Thursday, December 10, 2015

Thomas Meaney on Edward Luttwak: 'The Machiavelli of Maryland'

Only in America was the career of Edward Luttwak possible. The perpetually renewable reservoir of naivety at the highest levels of the US government has been good for business. During the cold war, Luttwak was often identified as a peculiar American species known as the “defence intellectual”..  It is tempting to imagine Luttwak as a man exiled to the wrong place and time... It is not hard, after all, to picture him conniving at the Congress of Vienna, or plotting murders in the Medici court. He has the air of the seasoned counsellor to the prince who is dispatched to deal with the Mongols and returns alone, on horseback, clutching advantageous terms on parchment.


“The cow is the most complex machine on Earth,” Luttwak told me...
“You know, I never gave George W Bush enough credit for what he’s done in the Middle East,” Luttwak continued. “I failed to appreciate at the time that he was a strategic genius far beyond Bismarck. He ignited a religious war between Shi’ites and Sunnis that will occupy the region for the next 1,000 years. It was a pure stroke of brilliance!”..
If there’s one point on which I agree with the leftist weaklings, it’s 1) that McDonald’s must go and 2) that American citizens should be forced en masse to take a course in phenomenology, so that they can develop the proper philosophical disposition necessary for understanding the incarnate evil of the chicken nugget.” 

People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests. The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC – can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.

Luttwak is a self-proclaimed “grand strategist”, who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls “the logic of strategy”, which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune.

Luttwak believes that the logic of strategy contains truths that apply to all times and places. His books and articles have devoted followings among academics, journalists, businessmen, military officers and prime ministers. His 1987 book Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace is a set text at universities and military academies across the world. His official – and unofficial – advisory work for the US government has been praised by generals and secretaries of state. He is a familiar figure at government ministries, in the pages of leading journals and on Italian television.

But his work is not limited to armchair theorising. Readers who have been treated to Luttwak’s counterintuitive provocations on the op-ed page of the New York Times might be surprised to know that he considers writing an extra-curricular activity. For the past 30 years, Luttwak has run his own strategic consultancy – a sort of one-man security firm – that provides bespoke “solutions” to some very intractable problems. In his long career, Luttwak has been asked by the president of Mexico to help eliminate a street gang that was burning tourist buses in the city of Mexicali; the Dalai Lama has consulted him about relations with China, European governments have hired him to root out al-Qaida operatives, and the US army has commissioned him to update its counterinsurgency manual. He earns around $1m a year from his “jobs”. “It’s always important to get paid,” he likes to insist. “It protects you from the liberal problem of good intentions and from being called an intriguer.”.. read more: