Letters to the Editors: Full Spectrum Dominance

LOTS OF MAIL on this one, dear readers. I wrote about Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s complete misinterpretation of an operational military concept called "full spectrum dominance" (FSD) and went to the trouble of explaining what FSD really is. Your notes back to Greg covered what I can only characterize as "full spectrum responses," from complimentary and appreciative for the information, to utterly emotional, dismissive, and downright personal. But don’t take my word for it. Here is some of what your fellow readers said.

From Henry in New Zealand:

"Subject: The Pinter Rap.

"Comments? You *really* want me to tell you how angry this piece of crap made me as I read it? I’m usually tolerant of your newsletters — skewed, but interesting — but this piece is rubbish. I’m severely tempted to revise the opinion I have, and share with others, of W&G.

"King is a pompous ass. American foreign policy is a complex swamp of criminal, ethical, and moral decomposition — King sees it as a ‘politically’ driven machine, but it’s worse, far worse, than that. It is the raw reflection of the worst in human nature. I couldn’t care less how King sees Pinter’s take on this — but I agree with Pinter. USA is insane at this point in its history — not random — that’s another sort of insanity — it is psychopathically insane and it should be shot in the face.

"If King sees no moral dimension to the actions of the country he is a product of, he is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Artists are more concerned with these things, and we should follow them — not animals of King’s stripe — as they have functioning moral compasses and King does not. Sincerely, Henry

"P.S. ‘The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.’ — Marcus Aurelius"

Byron’s Reply:

"I couldn’t care less how King sees Pinter’s take on this," writes Henry. Well, Henry, you must have cared enough to send an e-mail from New Zealand. Thank you, of course, for reading Whiskey & Gunpowder . I will save you the trouble of "sharing" your "opinion" of Whiskey & Gunpowder and just reprint your letter for all of our other subscribers to see. I am sure that many of our readers will enjoy your informed perspective that the "USA is insane at this point in its history…it is psychopathically insane and it should be shot in the face." Comments such as yours are very helpful to all of us north of the equator, because they provide the distinct moral clarity, not to mention the "functioning moral compass," that is otherwise so lacking in the national discourse of U.S. politics. Also, it is nice that you can offer up such real and attainable solutions to the real problems of this world. And thank you for the quotation by Marcus Aurelius. Is that where you got the idea about shooting the USA in the face"?

From John in Malvern, Pa.:

"Subject: Truth or Dare.

"Great balanced exposition on Harold Pinter exposing the left’s or liberals’ intellectual bias. Folks of their philosophy arrogantly believe that when you have the truth, bending the truth is justified to achieve your philosophical objectives….Why allow the facts [to] obscure the truth?"

Byron’s Reply:

When I studied optics, long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, one of the points that struck me was that every image you see is a reflection of something else. Same thing with discerning the "truth" or not of most things in this world. The inimitable Bill Bonner often says, "What you see depends on where you stand." So there is nothing inherently wrong with holding a bias. But you ought to know it and understand that your biases filter your view of things. And you also ought to understand that if you overly filter your views, eventually, you are going to blind yourself to some other reality.

From Mike, Location Unknown:

"’What is true? What is false?’ [Byron’s article stated that] ‘The first [strategic] assumption [behind FSD] was that the U.S. will continue to have global interests and remain engaged with regional actors in every part of the world. This is hardly controversial, and is just a statement of where things are headed over time.’

"If it isn’t controversial, it should be. For more than 100 years, young Americans have killed and been killed over our ‘global interests.’ Time passes, and we realize that our global interests were not what they seemed, or worth the fight. But the dead are dead. The very fact that our military plans to project our power all over the globe proves Pinter’s point."

