Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 04, 2017

Michael Brenner - The Linear Mindset In U.S. Foreign Policy

by Michael Brenner

In the reproof of Chance
Lies the true proof of men

William Shakespeare (or David Petraeus)

O to be self-balanced for contingencies,
To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as the trees and animals do
Walt Whitman (or Barack Obama)

CONTINGENCY is part of the natural order of life. Things happen that we have no control over – or, at least, cannot determine. Things happen that are unexpected – that catch us unawares. It’s one reason why "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." If your projects are something less than well planned, then you are in even bigger trouble. And if you were flying by the seat of your pants in the first place, then the risks and costs mount. That is what has been occurring to American foreign policy in the Middle East. The phenomenon pre-dates the arrival of the inchoate Trump administration. Barack Obama’s amateurish foreign policy team had its own feckless tendencies. Its Bush predecessor at least knew what they wanted to do but lacked a feasible scheme to reach its dubious goals.

There are features of how the United States makes and executes foreign policy that help to explain why Washington is repeatedly thrown into confusion by unforeseen developments. Most significant is a certain linearity of thinking and action. It takes literally the proposition that since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the most efficient approach to getting from where we are now to where we want to go is to set our bearings accordingly. What lies between points A and B will yield to American know-how, ingenuity and force of will. That’s how we fought World War II in Europe. It was close to being a lock-step operation – especially after the Battle of the Bulge when Eisenhower ordered that the allied armies should proceed along an even front lest the Germans exploit geographical discontinuities. We tried to follow a linear battle plan in Vietnam (or as close to one as circumstances permitted) and paid the price for it. Even in Gulf War I, Schwarzkopf’s initial plan called for a “bull rush” to Kuwait City.

Our interventions in the Greater Middle East over the past 15 years exhibit similar patterns.

In AFGHANISTAN, we set ourselves the audacious objective of cleansing the country of all Taliban presence or influence. In 2002 that is close to what happened – but not due mainly to what we did. The Taliban simply melted away as members returned to their towns and villages taking with them only such weapons as were considered ordinary household accoutrements. Only a few leaders took refuge across the border harboring vague hopes of doing something or other down the road – as all forlorn exiles always do.

Neither Central Command nor the civilian holy warriors fully appreciated the gift they were being given. It wasn’t recognized, in part, because it did not fit their conventional notion of how you defeat an enemy and the state he is in once defeated. Linear thinking could not grasp the nature of the Taliban or the nature of Afghan society. And they really did not want to. That required too much imagination and intellectual adjustment. Moreover, we wanted vengeance for 9/11 – that was the driving force then and in everything that we’ve done subsequently. So we set about resurrecting the Taliban: by draconian assault on whomever we vaguely suspected of having been the bad guys (most often based on faulty, planted Intelligence we had no means to winnow); a lot of breaking into compounds; the backing of warlords – big and small, old and new – who wormed their way into the good graces of the Americans nominally in charge; by making deals with heroin bosses like Haji Bashar in Kandahar who financed both Afghan sides in the war; and by recasting the mission as one of transforming Afghanistan into the “good society” which never again would spawn violent jihadis who hated America. This last fell within the mental grasp of policy-makers and public alike since it jived with American idealism and our successes 60 years earlier in Japan and Germany.

In an odd sense, Washington needed a revived Taliban and the Taliban leaders needed the Americans.

In short, none of the significant developments in Afghanistan since 2002 were expected. Therefore, we had no contingency plans. We still don’t. America is following that straight line drawn backwards from where we wanted to go to where we were. Linearity.

The brutal truth is that American leaders – civilian and military – have shown less behavioral adaptation in Afghanistan than one likely would see in a chimpanzee confronting analogous frustrating circumstances. The chimp would either try a divergent course or say the hell with it and go off to eat a banana, i.e. devalue the stakes.


IRAQ reveals the same pattern. It demonstrates with rare vividness the intrinsic flaw in linear strategy. The design was skewed from the outset by the designation of an array of interlocking objectives whose culmination would be a radical remaking of the Middle East’s entire political space. Each of the intermediate objectives were viewed as milestones on the road to Shangri-La. That vision posited a reconstituted Iraq whose thriving liberal democracy and vibrant economy would be a magnet for neighboring Arab/Islamic societies. The popular yearning to emulate the Iraqis’ bliss would lead to a spread of liberal institutions throughout the region. Discontents would fade away, the appeal of fundamentalist Islam would dry up, its militarism would dissipate, and a Kantian peace would prevail domestically and in inter-state relations. The cherry on the cake was to be resolution of the Palestinian question as Israel would be surrounded by benign neighbors and its own more beneficent sentiments would encourage the Palestinians to reciprocate. Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.

There were a number of steps along the way and a few obstacles to overcome. The plan for dealing with each of them was straightforward.

Militarily, Saddam’s forces were to be crushed and the dictator toppled. Secretary Rumsfeld and a compliant Joint Chiefs came up with a simple strategy to do the job expeditiously. It featured a relatively small force exploiting to the utmost the formidable American arsenal of high-tech weapons. Speed and mobility would be the key. Straight on to Baghdad. An occupation force? Not a problem. The Iraqi people would be overjoyed by our liberating them from a tyrannical yoke and would toss bouquets at any American they saw. Paris 1944.

Renovating the country’s political institutions along democratic lines? All that would be needed was a corps of experts from the United States who would provide tutoring and guidance to a grateful people. Organizations and structures would sprout in a process similar to spontaneous generation. Besides, there were those splendid expatriates like Ahmed Chalabi (the Pentagon’s favorite) and Ayad Alawi (the CIA’s favorite) who were ready to slip into leadership slots and exercise enlightened authority.

To jump-start the economy only three things were needed: privatization of all state assets; a stock market; and liquidity provided by billions of dollars in cash. Lashed to pallets, that were flown in on C-5As and placed in the grasping hands of provisional officials and aspiring entrepreneurs. Naïve? Not at all – this was the same method followed in Russia where shock therapy was self-evidently a signal “success” in the Washington mindset– even as it produced a de facto kleptocracy of the sort now putting down roots in the U.S.A.

The Iraq fiasco highlights two odd features of linear strategy. First, policy failures caused by contingent developments are not recognized as such – neither the negative outcome, nor the disruption of the original plan by unforeseen developments. Hence, nothing is learned. Linear method and such substantive actions as taken in accordance with it survive to fail the next time. The mentality remains intact.


Consequently, Afghan doesn’t inform strategy in Iraq and the two together do little to attune American policy-makers and analysts to the grave drawbacks of proceeding along linear lines elsewhere.


SYRIA obviously offers multiple examples of how linearity extracts a high price in unpreparedness for the contingencies that always arise. The most noteworthy is the Russian intervention. It altered everything. The military balance was reversed as the 2014-2015 jihadist offensive was first stymied and then the R+6 alliance gained the decisive upper-hand. The CIA organized campaign to use al-Nusra & Assoc/al-Qaeda as instruments for unseating Assad was broken. As a consequence, the masquerade of depicting the civil war as one between the tyrant Assad and well-disposed ‘moderate’ rebels was exposed for the deceit that it has been from the outset; the subordination of the American interest in combating terrorist groups to other objectives and other interests became clear to whomever had the nerve to look (those other interests being Israel’s aim to cripple any Arab state in the region, and the Saudi/Turkish/Qatari Sunni bloc’s aim to isolate Iran while weakening all Shi’ite political formations); the reentry of Russia as a major diplomatic player in the Middle East; and the embarrassment of being completely outmaneuvered by Putin every step of the way.

Strikingly, the Russian intervention itself came as a total surprise. This game-changing contingency not only was unanticipated, it never was even contemplated. At one level, this was a stunning failure of Intelligence *. A failure that makes a mockery of the fabled capabilities of an Intelligence Community that has spent close to a trillion dollars over the course of the “war on terror.” In another sense, the lack of any contingency planning conforms to the linear mindset. For that mindset operates with restricted vision – and still more restricted imagination. If strategy is predicated on a plan to follow a straight line to reach a predetermined goal, then the identification of possible obstacles concentrates on those lying along the plotted path. For recognizing the possibility of others out of view implicitly call into question the linear approach itself – to which they are addicted.

Washington never really had a plan in Syria. Linearity was there – but it was disjointed and tactical as opposed to strategic. Deliberations under Obama were exclusively on micro questions of how to get from (a) to (b) tomorrow rather than how the pieces might fit together in an intelligent design to achieve a feasible outcome. Even a simple-minded design was lacking. Moreover, each component of the country’s security apparatus had its own priorities and purposes. The CIA was intent on proving how cleverly it could link access to Libyan weapons stores, arms acquisitions on the world’s bazar and clandestine shipments to the rebels via Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon was stressed about getting involved in another expensive, pointless war (that is, under General Martin Dempsey) or, at other times, preoccupied with showing off the omni-competence of Special Forces and laying the foundation for securing permanent bases in Iraq and perhaps Syria. As for the State Department, Hillary Clinton and then John Kerry were fixed on eliminating the Assad regime as an end in itself. They gave little thought that what follows. Once Russia entered the fray, Kerry’s single-minded focus was on producing some achievement, however modest, worthy of his diplomatic skills. It was a futile enterprise given the dedication of the Pentagon and CIA to undercutting his efforts and President Obama’s aloofness.

To what strategic goals were these piecemeal actions directed? What American national interests did they serve? How did they relate to a plethora of other combustible issues in the Middle East? There were no answers – because the question had never been posed – by President Obama or anyone else. Therefore, in perspective, Syria differs from Afghanistan and Iraq insofar as there was no desired end-state from which to reason backwards. So what we have had is the coexistence of tactical linearity with near total strategic incoherence.


Linearity has side-effects that border on the pathological:

Unforeseen impediments are treated not only as troublesome surprises, but as somehow illegitimate and offensive. Illegitimate as in labeling the Iraq insurrectionists “Anti-Iraqi Forces.” Or Yemen’s Houthis as Iranian pawns (Iran representing unalloyed evil). This from an invading power whose capital city is 6,000 miles distant. Yet, in this mentality, the AIF have no RIGHT to oppose us. Their shooting at Americans amounts to “terrorism;” hence, they shall be treated as terrorists, i.e. irregular combatant. The insult they have given us justifies the most extreme, even indiscriminate measures.

Another reaction is “scape-goating.” Somebody had to have done something wrong for factor ‘X’ to have come out of the blue to gum up OUR plan. Blaming President Obama for the rise of ISIS is a perfect example; blaming him for Iran’s influence in Baghdad accompanies it (even leaving aside the partisan element). Here is an example from last Sunday’s New York Times. Tim Arango writes from Baghdad:

[A]fter the United States’ abrupt withdrawal of troops in 2011, American constancy is still in question here — a broad failure of American foreign policy [ensued].

The implicit assumption is that it was mistaken judgment in Washington that led to the withdrawal – and then that the withdrawal permitted the rise of ISIS and the extension of Iranian political influence among Iraqi elites. In fact, the Iraqi government of al-Maliki threw us out – much to the surprise of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker who had a bead on their objective while totally inattentive to the political surroundings. We did not have the option of staying. That was in December 2008 – three years before our “abrupt” withdrawal – and under President Bush. The entire tale as related by Arango is falsified history compounded of Trumpisms. In other words, nonsense.

