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US-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term – Stratfor

U.S.-Iranian  Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term is republished with permission of  Stratfor.”

Read more:  U.S.-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term | Stratfor

By Reva Bhalla Vice President of Global  Affairs

As U.S. President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy team begins to  take shape, Iran remains unfinished business for the U.S. administration. The  diplomatic malaise surrounding this issue over the past decade has taken its  toll on Washington and Tehran. Even as the United States and Iran are putting  out feelers for another round of negotiations, expectations for any breakthrough  understandably remain low. Still, there has been enough movement over the past  week to warrant a closer look at this long-standing diplomatic impasse.

At the Munich Security Conference held Feb. 1-3, U.S. Vice President Joe  Biden said the United States would be willing to hold direct talks with Iran  under the right conditions. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi responded  positively to the offer but warned that Iran would not commit unless Washington  shows a “fair and real” intention to resolve the issues dividing the two  sides.

An Uneven Record in U.S.-Iranian Diplomacy

This diplomatic  courting ritual between the United States and Iran has occurred a handful of  times over the past several years. Like previous times, the public offer of  talks was preceded by denials of secret pre-negotiations. (This time, Ali Akbar  Velayati, a presidential hopeful and senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denied that he met with a U.S. representative in Oman.)  Meanwhile, as a sideshow to the more critical U.S.-Iranian bilateral track, Iran  has announced it will hold negotiations with the P-5+1 group Feb. 25 in  Kazakhstan to demonstrate its willingness to seek a compromise on the nuclear  issue as part of a broader deal. For good measure, Iran has balanced these  diplomatic moves with an announcement that it is upgrading uranium centrifuges  at the Natanz enrichment facility. Though this  will rile Israel, the thought of Iran accelerating its nuclear program could  add just the right amount of urgency to propel the talks.

The first step to any negotiation is defining a common interest. For the  United States and Iran, those interests have evolved over the past decade. In  2003, they shared an interest in bringing Saddam Hussein down and neutralizing a  Sunni jihadist threat. By 2007, it was a mutual interest in relieving  the U.S. military burden in Iraq. In 2011, it was a common interest in  avoiding a war in the Strait of Hormuz. In 2013, as the region fragments beyond  either side’s control, Washington and Tehran are each looking to prevent the  coming quagmire from undermining their respective positions in the Middle  East.

But talks have also stalled many times due to issues of timing, misreading of  intentions, lack of political cohesion or a number of other valid reasons. At  base, timing is everything. Both sides need to create a favorable political  climate at home to pursue controversial negotiations abroad. Complicating  matters, both sides have the mutually contradictory goal of negotiating from a  position of strength. In 2007, Iran could still claim to hold thousands of U.S.  troops hostage to attacks by its Shiite militant proxies in Iraq. In 2011, a Shiite  uprising in Bahrain threatened to upset the balance of power in the Persian  Gulf in Iran’s favor while Iran could at the same time shake energy markets with  military maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran, however, couldn’t hold that position for long. With time, Tehran’s  still-limited covert capabilities in the eastern Arabian Peninsula were exposed.  Meanwhile, the United States built up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.  With minesweepers  now concentrated in the area, Iran now must think twice before carrying out  provocations in the strait that could accidentally trigger a military  intervention.

Before Tehran could recover, the regional climate flipped against Iran. In  2012, the Sunni rebellion in  Syria gained steam, in no small part due to a growing regional imperative to  deprive Iran of its Mediterranean foothold in the Levant. As Iran’s position in  Syria and Lebanon began to slip, the Sunni momentum predictably spilled into  Iraq, where massive Sunni protests against the Shiite government in Baghdad  already are under way.

Now, Iran no longer poses a strategic threat to U.S. interests in the way it  did just a few years ago, and the prospect of Iran solidifying an arc of  influence from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean has evaporated. Iran is  on the defensive, trying to help its allies survive in Syria and Lebanon while  at the same time being forced to devote more resources to holding its position  in Iraq. And while Iran’s overseas expenses are rising, its budget is  simultaneously shrinking under the weight of sanctions. U.S.-  and European-led sanctions over the past two years have gradually moved from  a policy of targeted sanctions against individuals and firms to a near-total  trade embargo that has prompted some Iranian officials to openly admit that  Iran’s oil revenues have dropped more than 40 percent.

At this point, the United States has two options. It could allow the regional  forces to run their course and whittle down Iran’s strength over time. Or it  could exploit the current conditions and try negotiating with Iran from a  position of strength while it still has the military capacity to pose a  legitimate threat to Iran. Iran may be weakening, but it still has levers with  which to pressure the United States. Preparations are already under way for  Alawite forces in Syria to transition to an insurgency with Iran’s backing. In  Afghanistan, Iran has militant options to snarl an already fragile U.S. exit  strategy. So far, the United States has shown a great deal of restraint in  Syria; it does not want to find itself being drawn into another conflict zone in  the Islamic world where Iran can play a potent spoiler role.

It appears that the United States is pursuing the strategy of giving  negotiations another go with the expectation that these talks will extend beyond  the immediate nuclear issue. Iran has frequently complained that it cannot trust  the United States if Washington cannot speak with one voice. For example, while  the U.S. administration has pursued talks in the past, Congress has tightened  economic sanctions and has tried to insert clauses to prevent any rollback of  sanctions. The economic pressure produced by the sanctions has helped the United  States fortify its negotiating position, but the administration has tried to  reserve options by keeping a list of sanctions it could repeal layer by layer  should the talks yield progress.

Seeking Flexibility in Sanctions

Washington could look to Europe for more flexibility for its negotiating  needs. In a recent story overlooked by the mainstream media, the General Court  of the European Union on Jan. 29 revoked sanctions against Bank Mellat, one of  the largest commercial banks in Iran that is primarily involved in financing  Iran’s vital energy sector. Bank Mellat was sanctioned in 2010 based on  allegations that it was a state-owned bank involved in Iran’s nuclear  proliferation activities. But the EU court has now ruled that there was  insufficient evidence to link the bank to the nuclear program. Even so, though  Iran claims that the bank has been fully privatized since 2010, it is difficult  to believe that it does not maintain vital links with the regime. Nonetheless,  rumors are circulating that more EU sanctions de-listings could be in store.

Given the impossibility of sealing every legal loophole, perception plays a  vital role in upholding any sanctions regime. Over the past two years, the  United States — in coordination with an even more aggressive European Union —  has signaled to traders, banks and insurers across the globe that the costs of  doing business with Iran are not worth jeopardizing their ability to operate in  Western markets. Enough businessmen were spooked into curbing, or at least  scaling back, their interaction with Iran and known Iranian front companies that  Iran has experienced a significant cut in revenue. But with large amounts of  money to be made in a market under sanctions, it can be very difficult  politically to maintain this level of economic pressure over an extended period  of time. And the more the sanctions begin to resemble a trade embargo, the more  ammunition Iran has for its propaganda arm in claiming sanctions are harming  Iranian civilians. The prospect of additional sanctions being repealed in court  in the coming months could deflate the West’s economic campaign against Iran and  give more businesses the confidence to break the sanctions — but if the  sanctions were intended to force negotiations in the first place, that may be a  risk the U.S. administration is willing to take.

There is no clear link between the recent U.S. offer of talks and the  sanctions de-listing of Bank Mellat. But if the United States were serious about  using its position of relative strength to pursue a deal with Iran, we would  expect to see some slight easing up on the sanctions pressure. This would likely  begin in Europe, where there would be more flexibility in the sanctions  legislation than there would be in the U.S. Congress. Germany,  Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe, has perhaps not coincidentally  been the strongest proponent for this latest attempt at direct U.S.-Iranian  talks. It is also notable that U.S. President Barack Obama’s picks for his  second-term Cabinet include senators Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, both of who  have openly advocated dialogue with Iran.

Iran is now the most critical player to watch. Iran is weakening in the  region and is becoming heavily constrained at home, but even so, the clerical  regime is not desperate to reach a deal with Washington. Reaching an  understanding with the United States could mitigate the decline of Alawite  forces in Syria and the Sunni backlash that Iran is likely to face in Iraq, but  it would not necessarily forestall them. And with general elections in Iran  slated for June, the political climate in the country will not be conducive to  the give-and-take needed to move the negotiations forward, at least in the near  term.

The United States would prefer to reduce the number of unknowns in an  increasingly volatile region by reaching an understanding with Iran. The irony  is that with or without that understanding, Iran’s position in the region will  continue to weaken. Even if Washington doesn’t need this negotiation as badly as  Iran does, now is as good a time as any for a second-term president to give this  dialogue another try.

Read more:  U.S.-Iranian Dialogue in Obama’s Second Term | Stratfor

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Avoiding the Wars That Never End

Republished from Stratfor.

Avoiding the  Wars That Never End is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer, Stratfor.