Byron’s Reply:

Mike, I appreciate your point, but you are mixing up the different notions of U.S. "global interests" with raw military intervention. These are two distinct concepts. U.S. global interests are vast. Certainly, not all U.S. global interests require military intervention and, in fact, most of those global interests are simply commercial and political. But Mike, are you saying that you wish you could go back in time and undo much of the history of the 20th century? Join the club. I have a few opinions on the subject myself, which I have expressed at length in many previous articles. Revisiting the past is an interesting concept, and good luck with building your time machine. What you are saying is reminiscent of the Ray Bradbury science fiction tale "A Sound of Thunder," in which a group of people travels back to Cretaceous time and one of them kills a dinosaur. By killing the dinosaur, they thereby change all of the subsequent history of the Earth for the next 65 million years. The world to which they return is nothing like the world that they left before traveling back and changing the timeline so long ago. The question more worth asking, in my view, is what are the events that are occurring now, today, in the present time frame that are shaping the future? How will changing something in the here and now shape the future? If you have a handle on that, then you might be able actually to do something in one way or the other. And particularly if you are an investor, you want to be on the right side of historic trends.

From Teri, Location Unknown:

"An interesting and informative post, as always. However, I think the term [FSD] applies quite well to the strategy of the Republican right. They control the White House and Congress and are working hard on the Judiciary and local school boards across the country. Although they do not have a reliable majority on the Supreme Court as yet, the lower courts are dominated by Reagan/Bush appointees. In fact, all but a handful of Bush II appointees were confirmed by the Senate, a higher percentage than Clinton’s, and to listen to the right, you would think that the Senate has rejected a majority of Bush appointees.

"Add to that the power of conservative media: FOX, Clear Channel, and Rupert Murdoch’s publications being the most notable examples. Then add to that the power of the pulpit and their aggressive demonization of anyone who disagrees with their agenda and I think it is fair to say that the term ‘full spectrum dominance’ accurately describes their goals. Of course, that refers to the Republican Party, not the nation as a whole. Still, London and Stockholm are a long way away. From that distance, it may be hard to tell the difference between the two. Can you?"

Byron’s Reply:

Well, Teri, I am not exactly longing and pining for the good old days when you could watch anything you wanted on television as long as it was a product of one of the three major networks. Same thing goes for the editorial pages of the so-called "elite" media, although I confess that I read all of the usual suspects, like The New York Times , The Washington Post , the Los Angeles Times , and many more. (I particularly like Dan Neil, the automotive writer for the L.A. Times . He describes the latest automobiles in a way that can make a grown man cry. And he is one of the few writers in the mainstream media who have directly addressed the concept of Peak Oil.)

So you think that the Republicans are applying the concept of FSD to national politics? As opposed to the Democrats, I suppose, who do not also strive to control the White House, Congress, and the courts? Arguably, the Democrats controlled, if not dominated, the U.S. national agenda from 1933 to well into the 1990s. My view, Teri, is that what you are describing is the exact sort of dynamic that has been part of American politics since the founding of the republic. American politics drives American policy, even though people like Henry in New Zealand (see above) do not seem to appreciate the nuance.

From Roy in the United Kingdom:

"In your article, you reduce the meaning of ‘full spectrum dominance’ to winning wars. Why do you think the Americans use big words when ordinary words are available?…We know that, as Pinter points out, Politicians will use language to mean what they want it to mean — and this is what they have done."

Byron’s Reply:

Yes, Roy. "Politicians will use language to mean what they want it to mean — and this is what they have done." And this is what Pinter did in this Nobel speech as well, by misconstruing and misusing a concept of operational military art (FSD) to describe his view of the national "policy" of the U.S. That is why I thought that it was important to discuss and dissect the issue, especially if so gifted a writer as Harold Pinter could get it wrong by misusing an otherwise well-defined term. Also, FSD is not applicable just to "winning wars." FSD is a way of crafting military power so as to shape events in a way that can support nonbelligerent national strategy and policy. Thus FSD is also a deterrent, not just an approach to force-on-force warfighting. (See Larry’s letter, below.)