Of particular interest is that developments which are entirely natural and logical given the circumstances are pronounced are unnatural and surprising because they disturb the linearity of American thinking. Anyone at all familiar with the situation in Iraq in 2008 realized that Iran would exercise the dominant external presence in the country. That reality, though, did not conform with the American road map composed of straight lines.

The United States’ intervention in Iraq created conditions that made its residual interests hostage to contingency. Would the al-Maliki government continue to sustain the tribal forces that had defeated al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia? Would it take steps to reconcile the Sunnis to Shi’ite rule? Could Maliki keep the Iraqi National Army from becoming just another corruption recycling mill? Who would emerge to exploit the anti-Assad revolt in neighboring Syria? What influence would be exerted by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar? None of this was in Washington’s control. That is the type of situation linear thinking is totally unprepared to cope with - nor is it able to respond to what it spawns when new factors pop up to bedevil us.

Now, Washington declares that it will remedy past errors by keeping a substantial military force in Iraq while establishing a network in of bases in Syria as well as Iraq. No mention is made of the elementary truth that these are sovereign countries that may not wish to have a permanent American military presence. (The internationally recognized Syrian government, which clearly will not be toppled, has said vehemently that the current American presence is illegitimate). In other words, the linear mindset blocks out all non-conforming realities in the present and those contingent elements which might arise in the future. Nor does it pay the slightest attention to how achievement of that objective, or some approximation to it, could provoke reactions that carry new dangers and new threats down the road.

In the same manner, the Iranian training of Shi’ite militia in Iraq who played a critical role in clearing ISIS from Tigris Valley towns is deemed illegitimate. This occurred at the behest of the Baghdad government; still, it is considered pernicious and worrying evidence of disruptive Iranian interference in Iraq affairs. Why? Because it thwarts American plans to make the country an American dependency and curbing Iran’s regional influence. When powerful Shi’ite politicians, supported by these militias, generate serious pressure on the Abadi government to resist American demands, that will come as a surprise, and their likely success a shock.

Yet another tack taken by linear thinkers to avoid confronting the full implications of their limitations is the insistence on “another try.” Fail in Afghanistan? Go back time after time in the hope that persistence will pay off. That persistence has little to do with cool-header determination of the objective’s importance. Nor is it justified on the grounds that the fly in the ointment (monkey wrench in the gears) that doomed previous efforts has been identified and removed. Rather, it is an expression of a primitive belief in the ultimate triumph of the will. That is an attitude that fits well the deeply rooted American “can-do” spirit. And that failure is not an acceptable word in the American lexicon.

We have seen this repeatedly in the Greater Middle East over the past 15 years. Afghanistan is but one example. The pursuit of permanent bases in Iraq (again, for no obvious strategic purpose) is another. We can add the mind-numbing attempt at squaring the circle in Syria where we conjure phantom forces where the only alternatives are Assad or the Salafists. The same might be said about the endless gestures of appeasement toward the Saudi royal family. There, Washington has fixed in its uncritical mind that the Saudis are doing things that encourage and sustain terrorist organizations out of anxiety about America’s commitment to their security – although the postulated source of that threat shifts at their convenience – from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, to the movements unleashed by the Arab Spring, to the Iranians.

The same could be said for American dealings with Israel – in spades.

Segmentation is a valuable assist to the maintenance of linear policies - however self-defeating the consequences. For it narrows the range of concerns that might be affected by the repercussions from the rote strategy one is following - preventing their due consideration. Trump's visit to Riyadh to give fervent blessings to the Sunni powers' declaration of war on Shi'ism and Iran is the perfect illusion. Focusing solely on demonized Iran, Washington 'strategists' set a blinkered course for the U.S. and its allies. Trump was entrapped in a plot by the trio of conspirators' skillful exploitation of his frat boy cravings - for pomp, for secret societies, for amplifying demagoguery. So, like the 3 Magi, General Sisi, the Saudi King Salman and President Trump hovered over the magical orb vowing devotion to the holy cause. None recalled that the Magi were Persians - very likely the soft power advance guard of Parthia.

Isolating of the Riyadh ceremony from other matters of import in the Middle East, the American's overlooked the reaction in Shi'ite ruling circles - the government of Iraq, above all. In Baghdad, an exposed Haider Abadi already in the sights of Shi'ite political rivals felt betrayed. His immediate reaction was to give the green light to the Tehran sponsored Hashed militias to dash to the Syrian border where they linked up with SAA units to block the American move northwards. At stake has been the territorial links from Iran via Iraq to Syria to Lebanon to Hezbullah. So single-minded dedication to placating the Saudis by joining their Sunni anti-Shi'ite crusade wound up strengthening the other side. America's declared interests in Syria (albeit dubious ones) were sabotaged by the fragmented, linear policies of the White House.

The most extreme method utilized by the linear mindset to prevent constructive or ambiguous factors from disturbing their pre-set plans is to negate them – to ignore their existence. The outstanding example concerns Washington’s commitment to ensconcing itself in post-ISIS Iraq (and parts of Syria) militarily and politically. This is despite there being fierce opposition among important elements of the Shi’ite political elite. The outstanding figure is Muqtada al-Sadr. He is the most popular Shi’ite politician who could break Abadi’s governing majority in parliament. For fourteen years a thorn in the side of the Americans, he has declared repeatedly that the United States must leave. (Ayatollah Sistani, too, has voiced the same sentiments). Yet, no mention is made of al-Sadr’s threat to American plans as the Pentagon blithely moves ahead with its scheme for achieving now what it could not in 2008. No contingent plans have been made for the possible eventuality of Baghdad once again telling us: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

A variant of this particularly immature psychological ploy involves the disparaging the importance of unforeseen occurrences. Outstanding, is the Russian intervention. Hardly something that could be denied or ignored outright, it was derided by President Obama as of no consequence. Indeed, he took a condescending tone in taunting Putin that the result would another humiliation of Russia, like Afghanistan, that Russia would leave chastened – it’s tail between its legs:

An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire ..

The Assad regime and its ally Russia cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. ... The blood for these atrocities are on their hands ..

An attempt by Russia to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won't work ..

[Putin is] constantly interested in being seen as our peer and as working with us, because he’s not completely stupid. He understands that Russia’s overall position in the world is significantly diminished. And the fact that he is…. trying to prop up Assad doesn’t suddenly make him a player. ..

The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who have looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly. ..

Many others inside the administration, and outside it, imitated Obama in ridiculing the Kremlin’s move. Instead, it proved a striking success that turned the tide while making Russia a far more influential player in the Syrian drama than is the United States.

This childish display demonstrates how powerful are the impulses of the linear thinkers to avoid at all cost deviation from the simple plot lines that suit their temperaments and their minds.


*[Intelligence failures great and small have become the norm for America’s inflated and infirm Intelligence agencies. There is something absurd about institutions that can tell us Angela Merkel’s pizza topping preferences when she orders on her cell phone yet miss completely the planning, organization and movement of a multi-dimensional Russian force into a country that is the focus of U.S. attention. The full depth of the systemic problem is revealed by the fact that no-one laughs – no-one cries.

Surely, a paltry billion or so would suffice to entice some Ivan or Inessa to pass the word that his cousin Igor in the navy is thumbing his Arabic phrase-book in anticipation of a return visit to Syria and asking whether we’d like for him to bring back a box of dates – or, her Airforce brother-in-law Sergei can’t make it to dinner Friday because he’ll be working overtime directing the loading of a squadron of fighter planes recently painted in desert camouflage.

Whether more competent Intelligence agencies in Washington’s current strategic environment is a good thing is a separate issue.]

Posted by b on August 4, 2017 at 14:58 UTC | Permalink

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"linear"?, I would say amateurish and often stupid!
It seems that the USA cannot see far enough as it's submitted to regime changes every 5 years and decisions are finally left to powerful lobbies that have a better continuity.
Provided the gross flaws of the intelligence, one has to wonder about the quality of the education in politics provided by Harward and other expensive universities.. What they seem to learn very well there is lying.

Posted by: virgile | Aug 4 2017 15:18 utc | 1

Moqtada had a million man army 10 years ago. He may still have it, in the "things do go astray" department.

Posted by: Sid2 | Aug 4 2017 15:24 utc | 2

"Linear" and all that is the mushy feel-good stuff on top of your arrogance. Kleptocracy only NOW putting down its roots? Come on. Let's get back to the 90's where it started. Vengeance for 9/11? Cover?

Posted by: Sid2 | Aug 4 2017 15:28 utc | 3

I think it is because US business is ruled by the quarter.

So there may be long term plans and goals but the emphasis for everybody is always short-term.

Posted by: somebody | Aug 4 2017 15:32 utc | 4

Second paragraph.
'There are features of how the United States makes and executes foreign policy'

There was no need for the rest.
The United States makes and executes foreign policy on the direction of Tel Aviv and to meet the demands of the MIC.

Nuff said - surely.

Posted by: Emily | Aug 4 2017 15:36 utc | 5

You lost me at Walt Whitman or Barack CIA 0bama.

Posted by: JSonofa | Aug 4 2017 15:43 utc | 6

It seems the, "Mission Possible" of the alphabet agencies is not intelligence, but chaos. All's well in the world with them as long as the USSA is grinding away on some near helpless ME country. Drugs and other natural resources flow from and death and destruction flow to the unsuspecting Muslim targets.

With America, you're our friend, (or at least we tolerate you) until you're not (or we don't), then God help you and your innocent hoards.

The organized and well scripted chaos has been just one act in the larger play of destroying western civilization with throngs of Muslims now flooding western Europe and to a lesser degree, USA. Of course, the Deep State had felt confident in allowing Latinos to destroy America...Trump has put a large crimp in the pipeline--one of the reasons he is hated so badly by the destructive PTB.

Posted by: Skip | Aug 4 2017 15:44 utc | 7

Your analysis of linearity is interesting. However, you make what I believe is a critical error. You assume you know the objective and the path to follow and base your critique accordingly.

It is entirely possible that the underlying objective of, for instance, invading Iraq was to win a war and bring democracy. Subsequent behaviour in Iraq (and Afghanistan) indicates that there might be (likely is) a hidden but central other objective. I do not want to state that I know what that is because I am not "in the know". However, much that you attribute to failure from linear thinking just as easily can be explained by the complexity of realising a "hidden agenda".

Perhaps we can learn from history. Did the U.S. enter the First World War to save the world and democracy, or was it a game of waiting until the sides were exhausted enough that victory would be a walkover, the prize a seat at the center of power and the result that the U.S. could now take advantage of a superior position over the now exhausted former superpowers, having sat out the worst of the fighting and sold to both sides at a healthy profit?

Invading Afghanistan and Iraq gives the U.S. a dominant role in the center of the Asian continent, the position coveted by Britain, Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire during the Great Power rivalry leading up to the Great War. It can be seen as partial success in a policy of encirclement of Russia and China. Redefining the Afghanistan and Iraq wars along these lines make them look more successful, not less, however odious we may thing these objectives might be from moral and international law perspectives.

