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, liberals will have to intensify its appeal to identity grievance. Thus the executive order on immigration and the pandering to the growing Hispanic vote.

Striking Back

In response to President Nixon, the Democratic Congress commendably used its constitutionally granted appropriation and oversight powers, but also lurched into constitutional grey areas, such as restrictions on commander-in-chief authorities.

The Republican Congress in waiting has been publicly debating how to respond and, while tailored actions on the budget and upcoming nominations may be elements, such courses may be inadequate.

American commentator Robert Tracinski has proposed an intriguing course of action. Tracinski advises Republicans to remember the central matter is not immigration, but executive overreach. Since previous clumsy Republican Congresses have undermined the validity of government shutdowns as an assertion of legislative constitutional prerogatives, Tracinski recommends the excluding the Democratic minority caucus from all aspects of congressional business.

“If Democrats squawk, Republicans have an unanswerable rejoinder. Why should they care about having power in Congress, if the laws passed by Congress are just going to be ignored by the president?”

The gambit returns the debate to more favorable terrain where either Democrats join with Republicans in ensuring the legislative branch’s equality or accept its disenfranchisement in the name of political solidarity. (A shaky reed to lean on, especially in the aftermath of Senator Mary Landrieu’s recent defeat on the Keystone XL pipeline. Three lame duck Democratic Senators, who could have voted yes, inexplicably did not.)

Absolute majority rule would be gratifying, but the Republican Party should additionally consider another principle at stake: federalism. The Tenth Amendment should be another anvil on which the Republican Party hammers President Obama and the liberal faith in gleichshaltung.

As noted previously, praetorian liberals have attempted to exonerate recent administration missteps and scandals by asserting “you know we have a large government... [and] [p]art of being president is there's so much underneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast.”
Another convenient excuse for progressives, but Republicans have a ready solution: reduce the scope of government. If the government is so vast, then Republicans should rediscover their affection for the Tenth Amendment and enthusiastically dismantle the federal Leviathan and devolve power back to the states.
States along the American-Mexican border are the first to grapple with the consequences of the immigration system’s failures and, in general, the elected Republican leadership there have been vilified for their efforts. States and localities countrywide have begun waking up to the burdens of bloated unionized public sectors, another consequence of punitive liberalism. Coming at a time the Republicans have eviscerated the Democratic Party at the state level is just another plus. For all the anxiety over the future of conservative state governments in Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Carolina, their sizable re-election margins should be reassuring.
The grandeur of the presidency is tempting but amid this latest appearance of the imperial presidency -- as well as the overt hostility of praetorian liberalism to the common voter -- Republicans should desist from deferring and aggrandizing the presidency. (If you can abide Obama, then you’ll adore Hillary Clinton.)
The Praetorian Guard once embodied the martial elite and existential defense of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, over time, the decline was gradual and slow and tragic as Lord Acton’s axiom always prevails.
Pride goeth before the fall and by defiantly embracing the emperor epithet, Obama may be finally ratifying modern liberalism’s imminent demise.

Neither Strategic Nor Patient

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It remains a difficult mission.  As I’ve indicated from the start, this is not something that is going to be solved overnight.

Would you rather get one bullet in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?

This month marks the thirteen year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 terrorist attacks. Only one month ago, President Barack Obama laid out his plan to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. In the words of Department of Defense spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, everybody will have to exercise “strategic patience” as the new air strike campaign against the Islamic State proceeds. Nevertheless, this month also marked the thirteen year “long war” against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Iraq (and around the world) and the American people can be excused for demanding more immediate results. Implicitly, Obama's decision to strike now is a decision to "act early" before the Islamic State becomes really entrenched. However, acting early is the exact opposite of strategic patience.

When President George W. Bush increased the force committed to Iraq in 2007, more than a number of observers noted the war in Iraq was exceeding the number of years it took for the Allied Powers to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. The comparison should have induced caution back then and it remains just as potent today as it illuminates what strategic patience would entail if genuinely practiced.

One argument in favor of striking the Islamic State now recognizes that the United States and allies possess an overwhelming military advantage against the Islamic State’s current configuration as a small irregular force. Moreover, strikes would be justified in light of the group’s barbarous acts.

The argument is an echo of lessons learned in the wake of World War II; if Great Britain, France, and the United States had only actively opposed, rather than appeased, Nazi Germany from the outset, then the calamity of the Second World War -- and the Holocaust -- would have been avoided.