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the United States would  transfer the primary responsibility for combat operations in Afghanistan to the  Afghan military in the coming months, a major step toward the withdrawal of U.S.  forces. Also last week, France began an  intervention in Mali designed to block jihadists from taking control of the  country and creating a base of operations in France’s former African  colonies.

The two events are linked in a way that transcends the issue of Islamist  insurgency and points to a larger geopolitical shift. The United States is not  just drawing down its combat commitments; it is moving  away from the view that it has the primary responsibility for trying to  manage the world on behalf of itself, the Europeans and its other allies.  Instead, that burden is shifting to those who have immediate interests  involved.

Insecurity in 9/11’s Wake

It is interesting to recall how the United States involved itself in  Afghanistan. After 9/11, the United States was in shock and lacked clear  intelligence on al Qaeda. It did not know what additional capabilities al Qaeda  had or what the group’s intentions were. Lacking intelligence, a political  leader has the obligation to act on worst-case scenarios after the enemy has  demonstrated hostile intentions and capabilities. The possible scenarios ranged  from additional sleeper cells operating and awaiting orders in the United States  to al Qaeda having obtained nuclear weapons to destroy cities. When you don’t  know, it is both prudent and psychologically inevitable to plan for the  worst.

The United States had sufficient information to act in Afghanistan. It knew  that al Qaeda was operating in Afghanistan and that disrupting the main cell was  a useful step in taking some action against the threat. However, the United  States did not immediately invade Afghanistan. It bombed the country extensively  and inserted limited forces on the ground, but the primary burden of fighting  the Taliban government was in the hands of anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan  that had been resisting the Taliban and in the hands of other forces that could  be induced to act against the Taliban. The Taliban gave up the cities and  prepared for a long war. Al Qaeda’s command cell left Afghanistan and shifted to  Pakistan.

The United States achieved its primary goal early on. That goal was not to  deny al Qaeda the ability to operate in Afghanistan, an objective that would  achieve nothing. Rather, the goal was to engage al Qaeda and disrupt its  command-and-control structure as a way to degrade the group’s ability to plan  and execute additional attacks. The move  to Pakistan at the very least bought time, and given continued pressure on  the main cell, allowed the United States to gather more intelligence about al  Qaeda assets around the world.

This second mission — to identify al Qaeda assets around the world —  required a second effort. The primary means of identifying them was through  their electronic communications, and the United States proceeded to create a  vast technological mechanism designed to detect communications and use that  detection to identify and capture or kill al Qaeda operatives. The problem with  this technique — really the only one available — was that it was impossible to  monitor al Qaeda’s communications without monitoring everyone’s. If there was a  needle in the haystack, the entire haystack had to be examined. This was a  radical shift in the government’s relationship to the private communications of  citizens. The justification was that at a time of war, in which the threat to  the United States was uncertain and possibly massive, these measures were  necessary.

This action was not unique in American history. Abraham Lincoln violated the  Constitution in several ways during the Civil War, from suspending the right to  habeas corpus to blocking the Maryland Legislature from voting on a secession  measure. Franklin Roosevelt allowed the FBI to open citizens’ mail and put  Japanese-Americans into internment camps. The idea that civil liberties must be  protected in time of war is not historically how the United States, or most  countries, operate. In that sense there was nothing unique in the decision to  monitor communications in order to find al Qaeda and stop attacks. How else  could the needle be found in the haystack? Likewise, detention without trial was  not unique. Lincoln and Roosevelt both resorted to it.

The Civil War and World War II were different from the current conflict,  however, because their conclusions were clear and decisive. The wars would end,  one way or another, and so would the suspension of rights. Unlike those wars,  the war in Afghanistan was extended indefinitely by the shift in strategy from  disrupting al Qaeda’s command cell to fighting  the Taliban to building a democratic society in Afghanistan. With the second  step, the U.S. military mission changed its focus and increased its presence  massively, and with the third, the terminal date of the war became very far  away.

But there was a broader issue. The war in Afghanistan was not the main war.  Afghanistan happened to be the place where al Qaeda was headquartered on Sept.  11, 2001. The country was not essential to al Qaeda, and creating a democratic  society there — if it were even possible — would not necessarily weaken al  Qaeda. Even destroying al Qaeda would not prevent new  Islamist organizations or individuals from rising up.

A New Kind of War

The main war was not against one specific terrorist group, but rather against  an idea: the radical tendency in Islamism. Most Muslims are not radicals, but  any religion with 1 billion adherents will have its share of extremists. The  tendency is there, and it is deeply rooted. If the goal of the war were the  destruction of this radical tendency, then it was not going to happen. While the  risk of attacks could be reduced — and indeed there were no further 9/11s  despite repeated attempts in the United States — there was no way to eliminate  the threat. No matter how many divisions were deployed, no matter how many  systems for electronic detection were created, they could only mitigate the  threat, not eliminate it. Therefore, what some  called the Long War really became permanent war.

The means by which the war was pursued could not result in victory. They  could, however, completely unbalance U.S. strategy by committing massive  resources to missions not clearly connected with preventing Islamist terrorism.  It also created a situation where emergency intrusions on critical portions of  the Bill of Rights — such as the need to obtain a warrant for certain actions  — became a permanent feature. Permanent war makes for permanent temporary  measures.

The break point came, in my opinion, in about 2004. Around that time, al  Qaeda was unable to mount attacks on the United States despite multiple efforts.  The war in Afghanistan had dislodged al Qaeda and created the Karzai government.  The invasion of Iraq — whatever the rationale might have been — clearly  produced a level of resistance that the United States could not contain or could  contain only by making agreements with its enemies in Iraq. At that point, a  radical rethinking of the war had to take place. It did not.

The radical rethinking had to do not with Iraq or Afghanistan, but rather  with what to do about a permanent threat to the United States, and indeed to  many other countries, posed by the global networks of radical Islamists prepared  to carry out terrorist attacks. The threat would not go away, and it could not  be eliminated. At the same time, it did  not threaten the existence of the republic. The 9/11 attacks were atrocious,  but they did not threaten the survival of the United States in spite of the  human cost. Combating the threat required a degree of proportionality so the  fight could be maintained on an ongoing basis, without becoming the only goal of  U.S. foreign policy or domestic life. Mitigation was the only possibility; the  threat would have to be endured.

Washington found a way to achieve this balance in the past, albeit against  very different sorts of threats. The United States emerged as a great power in  the early 20th century. During that time, it fought three wars: World War I,  World War II and the Cold War, which included Korea, Vietnam and other, smaller  engagements. In World War I and World War II, the United States waited for  events to unfold, and in Europe in particular it waited until the European  powers reached a point where they could not deal with the threat of German  hegemony without American intervention. In both instances, it intervened heavily  only late in the war, at the point where the Germans had been exhausted by other  European powers. It should be remembered that the main American push in World  War II did not take place until the summer of 1944. The American strategy was to  wait and see whether the Europeans could stabilize the situation themselves,  using distance to mobilize as late as possible and intervene decisively only at  the critical moment.

The critics of this approach, particularly prior to World War II, called it  isolationism. But the United States was not isolationist; it was involved in  Asia throughout this period. Rather, it saw itself as being the actor of last  resort, capable of acting at the decisive moment with overwhelming force because  geography had given the United States the option of time and resources.

During the Cold War, the United States modified this strategy. It still  depended on allies, but it now saw itself as the first responder. Partly this  could be seen in U.S. nuclear strategy. This could also be seen in Korea and  Vietnam, where allies played subsidiary roles, but the primary effort was  American. The Cold War was fought on a different set of principles than the two  world wars.

The Cold War strategy was applied to the war against radical Islamism, in  which the United States — because of 9/11 but also because of a mindset that  could be seen in other interventions — was the first responder. Other allies  followed the United States’ lead and provided support to the degree to which  they felt comfortable. The allies could withdraw without fundamentally  undermining the war effort. The United States could not.

The approach in the U.S.-jihadist war was a complete reversal from the  approach taken in the two world wars. This was understandable given that it was  triggered by an unexpected and catastrophic event, the reponse to which flowed  from a lack of intelligence. When Japan struck Pearl Harbor, emotions were  at least as intense, but U.S. strategy in the Pacific was measured and cautious.  And the enemy’s capabilities were much better understood.

Stepping Back as Global Policeman

The United States cannot fight a war against radical Islamism and win, and it  certainly cannot be the sole actor in a war waged primarily in the Eastern  Hemisphere. This is why the French  intervention in Mali is particularly interesting. France retains interests  in its former colonial empire in Africa, and Mali is at the geographic center of  these interests. To the north of Mali is Algeria, where France has significant  energy investments; to the east of Mali is Niger, where France has a significant  stake in the mining of mineral resources, particularly uranium; and to the south  of Mali is Ivory Coast, where France plays a major role in cocoa production. The  future of Mali matters to France far more than it matters to the United  States.

What is most interesting is the absence of the United States in the fight,  even if it is providing intelligence and other support, such as mobilizing  ground forces from other African countries. The United States is not acting as  if this is its fight; it is acting as if this is the fight of an ally, whom it  might help in extremis, but not in a time when U.S. assistance is  unnecessary. And if the French can’t mount an effective operation in Mali,  then little help can be given.