Posted by: Simplyamazed | Aug 4 2017 16:15 utc | 8

Russia learnt a huge lesson from their experience in Afghanistan. There they retreated in the face of a violent Wahabist insurgency and paid the price. The Soviet union collapsed and became vulnerable to western free-market gangsterism as well as suffering the blowback of terrorism in Chechnya, where they decided to play it very differently. A bit more like how Assad senior dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980's.
Russia knew that if ISIS and friends were allowed to destroy Syria like the Mujahadeen had done in Afghanistan, then it would only be a matter of time before blowback would come again to Russia.
Russia's involvement is entirely rational and in their national interest. It should never have come as a surprise to the US, and the US should shake off their cold war propaganda and be grateful that people are willing to put their lives on the line to defeat Wahabist terrorism. Russia has played a focused line with integrity. Many Syrians love them for this, and many more in the Middle East will likewise adopt a similar line.

Posted by: aniteleya | Aug 4 2017 16:33 utc | 9

In other words, the linear mindset blocks out all non-conforming realities in the present and those contingent elements which might arise in the future

you mean non-conforming realities like the rule of law, and possible future contingencies like war crimes tribunals?

i kinda skimmed this piece, but it seems to me that trying to write some kind of rational analysis of a US foreign policy without mentioning the glaring fact that it's all absolutely illegal strikes me as an exercise in confusion.

Posted by: john | Aug 4 2017 17:14 utc | 10

Brenner: Washington never really had a plan in Syria.


Firstly, the author's focus on successful implementation of policy is misguided. That the Iraq War was based on a lie, the Libyan bombing Campaign was illegal, and the Syrian conflict was an illegal proxy war does not trouble him. And the strategic reasons for US long-term occupation of Afghanistan escapes him.

Although he laments the failure to plan for contingencies, the words "accountable" and "accountability" never appear in this essay. Nor does the word "neocon" - despite their being the malignant driving force in US FP.

The bleach in Brenner's white-washing is delivered with the statement that Washington never really had a plan in Syria. Seymour Hersh described the planning in his "The Redirection" back in 2007(!):

The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January [2007], Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.”

Lastly, Brenner's complaint that Obama has been "scape-goated" as having created ISIS conveniently ignores Obama's allowing ISIS to grow by down-playing the threat that it represented. Obama's called ISIS al Queda's "JV team" and senior intelligence analysts dutifully distorted intelligence to down-play the threat (see below). This was one of many deceptions that Obama took part in - if not orchestrated (others: "moderate rebels", Benghazi, the "Fiscal Cliff", bank bailouts).

<> <> <> <> <> <> <> <>

House GOP task force: Military leaders distorted ISIS intel to downplay threat

After months of investigation, this much is very clear: from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2015, the United States Central Command's most senior intelligence leaders manipulated the command's intelligence products to downplay the threat from ISIS in Iraq" . . .

The Joint Task Force can find no justifiable reason why operational reporting was repeatedly used as a rationale to change the analytic product, particularly when the changes only appeared to be made in a more optimistic direction . . .

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Aug 4 2017 17:26 utc | 11

The US is playing checkers, the Russians Chess. We shall sanction them until they learn to play checkers.

Posted by: jsn | Aug 4 2017 17:31 utc | 12

aniteleya | Aug 4, 2017 12:33:51 PM | 9

There have been many lessons for the Russians since Afghanistan, two that Russia was directly involved with were the 90's break-up of Yugoslavia in the 90's (and the diplomatic invention of R2P) and the Chechen turmoil of the last decade.

Russia has also benefited through the non-linear analysis of US diplomacy failures of the last two decades. Russia has created a coalition backing up their military entry into the Middle East that allows achievement of tangible objectives at a sustainable cost.

But b's article is about the US's dismal diplomacy that is exacerbating its rapid empire decline and it does very well to help explain the rigid lack of thought that hastens the deterioration of US influence.

Posted by: Enrico Malatesta | Aug 4 2017 17:31 utc | 13

This article makes a lot of good points, but I didn't really grasp exactly what "linear" thinking is.

OK. Venezuela very well may be turning into a situation. What is the "linear" approach? What, instead, would be the "non-linear" approach?

This article cites many "linear" failures. It would be helpful also to learn of some non-linear successes. If not by the United States then by somebody else.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder | Aug 4 2017 17:33 utc | 14

Let me clarify my prior posting.

This article seems to be asserting that the United States has attempted to pound the square peg of its policy objectives into the round hole of the Middle East. I pretty much agree with that idea.

But how is this "linear," as opposed to "bull-headed"? How does being "non-linear" help with the pounding? Would not adapting our policies to pound a round peg instead be just as "linear" but more clever?

Posted by: Duncan Kinder | Aug 4 2017 17:38 utc | 15

Thanks for posting these great observations by Michael Brenner, b. The link to his bio on University of Pitsburg site is broken and the page is gone, but it still exists for now in Google's cache from Aug. 1st here. His bio can also be found under this">">this article from The Globalist

Everything I've read of Dr. Brenner that I've stumbled across is brilliant. My only gripe with his work is that he always describes multiple aspects of psychopathy in his observations of U.S. foreign policy and the Washington ruling elite, but never goes as far as to conclude the root of all our problems are psychopathic individuals and institutions, or a culture of psychopathy infesting larger groups of the same, e.g., Washington elite, "The Borg", etc.

While he is quite accurate in describing the symptoms, one is left with the impression that they are the things to be fixed. Linear thinking in a U.S. foreign policy of aggression? Absolutely, but it's pointless to 'fix' that without understanding the cause.

Linear thinking is precisely how Washington psychopaths think and execute once they have identified a targeted population for subservience and eventual exploitation. It's a laser-like focus on control using the tools psychopaths understand: money, guns and butter. U.S. leaders use linear thinking because, as psychopaths, they do not have the ability to think otherwise. Linear thinking give leaders control over how their subordinates think and execute. A culture of psychopathy means subordinates and supporters will offer slavish devotion to such a linear path. Anyone straying from the path is not insightful or innovative, they are rebels that sow confusion and weaken leaders. They must be silenced and banished from the Washington tribe.

Does anyone in Washington REALLY want to 'save' the Persians and 'rebuild' Iran as they imagine America did post WWII to German and Japan? Or is the more overriding intent to punish and destroy a leadership that will not submit to the political and commercial interests in the US? Of course the U.S. fails to deliver any benefits to the 'little people' after destroying their country and government - they are incapable of understanding what the 'little people' want (same goes for domestic issues in the U.S.).

The U.S. government and leadership do not need lessons to modify their techniques or 'thinking' - they are incapable of doing so. You can't 'talk a psychopath into having empathy' any more than you can talk them out of having smallpox. 'The law' and voting were intentionally broken in the U.S. to make them all but useless to fix Washington, yet a zombified American public will continue to use the religiously (or sit back and watch others use them religiously) with little result. Because we're a democracy and a nation of laws - the government will fix anything broken with those tools.

In a certain sense, I'm glad Brennan does NOT go on about psychopathy in his articles. He would sound as tedious and nutty as I do here and would never be allowed near Washington. I'll just be grateful for his thorough illustration of the symptoms for now.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Aug 4 2017 17:46 utc | 16

@8 simply amazed, on this:

Your analysis of linearity is interesting. However, you make what I believe is a critical error. You assume you know the objective and the path to follow and base your critique accordingly.

First, this is more an analysis of military failure to "do the job" that Washington "strategic thinkers" tell them to do, and the reasons why it's such a futile game. In our system of government, the military does tactics, not strategy. And the above article, which should be passed out to every politician in this country, isn't really about "the objective".

For example, the military was told "Go to Iraq, overthrow Saddam, everything will work out once we get our contractors and corporations in after you." Paul Bremer's CPA and his "100 Orders" were supposed to fix everything. But the Iraqis objected strenuously to the oil privatization selloff (and the rest of it) and the insurgency was launched. Okay, the military was told, break the insurgency. In comes the CIA, Special Forces, mass surveillance - what comes out? Abu Ghraib torture photos. The insurgency gets even stronger. Iran ends up winning the strategic game, hands down, and has far more influence in Iraq than it could ever dream of during the Saddam era. The whole objective, turning Iraq into a client state of the U.S. neoliberal order, utterly failed.

Here's the point I think you're missing: the Washington strategists behind all this are batshit crazy and divorced from reality. Their objectives have to be rewritten every few years, because they're hopeless pipe dreams. They live and work and breathe in these Washington military-industrial think tanks, neocons and neoliberals both, that are largely financed by arms manufacturers and associated private equity firms. As far as the defense contractors go, one war is as good as another, they can keep selling arms to all regardless. Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria - cash cows is all they are. So, they finance the PR monkeys to keep pushing "strategic geopolitical initiatives" that are really nonsensical and have no hope of working in the long run - but who cares, the cash keeps flowing.

And if you want to know why the Borg State got firmly behind Hillary Clinton, it's because they could see her supporting this agenda wholeheartedly, especially after Libya. Here's a comment she wrote to Podesta on 2014-08-19, a long 'strategy piece' ending with this note:

Note: It is important to keep in mind that as a result of this policy there probably will be concern in the Sunni regions of Iraq and the Central Government regarding the possible expansion of KRG controlled territory. With advisors in the Peshmerga command we can reassure the concerned parties that, in return for increase autonomy, the KRG will not exclude the Iraqi Government from participation in the management of the oil fields around Kirkuk, and the Mosel Dam hydroelectric facility. At the same time we will be able to work with the Peshmerga as they pursue ISIL into disputed areas of Eastern Syria, coordinating with FSA troops who can move against ISIL from the North. This will make certain Basher al Assad does not gain an advantage from these operations. Finally, as it now appears the U.S. is considering a plan to offer contractors as advisors to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, we will be in a position to coordinate more effectively between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army.

It's all nonsense, there's no FSA just Al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, plus the Kurdish proxy force is a long-term dead end - but it keeps the war going. A more rational approach - work with Russia to defeat ISIS, don't worry about economic cooperation between Syria and Iran, tell the Saudis and Israelis that Iran won't invade them (it won't), pull back militarily and focus instead on domestic problems in the USA - the think tanks, defense contractors, Saudi and Israeli lobbyists, they don't like that.

Regardless, it looks like end times for the American empire, very similar to how the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1980s, and the last days of the French and British empires in the 1950s. And good riddance, it's become a dead weight dragging down the standard of living for most American citizens who aren't on that gravy train.

Posted by: nonsense factory | Aug 4 2017 18:00 utc | 17

Brenner is trying to mislead us with bombastic terminology like "The Linear Mindset". The root cause of America's problems is what Michael Scheuer calls Imperial Hubris: The idea that they are Masters of the Universe and so they have omnipotent power to turn every country into a vassal. But when this hubris meets reality, they get confused and don't know what to do. In such a case, they resort to three standard actions: sanctions, regime change or chaos. If these three don't work, they repeat them! Politicians are mere puppets. Their real owners are the 1% who use the Deep State to direct policy. Among this 1% there are zionists who have enormous influence on US Middle Eastern policy and they use the neocons as their attack dogs to direct such policy. This hubris has caused so much pain, destruction and death all over the world and it has also caused America so much economic damage. America is waning as a global power but instead of self-introspection and returning to realism, they are doubling down on neocon policy stupidity. Putin, China and Iran are trying to save them from their stupidity but they seem to be hell-bent on committing suicide. But I hope the policy sophistication of Russia, China and Iran, as well as their military capabilities that raise the stakes high for US military intervention will force the Masters of the Universe to see sense and reverse their road to destruction.

Posted by: Makutwa Omutiti | Aug 4 2017 18:13 utc | 18

This is probably the most important analysis of American foreign policy I've read this year. Some posters are reacting against it because they don't like the term, but there's no faulting the logic of his piece.

Further, I think all of us can benefit from looking in the mirror to see if we apply some of these precepts of linear thinking in our own lives.

Posted by: WorldBLee | Aug 4 2017 18:17 utc | 19

There's a lot in both this piece and the comments. In a sense, I wonder if the core issue behind the Neocon/Imperial mindset isn't a complete inability to see the other side's point of view. Psychopathy, short-termism (a common fault in businesspeople), divorce from reality and hubris are likely a good part of it, as somebody, Paveway IV, Makutwa and nonsense factory put it, but the Neocons seem to suffer from something almost worse - a misguided belief in their own propaganda. Even the psychopath manages to fake plausibility - although he has no empathy for the victim and takes a thrill out of hurting them, he can still know enough about them to predict how they will react and to fake empathy himself. This ability seems to be missing in the folk who send the troops in. Here there seems to be the genuine but unquestioning belief in one's own infallibility - that there is one right way of doing things to which all others must and will yield if enough pressure is applied. The line by one of GWB's staff was, supposedly, that "we create our own reality". It is this creation of a reality utterly divorced from the real world that seems to lead to disaster every single time.

Posted by: Justin Glyn | Aug 4 2017 18:51 utc | 20

I would paraphrase critics of b that he (she?) has fallen into linearity trap: one point is the resources spent by USA on wars of 21-st century (a lot), the second points are positive results (hardly any), and an intellectual charge proceeds from A to B.

However between A and B there can be diversity of problems. We can stock enough gasoline, run out of potable water. And indeed, you can encounter pesky terrain. I recall a family vacation trip where we visited Natural Bridges National Monument and we proceeded to Arizona on an extremely straight highway through pretty flat plateau. Then the pavement end, and the acrophobic designated driver has to negotiate several 180* hairpins to get down on a cliff flanking Monument Valley. After second inspection, the map had tiny letters "switchbacks" and a tiny fragment of the road not marked with the pavement. Still better than discovering "bridge out" annotation on your map only when you gaze at the water flowing between two bridge heads. (If I recall, during late 20-th century Balkan intervention, US military needed a lot of time to cross Danube river that unexpectedly had no functioning bridge where they wanted to operate. Landscape changes during a war.)

That said, military usually has an appreciation for terrain. But there are also humans. On domestic side, the number of experts on those distant societies is small, and qualified experts, minuscule. Because the qualified ones were disproportionally naysayers, the mere whiff if expertise was treated as treason, and we had a purge of "Arabists". And it was of course worse in the lands to charm and conquer. Effective rule requires local hands to follow our wishes, people who can be trusted. And, preferably, not intensely hated by the locals they are supposed to administer. And like with gasoline, water, food, etc. on a vacation trip (who forgot mosquito repellent!), the list of needed traits is surprisingly long. Like viewing collaboration with Israel supporting infidels as a mortal sin that can be perpetrated to spare the family from starvation (you can recruit them, success!), but it has to be atoned through backstabbing (local cadres are disappointing).

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Aug 4 2017 19:13 utc | 21

Great analysis! This is an excellent example for why I read MOA at least once a day and most of the comments! There's something of a sad irony that Trump has made at least some kind of effort to thwart the neocons and their relentless rush toward armageddon, seeing as how lacking in any real intellectual capcity they all seem and with Trump at the helm?

Mostly tptb, our political class, and the pundits for the masses, seem all to exhibit an astonishingly dull witted lack of true concern or humanity for anybody anywhere, and in my years on earth so far, at least in America, they have inculcated in the population very dubious ethical chioces, which you would think were tragic, and decisions, which you would beleve were doomed, from the wars being waged, to the lifestyles of the citizenry especially toward the top of the economic ladder, and I don't know about others here but I for one have been confronting and dealing with these problems both in family and aquaintances for my entire adult life! Like the battle at Kurushetra. At least they say they "have a plan," scoffingly.

Where is chipnik to weigh in on this with his poetic observations, or I think long ago it was "slthrop" who may have been bannned for foul language as he or she raged on at the absurdities that keep heaping up exponentially? I do miss them!

Oh well, life is relatively short and we will all be gone at some point and our presense here will be one and all less than an iota. An awareness of this one fact and its implications you would think would pierce the consciousness of every human being well before drawing their final breath, but I guess every McCain fails to realize until too late that the jig is up?

Posted by: Geoff | Aug 4 2017 19:36 utc | 22

Justin Glyn@20 "but the Neocons seem to suffer from something almost worse - a misguided belief in their own propaganda."

The propaganda part is inventing, manufacturing and embellishing some embodiment of evil that must be defeated to liberate their victims and save humanity. That's the cover story, not the underlying purpose of U.S. aggression.

Neocons do not believe that exclusively as a goal in itself - it merely dovetails rather nicely with their ultimate obsession with control, and it's and easy sell against any less-than-perfect targeted foreign leader or government. Irrational demonization is the embodiment of that propaganda.

The methods of ultimately controlling the liberated people and their nation's resources are cloaked in the guise of 'bringing Western democracy'. Methods for corrupting the resulting government and usurping their laws and voting are hidden or ignored. The propaganda then turns to either praising the resulting utopia or identifying/creating a new evil that now must also be eliminated. The utopia thing hasn't worked out so well in Libya, Iraq or Ukraine, so they stuck with the 'defeat evil' story.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Aug 4 2017 19:41 utc | 23

Apart from psychopathy in US leadership, the US has no understanding, nor respect of, other cultures. This is not just in US leadership, but in the exceptional people in general. It shows up from time to time in comments at blogs like this, and is often quite noticeable in comments at SST.

That it why the US in its arrogance has failed in Syria, and Russia with its tiny force has been so successful.

Posted by: Peter AU 1 | Aug 4 2017 19:46 utc | 24

The essence of imperial hubris is the belief that one's country is omnipotent; that the country can shape and create reality. The country's main aspiration is to create clients, dependencies and as the Godfather Zbigniew Bzrezinski candidly put it, "vassals".Such a mindset does not just appreciate the reality of contingency; it also does not appreciate the nature of complex systems. The country's elites believe that both soft and hard power should be able to ensure the desired outcomes. But resistance to imperial designs and blowback from the imperial power's activities induce cognitive dissonance. Instead of such cognitive crises leading to a return to reality, they lead to denial amongst this elite. This elite lives in a bubble. Their discourse is intellectually incestuous and anybody that threatens this bubble is ostracized. Limits are set to what can be debated. That is why realists like John Mearsheimer, Steve Walt, Michael Scheuer and Stephen Cohen are ignored by this elite even though their ideas are very germane. If other countries don't bow down to their dictates, they have only a combination of the following responses: sanctions, regime change and chaos. The paradox is that the more they double down with their delusions the more the country's power continues to decline. My only hope is that this doubling down will not take the world down with it.

Posted by: Makutwa Omutiti | Aug 4 2017 19:51 utc | 25

Americans - as in citizens simply aren't interested in other countries.

Which allows small cliques with pet issues to claim foreign policy. And exiles with an agenda easily manipulate these cliques.

Posted by: somebody | Aug 4 2017 20:04 utc | 26

I'm dumber for having read this. As #8 stated, the assumption that we know the objective in these interventions and wars is false, and is straight from the propaganda machine. It is , simply put, an example of linear thinking.

We are meant to believe that constant screw ups over the last 50 -70 years by very bright people with enormous resources are due to coincidence, incompetence or accidents (CIA) , or just downright stupidity by people with IQ's 4-6 SD's above average . Lol. But then people believe in many foolish things, which include the official or popular narrative of pretty much everything, especially post 911. Never has the planet populated more gullible people.

Simply put, we are right where they want to be. Controlled chaos. Populations living in fear surrendering their wealth and freedom to controlling elites gladly and totally believing the propaganda and lies of their reality . A reality which have them squabbling amongst themselves over petty issues and party politics (each party nothing more than secular religion in which the party faithful blindly follow their leader). When they are not too busy fearing the various enemies which are manufactured to terrorize us they are entertaining themseves with propaganda films and TV series , sports events or the latest best selling novel (those who can still read more than senseless tweets))

I suppose its best this way though. Delusion is far better than the reality. What would people really do if they knew the truth? As one lady said when told the truth of a certain even that shocked the world "i wouldnt want to believe it even if it were true".

Lies are Truth. Truth is Fake News. Conspiracies are impossible except by stupid powerless pwople with no money who are always caught.

Back to sleep then. Zzzzzzz

Posted by: Pft | Aug 4 2017 20:04 utc | 27

Author (Brenner) makes one mistake:

linear thinkers

Is oxymoron. Linearity and thinking (granted that by thinking we mean an actual use of rational judgement)are mutually exclusive things. In addition, serious and effective policy, military, economic and other decisions are extremely knowledge intensive. US "power elites" are not knowledgeable, which is a euphemism for being utterly incompetent, as empirical evidence of the last 25+ (in reality, even longer) overwhelmingly confirms.

Posted by: SmoothieX12 | Aug 4 2017 20:09 utc | 28

Linear thinking implies cause and effect, rationality. Not true. As close as I can tell western rulers are war loving psychopaths. We are subject to a massive information operation that no longer can keep all the propaganda, agitprop and lies coherent. The truth is coming out through the cracks here and elsewhere. The whole purpose is to facilitate the rich looting everyone else. The chaos that facilitates the theft is spreading from Eastern Europe to America’s West Coast.

Posted by: VietnamVet | Aug 4 2017 21:17 utc | 29

"US didn't have a plan in Syria" is misleading. Brenner tries to justify this statement by listing "piecemeal actions" of various US government entities. In fact, while publicly the US claimed to have no direct role (Obama: US "leading from behind"), the US had both an important covert role and a deceptive public one (providing diplomatic cover). It seems doubtful that Brenner is unaware of the US dual role or of the years of planning with allies (as described by Seymour Hersh).

I think Brenner is also wrong about contingency planning wrt a Russian intervention. I think they first hoped to forestall any intervention by keeping Russia busy elsewhere (Ukraine, economic troubles, etc.). If Russia did intervene, it would "pay a price" (a favorite Obama expression) via terrorism. Indeed, within a month after Russians arrived in Syria a Russian passenger jet was downed. Despite a US bombing campaign against ISIS for about a year there had been no such terror attack against USA.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Aug 4 2017 21:37 utc | 30

Success is not necessarily the end-all goal. Though, I suppose TPTB see the destruction of Libya as a great success.