Corresponding thought experiments include examining how Nazi Germany’s various gambles, such as the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936 or the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, would have been foiled if the Western powers had rallied militarily.

The argument is persuasive because, in retrospect, delay only resulted in a greater, bloodier conflict.  More pointedly, if presented with such evils, then those possessing the capacity to respond should act.

Revisiting the state of British, French, and American power between 1936 and 1938 underscores how important the above latter point is.

In 1936, Nazi Germany had generally recovered from the Great Depression and had begun its rearmament. In contrast, Great Britain, France, and the United States were still coping with diminished trade, low industrial production, and high unemployment. Moreover, Nazi (and Fascist and Soviet) dictatorship was deemed the future, while Western democracy was judged passé and decadent; the difference in morale was considerable.

The Western powers might have thwarted Nazi Germany in 1936 -- Adolf Hitler admitted as much later -- but, by 1938, even if inclined, the outcome would still have been uncertain, just as it was through 1943. Moreover, the Western powers would have been deemed the aggressors; the abstraction of treaty violations or adjusting the borders of a newly created state did not register as casus belli with the British or French public or the wider “international community”.

Even the invasion of Poland in September 1939 was followed by the eight months of the sitzkreig, during which the Western powers undertook no major operations against Nazi Germany. Only after Nazi Germany invaded Norway did the Western powers commit substantial ground forces.

After failing to defend Norway, and later France, the incumbent British government resigned whereupon the king invited Winston Churchill to take over. Churchill, in concert with American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, would eventually lead the Allied Powers in the ultimately successful war against Nazi Germany.

Acting earlier does not necessarily mean a war would have still ended in the Western powers’ favor or after six years as it did in reality.

The argument is controversial because the subsequent “Munich Syndrome” led to the aggressive containment strategy practiced by the United States vis-a-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The results were mixed however. In Western Europe, the armed vigil kept Soviet aggression at bay; in Southeast Asia, armed intervention sapped American blood, treasure, and credibility (and nearly tore the country apart at home).

If the merits of exercising patience cannot be gleaned from the experience leading up to World War II, in which the principal agents were other powers, then perhaps the example of the American Civil War might help.

In the case of the War Between The States, again the premise of acting earlier is that the "original sin" of slavery would have been extinguished sooner.

Unlike Nazi Germany, slave-holding states were not militaristically aggressive. (Acknowledged, they were keenly interested in expanding slavery into new territories to ensure its survival and were prepared to support slaveholders in contested states like Kansas.) Furthermore, the evidence of slavery’s barbarity was well known prior to the outbreak of the conflict.

Similarly, some counterfactuals examine what would have happened if the South had won, not necessarily whether the North acted earlier, implying that, tragically, emancipation would not have occurred and, equally consequential, the American Republic’s future would have been permanently undermined.

Unlike the Western powers in the World War II example, the North possessed the capacity to overturn slavery in the South by force. The North had an ample population and an industrial base; the South was demographically smaller and economically backward.

Unlike World War II, acting earlier would have (probably) still ended with a Northern victory as well the eradication of slavery. Whether victory would have been achieved in four years is an open question, but the outcome would have probably still favored the North.

Nevertheless, the Civil War did not occur earlier. In 1850, the northern and southern sections almost came to blows over the fate of the territories acquired from Mexico. Only an intricate legislative compromise secured the peace. When the Supreme Court invalidated the compromise in 1857, as part of the Dred Scott decision, northern agitation again swelled, but still war did not erupt.

War, of course, did not erupt until the April 1861 exchange at Fort Sumter in South Carolina one month after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated and four months after the first southern state seceded.

Tellingly, the conditions in April 1861 mirror those of May 1940.

That hostilities erupted in April 1861 and not December 1860, January 1861, or Inauguration Day 1861 (much less 1850 or 1857) was not the result of purposeful maneuvering on the part of Northern or Southern leadership but of the extant military circumstances that focused the incumbent leadership on the existential nature of the stakes.

Without a casus belli and a resolute leader at the helm of a unified country, Northern incursions in 1860 (or Western offensives in 1938) would have been simple aggression.

Neither ingredient is in place today however.