Roy, allow me to carry your point just a bit further. The danger inherent in having a powerful military that can, as you put it, "win wars" is that the politicians might decide to make a "policy" out of what is merely operational capability. Within the halls of the better war colleges of the world, this is referred to disdainfully as "strategy by targeting." This very real danger is not a uniquely American problem, but, in fact, has historical antecedents dating back to the most ancient of times. Politicians often confuse power with policy. This is, of course, a recipe for marching down the pathway to illegitimacy, if not disaster. This very concept informed one of the earliest of historians, Thucydides, who wrote about as much in his work The History of the Peloponnesian War (which I discussed at length in another Whiskey article). So discussing FSD is not merely an exercise in current events, but rather offers another means to plumb the depths of the human soul and what moves it.

On a more mundane, but practical, level, I plan to use the concept of FSD to introduce a discussion about "manufactured fuels" for the U.S. military (and, by extension, for the U.S. economy) in future articles in Whiskey & Gunpowder and at the Vancouver Agora Financial Wealth Symposium. Recall the definition of FSD as encompassing "(1) dominant maneuver, (2) precision engagement, (3) focused logistics and (4) full-dimensional protection." These elements all require certain forms of military investment and capitalization. So there is an investment angle to all of this as well, and in my view, it includes how people will deal (or not deal) with Peak Oil in the future.

From Colin in Johannesburg, South Africa:

"I think that Byron should maybe have a few shots of whiskey to relax before ranting against Pinter, Clinton, et al. I took the trouble to read Pinter’s speech. Thanks, Mr. King, for drawing my attention to it. I think the first half was good, though unexceptional. Other writers, in particular Hans Christian Anderson [‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’], Pirandello [‘The Emperor’ — funny how that word dominates], and Dostoyevsky, have dealt with fact, fiction, illusion, and delusion. Indeed, I would have defined it as the fundamental theme of your writers — as well as your comrades at Rude Awakening that, to crudely quote from faulty memory, people believe what they need to believe.

"The second part of Pinter’s speech was a standard, to-be-expected left-wing diatribe. But then what did you expect, a critique or criticism of the totalitarian tendencies in Cuba, the African National Congress, or Palestine? But the fact that it was strident and somewhat over the top (IMHO) does not make it altogether wrong. There is no gainsaying that the [FSD] doctrine/theory may have been developed during the Clinton presidency, but he did not apply it as extremely as his successor: [Clinton] restricted himself to doing to [Monica Lewinsky] what [George Bush] is doing to the country and the world.

"There is a growing concern at the increasingly totalitarian government of Bush….Full spectrum dominance goes beyond the battlefield. At what point do economic sanctions against a military enemy become trade wars? Under Bush and Cheney, it is hard to tell. More Americans [let alone Iraqis] have been killed or injured by [U.S. forces] in Iraq than were killed on Sept. 11. All indications are that the death toll of U.S. soldiers will exceed Sept. 11. The USA has NOT won the war in Iraq, [surely] the whole point of any military strategy, and will probably lose it, as it did in Vietnam, for similar reasons, the breaking of Lincoln’s ‘You cannot fool all the people all the time’ doctrine.

"The U.S. economy is based upon a zero-sum, not win-win strategy. It is mathematically impossible for the entire planet to achieve the same per capita energy consumption as the U.S. enjoys. Therefore, some lumpen collaterals will have to do without. Rather than taking the political risk of reducing U.S. consumption, and hurting the pockets of their supporters, the Bush-Cheney axle of evil revolves around dominating world oil supplies. [It props] up a dictatorship in Saudi Arabia [and dismantles] one in Iraq….Democracy is more than a set of rules; it is a state of mind of the rulers. That is why, say, the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, with vastly different political systems, were…considered democracies and, even with elections, Russia, South Africa, Cuba, and Palestine are not. Don’t nitpick. This time Pinter is correct."