War profiteering is extremely important to them. Also, they enjoy the effects of Operation Mockingbird. It is surely a source of great amusement and uproarious laughter. The dupes buying into most of their bullshit.

Posted by: fast freddy | Aug 4 2017 21:38 utc | 31

Spot on. It's been an appalling twenty or so years - after a dubious forty or fifty before that. Worth noting this level of planning is what the indigenous people encountered, so nothing new there.

Posted by: Shh | Aug 4 2017 21:48 utc | 32

Some Schadenfreude from Russia

Swamp for Trump: Third US President vows to win 16-year Afghan War

Posted by: somebody | Aug 4 2017 22:07 utc | 33

33 plus

Rory Stewart: 'The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere'

Stewart came home when he realised that even the least-educated Afghan housewife in a mountain village knew more about the country than he did. Fluent in Dari, along with nine other languages, he'd thrown himself into the coalition mission with great conviction, but had to conclude that: "In the end, the basic problem is very, very simple. Why don't these interventions work? Because we are foreigners. If things are going wrong in a country, it's not usually that we don't have enough foreigners. It's usually that we have too many." ... Whenever Stewart took one of these ideas, such as rule of law, to an actual Afghan village, it became meaningless. "None of the things that I'm looking for exist. There obviously isn't police, or a judge, there isn't a legal code, there isn't a prison. There's a bunch of guys with white beards sitting around, and their system of doing that might be quite different from the next-door village. So then how do you get from there to here? Well, it can be done, but it's not going to be done by a foreigner who barely understands any of that."


Posted by: somebody | Aug 4 2017 22:30 utc | 34

The term 'linear thinking' might better be described as 'mechanistic thinking' or the 'playbook approach'. The US never seems to consider what the other side will do in response to its actions, assuming the other side will be overwhelmed or forced to submit. For example, the Gulenist-faction shootdown of the Su-24 led to Russia using that as an excuse to bring in heavy air-defense for for its forces. The bombing of the airliner in Egypt was used by Russia to invoke the UN article of self defense against Daesh/ISIS, which no other actor has done. The US bombing of SAA ground forces led to Russia inserting its own ground forces tempering further air attacks. The Trump cruise missile strike against the SAA base holding Russian personnel led to a mysterious S-300 launch from Tartus into the eastern Med. Subsequently US aircraft carrying out attacks in SYria/Iraq appear to be flying from carriers in the Persian Gulf. The creation of reconciliation zones has led to the presense of Russian forces close to the Golan which seems to have dampened the IDF's enthusiasm for bombing Hezbollah which in turn helped them clear out ISIS/whatever from the Syria/Lebanon border.

The current CIA-led regime change operation in Venezuela seems to be following the same script as used in Ukraine and Syria with armed oppostion attacks on state forces, ignored by the western media who focus solely on presenting what appears to be unprovoked attacks against hapless 'protestors'. If the CIA has their way, the next stage should be mysterious snipers shooting both sides.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 4 2017 22:49 utc | 35

Somebody @34

That's a perfect example of the thinking induced by undergoing the 'best education money can buy' at the finest UK public schools. Pig-sticking courses are optional.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 4 2017 22:51 utc | 36

Enrico Malatesta @13

The Russians were there in Yugoslavia but they were not following NATO's script. There was an incident where Russian forces took control of a key airport to the total surprise of NATO. The US overall commander ordered the UK to go in and kick the Russians out. The UK ground commander wisely said he was not prepared to start WW III over Russian control of an airfield.

There has been a gradual decline in the rationality of UK forces thinking. They insisted on UN legal cover cover the invasion of Iraq but were totally on board with pre-emptive action in Libya, happily training effectively ISIS forces before Gaddafi was removed. They are now training Ukrainian Neo-Nazis and training ISIS/whatever in Syria, effectively invading the country. I guess this may reflect the increasing direct Zionist control of Perfidious Albion with attendant levels of hubris.

Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 4 2017 23:00 utc | 37

Shakespeare ( exp Sonnet CXIV ) :

Mine eye well knows what with his gust is
And to his palate doth prepare the cup:
If it be poison'd, tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.


The effective leadership of the US is fixed in its antithesis.
Hope is the antithesis of despair.
Only American's, can right this ship of state.

Posted by: Frosty | Aug 4 2017 23:15 utc | 38

Interesting that so many posters struggle to understand the concept of linear thinking but reveal (as does Brenner) a tendency for the same in their appeals to logic.
Linearity worked in the second half of the 20th century european war because amerika's major ally england, and their primary opponent germany were also dedicated linear thinkers. On the other hand Germany came unstuck when they went up against Russia who eschew linearity for a consequential style of military engagement that left the nazis fucked. The Kursk engagement is a classic example both sides spent a deal of time getting ready and germany went in boots and all using the same style of engagement that had so rewarded them up until the Stalingrad debacle that is control the airspace then scare the shit outta the natives with a few huge bulletproof armoured tanks.
It didn't work because the Soviets knew what was coming before it happened and even worse the Soviets were prepared for every contingency. Control of the airspace was a major miss as the Soviets had kept their airforce outside german range until the last moment and when it turned up it was vast.
The same with the tank business the nazis got 300 to 400 tanks lumbering up to the southern attack on the Kursk salient and they faced slightly more Soviet ones head on the Tiger tanks were expertly machined practically hand crafted (a Tiger cost em a couple of hundred thousand bucks back then). So the Nazis cleaned out the T34's thought they had it in the bag until a force of about 800 more T34's hit em on their flank. A T34 was lighter faster and a helluva a lot cheaper (less than 10 grand apiece) and the Soviets had turned em out in their thousands for Kursk. End of story the Nazis got dicked and chased by the Soviets all the way back to Berlin.

Einstein is a classic example of a linear thinker, sure he was a Kazak but he had been fully indoctrinated into that solve A, estimate B then move to B line of thinking. It worked for him for a long time until he was hit with quantum entanglement and he died still not comprehending a universe where something as "spooky" (his word) as quantum entanglement existed.

As for the legality of amerikan foreign policy and I write this as someone frequently appalled by the illegal and immoral acts amerika inflicts on the rest of us, Bremmer doesn't mention that because in this particular circumstance (foreign policy formulation) all the players consider it irrelevant.
Foreign policy objectives are about achieving what you believe is best for your nation's interest nothing else matters. You could maybe get a state department honcho to hear out an argument about a particular objective not being in the nation's interests but bringing up morality or worse legality will turn them off every time, such things are used for propaganda purposes sure, but they are not taken seriously. There are no consequences for acting illegally so why consider it an issue.

This is why amerika has always been the holdout on any move to make international law binding and enforceable.
They likely believe that they are on top and in the box seat and it is all very well for euro countries to blather on about such stuff but when they ran the joint they refused any attempt to regulate their behaviour.

Moves to create legal consequences for arseholes are down to us the people who live on this rock because those in charge on just about any side you care to mention, will resist such a change for ever. The few rules in place now only apply to unwhite people who do something egregious that doesn't suit fukasi corporate interests.
I think Bremmer makes his point well but you have to accept that his piece is spoken in the language of arseholes. That doesn't neccessarily make him an arsehole, just someone who wants to tell the arseholes where they are fucking up.

Posted by: Debsisdead | Aug 4 2017 23:45 utc | 39

At first glance it seems jolly decent of Prof Brenner to go to the trouble of making a list of so many of AmeriKKKa's FP blunders, deducing a common thread, and then compiling them into one article. But the fact that he not only avoids speculating on the underlying causes or cures, but also studiously avoids any mention of AmeriKKKa's White Christian Colonial European partners-in-crime, makes it look like an exercise in Strategic Myopia of a nature similar to the policies of which he purports to be critical.

Looking at his background in the link provided above, this is hardly surprising, as the intro to his CV confirms...

Michael Brenner

Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh; a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS-Johns Hopkins (Washington, D.C.), contributor to research and consulting projects on Euro-American security and economic issues.
Publishes and teaches in the fields of American foreign policy, Euro-American relations, and the European Union.

What he carefully refrains from mentioning is that the sole aim of Christian Colonialism since it first began, whether that's pre or post AmeriKKKa, has always been to diminish the lives, dreams and options of tens of millions people perceived as sub-human, for Fun & Profit. This is neither benign nor Christian.
True Christianity (whatever that actually means) stipulates that help be given (donated) to people wishing to improve their circumstances; not terrorised, slaughtered, robbed, dispossessed, enslaved and lied about.

It's also worth noting that the perpetrators of Christian Colonialism have NEVER had to answer for their crimes and have now graduated to diminishing the lives of their fellow citizens - for Fun & Profit.
Until they are severely punished by their past and future victims, things will only get worse.
It is tempting to assume that it's too late, but it never is.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Aug 4 2017 23:48 utc | 40

Dr Brenner,

Don't know whether you've have seen this article and the navettes of various Iraqi Shi'a authorities to Riyadh, in particular Muqtada's visit this week:

When Sadr arrived in Jeddah, an anonymous Twitter user known as Mujtahid — noted for his regular leaking of alleged developments within the secretive House of Saud — tweeted that the warm welcoming of Sadr “and prior to him al-Araji, offering thousands of [hajj] visas to PMU [Popular Mobilization Units], celebrating the [liberation] of Mosul, are all attempts to get closer to Iran so that they can convince the Houthis to have mercy on bin Salman.” Thamer al-Sabhan in a July 31 tweet attacked “[Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini’s version of Shiism” and praised what Sabhan called “genuine Shiism.” Less than 24 hours later, however, that tweet was removed. It is still unclear whether Sadr is really attempting to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh. However, a senior Iranian official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity expressed doubt that such an endeavor would succeed in ending the rivalry between the two regional powers.

Posted by: Yul | Aug 4 2017 23:58 utc | 41

#8, simplyamazed...

My thinking, too. There are objectives, and Brenner must know they are not the ones publicly stated.

#30, jackrabbit...

I agree with that.

Posted by: Castellio | Aug 5 2017 0:09 utc | 42

So much semantics trying to explain chaos as a way to steal the resources of others, and to put into words, a reason for such behavior.

Pft @ 27 said:"Simply put, we are right where they want to be. Controlled chaos. Populations living in fear surrendering their wealth and freedom to controlling elites gladly and totally believing the propaganda and lies of their reality."

The above is the new capitalism.

@ 40: "Until they are severely punished by their past and future victims, things will only get worse."

True, how true..

IMO, Mr. Brenner is part of the problem.

Posted by: ben | Aug 5 2017 0:35 utc | 43

debsisdead 39

Communist vision of the 'revolutionary mass' formed as a 'revolutionary ' technologized consciousness - army- gave a dogged certainty to Soviet action in the 1940's. Certainly helped keep them on the road
The religion of science that templated all this was linear indeed.
But that is where the DIALECTIC is supposed to come in .

Posted by: ashley albanese | Aug 5 2017 0:59 utc | 44

Debsisdead @39

They wouldn't need the heavy propaganda if morality wasn't a factor.

'Linear thinking' doesn't consider the knock-on effects of selfish, immoral actions. Decades after WWII there were still many people who were felt distrust and hate toward Germans, Japanese, Russians, etc.