Broadcasted beheadings are tragic and proof of the Islamic State’s nihilism and affronts to humanity, but they should not be the pretext for waging war. The Islamic State would welcome a war with the United States and performed those executions specifically to provoke a military response. A renewed American war against Islam only serves the Islamic State leadership’s ends, especially if led by a president who promised to extract the country from the region.

If Obama commits ground forces, then one can readily expect the Islamic State’s propaganda arm to gleefully recruit jihadists by depicting the country as fundamentally militaristic and anti-Islamic, regardless of who the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president is.

Not that Obama has inspired confidence. Each year since his second inauguration has competed for annus horribilis. In the wake of Libya, Syria, the Ukraine, and now ISIS, the president’s credibility is simply non-existent.

Acting earlier will not, whether it is 1936 or 1850, ensure the desired outcome because the corresponding confluence of individuals and events have simply not occurred, and nor will the extant circumstances, no matter how similar.

The more immediate history of the war on terror is just as instructive. In August 1998, President William Clinton could have retaliated with ground forces against Al Qaeda for its attack on two American embassies in Africa, but as the Kosovo campaign later revealed, the administration had not reconfigured the armed forces for rapid deployment or longer than expected contingencies, or ensured substantial public support for the undertaking.

When America finally did retaliate, President Bush blessed the unusual Special Forces-led campaign and possessed the entire country's support.  Within three weeks, Al Qaeda would be dislodged and their host, the Taliban, would be ousted.

If the Islamic State is committed to conquering Iraq and Syria and taking it back to the seventh century, then America should simply bide its time until this latter day Taliban exposes itself again.

Furthermore, waging a war of ideas would be futile as well. Consider the above examples again. How successful were moral counter-arguments against the slaveholding South or Nazi Germany before the war that decisively defeated their ideologies?

All wars are tragic and lamentable, reinforcing why they should always be the last resort. Their scope, magnitude, and stakes can prompt judgments about their relative value. Revisiting the consequences of the Munich Syndrome illuminates the value of strategic patience. America experienced far less dead and wounded in the Vietnam War than World War II, but how many Americans, elected decision-makers and citizens alike, would prefer to relive the Vietnam experience?

Rushing back to Mesopotamia is not strategic patience; true strategic patience would conserve American power until a genuine casus belli has passed and the American people are united behind action.

10/11/2014 6:18PM BST

According to Telegraph reporting, Iraqi officials have issued a desperate plea for America to bring US ground troops back to the embattled country, as heavily armed Islamic State militants came within striking distance of Baghdad. Amid reports that Isil forces have advanced as far as Abu Ghraib, a town that is effectively a suburb of Baghdad, a senior governor claimed up to 10,000 fighters from the movement were now poised to assault the capital.

As one veteran of the conflict commented, “i can only imagine there will now be no shortage of experts and hawkish members of congress screaming for the President to do the most insane thing possible, and that is to send in troops "to stabilize" the situation.  and we'll again be heading back into the hornet's nest…”

Neither a Hyperpower Nor a Fortress

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Searching for precedents and parallels to describe the current conflict in the Middle East has led a number of observers to point to the Thirty Years War in Europe between 1618 and 1648. The war culminated a period of religious conflicts arising from the Protestant revolt against the Catholic Church and was a notoriously bloody affair, even for the period. The war closed out European sectarianism and it inaugurated the Westphalian era, so named for the concluding peace that established sovereign states as the principal actors in the current international system. Similarities to barbaric violence and sectarian fanaticism aside, the temporal significance of the Westphalia Peace illuminates how American foreign policy should proceed, not only in the Middle East, but globally as well.

Westphalian Cartography

Applying the analytic framework established by American scholars such as Samuel Huntington (“The Clash of Civilizations”), James Goldgeier and Michael McFaul (“A Tale of Two Worlds”), and Thomas P.M. Barnett (“The Pentagon’s New Map”), a crude geography of the world in Westphalian terms becomes possible.

The Peace of Westphalia marks a Before and After in (primarily Western) history. Before the Peace, Europe was a collection of kingdoms, principalities, duchies, city-states, a few republics, a Holy Roman Empire -- and one Catholic (“universal”) Church amid a major upheaval. After the Peace, Europe remained a collection of varied political entities but two major churches – the Catholic and the Protestant. The latter, which had been under assault in the war, was secured by vesting a given territory’s ruler with the sovereign authority to determine the religion of his domain.