Byron’s Reply:

Lots of interesting points, Colin. Let’s start with the whiskey. Every now and again, I down a shot of Old Overholt, the nearest thing one can get to the original Pennsylvania rye whiskey of the Colonial forebears of this part of the world. That whiskey, and its eponymous Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, is part of the name of this newsletter. I have written about both Old Overholt whiskey, and the Whiskey Rebellion, in previous articles.

Colin, you said FSD "doctrine/theory may have been developed during the Clinton presidency, but he did not apply it as extremely as his successor." Actually, President Clinton did, in fact, fall for the siren song of "strategy by targeting." To quote none other than you, Colin, Clinton "believed what he needed to believe" when he used precision bombing against Serbia during the war over what was going in Kosovo. That war, in which NATO was fully engaged both politically and militarily, was little more than a three-month strategic bombing campaign that was punctuated with so-called "diplomatic" efforts. Thus is the conduct of warfare a bipartisan matter in current U.S. national policy.

You also wrote, "Full spectrum dominance goes beyond the battlefield." Only by analogy, Colin. FSD is a term of current U.S. operational military art. If other people pick up on the term and use it to describe other things, that might be clever use of language along the lines of a trade book of a few years ago called Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. Ha, ha, very funny. Here is a modern management consultant using the historical account of Attila the Hun to illustrate how to function in a modern business environment. But is it really Attila? And what would Attila say?

Finally, Colin, you noted that "It is mathematically impossible for the entire planet to achieve the same per capita energy consumption as the U.S. enjoys." Yes, Colin, that is exactly correct. This is a key element of the Peak Oil thesis, and much that it implies for the future. I hope that you have read a few of my many articles on that very subject in this fine publication. And at some point between now and the future, there will be a significant set of changes in everything. Do you happen to know when, where, and how those changes will occur? Neither do I, but part of my job at Whiskey & Gunpowder is to think and write about what is going on just now and how it may affect the future. Our subscribers are, for the most part, investors. Our subscribers hold many varying political opinions about events in this world, as you have probably noticed. But for the most part, our subscribers want to make some money with which to pay for the education of their children, if not to provide for their retirement. You tend not to make money by being on the wrong side of historical trends, so you may as well understand what they are.

One Last E-Mail, From Larry in Florida:

"Byron has provided a very timely treatise on what is true and what is false. Using Harold Pinter’s own words, Byron shows us some of the distinctions. Certainly most of us would not argue the point made about politicians and lies; we are confronted with that dilemma every day. However, regarding ‘full spectrum dominance,’ while it may be a pervasive military concept, and maybe even one of long standing, it should be clear that while it may be a valid concept for military use, it cannot be a blind mainstay of national policy. To wit, what must be national policy, in my humble opinion, is one that actively seeks every means possible to avoid the application of FSD. That I submit is definitely not the case, and maybe, just maybe this is where Harold Pinter is really coming from. If we are not politically engaged in a peaceful policy of avoidance of the application of our Joint Vision versions of FSD, then, in effect, we are relying on them, and maybe even using them to underscore whatever our nebulous foreign policy is. Anyway, I thank Byron for the great article and his recognition that Bill Bonner really ought to be a serious candidate for a Nobel Prize in literature. In fact, his [recent] article in The Daily Reckoning , ‘Faith in Faith’ is a perfect candidate for the prize."

Byron’s Reply:

A Nobel Prize for Bill Bonner? We will have to track him down on his 200,000-acre spread in the high hills of the Argentine Andes. As for the rest of your e-mail, well put, Larry. FSD "cannot be a blind mainstay of national policy. To wit, what must be national policy…is one that actively seeks every means possible to avoid the application of FSD." Sounds a lot like Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Larry, your note goes back to the point I made previously that while FSD is an operational military tool, there is also a strong political temptation to substitute the military power of FSD for a well-constructed strategy or policy. As you said, Larry, "in effect, we are relying on [FSD], and maybe even using [FSD] to underscore whatever our nebulous foreign policy is." And so with these wise words from Larry, we end this article in Whiskey & Gunpowder .

Until we meet again…
Byron W. King
June 23, 2006