This changing approach is also evident in Syria, where the United States has  systematically avoided anything beyond limited  and covert assistance, and Libya, where the United States intervened after  the French and British launched an attack they could not sustain. That was, I  believe, a turning point, given the unsatisfactory outcome there. Rather than  accepting a broad commitment against radical Islamism everywhere, the United  States is allowing the burden to shift to powers that have direct interests in  these areas.

Reversing a strategy is difficult. It is uncomfortable for any power to  acknowledge that it has overreached, which the United States did both in Iraq  and Afghanistan. It is even more difficult to acknowledge that the goals set by  President George W. Bush in Iraq and Obama in Afghanistan lacked coherence. But  clearly the war has run its course, and what is difficult is also obvious. We  are not going to eliminate the threat of radical Islamism. The commitment of  force to an unattainable goal twists national strategy out of shape and changes  the fabric of domestic life. Obviously, overwatch must be in place against the  emergence of an organization like al Qaeda, with global reach, sophisticated  operatives and operational discipline. But this is very different from  responding to jihadists in Mali, where the United States has limited interests  and fewer resources.

Accepting an ongoing  threat is also difficult. Mitigating the threat of an enemy rather than  defeating the enemy outright goes against an impulse. But it is not  something alien to American strategy. The United States is involved in the  world, and it can’t follow the founders’ dictum of staying out of European  struggles. But the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in  the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and  shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with  clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no  choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the  primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not  irresponsible.

The greatest danger of war is what it can do to one’s own society, changing  the obligations of citizens and reshaping their rights. The United States has  always done this during wars, but those wars would always end. Fighting a war  that cannot end reshapes domestic life permanently. A strategy that compels  engagement everywhere will exhaust a country. No empire can survive the  imperative of permanent, unwinnable warfare. It is fascinating to watch the  French deal with Mali. It is even more fascinating to watch the United States  wishing them well and mostly staying out of it. It has taken about 10 years, but  here we can see the American system stabilize itself by mitigating the threats  that can’t be eliminated and refusing to be drawn into fights it can let others  handle.

Read more:  Avoiding the Wars That Never End | Stratfor

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The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power – Stratfor

This article from George Friedman of Stratfor is a follow up to his recent one on Europe’s current problems, especially unemployment.

The  Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power is republished with permission  of Stratfor.”

Read more:  The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer, Stratfor,

Last week I wrote about the crisis of unemployment in Europe. I  received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core  problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem,  asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s  official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the  United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in  Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States  does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number  is. Europe might.

At the same time, I would agree that the United  States faces a potentially significant but longer-term geopolitical problem  deriving from economic trends. The threat to the United States is the persistent  decline in the middle class’ standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the  social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it  continues, poses a threat to American power.

The Crisis of the American Middle Class

The median household income of Americans in 2011 was $49,103. Adjusted for  inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000  less than it was in 2000. Take-home income is a bit less than $40,000 when  Social Security and state and federal taxes are included. That means a monthly  income, per household, of about $3,300. It is urgent to bear in mind that half  of all American households earn less than this. It is also vital to consider not  the difference between 1990 and 2011, but the difference between the 1950s and  1960s and the 21st century. This is where the difference in the meaning of  middle class becomes most apparent.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the median income allowed you to live with a single  earner — normally the husband, with the wife typically working as  homemaker — and roughly three children. It permitted the purchase of modest  tract housing, one late model car and an older one. It allowed a driving  vacation somewhere and, with care, some savings as well. I know this because my  family was lower-middle class, and this is how we lived, and I know many others  in my generation who had the same background. It was not an easy life and many  luxuries were denied us, but it wasn’t a bad life at all.

Someone earning the median income today might just pull this off,  but it wouldn’t be easy. Assuming that he did not have college loans to pay off  but did have two car loans to pay totaling $700 a month, and that he could buy  food, clothing and cover his utilities for $1,200 a month, he would have $1,400  a month for mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance, plus some funds for  fixing the air conditioner and dishwasher. At a 5 percent mortgage rate, that  would allow him to buy a house in the $200,000 range. He would get a refund back  on his taxes from deductions but that would go to pay credit card bills he had  from Christmas presents and emergencies. It could be done, but not  easily and with great difficulty in major metropolitan areas. And if his  employer didn’t cover health insurance, that $4,000-5,000 for three or four  people would severely limit his expenses. And of course, he would have to have  $20,000-40,000 for a down payment and closing costs on his home. There would be  little else left over for a week at the seashore with the kids.

And this is for the median. Those below him — half of all households —  would be shut out of what is considered middle-class life, with the house, the  car and the other associated amenities. Those amenities shift upward on the  scale for people with at least $70,000 in income. The basics might be available  at the median level, given favorable individual circumstance, but below that  life becomes surprisingly meager, even in the range of the middle class and  certainly what used to be called the lower-middle class.

The Expectation of Upward Mobility

I should pause and mention that this was one of the fundamental causes of the 2007-2008 subprime lending  crisis. People below the median took out loans with deferred interest with  the expectation that their incomes would continue the rise that was traditional  since World War II. The caricature of the borrower as irresponsible misses the  point. The expectation of rising real incomes was built into the American  culture, and many assumed based on that that the rise would resume in five  years. When it didn’t they were trapped, but given history, they were not making  an irresponsible assumption.

American  history was always filled with the assumption that upward mobility was  possible. The Midwest and West opened land that could be exploited, and the  massive industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries opened  opportunities. There was a systemic expectation of upward mobility built into  American culture and reality.

The Great Depression was a shock to the system, and it wasn’t solved by the  New Deal, nor even by World War II alone. The next drive for upward mobility  came from post-war programs for veterans, of whom there were more than 10  million. These programs were instrumental in creating post-industrial America,  by creating a class of suburban professionals. There were three programs that  were critical:

  1. The GI Bill, which allowed veterans to go to college after the war, becoming  professionals frequently several notches above their parents.
  2. The part of the GI Bill that provided federally guaranteed mortgages to  veterans, allowing low and no down payment mortgages and low interest rates to  graduates of publicly funded universities.
  3. The federally funded Interstate Highway System, which made access to land  close to but outside of cities easier, enabling both the dispersal of  populations on inexpensive land (which made single-family houses possible) and,  later, the dispersal of business to the suburbs.

There were undoubtedly many other things that contributed to this, but these  three not only reshaped America but also created a new dimension to the upward  mobility that was built into American life from the beginning. Moreover, these  programs were all directed toward veterans, to whom it was acknowledged a debt  was due, or were created for military reasons (the Interstate Highway System was  funded to enable the rapid movement of troops from coast to coast, which during  World War II was found to be impossible). As a result, there was consensus  around the moral propriety of the programs.

The subprime fiasco was rooted in the failure to understand that the  foundations of middle class life were not under temporary pressure but something  more fundamental. Where a single earner could support a middle class family in  the generation after World War II, it now took at least two earners.  That meant that the rise of the double-income family corresponded with the  decline of the middle class. The lower you go on the income scale, the more  likely you are to be a single mother. That shift away from social pressure for  two parent homes was certainly part of the problem.

Re-engineering the Corporation

But there was, I think, the crisis of the modern corporation. Corporations  provided long-term employment to the middle class. It was not unusual to spend  your entire life working for one. Working for a corporation, you received yearly  pay increases, either as a union or non-union worker. The middle class had both  job security and rising income, along with retirement and other benefits. Over  the course of time, the culture of the corporation diverged from the realities,  as corporate productivity lagged behind costs and the corporations became more  and more dysfunctional and ultimately unsupportable. In addition, the  corporations ceased focusing on doing one thing well and instead became  conglomerates, with a management frequently unable to keep up with the  complexity of multiple lines of business.

For these and many other reasons, the corporation became increasingly  inefficient, and in the terms of the 1980s, they had to be re-engineered —  which meant taken apart, pared down, refined and refocused. And the  re-engineering of the corporation, designed to make them agile, meant that there  was a permanent revolution in business. Everything was being reinvented. Huge  amounts of money, managed by people whose specialty was re-engineering  companies, were deployed. The choice was between total failure and radical  change. From the point of view of the individual worker, this frequently meant  the same thing: unemployment. From the view of the economy, it meant the  creation of value whether through breaking up companies, closing some of them or  sending jobs overseas. It was designed to increase the total efficiency, and it  worked for the most part.

This is where the disjuncture occurred. From the point of view of the  investor, they had saved the corporation from total meltdown by redesigning it.  From the point of view of the workers, some retained the jobs that they would  have lost, while others lost the jobs they would have lost anyway. But the  important thing is not the subjective bitterness of those who lost their jobs,  but something more complex.