The acquisition of this right provided the basis for ambitious European rulers to begin exercising uncontested authority over its realm’s matters vis-√†-vis other states. Over time, rulers accumulated advisors, ministries, and bureaucracies. Eventually, states became the aspiration of stateless nations.

While states were a vast improvement over the archaic feudal political system and constipated economies of the pre-Westphalian era, their cultivation of nationalism and recourse to war were the regrettable twin by-products of the Westphalianism.

Nevertheless, by the end of the twentieth century, the entire globe would be nominally demarcated by states per the Westphalian template: a contiguous territory under the domain of a single political authority entrusted with the monopoly on the use of force.

Nominally demarcated because the extent to which many of the approximately 194 countries in existence actually constitute fully functional states is debatable.

In general, the vast majority of countries do exist in the extant Westphalian world of unitary states administered by complex bureaucracies, protected by national militaries, and capable of regulating the population’s myriad economic and social interactions, both internal and external.

A number of countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, however, represent the pre-Westphalian past, where the states are barely sovereign and the region is marked by fluid inter- and intra-state loyalties.

In particular, the Middle East’s various regimes have coexisted with first, pan-Arabism, and now, pan-Islamism. These regimes have porous borders and bloated ramshackle bureaucracies typically staffed by tribal, ethnic, and religious allies of the prevailing elite. More pointedly, the regime does not always possess a monopoly over the use of force and its governance is rarely conducive to its economic and social well-being of the broader population.

Surviving in Pre-Westphalia

If the Middle East represents the pre-Westphalian past, then the most advisable course of action would be to emulate the approach taken by the victors in the Thirty Years’ War.

The concluding peace may have secured the future of the nascent Protestant churches and the ascendance of their sovereign champions across northern Europe, but the ultimate victor was France, a bastion of Catholicism. Under the guidance and policies of Cardinal Richelieu, it was Catholic France that emerged from the war as Europe’s dominant power.

The Thirty Years’ War may have erupted on the basis of religious differences, but the conflict was dominated by dynastic rivalries. The Bourbon dynasty reigned in France and had been contending with the dominant Hapsburg dynasty. The latter house presided over Austria, Hungary, territories in central Germany, the Low Countries, and the Iberian Peninsula, of which the latter two bordered France.

Under Richelieu, Bourbon France seized the opportunity provided by the Catholic - Protestant conflict to undermine the position of the Hapsburg dynasty. Even though France was a large Catholic power, Richelieu provided critically needed financial resources to Denmark and Sweden, the war’s two main Protestant belligerents. Furthermore, France did not commit its forces until 1635, only after Sweden suffered a major defeat threatening to eliminate it from the war.

When French armies took the field in northern Germany and Spain, they did so on the Protestant side. Nevertheless, Richelieu still employed indirect means against France’s enemies, in this case, supporting the Catalan and Portuguese in their rebellions against the Catholic Spanish crown.

In 1648, a combined Franco-Swedish force would achieve a major victory over Hapsburg forces and finally end the war. France would remain at war against Spain until triumphing in 1659. Richelieu died before the end of the war in 1642, but his approach ensured France’s emergence after the war as Europe’s dominant power.

If the United States is to prevail in this Middle Eastern echo of the Thirty Years War, then the proper course is to conserve power, send money and materiel before men, employ surrogates and proxies wherever and whenever possible, and exercise force only when necessary.

Thriving in Post-Westphalia

If the pre-Westphalian past can inform policy in the Middle East, then what is advisable in the post-Westphalian future?

A small number of countries, specifically those on the European continent, have embarked on a post-Westphalian future, whereby states have begun ceding elements of their sovereignty to a supranational bureaucracy with jurisdiction over many (many) aspects of the citizens’ lives.

European states have not yet ceded their monopoly over the use of force, but that aspect of sovereignty may become inconsequential because the entire project is predicated on closing out the nationalist conflicts that once characterized the continent’s relationships. In yielding sovereignty upwards, European states aim to eradicate the threat of nationalism and interstate conflict forever.

Banishing war is an admirable goal, but, the recent experience of the European Union should induce caution.

In December 2009, Greece collapsed under the weight of a massive debt crisis and exposed a major weakness of this post-Westphalian project.