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Aug 5 2017 1:34 utc | 45

@ commenters in comments including and since debisdead ending in:
But that is where the DIALECTIC is supposed to come in .
The killing of the dialectic potential is continuous. My seminal witnessing of such was in 1973 when I was studying the future as an undergrad. Our group was working with the State of Washington, which was sponsoring a Washington 2000 future study in the early 70's and got to work with Battelle and Stanford Research Institute, etc. Washington State was trying to sell its now defunct nuclear vision at the time but (I thought) that the world was still open to question. Its all a vague rude memory of how I came to understand how the world works......follow the money and those that control it.

Our textual white noise in this bar may be as close as we ever get to any sort of dialectic experience....and thanks for that!!!!

Posted by: psychohistorian | Aug 5 2017 1:40 utc | 46

Ok, I should have said...and thanks for at least that......sigh

Posted by: psychohistorian | Aug 5 2017 1:44 utc | 47

There's an ancient story of a gold artifact on display in public and the thief who rushed at it to steal it - and failed of course, because of the guards. When they asked him, "Didn't you see all the guards?" he answered, "All I saw was the gold."

Michael Brenner has definitely hit on something with what he's trying to understand and describe about US policy. Perhaps linear thinking is one way to describe it, but to me it seems a bit rigid, and a little awkward in this essay, which seems forced to shoehorn the facts into the concept.

Straight-line thinking, pre-judging, wearing blinders, missing the bigger picture, wanting reality to be different, being blinded by desire or hatred or ignorance - these are all similar terms that identify the same malaise, and it's a universal experience that comes with being a sentient being, especially in groups.

We live in a multi-lineal reality. All nations and all people are guilty of missing many of the threads that go into the weave. It's not a condition that deserves a fixed label, in my opinion. People change and adapt all the time. We're seeing the US in the process of doing it right now, although mostly it doesn't understand this yet.

Linear thinking as illustrated in this article shows itself not so much a cause as a result, conditioned by ways of thinking and imagining tainted and obscured by far more nuanced factors than one single thing.

So for example, in the author's closing words:

This childish display demonstrates how powerful are the impulses of the linear thinkers to avoid at all cost deviation from the simple plot lines that suit their temperaments and their minds.

But surely the reality here is that childishness came first, and led to the linearity of thinking. So the real question, leading to the true diagnosis, might be what causes the childishness? In this way, we can indeed come to understand the particular way in which the US is acting crazily.

It's a worthy essay, filled with wisdom and perception. Much gratitude to Michael Brenner for writing it. I think it's a good start, and we're all still looking for better words to describe the why of it all.

Posted by: Grieved | Aug 5 2017 3:25 utc | 48

We all should know that the academic denizens are superb at counting rabbit holes, but, as has already been alluded to in various ways here, they are tacitly quite fastidious about their avoidance of digging down too deep. We get that. I think it's something along the lines of Paveway IV's hypothesis of psychopathy. I would be a bit more specific about the pathology of those who preside over the "zombie phase" of decaying empire -- I would call them "arrogapathic". Of course, the rot began on day one:

"The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia." -- George Orwell, 1984

Posted by: blues | Aug 5 2017 4:25 utc | 49

Having experienced the education system on three continents, i would say the morning pledge of allegiance sets the tone for the lack of critical thinking in products of US schools. Propaganda masquerading as education sets up the necessary suspension of disbelief for all official assertions.

Posted by: Bolt | Aug 5 2017 5:40 utc | 50

I think many that have commented should look into complexity science, it may help illuminate Brennan's thesis a bit more.

Interesting analysis Mr. Brennan, I see the merit.

Posted by: Abi | Aug 5 2017 6:10 utc | 51

Debsisdead | Aug 4, 2017 7:45:18 PM | 39

Hear, hear!
I wanted to chime in on that very point.
But, you did it far better than I would have, thanks.

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 5 2017 7:39 utc | 52

Bolt | Aug 5, 2017 1:40:54 AM | 50

Only two continents for this one; and yes, critical thinking either not taught or discouraged.
I have found Usaian's particularly lacking in this skill; especially the last 50+ years.
John Gatto has traced the roots of western education back to the Hindu schools in India; teaching docility and obedience.
His book, The Underground History of American Education, is superb.

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 5 2017 8:28 utc | 53

Bureaucrats gonna crat. Military schools, elite universities, and monkey politics seem to deny Cassandra calls. Their accredentialism is for linear thinkers ( see how they adorn themselves with acronyms and ribbons ie. in lines ). For cohesion they need conformity, and limit discourse because they also need The Other (civilians, deplorables, barbarians, fascists, ) and without an enemy they would turn on themselves. "Don't do stupid shit" is a pretty stupid starting point- oh yeah do SMART shit, yeah. Thanks, Obama (but for what?).
Didn't They plan for the day when the CIA chief would be a wahabbi without a beard? With those googly eyes I'd wager he could surf cognitive dissonances such as loyalty. America, you are one crazy lady.

Posted by: failure of imagination | Aug 5 2017 8:39 utc | 54

Short version of this story.Americans are thick as two bricks. What do you expect to get when thick people attempt to run a country. Worse still, attempt to exert power and influence beyond their borders. Worst of all, when they strut in the mantle of the super power. It would perhaps be tolerable, just, for the rest of the rest of the 7 billion if the 300 million Americans minded their own business. It has always struck me, the USA is shat you would have got if the Afrikaner nationalists had succeeded.

Btw, you know there must be more than a grain of truth in this when you start hearing rumours about efforts in certain places to raise "anti-Americanism" to the thought-crime level of another famous "anti".

Posted by: Petra | Aug 5 2017 11:15 utc | 55

Could the psychological phenomenon that Professor Michael Brenner describes be something that goes hand in hand with neoliberal economic ideology and its infestation with sociopaths? At the heart of what he calls "linear thinking" are self-interest, an opportunistic mindset focused on immediate gains and gratification, lack of comprehension of the potential consequences arising from one's actions, lack of interest in the lives of others, and lack of self-awareness and compassion for one's fellows.

There is a spiritual and moral hollowness as well.

Posted by: Jen | Aug 5 2017 11:44 utc | 56

"True Christianity (whatever that actually means) stipulates that help be given (donated) to people wishing to improve their circumstances; not terrorised, slaughtered, robbed, dispossessed, enslaved and lied about."
Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Aug 4, 2017 7:48:14 PM | 40

I am not a theologian, but I am very suspicious of that statement. Charity is one of the virtues in Christianity (not particularly original if you compare with other religions), but is it conditioned on proper attitude of the beneficiaries? There are other controversies here that are internal to Christianity: (1) how the moral principles pertain to non-members of the community, e.g. excommunication was invalidating oaths given to the excommunicated person, should charity extend to persons who are not good, is faith required to be a good person? (2) what is more important, faith or good works? And finally, are the moral concept like "terrorising, slaughtering, robbing etc" applicable to non-good persons?

One problem with religions is that they were invented not for the "humanity" but for the "community" (eventually it should become the same thing, but perhaps it will take the Second Coming). Many Christians in USA use "humanist" as an insult. The guidance how communities should deal with each other ranges from sketchy to vile.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Aug 5 2017 11:59 utc | 57

Interesting White Wash by Brenner. Just another neocon bringing death and destruction to the world. Just like the fable of 9/11 and only one security camera at the Pentagon.

Posted by: Ray | Aug 5 2017 12:11 utc | 58

Linear? That implies 2 dimensions and I don't think the US foreign policy is better than 1 dimensional.

Posted by: Kaiama | Aug 5 2017 12:14 utc | 59

I tend to agree with Simplyamaze, (@8). I think the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq had some hidden agenda other than the overthrow of the governments of those countries. And that the obvious complications that have arisen from the misadventure "can be explained by the complexity of realising a "hidden agenda".

Posted by: Steve | Aug 5 2017 12:41 utc | 60

Seemingly smart people still refuse to even consider the possibility that chaos represents not the failure of policy, but the success of policy

Posted by: paul | Aug 5 2017 12:55 utc | 61

A prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation
(Benjamin Ferencz)

as such, all subsequent related policy is commensurable, and any analysis that evades this reality is obfuscatory.

at least according to my linear way of thinking.

apparently there are others who feel similarly.

Posted by: john | Aug 5 2017 12:58 utc | 62

From web search:

“Linear Thinking” is defined as:
a process of thought following known cycles or step-by-step progression where a response to a step must be elicited before another step is taken. [...] The application of linear thinking can be found in the well known Socratic Method:
a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate rational thinking and to illuminate ideas

I guess that Socratic Method is not the main demerit of American foreign policy. Presumably, one can discover many misapplications of "common sense" principles. E.g. on a plain where all points are identical the shortest path between two points follows the straight line that connects them. Of course, if you have obstacles, if you move on a non-flat surface etc. the principle does not apply.

I decreased my esteem in Steve Walt because he misapplied another principle: more effort yields more effect. If you push a stone uphill, spending more time or pushing harder will result in a larger distance -- unless the stone hits an obstacle, e.g. a rock. Walt wrote that a cardinal error in Afghanistan was a misallocation of resources that were devoted instead for Iraq adventure. I question that, because I perceive hard obstacles in Afghanistan. With resources that were spent, the success would be achieved if possible at all. The acrimony with the previous president that was supposed to be a carefully selected puppet, pulled from a cushy job in an American oil company, and numerous incidents of Afghan government soldiers shooting at Americans points to deep and mutual animosity between the "helpers" and "people we help". Thus is a rock on the uphill trajectory of the stone we are pushing. Of course, there is a quibble "we could do it well" (thanks, Thomas Friedman).

Walt can be excused because he is an outsider on that issue, plus he could envision a strategy that would increase the effectiveness of American effort. Brenner has less excuse, because he shows a bunch of trees and than misses the forest. It is not moss that make you slip, or roots that can trip you, the issue is the forest. The forest is that except for weirdos, people think well enough to get desired outcomes. E.g. I have seen an article about Muktada al-Sadr. Conclusion: his activity and the activity of splinter groups of his movements should be followed carefully (my job is important, give my department more money). Cui bono may be a primitive principle, but if we take accounts for some variety of human desires it works quite well. The conclusions of the article were good enough for the author. Similarly, or the strategies criticized by Michael Brenner were perhaps good enough for their creators. Perhaps we should give Brenner a pass (exercise: check why is it a pun).

Accumulation of capital (rich looting the poor to some) can be performed internally or externally. In rough estimate, military-industrial complex churns 5% of GDP of USA, with nice profit margins, but it is supported by revenue collected within the country and it is impossible to observe "gains", be it oil, cocoa or anything else, that would come anywhere close to that expenditure. It serves a role which is important for the elite in the same way it is important for a wealthy person to have a number of mansions in choice locations: they look well and impress their peers and hoi polloi. The real accumulation of capital is elsewhere. Lately, health care expenditures in USA exceed 17% of GDP and profit margins are so high that your average arms manufacturer could get sick in the stomach thinking about them: why I am wasting time working on missile systems if I could maneuver to have the only company with the right to sell a generic drug in USA, and as that drug was sold for a price 100 times larger than in UK, I will increase that price 50 times. A simple calculation shows that one year "before the market equillibrium" is worth 5000 years with "normal competition" so who cares if someone will get another permit from FDA in, say, one year. Few billion dollars of honest gain. Alas, Michael Shkreli did not limit himself to looting the sick people but misreported losses to investors and tried to hide them with some Paul and Peter tricks, and that put him on a wrong side of the law.