As the permanent corporate jobs declined, more people were starting over.  Some of them were starting over every few years as the agile corporation grew  more efficient and needed fewer employees. That meant that if they got new jobs  it would not be at the munificent corporate pay rate but at near entry-level  rates in the small companies that were now the growth engine. As these companies  failed, were bought or shifted direction, they would lose their jobs and start  over again. Wages didn’t rise for them and for long periods they might be  unemployed, never to get a job again in their now obsolete fields, and certainly  not working at a company for the next 20 years.

The restructuring of inefficient companies did create substantial value, but  that value did not flow to the now laid-off workers. Some might flow to the  remaining workers, but much of it went to the engineers who restructured the  companies and the investors they represented. Statistics reveal that, since 1947  (when the data was first compiled), corporate profits as a percentage of gross  domestic product are now at their highest level, while wages as a percentage of  GDP are now at their lowest level. It was not a question of making the economy  more efficient — it did do that — it was a question of where the value  accumulated. The upper segment of the wage curve and the investors continued to  make money. The middle class divided into a segment that entered the  upper-middle class, while another faction sank into the lower-middle class.

American society on the whole was never egalitarian. It always accepted that  there would be substantial differences in wages and wealth. Indeed, progress was  in some ways driven by a desire to emulate the wealthy. There was also the  expectation that while others received far more, the entire wealth structure  would rise in tandem. It was also understood that, because of skill or luck,  others would lose.

What we are facing now is a structural shift, in which the middle class’  center, not because of laziness or stupidity, is shifting downward in terms of  standard of living. It is a structural shift that is rooted in social change  (the breakdown of the conventional family) and economic change (the decline of  traditional corporations and the creation of corporate agility that places  individual workers at a massive disadvantage).

The inherent crisis rests in an increasingly efficient economy and a  population that can’t consume what is produced because it can’t afford the  products. This has happened numerous times in history, but the United States,  excepting the Great Depression, was the counterexample.

Obviously, this is a massive political debate, save that political debates  identify problems without clarifying them. In political debates, someone must be  blamed. In reality, these processes are beyond even the government’s ability to  control. On one hand, the traditional corporation was beneficial to the workers  until it collapsed under the burden of its costs. On the other hand, the  efficiencies created threaten to undermine consumption by weakening the  effective demand among half of society.

The Long-Term Threat

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is  lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising  tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and  there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time  soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk. The problem is that social  stability has been built around this assumption — not on the assumption that  everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit  from growing productivity and efficiency.

If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or  losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United  States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has  accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have  the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core  value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of  its geopolitical power.

The left would argue that the solution is for laws to transfer wealth from  the rich to the middle class. That would increase consumption but, depending on  the scope, would threaten the amount of capital available to investment by the  transfer itself and by eliminating incentives to invest. You can’t invest what  you don’t have, and you won’t accept the risk of investment if the payoff is  transferred away from you.

The agility of the American corporation is critical. The right will argue  that allowing the free  market to function will fix the problem. The free market doesn’t  guarantee social outcomes, merely economic ones. In other words, it may give  more efficiency on the whole and grow the economy as a whole, but by itself it  doesn’t guarantee how wealth is distributed. The left cannot be indifferent to  the historical consequences of extreme redistribution of wealth. The right  cannot be indifferent to the political consequences of a middle-class life  undermined, nor can it be indifferent to half the population’s inability to buy  the products and services that businesses sell.

The most significant actions made by governments tend to be unintentional.  The GI Bill was designed to limit unemployment among returning serviceman; it  inadvertently created a professional class of college graduates. The VA loan was  designed to stimulate the construction industry; it created the basis for  suburban home ownership. The Interstate Highway System was meant to move troops  rapidly in the event of war; it created a new pattern of land use that was  suburbia.

It is unclear how the private sector can deal with the problem of pressure on  the middle class. Government programs frequently fail to fulfill even minimal  intentions while squandering scarce resources. The United States has been a  fortunate country, with solutions frequently emerging in unexpected ways.

It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its  global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can  expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And  at this point it isn’t frightened but angry, believing that if only its own  solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing  that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the  magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk  — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before.

People who are smarter and luckier than I am will have to craft the solution.  I am simply pointing out the potential consequences of the problem and the  inadequacy of all the ideas I have seen so far.

Read more:  The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power | Stratfor

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The USS Constitution Captures HMS Java, 29 December 1812

On 26 October, the day after the USS United States had captured HMS Macedonian, the USS Constitution left Boston along with the USS Hornet, captained by Master Commandant James Lawrence. The USS Essex, then in the Delaware River, was ordered to rendezvous with the two ships. The squadron would then raid British commerce off South America.

The squadron was commanded by Captain William Bainbridge, formerly captain of the USS Constellation, who had just taken over the Constitution from Captain Isaac Hull. who had commanded her when she captured HMS Guerriere.

The Essex‘s captain, David Porter, believed his ship to be ‘the worst frigate’ in the USN.[1] He disliked her armament of 40 32 pound carronades and only six long 12 pounders, which left her very vulnerable to any ship that could stay out of the short range of her carronades. She was also a poor sailor, which meant that she failed to make a series of rendezvous with Bainbridge.

Bainbridge’s two ships reached San Salvador in Brazil on 13 December, where they encountered the British sloop HMS Bonne Citoyenne, which was carrying a £500,000 worth of specie. Bonne Citoyenne was originally a French ship; the British captured her in 1796 and retained her name.

Bonne Citoyenne  and the Hornet both carried 18 32 pound carronades; the British ship also had two 9 pounders and the US vessel two 12 pounders. Both had crews of 150 men. They were thus evenly matched, although Theodore Roosevelt argues that US shot was about 7 per cent less than its nominal value. However, the Constitution heavily outgunned Bonne Citoyenne.[2]

Lawrence challenged Captain Pitt Burnaby Greene of Bonne Citoyenne to a single combat, with Bainbridge promising that the Constitution would stay out of the fight. Greene declined, claiming that he was confident of beating the Hornet, but could not then expect Bainbridge to allow an enemy warship to escape unmolested. By not fighting he also tied up at least one American ship whilst protecting his cargo.

Bainbridge left the Hornet to blockade Bonne Citoyenne, and sailed the Constitution south. At 9am on 29 December she sighted two ships. They were the British frigate HMS Java, commanded by Captain Henry Lambert, and the William, an American ship that she had captured. Java, like Bonne Citoyenne, had been captured from the French, but she had been re-named; her French name was Renommée.

Lambert ordered the William to head for port, and turned Java towards the Constitution. Bainbridge initially sailed away in order to exit Portuguese territorial waters: Portugal was allied to Britain against France, but neutral in the Anglo-American conflict.

Java, a fast ship, quickly closed the range. At 1:30pm Bainbridge, confident that he was in international waters, turned towards his enemy. The two ships were half a mile apart when the Constitution opened fire at 2:10pm.

There then followed a series of manoeuvres, compared by Alfred Mahan to the feints of a fencing or boxing bout.[3] The Constitution’s steering wheel was destroyed at 2:30pm; her rudder was intact, so she could still manoeuvre by means of tackles, but with difficulty.

By 3pm Java had lost much of her rigging, and Lambert realised that his only chance was to board the Constitution. However, Java’s foremast fell five minutes later, making her helpless. She continued to resist until 4:05pm according to the Americans, 4:35pm by British accounts. By this time Lambert had been mortally wounded and his ship had lost all her masts.

Fire then ceased, although Java continued to fly her colours. The Constitution moved away in order to repair damage. She returned at 5:25pm (5:50pm according to the British), whereupon Java hauled her colours down.

Andrew Lambert points out that the US victory was based on the same tactics as had been employed in the USN’s previous triumphs in 1812. The Americans first used their superior firepower to wreck the British ship’s masts and sails. This gave them an advantage in manoeuvrability, which they exploited to close the range and fire on the main decks, killing men and destroying guns.[4]

As with the earlier naval actions in this war, the more powerful ship won. Lambert says that the Constitution carried 54 guns, with a total broadside of 754 tons, compared with 46 guns and 535 tons for Java.[5]

The British ship had an inexperienced crew, but managed to damage to all three of her opponent’s masts. However, they remained standing because of their strong construction, whilst the weaker British masts were brought down by the US gunfire.

Theodore Roosevelt gives the broadsides as being 654 tons for the American ship  and 576 tons for her opponent. He argues that US shot was lighter than its official weight, but the discrepancy between his figures and Lambert’s is greater than his usual discount of 7%.[6] Roosevelt claimed that the Constitution’s broadside was 684 tons in her earlier victory over HMS Guerriere, so 654 may be a typo.[7]

The Constitution carried 475 men. Java’s official crew was 377, but Roosevelt points out that she was taking a number of passengers to Bombay; Lieutenant-General Thomas Hislop, the new Governor-General, his staff and replacements for other RN ships. She had sailed with 446 men, of whom 20 had been transferred to the William, leaving 426 on board.[8]

There is some doubt about the total number of casualties. Lambert gives 24 dead and 100 wounded on Java and 14 dead and 44 wounded on the Constitution. Roosevelt says that the Americans took 378 prisoners. Since there were 426 men on board Java at the start of the action, 48 must have been killed. He give the number of British wounded as 102, Captain Lambert was amongst the dead, and his First Lieutenant, Henry Chads, was badly wounded. [9]

Java was too badly damaged to be taken as a prize, so Bainbridge had her burnt on 31 December. He put his prisoners onshore at San Salvador. They soon returned to sea. Chads was promoted, became the RN’s leading gunnery expert and ended his career as Admiral Sir Henry Chads.