Concomitant with integration is the commitment to a generous welfare state. Greece, like many European countries, had established a generous entitlement system overseen by an extensive public sector. Unfortunately, the fiscal resources required to maintain such extensive benefits exceeded the revenues generated by an economy sapped of its productive potential.

Even worse, the Greek government concealed the matter.

Within a short period of time, participants in the international capital markets soon suspected similar problems in other European countries. For profligate states, the scrutiny of international capital can be unforgiving, and by 2011, the worst fears were realized as the European Union had to provide not only Greece, but also Ireland, Portugal, and Spain with hundreds of billions of euros in bailouts.

European Union leadership did not extend these bailouts unconditionally as recipient countries had to agree to austerity packages to bring their fiscal houses in order, namely higher taxes, reduced benefits, and bureaucratic downsizing.

Recipient countries complied, but only at the cost of major unrest and the ironic occurrence of anti-government protests by furloughed government employees.
In the end, the overall sustainability of the European entitlement state and the continental integration project has been brought into question.

For its part, the United States had declined to emulate the European approach to entitlements, worried “socialized medicine” or the equivalent would undermine its world-leading economy.

Until recently.

In the wake of the devastating financial collapse of 2008, a newly elected liberal administration succeeded in enacting a universal health care system. Despite the assurances of the president and allies, the system’s implementation has been problematic and the projected life cycle costs -- coupled with existing enormous fiscal commitments in the form of Social Security and Medicaid as well as a massive defense establishment -- may prove as unsustainable as those in Europe.

Instead of ceding sovereignty upwards, the state in both cases should be ceding it downwards.

As noted previously, states became the aspiration of stateless nations because they constituted a vast improvement over feudalism as well providing the presiding political authority with complex bureaucracies for overseeing the country’s affairs. A state could alternatively be a monarchy, an aristocracy, a dictatorship, a democracy; its economy could be closed, open, or mixed. Whatever the presiding authority chose, the international system would accommodate.

In the present day, however, the international political economy, buffeted by increasingly powerful and internetted information technologies, has narrowed the sovereign scope of a state, and thus, the latitude of the presiding authority.

According to American scholar Philip G. Cerny, the international system is now evolving beyond Westphalianism to an international political economy increasingly characterized by a plural and composite structure, or “plurilateralism,” where the state now shares space with transnational and non-national non-state actors equally (if not more) capable of providing public goods, once the sole domain of states, more efficiently.

Amid plurilateralism, states will remain, but only if they conform.

To flourish, “competition states” will have to retreat from the economy and focus on enhancing their population’s global competitiveness – namely by unwinding dysfunctional entitlement systems and by improving the country’s human capital and infrastructure.

Conversely, states insistent on continued intervention in the economy will only undermine their population’s competitiveness.

Or rekindle tribal passions over the identity.

The European debt crisis stoked nationalist sentiments as industrious Germans voiced their resentment at having to expend hard earned euros to bailout their lackadaisical Greek brethren. In May 2014, anti-integration and far right political parties surged in European Parliament elections.

Or worse, arouse enthusiasm for illiberal alternatives.

Around the world, “competing capitalisms” have emerged in which variations on state authority are paired with differing flavors of capitalism. As depicted by American scholar David Rothkopf, national leaders can now choose among democratic development capitalism (e.g. India, Brazil), entitlement capitalism (e.g. Sweden), authoritarian capitalism (e.g. China), or even “countries behaving like companies” (Singapore, United Arab Emirates). The latter two variants are increasingly seen as respectable alternatives to democratic capitalism. Unfettered American capitalism, once the envy of the world, seems moribund.

If the United States is to prevail in a post-Westphalian plurilateral world, then the proper course is to dismantle the entitlement state and simply get out of its citizens’ way.

The Westphalian Moment

Ultimately, the latest round in sectarian conflict in the Middle East and the continued malaise in Europe underscores the imperative for American leadership to disregard the false choice between being a hyperpower or a fortress.

Contemporary international challenges do not call for aspirational imperialism or all-encompassing collectivism – they demand restraint in all realms.

Restraint on the international stage – in the name of conserving power for genuine crises.

Restraint on the domestic front – in the name of unleashing its citizens’ potential.

Restraint in the name of ceding sovereignty to the individual – the true purpose of the American Republic.

Going forward, America should strive to be a Platform.

A Platform from which American power is launched only in extremis, from which Americans can compete and prosper.

Moment of Truth For Iron Dome

On July 17, the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza turned violent for the third time in six years, but the second time since the Iron Dome air defense system became operational. Israel initiated and developed Iron Dome as a countermeasure to the short range munition arsenal of Hezbollah and Hamas and the United States has provided substantial financial support to the program. Indeed, in this latest round of fighting, the Congress demonstrated America’s support to Israel by appropriating $225 million to restock the system. The President joined Congress and articulated the country’s support for its ally and highlighted the Iron Dome system: “not only have we been supportive of Israel in its right to defend itself, but in very concrete terms -- for example, in support for the Iron Dome program that has intercepted rockets that are firing down on Israeli cities -- we've been trying to cooperate as much as we can to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.” Experts continue to debate the efficacy of the Iron Dome system and a comprehensive and objective review should occur.  Given the extensive financial support provided by the United States (and the corresponding obligation to protect its own citizens and service members), the time is right to examine  how the United States will realize a return on its investment and will benefit from the purported success of the Iron Dome system.

Operational Performance Since 2012

In prefacing the discussing of operational interception, defining the scope of Iron Dome capabilities is important. As designed, Iron Dome is purportedly capable of rapidly determining the trajectory of incoming missile, rockets, and mortars, and will only engage those that are assessed to be heading towards population centres under its protection, not ones heading towards unpopulated areas.

In November 2012, Israel undertook Operation Pillar of Defense against Hamas in Gaza. The eight day operation occurred between November 14 and 21 during which Hamas launched more than 1,400 rockets and mortars into Israel. According to the Israeli Defense Forces, the Iron Dome system intercepted 421 of the approximately 500 enemy projectiles that were launched against population centers, an interception rate of 84.2 percent.

In the more recent round of fighting, Israel formally launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. According to a Wikipedia compilation based on government and media reporting, Hamas has launched over 2,800 missiles against Israel. On July 20, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported that the Israeli Defense Forces claimed Iron Dome had achieved a success rate over 80 percent: “Approximately 985 rockets hit Israeli territory and 225 rockets [headed for population centers] were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system with an overall success rate of 86%."

American Financial Backing To Date
Between FY2011 and 2014, the United States has appropriated a total of $704.31 for the Iron Dome System, constituting approximately 28.4 percent of all U.S. funding provided to Israel in support of various air defense and ballistic missile defense systems (see below chart).  In combination with the aforementioned August 2014 supplemental funding, U.S. funding for the Iron Dome system has totaled $929.31 million.

[Iron Dome system funding in purple]
FY2013 (After Sequestration)
Based on 04/11/2014 CRS Report 33222 “US Foreign Aid to Israel” 
via Federation of American Scientists

In the wake of Operation Pillar of Defense, American officials and defense observers called for technology transfers and co-production. To that end, the U.S. House included a section in the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act specifically noting the United States’s lack of rights to the corresponding technology and conditioned future funding on the Department of Defense ensuring “that the United States has appropriate rights to this technology for United States defense purposes.”

Since then, Israel and American defense contractors concluded agreements to begin such collaboration.

Between January and July 2014, Israel's state-owned Rafael and America's Raytheon secured approval from their respective country's agencies to co-produce the Tamir, the maneuvering missile developed by Rafael for the Iron Dome intercepting batteries. Under the agreement, Raytheon would lead a team of U.S. subcontractors for co-production of Tamir-related components and subsystems, with final assembly and integration in Israel by Rafael; funds to be spent in the US on co-produced subassemblies are estimated at $170 million. (Rafael selected Raytheon because of existing relationship working on another Israeli anti-missile system, David’s Sling, also the beneficiary of approximately $703 million in U.S. funding.) Once implemented, the partnership will broach sales opportunities to the U.S. Army.

Caveat Emptor

However, before the United States can capitalize on the purported success of Iron Dome, the debate over the actual efficacy of the system must be resolved.

As noted above, Israeli Defense Forces have reported success rates in excess of 80 percent through two operations. Israel stands by the claims, but declines to provide any corroborating evidence because doing so might provide Hamas or other adversaries with clues as to how to circumvent the system.

The concept of anti-missile defenses has had detractors since inception. In the case of Iron Dome, the principal critic has been American scientist Theodore Postol.

