January 1, 2004

"The most promising strategic network of this century."

The Atlantic Century, by Ralph Peters. Published in PARAMETERS: US Army War College Quarterly

Key Points:

Although the United States will remain engaged in the Far East—as well as in the Middle East, Europe, and nearly everywhere else—the great unexplored opportunities for human advancement, fruitful alliances, strategic cooperation, and creating an innovative, just, and mutually beneficial international order still lie on the shores of the Atlantic. The difference is that the potential for future development lies not across the North Atlantic in “Old Europe,” but on both sides of the South Atlantic, in Africa and Latin America.

Especially since 9/11, the deteriorating civilization of the Middle East has demanded our attention. But we must avoid a self-defeating strategic fixation on the Arab Muslim world and self-destructive states nearby. Any signs of progress in the Middle East will be welcome, but the region overall is fated to remain an inexhaustible source of disappointments. While Africa suffers from an undeserved reputation for hopelessness (often a matter of racism couched in diplomatic language) and Latin America is dismissed as a backwater, the aggressive realms of failure in the Middle East always get the benefit of the doubt. When the United States places a higher priority on relations with Egypt than on those with Mexico or Brazil, and when Jordan attracts more of our attention than does South Africa, our foreign policy lacks common sense as much as it does foresight.

Our obsession with the Middle East is not just about oil. It’s about intellectual habit. We assign unparalleled strategic importance to the survival of the repugnant Saudi regime because that’s the way we’ve been doing things for half a century, despite the complete absence of political, cultural, or elementary human progress on the Arabian Peninsula.


The future -- our future --lies elsewhere, in those long-neglected realms where human wastage has been blithely dismissed and every local misfortune was seized upon as proof that "they" simply weren't in our league. We have been seduced into playing 19th-century European great-power politics in the 21st century; indeed, considering our current involvement in the Middle East, one is tempted to claim that we're playing 12th-century European power politics.

To the extent strategic requirements allow, we need to reduce our commitments to Europe, as well as combating our psychological dependence on the Eurocentric worldview. We are the children of Mark Twain, not of Proust. Like Huck Finn, we need to avoid Aunt Polly%u2019s attempts to put too many table manners on us. We always need to light out for new frontiers. And the human frontiers of the 21st century are in our own country, in Latin America, and in Africa.

Try a simple experiment. Lay out a map of the world. With a pencil and ruler, connect the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal with all the countries in the Americas or in Africa to which they have historical or cultural ties. Next, connect the countries of Africa to those states of the Western Hemisphere to which they have ethnic and cultural ties. Now connect the United States to the countries in Latin America and Africa to which we have ties of population and culture. You have just drawn the most promising strategic network of this century.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 1, 2004 11:57 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

When evaluating this that Peters is an optimist,with the occasional lurch toward...well,not utopianism,precisly,but not really all that far from it.

Posted by: M. at January 2, 2004 7:56 AM

He makes some good arguments, but like it or not, American foreign policy is always going to focus first on the parts of the world that most urgently affect us at the moment. Right now, we are effectively at war with most of the Middle East (officially or unofficially). We might actually be overextended in that war financially, and militarily (I don't think so, but we definitely are strained). I guarantee you we won't be nation building in Africa any time soon, and then only if an African country is stupid lucky enough to have its government attack us. It's unfair perhaps, but your pan of fries is on fire, you can't afford to start cooking something new on another burner.

Posted by: Woody - Texas, USA at January 2, 2004 12:49 PM

This makes the most sense of anything I've read in quite some time. We, as a country, should be cognizant of the fact that we could replace middle eastern oil with western African oil, and, though there would certainly be a new set of problems, at least they would not be ones that have proven insoluble for centuries.

Africa deserves our attention and assistance. South America is part of our hemisphere and culturally does not differ from us in the way that the middle east does. Let us spend some time, money and diplomacy in our own back yard.

It seems harsh but why not let the despots of the middle east rot in the hell that they have created for themselves.

Posted by: Jamie at January 2, 2004 2:39 PM

This will all be true the moment the US no longer so desperately needs oil. 70% of oil reserves are in the middle east, and that will be true for the duration.

Posted by: RB at January 5, 2004 4:51 PM