The Hornet continued to blockade Bonne Citoyenne until 24 January, when the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Montagu arrived. Greene could have come out and fought at even odds after the Constitution departed for Boston on 6 January, which she reached on 27 February, but put the safety of his cargo first.


[1] Quoted in A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. (London: Samson Low, Marston, 1905). vol. ii, p. 1.

[2] T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900-2). vol. i, p. 145

[3] Mahan, Sea Power 1812. vol. ii, p. 2

[4] A. D. Lambert, The Challenge: Britain against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber, 2012). Kindle edition, locations 1912-13 out of 12037.

[5] Ibid. Kindle edition, location 1897 of 12307.

[6] Roosevelt, Naval War, p. 155.

[7] These figures come from an e-book edition, so it could be that a number scanned incorrectly from the print edition.

[8] Roosevelt, Naval War, pp. 156-57.

[9] Lambert, The Challenge. Kindle edition, location 1902 of 12307; Roosevelt, Naval War. vol. i, p. 158.

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British Government Releases Falklands War Papers

British Government papers dealing with the Falklands War of 1982 have been released in accordance with the rule that government papers from 30 years ago are made public at the end of each year.

They reveal that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was taken by surprise by the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. Later in 1982, she told the Falklands Islands Review Committee, commonly called the Franks Committee after its Chairman, Lord Franks, that:

I never, never expected the Argentines to invade the Falklands head-on. It was such a stupid thing to do, as events happened, such a stupid thing even to contemplate doing.

The BBC Website quotes the historian Lord Hennessy as saying that:

Mrs Thatcher’s evidence about the Falklands War was some of the most powerful material to be declassified by the National Archives in the last three decades.

The documents show that US support for the UK was equivocal. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and the Pentagon provided the UK with intelligence and weapons, including the newest version of the Sidewinder AAM. However, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and  Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US Ambassador to the UN, were concerned that taking sides would damage US relations with Latin America. This biography of Kirkpatrick argues that she was pro-Argentinian, and tried to undermine Haig, who favoured the UK.

Thatcher also successfully pressured the French not to supply Exocet missiles to Peru during the conflict, as she feared that the Peruvians would sell them to Argentina, which had limited stocks of Exocets. A programme broadcast in BBC Radio 4’s Document series in March 2012 argued that the French Government fully supported the UK, but that contractors working for the French company that supplied the missiles helped the Argentinians.

Hennessy said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that Weinberger was willing to lend the RN a US aircraft carrier if a British carrier was sunk. I had heard Weinberger say this on a TV documentary, but assumed that he meant a mothballed WWII veteran Essex class vessel or an Iwo Jima  class amphibious assault ship, which would have had a British crew and carried Harrier jump jets and helicopters.

According to Hennessy, Weinberger meant the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an active nuclear powered carrier. Presumably she would have retained her US crew and aircraft.

The right wing Daily Telegraph comments that Thatcher rejected a proposal for a ceasefire by President Ronald Reagan after the British landing. The Americans feared that the Argentinians would look to Cuba and the USSR for support, suggested that British troops should be replaced by a US-Brazilian peacekeeping force after Port Stanley was re-captured.

The left wing Guardian notes that Thatcher was more willing to accept a diplomatic solution than has hitherto been realised.

The documents are available for consultation at the UK National Archives at Kew in London. The ones dealing with War Cabinet decisons are in files CAB 148/211 and CAB 148/212, which can be downloaded for free from its website.

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The Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle – Stratfor

The  Benghazi Report and the Diplomatic Security Funding Cycle is republished  with permission of Stratfor.”

By Scott Stewart Vice President of Analysis

On Dec. 18, the U.S. State Department’s Accountability Review Board released  an unclassified version of its investigation into the  Sept. 12 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador to  Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack,  so the report was widely anticipated by the public and by government officials  alike.

Four senior State Department officials have been reassigned to other duties  since the report’s release. Among them were the assistant secretary of state for  diplomatic security; two of his deputy assistant secretaries, including the  director of the Diplomatic Security Service, the department’s most senior  special agent; and the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Libya in the  State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

The highly critical report and the subsequent personnel reassignments are not  simply a low watermark for the State Department; rather, the events following  the attack signify another  phase in the diplomatic security funding cycle. The new phase will bring  about a financial windfall for the State Department security budgets, but  increased funding alone will not prevent future attacks from occurring. After  all, plenty of attacks have occurred following similar State Department  budgetary allocations in the past. Other important factors therefore must be  addressed.

Predictable Inquiries

The cycle by which  diplomatic security is funded begins as officials gradually cut spending on  diplomatic security programs. Then, when major security failures inevitably  beset those programs, resultant public outrage compels officials to create a  panel to investigate those failures.

The first of these panels dates back to the mid-1980s, following attacks  against U.S. facilities in Beirut and Kuwait and the systematic bugging of the  U.S. Embassy in Moscow. These security lapses led to the formation of the  Secretary of State’s Advisory Panel on Overseas Security, chaired by former  Deputy CIA Director Adm. Bobby Inman. The law that passed in the wake of the  Inman Commission came to be known as the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and  Antiterrorism Act of 1986, which requires that an accountability review board be  convened following major security incidents.

There are a few subsequent examples of these panels. Former Chairman of the  U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William Crowe chaired an Accountability Review  Board following the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. And after  the Benghazi attacks, an Accountability Review Board was chaired by former U.S.  Ambassador Thomas Pickering. The Dec. 18 report was the findings of the  Pickering board.

Predictably, the review boards, including Pickering’s, always conclude that  inadequate funding and insufficient security personnel are partly to blame for  the security breaches. In response to the reports, Congress appropriates more  money to diplomatic security programs to remedy the problem. Over time, funds  are cut, and the cycle begins anew.

Funding can be cut for several reasons. In times of financial austerity,  Congress can more easily cut the relatively small foreign affairs budget than it  can entitlement benefits budgets. Cuts to the overall State Department budget  generally result in cuts for security programs.

Moreover, rivalries among the various State Department entities can affect  spending cuts. The Diplomatic Security Service’s budget falls under the main  State Department budget, so senior diplomats, rather than Diplomatic Security  Service agents, represent the agency’s interests on Capitol Hill. Some within  the security service do not believe that senior diplomats have their best  interests at heart when making the case for their budgets — at least until a  tragedy occurs and Congressional hearings are held to air these problems. For  their part, others in the department resent the Diplomatic Security Service for  the large budgetary allocations it receives after a security failure.

More than a Matter of Funding

With Congress and the presumed next Secretary of State John Kerry now calling  for increased spending on diplomatic security, the financial floodgates are  about to reopen. But merely throwing money at the problems uncovered by the  accountability review boards will not be enough to solve those problems. Were  that the case, the billions of dollars allocated to diplomatic security in the  wake of the Inman and Crowe commission reports would have sufficed.

Of course, money can be useful, but injecting large sums of it into the  system can create problems if the money provided is too much for the bureaucracy  to efficiently metabolize. Government managers tend to spend all the money  allocated to them — sometimes at the expense of efficiency — under a “use it  or lose it” mentality. Since there is no real incentive for them to perform  under budget, managers in a variety of U.S. government departments spend massive  amounts of money at the end of each fiscal year. The same is true of diplomatic  security programs when they are flush with cash. But the inevitable reports of  financial waste and mismanagement lead to calls for spending cuts in these  programs.

If the U.S. government is ever going to break the cycle of funding cuts and  security disasters, the Diplomatic Security Service will need to demonstrate  wisdom and prudence in how it spends the funds allocated to them. It will also  be necessary for Congress to provide funding in a consistent manner and with an  initial appropriation that is not too big to be spent efficiently.

Beyond money management and a consistent level of funding, the State  Department will also need to take a hard look at how it currently conducts  diplomacy and how it can reduce the demands placed on the Diplomatic Security  Service. This will require asking many difficult questions: Is it necessary to  maintain large embassies to conduct diplomacy in the information age? Does the  United States need to maintain thousands of employees in high-threat  places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the expense of smaller  missions, or can the critical work be done by hundreds or even dozens? Is a  permanent U.S. presence even required in a place like Benghazi, or can the  missions in such locations be accomplished by a combination of visiting  diplomats, covert operatives and local employees?

At the very least, the State Department will need to review its policy of  designating a facility as a “special mission” — Benghazi was designated as such  — to exempt it from meeting established physical security standards. If the  questions above are answered affirmatively, and if it is deemed necessary to  keep a permanent presence in a place like Benghazi, then security standards need  to be followed, especially when a facility is in place for several months.  Temporary facilities with substandard security cannot be allowed to persist for  months and years.