Shkreli forgot about PR, and that investors, unlike patients, have decent laws protecting them (fellow members of the ruling class), but there is a huge crowd out there extracting billions dollars from the sick, and those billions add to trillions. Through that lens, terrible foreign threats that allow hoi polloi to focused on something different than "being accumulated till they have no shirts" are exactly what is needed. If millions of lives are lost or wrecked in the process, well, some egg shells have to be cracked. But the quality of military and foreign policy is low because its importance is low.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Aug 5 2017 13:45 utc | 63


Posted by: dahoit | Aug 5 2017 14:04 utc | 64

I sense a developing narrative that erases any and all responsibility of Western political leaders for the Syrian disaster.

1. "Washington never really had a plan in Syria." (Michael Brenner)

2. John McCain was responsible for any US involvement (David Stockman)
See: 'Moderate Rebels' Cheerleader McCain is Fall Guy But Neocon So Neocon Cancer Can Live On

Posted by: Jackrabbit | Aug 5 2017 14:13 utc | 65

I am not a theologian, but I am very suspicious of that statement. Charity is one of the virtues in Christianity...
Posted by: Piotr Berman | Aug 5, 2017 7:59:47 AM | 57

Sorry if my confusion confused you. I'm not a theologian either.
I was probably subconsciously assuming that the parable(?) of the Good Samaritan represents the essence of what it means to be Christian.
That's the imprint that 7 years of Sunday School left on my psyche. I still believe there's a Creator but religion is too flawed and hypocritical to be anything other than man-made.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Aug 5 2017 14:20 utc | 66

The essay by Michael Brenner is an achievement. It pulls together a lot of material, some of which is amplified in the comments. Thank you for putting it out.

As "Grieved" above intimates it's a start, and as some other comments indicate it starts from a necessarily limited perspective. The primary question we should ask ourselves is here not addressed. How is it that we in the West found ourselves engaged, with such commitment and over such a period of time, in enterprises that left a trail of dead bodies and shattered societies strewn across three continents?

Sooner or later, as in German society after the Second World War, we're going to have to ask ourselves that question. Michael Brenner's essay seeks to provide no answer but perhaps sets out a framework in which the answer can be looked for.

On a more parochial note there's this from "Anonymous" @ 37:-

"There has been a gradual decline in the rationality of UK forces thinking. They insisted on UN legal cover (over) the invasion of Iraq but were totally on board with pre-emptive action in Libya, happily training effectively ISIS forces before Gaddafi was removed. They are now training Ukrainian Neo-Nazis and training ISIS/whatever in Syria, effectively invading the country."

I think those statements by "Anonymous" about what we were or are doing in Syria, Libya and the Ukraine are probably true.

However, to say "I think those statements are probably true" isn't proof or anywhere near it. We can pick up indications from the Chilcott report or the House of Commons Select Committee on Libya that point to such a conclusion. Putting that together with various statements made by President Obama in off-teleprompter mode, various statements put out by the State Department and a recent decision by President Trump that confirms the type of operations undertaken in Southern Syria, it's near impossible to avoid putting together a picture that confirms "Anonymous'" statements above.

Nevertheless "indications" and "putting together a picture" still don't amount to proof. Without proof all this is just words and inference, however convincing we might feel them to be. Since the PR and information resources pushing a different story are all-powerful such inferences count for nothing outside what I believe to be fairly small numbers of people in Europa and America who follow these matters attentively. Might I ask, would it be possible to give references that nail down the statements made by "Anonymous" above?

Posted by: EnglishOutsider | Aug 5 2017 14:31 utc | 67

This article is merely more of that moronic "Incompetence Theory" that b and all the other fakes like to push, in relation to why the US does what it does.

Between pimping "Incompetence theories" and utter-bullshit "pipeline theories" I guess it helps him and them distract both himself and themselves and others from noticing the massive Yinon-shaped elephant in the room

Posted by: Just Sayin' | Aug 5 2017 15:27 utc | 68

Linear thinking is the way individuals solve problems. The step by step process can lead to new insights but more often it leads to incorrect conclusions. That is why one needs to go back and question earlier assumptions and rethink problems. Einstein spent 10 years working on the general theory of relativity. He launched a number of incorrect lines (eg his 1911 paper is one example) and didn't get it right until 1915.

Debsisdead (#39) accuses of Einstein linear thinking because of quantum entanglement. This is simply incorrect. It is well known that Einstein seriously questioned quantum mechanics. It is also well understood that it was Einstein himself who was the first to describe quantum entanglement. He did so as a thought experiment where he began with the suppositions of quantum mechanics that were known in 1922 and said if those were correct they lead logically to what is now known as quantum entanglement. He gave this argument to show why quantum mechanics was a logically incomplete. It wasn't until 50 years after his death that someone figured out how to experimentally test this prediction and low and behold it turns out Einsteins prediction was verified.

That is to illustrate that linear thinking is how we think. But predictions need to be tested against reality and when those fail be abandoned. Or as a narcotics anonymous writer said: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again always expecting a different result". US foreign policy has been taken over by the inmates of the insane asylum.

Posted by: ToivoS | Aug 5 2017 15:37 utc | 69

And yet, the mainstream media have gone along with it all. This has been a huge success.

Posted by: Shakesvshav | Aug 5 2017 15:39 utc | 70

It appears that Trump's focus may be on Iran after all. (Does that mean only bluster was used against North Korea?)

As to no.2, the "American constancy" in recent decades IS "the broad failure in foreign policy." When it's not inept, it's corrupt, and many times both.

Posted by: Curtis | Aug 5 2017 15:52 utc | 71

I was probably subconsciously assuming that the parable of the Good Samaritan represents the essence of what it means to be Christian.
That's the imprint that 7 years of Sunday School left on my psyche. I still believe there's a Creator but religion is too flawed and hypocritical to be anything other than man-made.

Posted by: Hoarsewhisperer | Aug 5, 2017 10:20:49 AM | 66

I wanted to point our that the way a "religion" is practiced varies considerably between countries and communities. In American version, a traveler with a brain injury is helped by two hospitals (send by helicopter from the first hospital to the hospital where she was operated) and then gets a stack of bills for nearly 500,000 dollars (50,000 for the helicopter ride alone) NYT, March this year.

Posted by: Piotr Berman | Aug 5 2017 16:38 utc | 72

We resurrected the Taliban so we could justifiably stay in Afghanistan for one thousand years fighting them to a standstill while we occupy the country and make it a colony and a forward basecamp in the heart of central Asia on the border of China and in the path of the new Silk Road. The American people didn't get the memo because it was never sent.

Posted by: RenoDino | Aug 5 2017 17:31 utc | 73

@ 73
It will be beneficial to roadside bandits (USUKIS, INC.) to own some prime locations along the Silk Road.

One guy's bandit is another guy's freedom fighter.

Posted by: fastfreddy | Aug 5 2017 17:45 utc | 74

“Linear” or some kind of poor thinking, planning?

No, I think not.

There is nothing subtle or complicated here. US wars are simply killing sprees, rapine, destruction, torture, etc. for let’s say one part sadistic thrills…There is no goal except to dominate sand niggers for ex. Steal etc. and grab money, have adventures, rape, etc. plus inserting the other profiteers, more institutionalised, an endless list, US ‘aid’ orgs, reconstructions, criminals in cahoots with the US, the drug trade, human trafficking, banking of a kind, etc. As well as thus at home the need for funding the milit-ind. complex, arms trade, security cos, etc. etc. Disaster capitalism or lets call it outright gangsterim at its most chaotic and covert — nothing whatsover to do with winning a war.

Afgh. is a prime example, heh what 15 years now, nothing is won or lost, everything goes on underground (drug trade = no 1.), and Trump complains that the ‘fantastic minerals’ (which were often quoted as a reason to enter Afgh. as if US citizens would just agree to kill off ppl to steal their stuff, well allrighty…) are not being exploited by the US after all these years of ‘war’…he has a point, but everyone knows he is naive and old style type colonialism is passé, that is not what it is all about.

Iraq is similar, *whooo* Iraq has huge oil reserves and the US had to! grab it as by their divine right (while accusing Saddam of whatever and killing him off), and today, the US is not involved in the exploitation of Iraqi oil, except perhaps illegally (Kurds? idk?), and in only 1-3 very small participations - Occidental, Exxon. The Wiki is not great but gives a rough list, an idea. Trump complains the Chinese reap the benefits (aka take-over) in Afgh, it is the case in Iraq as well.

Posted by: Noirette | Aug 5 2017 17:51 utc | 75

paul @ 61 said: "Seemingly smart people still refuse to even consider the possibility that chaos represents not the failure of policy, but the success of policy."

Yep, through chaos, you can really pilfer. Ask the Trump regime....

Posted by: ben | Aug 5 2017 17:52 utc | 76

Noirette @ 75: Exactly. Stated in a few paragraphs, something many people, especially Mr. Brenner, don't do, but then, confusing the peons with rhetorical overkill, is a good tactic.

Some posters here follow the same tactic..

Posted by: ben | Aug 5 2017 18:00 utc | 77

Simplyamazed 8 Jackrabbit 11
Exactly. The specific goals are never articulated. There are some on the surface used to sell for support or acquiescense. The results speak for themselves because the top (ass)hats never admit defeat of the primary goals; it's mostly chaos like skip 7 said.

Posted by: Curtis | Aug 5 2017 18:44 utc | 79

Posted by: Temporarily Sane | Aug 5 2017 20:24 utc | 80

If you've got the means to print money (or to simply post it and jockey it plus or minus on electronic score boards) and you can maintain it as the world's standard instrument of trade, you'll have people lined up to get some. And what the hell, it's just numbers on paper. It's backed by "faith and credit".

Everything Wiki is CIA approved. They do have a sense of humor and a sense of irony. One can often find the relevant details buried within the deep layers of bullshit.

Posted by: fast freddy | Aug 5 2017 20:25 utc | 81

@79 The primary goal is hegemony. But chaos is just as good for the MIC. Think of the thousands employed directly and indirectly by the military flying stuff around, servicing bases, making weapons. The secondary goal is maintaining full employment.

Posted by: dh | Aug 5 2017 20:28 utc | 82

"Kleptocracy now putting down roots in the U.S.A."

Not quite. That kleptocracy put down roots in the US during WW2. You only see it nowadays because, like every capitalistic system, it's committed to growth - hence more, and more and more wars.
But remember Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam... it's been like that for decades.

