Foreign-policy wizards are smart. They can ring circles around anyone and anything. Listen to them long enough and up becomes down, down becomes up, right becomes wrong and wrong translates into right. The challenge of the foreign-policy wizard, so often, is to know where in the tangle of logic he is and how to extricate himself when backed into a corner.
Having spent two days last week at the George Bush Center in Texas in the company of foreign policy wizards, I must report that they are persuasive and plausible creatures. Whether in or out of government, they seem to know what is what and who is whom. Take the bright young analyst I met from a famous intelligence website. A few minutes with him and my brain felt like a scrambled egg.
He was an Asia expert, as all wizards specialize in one thing or another. Who better to ask about the growing power of China? Had he read Bill Gertz’s book on the China threat? Did he follow Gertz’s articles in the Washington Times?
“You have to be aware of Gertz’s agenda,” he said. “You know who owns the Washington Times.” (Wink, wink, hint, hint.)
“Does that mean the information is untrustworthy?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” he replied. “It’s just part of an agenda.”
“But aren’t China and Russia’s war preparations significant?” I probed.
“No,” he shot back. “They’re outgunned massively.”
Using my fingers and toes, not being such a wizard myself, I made a rough calculation of firepower. I recalled that China has over 200 combat divisions, North Korea has over 60, Russia has dozens of divisions at various strength levels. The United States has about 13 divisions — Army and Marine Corps. Then I considered the nuclear firepower equation. The Russians have
6,000 known strategic nuclear weapons and 20,000 tactical nukes. How could this wizard of foreign policy, this master of Asian affairs, dismiss the massive firepower and manpower of the Russia-China “partnership”?
“You want to talk firepower,” I suggested. “Look at Russia and China’s nuclear forces.”
“Those aren’t usable,” he said. “Nobody will ever start a nuclear war.”
Noting recent Norwegian press reports that the Russians had at least two nuclear weapons on the attack submarine Kursk, which sank on account of a tragic accident last August, I posed the following question: “If nuclear weapons are unusable then why have the Russians bothered to put unusable weapons on their attack submarines, in violation of promises; and why have
they secretly shipped such weapons into the Kaliningrad enclave?”
“I cannot believe that we don’t have nuclear weapons on our attack submarines as well,” he said. “And besides, the nukes in Kaliningrad were probably always there?”
“But doesn’t it bother you that the Russians are lying to us about their nuclear deployments?” I wondered.
“No,” he said without pause. “We lie and cheat just the same.”
“Do you have any hard evidence that we have secret nuclear stockpiles along the Baltic Sea, or keep nukes on our attack submarines?” I asked.
“No,” he admitted.
According to our foreign-policy wizards, facts are meaningless. Such is the wisdom and honesty of a foreign-policy wizard — someone paid to think in circles within circles. The expressionless face, the intellectual flatland within, was almost terrifying; so I couldn’t resist asking my favorite question: “Don’t you think, in the long run, that nuclear war is likely?”
“Highly unlikely,” he pronounced. “Only a few dozen nukes would destroy the world.”
“But surely you don’t believe that!”
“Well, of course it wouldn’t destroy the world,” he admitted. “But it would be catastrophic and nobody would win.”
The wizard didn’t know much history. He didn’t know that every war is catastrophic, and many wars are fought in which nobody wins; and yet, the wars have nonetheless been fought. “States base themselves on rational decision-making,” he said with a blank expression.
Had he not heard that men are emotional creatures, motivated by desires and dislikes? Does he not know that reason is often the puppet of love and hate, infatuation and misconception?
The wizard’s method was now coming into focus. To make a series of nonsense statements was only the first step. The second step was the hard part, in which the wizard would draw circles within circles to build up an incoherent system of impenetrable stuff, strongly fortified against reason and common sense.
I could not resist testing the wizard’s skill. His fortress was one I had assaulted before. At its foundation was the notion that nobody would contemplate fighting a nuclear war because nobody could win such a war. In my view, only a poverty-stricken imagination could fail to see that the
lowliest suicide bomber sees his own detonation as a victory.
“If nobody could win a nuclear war, then why is China so hot to build up a large and advanced nuclear force? Why go to the trouble?” I asked.
“To have a stronger bargaining position,” he immediately replied.
“But if nobody will ever use such weapons, as you just stated, and a few dozen bursts will ruin everyone’s life, why would your bargaining chip have to consist of several hundred nuclear bombs as opposed to a dozen?”
“Well,” he admitted, “you can’t be absolutely sure that somebody won’t use them.”
According to the wizard’s book of ethics, self-contradiction is not a sin. Maintain the Establishment illusions at all costs. Debunk facts with bromides and overcome logic with illogic.
“So nuclear war is possible?” I asked with genuine puzzlement.
“Highly unlikely,” he repeated with confidence.
How unlikely is unlikely? In such a case one ought to know. Rabid Chinese ideologists who point nuclear, chemical and biological weapons at us must have their reasons. And who is to say what their definition of victory might be? A smoldering wreck of a world, under firm totalitarian control, might be their ultimate aim. After all, communists have wrecked their own and other countries again and again without even using nuclear weapons. It seems to me that they now have a ready-made shortcut at hand for wrecking whole continents. Where else are we to imagine they are going with weaponized smallpox and anthrax and nerve gas and our own W-88 warhead?
My discussion with the wizard was moving in a circle. He had a formula for dismissing the threat against this country. The formula didn’t have to be factual, and it didn’t require any logic. We outgun Russia and China and North Korea in conventional weapons, he said. And in nuclear
terms, the next war will not be a nuclear war. The likelihood was so small as to rate as meaningless. Furthermore, according to this wizard, we outgun Russia and China not because we have more divisions, but because we have more cash.
Is this merely a stupid wizard, unrepresentative of the race?
Not at all. I met many wizards who told me the same story. Their words, their thoughts and their analysis are cast from the same mold. At lunch I met a leading professor from the National War College. The encounter I had with him was identical to the conversation reported above. I began by asking him about the work of Bill Gertz.
“I wouldn’t trust it,” answered the professor. “The Washington Times belongs to a religious sect.”
Here we go again.
None of the wizards I met last week offered any factual or logical points to debunk the stunning revelations of Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz. None of them offered any facts or logic to show that the Cold War is over, that nuclear war is no longer possible. All these well-fed wizards had to offer, in response to my questions, was convoluted arguments meant to protect the elite illusions of the famous persons and institutions they were paid to advise.
In this regard, flattery is everything, and the truth is nothing.
These are the professors and analysts who tell our politicians that the Cold War is over, that giving candy to the North Koreans is the best way to defeat them, and that Russia and China are not really preparing for a future world war. Therefore, President Bush is told that he can dispense
with two Army divisions, three carrier groups and half our nuclear arsenal. Everyone, to be sure, is pleased with this advice. It saves money on the budget, paints a rosy international picture and makes the business interests very happy.
The next time you hear our president or secretary of state say that the Cold War is over, try and remember those clever wizards who nourish this false idea day by day — not only in presidents, but in the entire nation.