In the first instance of Iron Dome’s use in 2012, Postol acknowledged that the system’s performance marked an “astonishing achievement,” albeit within the system’s narrow parameters -- tracking projectiles aimed at population centers and traveling at low speeds. Moreover, Postol cautioned against extrapolating Iron Dome’s alleged success to systems designed to counter intercontinental ballistic missiles. More pointedly, Postol noted he did not have access to primary data.

In the latest use, Postol has been far more critical because he has been able to analyze the numerous unclassified photos and videos shot by Israeli civilians.

In a much circulated analysis posted to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on July 19, Postol explained an effective anti-missile defense must be able to deliver an interceptor in front of incoming projectile and detonate at the precise moment at which the destruction of the projectile’s warhead can be achieved. Otherwise, the interceptor will chase a projector or come in from the side and then mistime the detonation -- as in the case of Iron Dome’s interceptors.
According to the publicly available photographic evidence, Postol asserted Iron Dome interceptors have not destroyed an incoming projectile’s warhead at the rate asserted by Israel. In Postol’s estimation, the actual interception rate was less than 10 percent.

The corresponding low casualty rate, according to Postol, was probably more attributable to an effective Israeli civil defense system and the small size of the Hamas rockets, and not Iron Dome interceptors.

In lieu of available evidence, Postol recommended monitoring one lagging indicator -- insurance claims related to damage incurred during the fighting; if Iron Dome interceptors were successful at the rate alleged, then post-conflict insurance claims would reflect the minimal damage attained.

Postol concluded by stating forthrightly, “The Israeli government is not telling the truth about Iron Dome to its own population, or to the United States”, the ally that has provided the Israeli government with the substantial funding needed to design and build the system.

Trust But Verify
Postol first came to prominence in demonstrating the unsatisfactory performance of the U.S. Army’s Patriot anti-missile defense system during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. The United States had touted the Patriot system -- along with precision munitions -- as integral to the overwhelming victory achieved as well as evidence of the country’s military technological superiority. In the wake of Postol’s critique, the Department of Defense revised the system’s success rate downward.

The impetus to accept initial claims of success are understandable, especially in light of the substantial financial resources expended and the military personnel put at risk.

In just the past decade, the United States military was confounded by Iraqi insurgents’ reliance on cheaply improvised explosive devices; in the aftermath of thousands of fatalities, the United States had to expend billions of dollars on any and all potential countermeasures. The most successful solution, the introduction of the specially configured Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, entailed approximately $45 billion to acquire 27,000 vehicles, but, according to the Department of Defense, saved over 40,000 lives.

Until another dissent led the department to again revise its estimates downward, by 95 percent, to 2,000 lives.

To be direct, the U.S. Army acquisition system has shown itself to be completely incapable of delivering desired capabilities. As previously noted, a 2011 internal Army review (later made public) found that between 1990 and 2010, the service had terminated 22 major programs with no deployed systems to show for them. According to the analysis, the cost of these abortive programs averaged between $3.3 billion and $3.8 billion per year since 2004.

In 1997, the then General Accounting Office identified shortcomings in the performance of precision munitions during the Persian Gulf War. The report did not mark the end to the pursuit of this critical capability, only the refinement of it.

Israel versus Hamas is only a harbinger of what is to come. The proliferation of missile technology and capabilities ensures future adversaries will deploy them against American forces, or worse, civilians. Relying on unproven military technologies would be unacceptable.

As noted above, the United States has provided Israel with just under $1 billion to develop and design the Iron Dome system over the past eight years. Mercifully, no American personnel or citizens have had to be at risk of hostile rocket launches during that time.

Next Steps

American interests would be served by one, verifying the performance of the Iron Dome system, and two, if verified, then proceeding with acquisition.

Given the extent of American funding provided to Israel, the Administration should engage with Israel and secure the basis by which a bilateral comprehensive and objective review of the Iron Dome system can be completed. Similarly, the Congress should be prepared to exercise oversight in the form of hearings, commissions, or mandated reviews and reporting.

The United States has directed hundreds of billions to the development of anti-missile defense systems as well as trillions in pursuit of other critical capabilities, if only to ensure the safety and security of its armed forces and its citizenry.  The purported success of Iron Dome and the potential adaptation of its technology can benefit the American military, if demonstrated to be true.