Posted by: Lea | Aug 5 2017 20:48 utc | 83

I realise in some circles Eistein is regarded as such a science hero whose thoughts must never be subjected to critical analysis. My contention wasn't that Einstein was a linear thinker because of quantum entanglement, I merely used his confused and somewhat emotive statements on quantum entanglement as an example of what happens when linear thinking meets something 'off the wall' outside the linear thinkers range of possibility. Einstein maintained that the identical state of two particles even when a kazillion miles apart must mean that some message is transmitted between the two and since that conflicted with his proof nothing can exceed the speed of light, it was incorrect. He was wrong because he didn't consider all possibilities that the effect was because of observation there was no communication, it is just that measuring one particle sets the quantum state for both, the classic metaphor was Schrödinger's cat which is neither alive nor dead until someone opens the box to take a look.
Science News gets down to the nitty gritty of it better than I can.
By the time quantum mechanics was being widely considered Einstein was the grand old man of physics meaning he likely spent more time justifying his early ideas than he spent working on new stuff, which is fair enough happens to all of us, young people break down the gates with innovative thinking, but it also reveals Einstein to be a person who moved from A to B to C linearly rather than considering the infinite possiblities that surround us all.

Posted by: Debsisdead | Aug 5 2017 23:33 utc | 84

The brutality of Capitalism has no place in our ex-paradise called Earth, the tinny blue dot.
We are commited to extinction within a few decades. Capitalism MUST die. It has zombified most of the planet with its relentless consumerism and war.
What are the mechanics of extinction?
It is called causality, and everybody should be aware of it. Buddhists discovered causality, and probably many other religions before them, thousands of years ago. Physics know this, they call it : action- reaction. But it doesn't hit home in our present reality. In our universe , cause and effect RULES. All the way down to the quantum level, which is conciousness .
So, Capitalism actions and thoughts will have an answer and it's called extinction . Capitalism is anathema to peace and life in our galaxy.

Posted by: Maduro | Aug 5 2017 23:40 utc | 85

Debsisdead #84

you are again wrong. In 1922 Einstein was NOT a grand old man of physics. He was about 40 years old. He became world famous with his predictions from his 1915 paper that were confirmed by the measurements of the solar eclipse in 1919. At that time he predicted quantum entanglement which was not measured for another 70 years.

Quantum mechanics (Plancks work) preceded Einsteins ideas on relativity. In fact, Einstein never earned his Nobel prize for either theories of relativity but for the photo-electric explanation -- this is one of the big advances establishing quantum theory. Einstein never rejected quantum mechanics, he simply believed that it was an incomplete theory. For him to have won the Nobel prize in physics for his work in this field and predicted quantum entanglement 70 years before it was verified experimentally does seem to me to some major accomplishments in quantum theory even if never felt that it was a complete theory. You might try to go back and look at the history of physics in the first 30 years of the 20th century and less time regurgitating bone head science news articles written by people who understand neither quantum theory or relativity.

Posted by: ToivoS | Aug 6 2017 0:32 utc | 86

Surely Einstein's theory of relativity was not the result of linear thinking.
Einstein himself said his discoveries and theoies were not products of his rational mind.

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6 2017 2:18 utc | 87

Russia learnt a huge lesson from their experience in Afghanistan. There they retreated in the face of a violent Wahabist insurgency ...

Posted by: aniteleya | Aug 4, 2017 12:33:51 PM | 9

Linear thinking is problematic. But at least it involves "thinking". Give it a try, for God's sake, aniteleya.

Posted by: nobody | Aug 6 2017 2:43 utc | 88

By the 1940's when had Einstein hit amerika big and the media there were playing him up and using him to sell papers by digging up things such as the quotation he made against QE in 1935 not 1922, Einstein was the grand old man of physics, but as per usual rather than debating the point about linear thinking which I reckon Einstein showed himself to be guilty of when he dismissed quantum entanglement out of hand as “spooky action at a distance”, some of us seem to favour the chance to go all anal which is sad, when I thought we were all trying a bit of dialectic - moving ideas around to see what works rather than arguing the toss about how many quanta fit on the head of a pin.

Posted by: Debsisdead | Aug 6 2017 6:54 utc | 89

Dear Debsisdead

It is much better to toss ideas around to see what works rather than arguing the toss, as you say. I would say that the second represents linearity whereas the first does not.

The conceit that there is a thing called linear thinking is a means of reducing the confusion of reality to a simpler set of ideas as a means of understanding. It is a description of reality, not the reality itself.

Einstein had to use linear logic to prove the consistency and predictability of his theories, and he was trained to be good at that. However, I believe his initial insights show nonlinearity - his insights about the relativity of time demonstrate a method of thinking and understanding that broke free of the linear constraints of current theories and practices. What we call genius generally goes beyond categorization and combines complex thought processes.

I was taught to visualise thought processes as convergent and divergent. Generally, convergent thinking starts with a proposition and works a link at a time along a chain of connections to find a unique, provable new proposition. Divergent thinking, by contrast starts with the same proposition, then radiates its analysis in many directions outward, looking for complex fields that have correlations and connections. Divergent thiking often is associated with creativity. I would say that Einstein was thinking divergently when he made the leap to relativity of time.

The issue I have with the analysis in this paper about linearity, is that it assumes a conclusion then argues that the route from the initial proposition (win the war in Afganistan) to the conclusion (not winning the war) shows too slavish devotion to linear thinking to account for the complexity of reality (that is, conflating the theory with reality). I believe that the initial assumption that the proposition is to win the war in a conventional sense is a failure to take account of the divergent thinking that the strategists actually display: (i) there are layered objectives, none dominant; (ii) there are multiple routes to various alternative objectives; (iii) it is not necessary to achieve all objectives; (iv) success is relative and can be adjusted as circumstances shift and change.

For instance, defeating the Taliban and taking full control of Afghanistan can be a worthwhile objective provided the result is not a quagmire. As a second and competing objective, merely denying dominance or control to a perceived enemy (Al Quaida, Russia, China) without being bogged down can be an equally satisfying success.

In the 1800's there was an active debate in London about the nature of Empire. Some favoured settlement and control of territory while others felt territorial control would lead to a quagmire and too much expense - the better objective was to control trade routes and key strategic points (Capetown, Aden, Hong Kong). The experience of the British Empire appears to inform U.S. Imperial thinking.

Posted by: Simplyamazed | Aug 6 2017 8:41 utc | 90


So 9/11 happened the exact moment the US were switching their support to the Northern Alliance, meaning the Iranian backed part of the Afghan wars?

So that after 9/11 the US hit two strategic enemies of Iran - Iraq and the Taliban - expecting gratefulness?

The problem is not linear thinking. The problem is the ivory tower.


No kind of creative thinking will help you once you have dug yourself into a hole.
There is no kind of thinking taking you to an unrealistic goal.

Posted by: somebody | Aug 6 2017 9:20 utc | 91

Probably my last post on this;
For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capable, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is , and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. (Albert Einstein, 1939)

I thought it dealt with thinking in general, just swell. ;-)

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6 2017 10:59 utc | 93

91 or maybe it is the inability to admit you lost it.

New York Times from 1998

The Russians find themselves in loose collaboration with Iran in countering the growing power of the Taliban. In fact, American officials and other experts say Iran is now supplying even more arms, fuel and other resources to the anti-Taliban rebels than is Russia.

Squared off against Russia and Iran in this post-cold-war confrontation are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which are backing the Taliban.


Russia has decided to develop a broad, strategic relationship with Iran, partly because of their overlapping oil interests in Central Asia, American officials say.

Support for the Afghan rebels serves Iranian and Russian economic and political interests. The northern alliance acts as a buffer between the Taliban and the Afghan border with the former Soviet republics, while the continuation of civil war in the country prevents Western oil companies from building pipelines across Afghan territory.

Both Russia and Iran fear the potential spread of the radicalism of the Taliban. Moscow wants to insure that Islamic fundamentalism does not spill into the former Soviet republics to the north, while the ruling Shiite Muslims of Iran see the Sunni Muslims of the Taliban as bitter rivals. ''The Russians and the Iranians are very concerned by the possibility of victory by the Taliban,'' a State Department official said.

At the same time, Russia and Iran would like to influence how the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Sea region are channeled and exploited. In fact, American officials believe that Russia has decided that it must curb the influence of the United States and of American oil companies in the Caspian oil basin.

American officials also say they believe that Iran and Russia want to insure that many of the planned Caspian oil pipelines traverse Iranian or Russian territory. As a result, the Iranians, and to a lesser extent the Russians, have an incentive to block efforts to build pipelines across Afghanistan to the Indian subcontinent.

So that in the end, the US are supporting the same players in Afghanistan that Russia and Iran support to finally arrive - at huge cost to the taypayer - with this

Iran gains ground in Afghanistan as U.S. military presence wanes

Posted by: somebody | Aug 6 2017 11:26 utc | 94

Okay, I lied; I thought Brenner's article was spot on, within its context; which was, U.S. foreign policy.
Past that, is all the chatter (dialectic(?) which followed; much of it, far off the mark.
Possibly my last comment... ;-)

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6 2017 11:27 utc | 95

plus 94 outcome

War in Afghanistan: Former President Hamid Karzai Claims There Is No Difference Between ISIS and America

Karzai worked closely with U.S. officials when he was president of Afghanistan. He took office in 2001, and remained in power until 2014, governing throughout the U.S.’ invasion of Afghanistan. For years he welcomed American efforts to try and rid his country of the Taliban.

But his relationship with Washington became increasingly tense and he eventually accused the U.S. of sharing a common goal with the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. In 2014, he refused to meet with then-President Barack Obama at a Bagram military base during a surprise visit with troops.

Now, Karzai seems to be lending his support to another country: Russia. During his VOA interview, he brushed away claims—made by the U.S. and rights groups—that Russia has been assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Moscow, which supports including the militants in peace talks, says it has never armed the group, but it has communicated with them.

Posted by: somebody | Aug 6 2017 11:30 utc | 96

somebody | Aug 6, 2017 7:30:33 AM | 96

Good find;
War in Afghanistan: Former President Hamid Karzai Claims There Is No Difference Between ISIS and America.
Karzai is correct.
I wish the rest of the world (whom I know think this as well) would speak the fuck up!
Coming soon; I hope...

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6 2017 11:51 utc | 97

Possibly my last comment... ;-)
Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6, 2017 7:27:48 AM | 95

. . . Oh, if only

A vain hope

Posted by: Just Sayin' | Aug 6 2017 12:48 utc | 98

Just Sayin' | Aug 6, 2017 8:48:03 AM | 98

Well, life is like that...
Ya just never know.

Posted by: V. Arnold | Aug 6 2017 13:00 utc | 99

"Classical elements typically refer to the concepts in Ancient Greece, of earth, water, air, fire, and aether, which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances.[1][2]" -- Wikipedia, the dictionary that certain people can edit.

Please note that modern chemists do not deny the existence of earth, water, air, fire, and aether (well the aether was presumably abandoned), but they most certainly do not lay the foundations of their science upon them. The "classical elements" model led to a complete dead end.

Likewise, this "linear thinking" model of psychology is simply inadequate to the task of actually explaining anything. It provides only a vaguely analogous semblance of a real basis for such analyses. It does appear that our ability to express the limitations of our cognitive faculties are oddly limited. But this is probably no fault of the author of the original article.

Actually I would say that "linear thinking" is not the problem with our beloved leaders. I would rather say "just plain nuts" is more like it.

Posted by: blues | Aug 6 2017 13:38 utc | 100

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