Host Countries

As they consider these issues, officials need to bear in mind that the real  key to the security of diplomatic facilities is the protection provided by the  host country’s security forces as dictated by the Vienna Convention. If the host  country will not or cannot protect foreign diplomats, then the physical security  measures mandated by security standards can do little more than provide slight  delay — which is what they are designed to do. No physical security measures  can stand up to a prolonged assault. If a militant group armed with heavy  weaponry is permitted to attack a diplomatic facility for hours with no host  government response — as was the case in Benghazi — the attack will cause  considerable damage and likely cause fatalities despite the security measures in  place.

The same is true of a large mob, which given enough time can damage and  breach U.S. embassies that meet current department security standards. The U.S.  Embassy in Tripoli, a state-of-the-art facility completed in 2009, was heavily  damaged by a mob of pro-Gadhafi supporters in May 2011 and rendered  unserviceable.

In another example, a  large crowd caused extensive damage to the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the  adjacent American School just three days after the Benghazi attack. In that  incident, Tunisian authorities responded and did not provide the attacking mob  the opportunity to conduct a prolonged assault on the embassy. Though the mob  caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the compound, it was unable to  breach the main embassy office building. Without host country security support,  there is little that can be done to assure the safety of U.S. diplomats, no  matter what happens to security budgets.

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The Geopolitics of Shale from Stratfor

The Geopolitics of  Shale is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By Robert D. Kaplan Chief  Geopolitical Analyst

According to the elite newspapers and journals of opinion, the future of  foreign affairs mainly rests on ideas: the moral impetus for humanitarian  intervention, the various theories governing exchange rates and debt rebalancing  necessary to fix Europe, the rise of cosmopolitanism alongside the stubborn  vibrancy of nationalism in  East Asia and so on. In other words, the world of the future can be  engineered and defined based on doctoral theses. And to a certain extent this  may be true. As the 20th century showed us, ideologies — whether communism,  fascism or humanism — matter and matter greatly.

But there is another truth: The reality of large, impersonal forces like  geography and the environment that also help to determine the future of human  events. Africa has historically been poor largely because of few  good natural harbors and few navigable rivers from the interior to the  coast. Russia is paranoid because its  land mass is exposed to invasion with few natural barriers. The Persian Gulf  sheikhdoms are fabulously wealthy not because of ideas but because of large  energy deposits underground. You get the point. Intellectuals concentrate on  what they can change, but we are helpless to change much of what happens.

Enter shale, a sedimentary rock within which natural gas can be trapped.  Shale gas constitutes a new source of extractable energy for the post-industrial  world. Countries that have considerable shale deposits will be better placed in  the 21st century competition between states, and those without such deposits  will be worse off. Ideas will matter little in this regard.

Stratfor, as it happens, has studied the issue in depth. Herein is my own  analysis, influenced in part by Stratfor’s research.

So let’s look at who has shale and how that may change geopolitics. For the  future will be heavily influenced by what lies underground.

The United States, it turns out, has vast deposits of shale gas: in Texas,  Louisiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and elsewhere. America,  regardless of many of the political choices it makes, is poised to be an energy  giant of the 21st century. In particular, the Gulf Coast, centered on Texas and  Louisiana, has embarked upon a shale gas and tight oil boom. That development  will make the Caribbean an economic focal point of the Western Hemisphere,  encouraged further by the 2014 widening of the Panama Canal. At the same time,  cooperation between Texas and adjacent Mexico will intensify, as Mexico  increasingly becomes a market for shale gas, with its own exploited shale basins  near its northern border.

This is, in part, troubling news for Russia. Russia  is currently the energy giant of Europe, exporting natural gas westward in  great quantities, providing Moscow with political leverage all over Central and  particularly Eastern Europe. However, Russia’s reserves are often in parts of  Siberia that are hard and expensive to exploit — though Russia’s extraction  technology, once old, has been considerably modernized. And Russia for the  moment may face relatively little competition in Europe. But what if in the  future the United States were able to export shale gas to Europe at a  competitive price?

The United States still has few capabilities to export shale gas to Europe.  It would have to build new liquefaction facilities to do that; in other words,  it would have to erect plants on the Gulf of Mexico that convert the gas into  liquid so that it could be transported by ship across the Atlantic, where  regasification facilities there would reconvert it back into gas. This is doable  with capital investment, expertise and favorable legislation. Countries that  build such facilities will have more energy options, to export or import,  whatever the case may be. So imagine a future in which the United States exports  liquefied shale gas to Europe, reducing the dependence that European countries  have on Russian energy. The geopolitics of Europe could shift somewhat. Natural  gas might become less of a political tool for Russia and more of a purely  economic one (though even such a not-so-subtle shift would require significant  exports of shale gas from North America to Europe).

Less dependence on Russia would allow the vision of a truly independent,  culturally vibrant Central and Eastern Europe to fully prosper — an ideal of  the region’s intellectuals for centuries, even as ideas in this case would have  little to do with it.

This might especially be relevant to Poland. For Poland may have significant  deposits of shale gas. Were Polish shale deposits to prove the largest in Europe  (a very big “if”), Poland  could become more of an energy producer in its own right, turning this flat  country with no natural defenses to the east and west — annihilated by both  Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th century — into a pivot state or  midlevel power in the 21st. The United States, in turn, somewhat liberated from  Middle East oil because of its own energy sources (including natural gas finds),  could focus on building up Poland as a friendly power, even as it loses  substantial interest in Saudi Arabia. To be sure, the immense deposits of oil  and natural gas in the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and Iran will keep the Middle  East a major energy exporter for decades. But the shale gas revolution will  complicate the world’s hydrocarbon supply and allocation, so that the Middle  East may lose some of its primacy.

It turns out that Australia also has  large new natural gas deposits that, with liquefaction facilities, could  turn it into a principal energy exporter to East Asia, assuming Australia  significantly lowers its cost of production (which may prove very hard to do).  Because Australia is already starting to emerge as the most dependable military  ally of the United States in the Anglosphere, the alliance of these two  great energy producers of the future could further cement Western influence in  Asia. The United States and Australia would divide up the world: after a  fashion, of course. Indeed, if unconventional natural gas exploitation has  anything to do with it, the so-called post-American world would be anything  but.

The geopolitical emergence of Canada — again, the result of natural gas and  oil — could amplify this trend. Canada has immense natural gas deposits in  Alberta, which could possibly be transported by future pipelines to British  Columbia, where, with liquefaction facilities, it could then be exported to East  Asia. Meanwhile, eastern Canada could be the beneficiary of new shale gas  deposits that reach across the border into the northeastern United States. Thus,  new energy discoveries would bind the two North American countries closer, even  as North America and Australia become more powerful on the world scene.

China also has  significant deposits of shale gas in its interior provinces. Because Beijing  is burdened by relatively few regulations, the regime could acquire the land and  build the infrastructure necessary for its exploitation. This would ease  somewhat China’s energy crunch and aid Beijing’s strategy to compensate for the  decline of its coastal-oriented economic model by spurring development  inland.

The countries that might conceivably suffer on account of a shale gas  revolution would be landlocked, politically unstable oil producers such as Chad,  Sudan and South Sudan, whose hydrocarbons could become relatively less valuable  as these other energy sources come online. China, especially, might in the  future lose interest in the energy deposits in such low-end, high-risk countries  if shale gas became plentiful in its own interior.

In general, the coming of shale gas will magnify the importance of geography.  Which countries have shale underground and which don’t will help determine power  relationships. And because shale gas can be transported across oceans in liquid  form, states with coastlines will have the advantage. The world will be smaller because of unconventional gas  extraction technology, but that only increases the preciousness of  geography, rather than decreases it.

Editor’s Note: Stratfor offers a combination of  geopolitical insight, source-driven intelligence and objective analysis to  produce customized reliable information and forecasting for businesses,  organizations and government agencies. For more information about Stratfor’s  client solutions offerings, click here: http://info.stratfor.com/solutions/

Read more:  The Geopolitics of Shale | Stratfor

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The US Invasion of Canada, 1812

The first US move into Canada in 1812 ended on 16 August, when Brigadier General William Hull surrendered Detroit to Major General Isaac Brock. The Americans subsequently defeated an attempt by Britain’s Native American allies to capture Fort Wayne.

Jeremy Black notes that conquering Canada was the USA’s principal strategic aim, but that it is uncertain whether President James Madison wanted to keep it or just to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the USA’s grievances with Britain’s conduct of its naval blockade of France and its allies; impressment of US sailors into the Royal Navy and British interference with US seaborne trade.[1]

Canada had a population of 4-500,000, compared with 7.25 million in the USA. The frontier was long and the British garrison was small; less than 10,000 troops and only two warships on Lake Erie and three on Lake Ontario. The war with France was far more important to Britain than the defence of Canada. [2]

The state of communications and relations between their commanders made it hard for the Americans to co-ordinate operations. Logistical and political problems prevented them to concentrating their state militias into a single force.

