Salisbury the Late-Nineteenth Century Grand Strategist, as Explicated by Roberts, According to Gaddis: Weekend Reading
Weekend Reading: John Lewis Gaddis's On Grand Strategy is not a book I would recommend highly. The "practitioners" he thinks he has learned from are "David Brooks, Walter Russell Mead, John Negroponte, Peggy Noonan, Victoria Nuland, Paul Solman, Jake Sullivan, and Evan Wolfson". These are, respectivley: a Republican hack-journalist with some regrets, an ex-Yale professor now Hudson Institute fellow a little too enamored of the "clash of civilizations", a George W. Bush Iraq ambassador and DNI whose tenure was about an aveage disaster for the disastrous George W. Bush admiistration, another Republican hack-journalist but this one without regrets, a former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who appears to have been so undiplomatic in her communications to have made a personal enemy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a very sharp business-and-economics correspondent for PBS, one of the chief negotiators for the Iran nuclear deal, and a co-counsel in the Hawai'i "freedom to marry" case. With the exception of Jake Sullivan, these are not people I would take as positive role-model practitioners of "Grand Strategy" at all. But there they are.
However, there are two passages in the book that struck me very positively:
The first was made up of Gaddis's strictures about how "foxes" are btter than "hedgehogs". I might write about this someday...
The second was about British late-nineteenth-century prime minister Robert Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil (1830-1903), eventually 3rd Marquess of Salisbury from 1868, and Britain's grand strategy. Starting in the 1840s with the Oregon affair, Britain pursued a grand strategy of appeasing the United States—a strategy that Robert Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil unwillingly embraced—that managed to make the United States Britain's wired aces in the seven-card stud poker game that was world geopolitics from 1914 to 2000:
John Lewis Gaddis On Grand Strategy https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0143132512: "One night during the [American] Civil War, Georgina Cecil awoke to find her husband standing, asleep but agitated, before an open second-floor window. He seemed to be expecting invaders, 'presumably Federal soldiers or revolutionary mob'. Strangely, though, this happened in England, and the sleepwalker was Lord Robert Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, a descendant of Queen Elizabeth’s trusted counselor Lord Burghley. As the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, this Cecil would go on to serve his own queen, Victoria, three times as prime minister. Never though, his wife recalled, did he suffer 'such extremes of depression and nervous misery as at that time'. For the United States terrified Salisbury...
...his biographer Andrew Roberts has explained. He’d never been there and disapproved of slavery, but he despised democracy—so deeply that he sympathized with secession, favored the Confederacy, and regarded Lincoln’s assassination as a legitimate last act of resistance.
Most of all, Salisbury worried that the Union’s pursuit of ideological ends through vast military means would revive Napoleonic ambitions in Europe. Salisbury died in 1903, not before nightmares, however, anticipating the trenches, tanks, killing fields, and even aerial bombardments of the 1914–18 Great War. “If we had interfered,” he’d written of the Civil War in the last year of his life, it might have been possible “to reduce the power of the United States to manageable proportions. But two such chances are not given to a nation in the course of its career.”
Americans through most of Salisbury’s life, however, had been anything but Napoleonic. Eager to heal their wounds of war—even if that meant weakening emancipations for which the Union had fought—they’d returned to the states most of the power Lincoln centralized, dismantled their world-class military, and concentrated on populating, developing, and exploiting a continental republic, swollen after 1867 by Seward’s purchase, from the Russians, of what became Alaska.
National security receded as a concern: the United States, historian Robert Kagan writes, was now “too large, too rich, and too heavily populated to be an inviting target for invasion even by the world’s strongest powers.” That in itself alarmed Salisbury the sleepwalker, for where did it leave the British Dominion of Canada, with its long, indefensible southern border? He could hardly rely indefinitely on American self-restraint.
Salisbury the strategist, however, distinguished between predation—what strong countries do to weak ones—and baiting—what adolescents do to parents. Putting up with the second might forestall the first. “Our best chance of ordinary civility,” he concluded while foreign minister in 1888, “is to have a thoroughly anti-British Administration in Washington.”
But even Salisbury, as prime minister, thought it excessive when, in 1895, Grover Cleveland’s secretary of state, Richard Olney, turned an old Venezuelan boundary dispute with British Guiana into a brash reassertion of the Monroe Doctrine. “Europe as a whole is monarchical,” he superfluously announced. “America, on the other hand, is devoted to the exactly opposite principle—to the idea that every people has an inalienable right of self-government.... Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent.” Despite its erratic targeting—Confederate rights? Venezuela’s geography?—Olney’s “twenty-inch gun” (Cleveland’s gloat) caught Salisbury at a bad time.
Baited... on two fronts, Salisbury yielded on one. “There is no such thing as a fixed policy,” he observed, “because policy like all organic entities is always in the making.” And so he and his successors began methodically and unilaterally eliminating all sources of friction with the United States. They not only gave in on Venezuela (where the Americans promptly lost interest and accepted arbitration), but subsequently and more significantly on the Spanish-American War (Britain stayed neutral), on the Philippines (Salisbury supported American, not German, annexation), on a future Panama Canal (Britain relinquished long-held rights in the region), and on Alaska’s boundary (Canada sacrificed for the greater good). It may not have been appeasement, but it was lubrication: like Mikhail Gorbachev almost a century later, Salisbury set out to deprive an enemy of its enemy.
Self-congratulation wasn’t Salisbury’s style, but he could more credibly own the accomplishment. Which he tactfully did in 1897 by congratulating his queen—his ancestor Burghley would have approved—as she celebrated her sixtieth year on the throne:
The impulse of democracy, which began in another country in other lands, has made itself felt in our time, and vast changes in the centre of power and incidence of responsibility have been made almost imperceptibly without any disturbance or hindrance in the progress of the prosperous development of the nation.
The sleepwalker still regretted the Confederacy’s defeat, and the consequent loss of a balance of power in North America. The strategist, however, never forgot that “we are fish,” and “alone can do nothing to remedy an inland tyranny.” So Great Britain learned to live with a democracy dominating a continent. For that, with whatever ambivalence, Salisbury had Lincoln to thank...
#weekendreading #strategy #history