True Strategic Genius: What Edward Luttwak Teaches Us About America and the World
Luttwak’s brief answer is that conflict and challenge don't weaken Israel but are a source of greatness and success. “There are certain levels of violence that are so high that they’re damaging, and there are also levels that are so low they are damaging.”
The question’s approach reflects the currently dominant idea that conflict is always negative, risk is bad, and that therefore government must create a totally safe environment. In contrast to the previous point about comprehending other societies, understanding that glorified wimpiness is a dreadful notion is deeply embedded in American history and society, which is why European models must be brought in to justify the “nanny state.”
Here’s where American exceptionalism shines, in showing that people capable of choosing their own diet and health insurance plan can achieve greatness while those living on a perpetual dole and under a “for your own good” set of rules cannot. This is also an important reason why Israel innately appeals to the vast majority of Americans.
The paradoxical logic of strategy contradicts the logic of everyday life, it goes against all normal definitions of intelligence we have. It only makes sense if you understand the dialectic. If you want peace, prepare for war. If you actively want war, disarm yourself, and then you’ll get war.
I believe that this most basic of strategic notions -- which the American people understand as a result of their own history and culture -- has been largely lost on the currently ruling elites today.
Samuels then asks an absolutely brilliant and important question which can be summarized as follows: If you are going to rise to rule a country like Russia or Egypt, you must be tough and wily:
Some kind of strategic genius with amazing survival skills, because the penalty for failure may be torture or death. ... By contrast, what does it take to become a U.S. senator? You have to eat rubber chicken dinners, you have to impress some rich people who are generally pretty stupid about politics, and smile in TV commercials. The penalties for failure are hardly so dire. And so, American leadership generally sucks, and America is perennially in the position of being the sucker in the global poker game.
There is a lot of truth in this view but that’s also valid for Luttwak’s critique. He points out that this kind of dictatorial, charismatic leadership also weakens a country because it reduces everyone else to the level of “serfs and valets.” They sink into passivity and either deceive the boss or rigidly implement bad orders. This is one of the main weaknesses of Third World radical, Communist, and other such dictatorships that leads them into disasters and explains why they don’t become prosperous, stable societies.
A free citizenry freed from excessive state control or supervision and armed with a pluralistic capitalism will beat an over-centralized state for this very reason. That’s a key factor for the inevitable failure of the currently dominant ideas and policies in America even though they seem superficially to be neat, orderly, and guided by what Mark Levin calls “masterminds” who have a utopian blueprint and who have read lots of books.
Millions of minds able to operate flexibly and willing to adapt to the real world and changing conditions are going to do better than a handful of self-proclaimed geniuses who spend their time talking to each other, have a rigid worldview, and possess only narrow experience.
What makes Luttwak great, among other things, is his ability to combine those two worlds, to merge unblinking, un-naïve acquaintance with gritty reality and great wider knowledge as well, combining both smarts and wisdom.