The Americans suffered from the difficulties encountered by any army that grows rapidly. There was also a lack of clarity in the relationship between officers of the regular army and those of the state militias. They had supply problems and some militia units refused to fight outside the USA.

Britain had conquered Canada in 1759-60 by an attack on Montreal through the Lake Champlain corridor. However, this required major logistical planning and resources and came after several years of failure.

Despite the long frontier, the potential invasion routes were limited and a well positioned defending force could stop a larger attacker. Water communications were significant, especially the Great Lakes, but were more useful for east-west than north-south movement, except for the Hudson/Mohawk route.

Black criticises Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, governor-in-chief of British North America and C-in-C of all British forces in North America, for moving Brock and troops to defend the Niagara front rather than exploiting the victory at Detroit.[3]

In October the Americans crossed the Niagara River. William Eustis, the US Secretary of War, said that:

[T]he march to Detroit by the way of Cleveland is near 300 miles – that to Niagra not much more than 200, the former through a wilderness, the latter principally thrtough a settled country…provision to and at Niagara more plentiful and less expensive by 50 per cent.[4]

There were also fewer Native Americans, who were generally pro-British, in the west.

The senior US regular officer on the Niagara front, Brigadier General Alexander Smyth, refused to cooperate with Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer, a militia officer who was put in command. He had 1,650 regulars and 4,300 militia facing 1,600 regulars and militia and 600 Iroquois.[5]

The Americans crossed the river on October 13, landing at Queenston despite strong currents and British fire. The British attacked and Brock was killed. The Americans held their positions, but were hampered by the reluctance of some militia units to invade Canada and Smyth’s refusal to obey Rensselaer’s orders. Shrapnel fire from British cannon silenced the US guns and sank US boats.

The Iroquois won time for Major General Roger Sheaffe, Brock’s replacement to bring up reinforcements. The Americans had either retreated back over the river or surrendered by the evening. The British took 925 prisoners and claimed to have killed or wounded 500 Americans.[6] According to Andrew Lambert, this victory was very important in creating a Canadian national identity.[7]

Smyth replaced Van Rensselaer after the latter resigned on 16 October. He planned to capture Fort Erie, a vital position according to Black.[8] On 28 November the Americans raided Frenchman’s Creek in preparation for a larger crossing of the Niagara. It was partially successful, but Smyth cancelled the major assault on 1 December because he did not think that he had enough troops to succeed.

Brigadier General Peter Porter accused Smyth of cowardice. The pair fought a duel on 12 December, but neither was injured.

In the Lake Champlain area a US attack on Montreal from New England was abandoned because of logistical and command problems. Major General Henry Dearborn, the US commander, offered his resignation, but Madison rejected it.

Despite these failures Madison was narrowly re-elected as President in November 1812. However, his opponent, DeWitt Clinton, won all the coastal states from New Hampshire to Maryland. Clinton did not oppose the war, but those who did backed him because he was not Madison.

Madison accepted Eustis’s resignation. Secretary of State James Monroe became acting Secretary of War at the end of 1812, with John Armstrong taking up the post on 5 February.

US resources had proved to be inadequate to carry out their planned land operations against Canada. Russell Weigley contends that the US Army failed to recognise the need to concentrate on the enemy’s most important and vulnerable point; the bottleneck on the St Lawrence River at Montreal, which controlled access to the interior of Canada.[9] However, American morale remained high because of their unexpected success at sea.


[1] J. Black, The War of 1812 in the Age of Napoleon (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009), p. 46.

[2] Ibid., pp. 47-48.

[3] Ibid., pp. 66-67.

[4] Quoted in Ibid., p. 67.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 68.

[7] A. D. Lambert, The Challenge: Britain against America in the Naval War of 1812 (London: Faber, 2012). Kindle location 1272 of 12307

[8] Black, War of 1812, p. 69.

[9] R. F. Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1973), p. 48.

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Egypt and the Strategic Balance from Stratfor

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“<a href=”http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/egypt-and-strategic-balance”>Egypt and the Strategic Balance</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

By George Friedman Founder  and Chief Executive Officer

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire  in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi,  elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni  Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter  the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high  court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the  Muslim Brotherhood’s power. Following the decree, Morsi’s political opponents  launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and  uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international  note. But Egypt  is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has  been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt’s  domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect  the regional balance of power for decades to come.

Morsi’s Challenge to the Nasserite Model

The Arab Spring was seen by some observers to be a largely secular movement  aimed at establishing constitutional democracy. The problem with this theory was  that while the demonstrators might have had the strength to force an election,  it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it. They  didn’t. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while there were  numerous claims that he was a moderate member, it was simply not understood that  he was a man of conviction and honor and that his membership in the Brotherhood  was not casual or frivolous. His intention was to strengthen the role of Islam  in Egypt and the control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the various arms of  state. His rhetoric, speed and degree of Islamism might have been less extreme  than others, but his intent was clear.

The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power.  It galvanized opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included secular  constitutionalists, Copts and other groups who formed a coalition that was  prepared to take to the streets to oppose his move. What it did not include, or  at least did not visibly include through this point, was the Egyptian military,  which refused to  be drawn in on either side.

The Egyptian military, led by a young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, founded the  modern Egyptian state when it overthrew the British-supported monarchy in  the 1950s. It created a state that was then secular, authoritarian and  socialist. It aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union and against the United States  through the 1970s. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Anwar  Sadat, who was later assassinated by Islamists, shifted Egypt into an alliance  with the United States and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

This treaty was the foundation of the regional balance of power until now.  The decision to end the state of war with Israel and use Sinai as a  demilitarized buffer between the two countries eliminated the threat of  nation-to-nation war between Arabs and Israel. Egypt was the most powerful Arab  country and its hostility to Israel represented Israel’s greatest threat. By  withdrawing from confrontation, the threat to Israel declined dramatically.  Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did not represent a significant threat to Israel and  could not launch a war that threatened Israel’s survival.

Egypt’s decision to align with the United States and make peace with Israel  shaped the regional balance of power in other ways. Syria could no longer depend  on Egypt, and ultimately turned to Iran for support. The Arab monarchies that  had been under political and at times military pressure from Egypt were relieved  of the threat, and the Soviets lost the Egyptian bases that had given them  a foothold in the Mediterranean.

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi  represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing  event, with power still in the hands of the military. Morsi has made a move  designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary  works. The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have  the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit  or to threaten his government. Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military  is capable of or interested in intervening.

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on  military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from  the military if it does intervene. But what is clear is that the Muslim  Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of  the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect  than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same  direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force  Morsi’s hand, and the military doesn’t seem likely to intervene. If that is  true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign  policy issues. The first is the future of the treaty with Israel. The issue is  not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer. One of the  consequences of Mubarak’s ouster has been the partial  remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel’s uneasy support. Sinai has  become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch  operations against Israel. The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to  suppress them, which Israel obviously supports. But the Egyptians have also  established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in  practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it. The  intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai  remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only  be the beginning. The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the  United States for spare parts, maintenance and training. Its equipment is  relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years. Even if  the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional  military threat to Israel in its current form. These things can change, however.  The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive.  The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was  prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation. Today, there is no global  power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and  systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the  country overall. Still, if the Morsi government succeeds in institutionalizing  its power and uses that power to change the dynamic of the Sinai buffer, Israel  will lose several layers of security.

A New Regional Alignment?

A look at the rest of the region shows that Egypt is by no means the only  country of concern for Israel. Syria, for example, has an uprising that, in  simple terms, largely consists of Sunnis, many of which are Islamists.  That in itself represents a threat to Israel, particularly if the relationship  between Syria and Egypt were revived. There is an ideological kinship, and just  as Nasserism had an evangelical dimension, wanting to spread pan-Arab ideology  throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood has one too. The Syrian Muslim  Brotherhood is also the most organized and coherent opposition group in  Syria. As Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt, his willingness to engage  in foreign adventures, or at least covert support, for like-minded insurgents  and regimes could very well increase. At a minimum Israel would have to take  this seriously. Similarly, where Gaza  was contained not only by Israel but also by pre-Morsi Egypt, Morsi might  choose to dramatically change Egypt’s Gaza policy.

Morsi’s rise opens other possibilities as well. Turkey’s Islamic-rooted  Justice and Development Party is also engaged in a careful process of  reintroducing Islam into a state that was militantly secular. There are fundamental  differences between Egypt and Turkey, but there is also much in common.  Turkey and Egypt are now engaged in parallel processes designed to create modern  countries that recognize their Islamic roots. A Turkish-Egyptian relationship  would both undergird the Egyptian regime and create a regional force that could  shape the Eastern Mediterranean.

This would, of course, affect American strategy, which as  we have said in the past, is now rapidly moving away from excessive  involvement in the Middle East. It is not clear how far Morsi would go in  breaking with the United States or whether the military would or could draw a  line at that point. Egypt is barely  skirting economic disaster at the moment because it is receiving a broad  range of financial aid from the West. Moving away from the United States would  presumably go well beyond military aid and affect these other types of economic  assistance.

The fact is that as Egypt gradually evolves, its relationship with the United  States might also change. The United States’ relationship  with Turkey has changed but has not broken since the Justice and Development  Party came to power, with Turkey following a more independent direction. If a  similar process occurred in Egypt, the United States would find itself in a very  different position in the Eastern Mediterranean, one in which its only ally was  Israel, and its relationship with Israel might alienate the critical  Turkey-Egypt bloc.

Prior to 1967, the United States was careful not be become overly involved in  protecting Israel, leaving that to France. Assuming that this speculation about  a shift in Egypt’s strategic posture came to pass, Israel would not be in  serious military danger for quite a while, and the United States could view its  support to Israel as flexible. The United States could conceivably choose to  distance itself from Israel in order to maintain its relationships with Egypt  and Turkey. A strategy of selective disengagement and  redefined engagement, which appears to be under way in the United States now,  could alter relations with Israel.

From an Israeli point of view — it should be remembered that Israel is the  dominant power in the region — a shift in Egypt would create significant  uncertainty on its frontier. It would now face  uncertainty in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and while unlikely, the possibility  of uncertainty in Jordan. Where previously it faced hostile powers with  substantial military capabilities, it would now face weaker powers that are  less predictable. However, in an age when Israel’s primary concern is with  terrorist actions and uprisings in Gaza and the West Bank, this band of  uncertainty would be an incubator of such actions.

The worst-case scenario is the re-emergence of confrontational states on its  border, armed with conventional weapons and capable of challenging the Israeli  military. That is not an inconceivable evolution but it is not a threat in the  near term. The next-worst-case scenario would be the creation of multiple states  on Israel’s border prepared to sponsor or at least tolerate Islamist attacks on  Israel from their territory and to underwrite uprisings among the Palestinians.  The effect would be an extended, wearying test of Israel’s ability to deal with  unremitting low-intensity threats from multiple directions.

Conventional war is hard to imagine. It is less difficult to imagine a shift  in Egyptian policy that creates a sustained low-intensity conflict not only  south of Israel, but also along the entire Israeli periphery as Egypt’s  influence is felt. It is fairly clear that Israel has not absorbed the  significance of this change or how it will respond. It may well not have a  response. But if that were the case, then Israel’s conventional dominance would  no longer define the balance of power. And the United States is entering a  period of unpredictability in its foreign policy. The entire region becomes  unpredictable.

It is not clear that any of this will come to pass. Morsi might not be able  to impose his will in the country. He may not survive politically. The Egyptian  military might intervene directly or indirectly. There are several hurdles for  Morsi to overcome before he controls the country, and his timeline might be  extended for implementing changes. But for the moment, Morsi appears in charge,  he seems to be weathering the challenges and the army has not moved. Therefore,  considering the strategic consequences is appropriate, and those strategic  consequences appear substantial.

Read more:  Egypt and the Strategic Balance | Stratfor

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The USS United States Captures HMS Macedonian, 25 October 1812

On 8 October 1812 Commodore John Rodgers’s squadron of the frigates USS President, United States and Congress and the brig USS Argus set sail from Boston. Four days later the United States and the Argus separated from the other ships.

The USS President and Congress returned to Boston on 31 December, having captured nine British merchantmen. They encountered the frigates HMS Nymphe on 10 October and HMS Galatea on 31 October, but were unable to bring either to action. The USS Argus stayed at sea until 3 January 1813, capturing six British merchantmen.

On 25 October 1812 the USS United States, captained by Commodore Stephen Decatur, encountered HMS Macedonian, under the command of Captain John Carden. Their broadsides were:

USS United States: 16 long 24 pounders and 12 42 pound carronades for a total broadside of 888 pounds, reduced to 826 pounds if Theodore Roosevelt’s argument that US shot was 7 per cent lighter than its nominal weight is accepted. Roosevelt claims that the United States had a broadside of 11, not 12, 42 pound carronades, reducing her weight of fire to a nominal 846 pounds and an actual 787 pounds).[1]

HMS Macedonian: 14 long 18 pounders, one long 12 pounder, one long 9 pounder and eight 32 pound carronades. She also had a single moveable 18 pound carronade, giving a total broadside of 547 pounds, assuming that this gun could bear on the target.

Carden decided not to close the range quickly, although larger guns of the American ship meant that her advantage was greater at longer ranges. Macedonian suffered heavy damage as she cautiously approached her opponent.

Realising that his plan was not working, Carden then tried to close the range more quickly. By the time that the ships were within close range Macedonian had lost much of her rigging and most of her carronades. At 11:15, 90 minutes after the action had begun, she was forced to strike her colours.

British casualties were 41 killed and 63 wounded; six men were killed and five wounded on the American ship. Macedonian’s crew included eight Americans, three of whom were killed. The five survivors joined the USN.

The relative strengths of the two ships meant that the United States ought to have won, but she might have suffered heavier casualties in doing so under a less skilful captain than Decatur.

Alfred Mahan describes Decatur’s performances during the battle as being ‘thoroughly skilful.’[2] Decatur’s duty was to defeat his opponent whilst suffering as little damage as possible to his own ship. Roosevelt is critical of Carden, saying that he ‘was first too timid, and then too rash, and showed bad judgement at all times.’[3]

Carden was court-martialled after his return to Britain, a normal procedure for RN captains who had lost their ship. He was acquitted, but was criticised for his handling of his ship. He was never given another command, although the RN’s system of promotion by seniority above the rank of Captain meant that he eventually became an Admiral on the retired list.

The two ships returned to the USA after Macedonian had been repaired at sea. On 4 December the United States out into New London and Macedonian into Newport. Both subsequently moved to New York. The USS Macedonian was commissioned into the USN after being repaired and remained in US service until 1828.

Mahan notes that it is rather surprising that the two ships were not spotted by the British, who had sent a large number of reinforcements to North America. However, he points out that Admiral Sir John Warren, the British C-in-C, preferred to use his ships to patrol the trade routes rather than stopping US ships from putting to sea.[4]

The RN had three stations in North America and the Caribbean; Halifax, the Leeward Islands and Jamaica. Each had its own commander, meaning that the British naval effort against the USA was unco-ordinated until Warren was appointed to overall command on 3 August 1812. He arrived at Halifax on 26 September.

Mahan notes that the USA had reported 190 prizes and probably taken over 200 before Warren arrived. The British took only 70 prizes in first three months of war. Mahan suggests that this was due to the effect of Rodgers’s first cruise, a lack of British warships on station and the fact that the USA declared war.[5]

One of Warren’s first actions was to propose peace on 30 September. Britain had by then repealed the Orders-in-Council that were one of the causes of the war. On 27 October US Secretary of State James Monroe replied, saying that the USA wanted peace, but that the British must first stop pressing [conscripting] US sailors into the RN. Warren had no powers to negotiate this issue.

The capture of HMS Macedonian by the USS United States followed the taking of HMS Guerrière by the USS Constitution on 19 August 1812 and would be followed by the capture of HMS Java by the Constitution on 29 December 1812.

In each case the US ship was superior to the British one. Roosevelt accepts this but disagrees with British historians who said ‘that this superiority was so great as to preclude any hopes of a successful resistance.’[6]

N. A. M. Rodger notes that the best tactic for the weaker ship was to fire high and from long range, hoping to slow the enemy ship by damaging her enemy’s rigging.[7] This was not the tactic normally adopted by the British, who preferred to close the range and then fire at the enemy’s hull. This normally worked against opponents other than the USN.

Roosevelt argues that British frigates had won actions against European opponents that were as superior to them as were the American frigates to their opponents. He gives a number of examples taken from the French historian Onésime-Joachim Troude’s four-volume Batailles navales de la France .

On 1 March 1799, the 38 gun HMS Sybille captured the larger French  frigate Forte. The French ship’s main guns were 24 pounders; the British ones were 18 pounders. On 10 August 1805 HMS Phoenix took the French frigate Didon. On 8 March 1808 HMS San Florenzo captured the Piedmontaise.

Phoenix and San Florenzo were rated at 36 guns, but Roosevelt says that they had actual broadsides of 13 18 pounders, two nine pounders and six 32 pound carronades, a total of 21 guns with a broadside of 444 Ib.

The Didon and Piedmontaise were rated at 40 guns, but had actual broadsides of 14 18 pounders, two 8 pounders and seven 36 pound carronades, a total of 23 guns with a broadside of 522 pounds. Roosevelt believes that French shot was heavier than its nominal value, giving the two French frigates an actual broadside of around 600 pound. The armaments given for these ships are from Roosevelt; some of the linked websites differ.[8]

Roosevelt argues that the Didon and Piedmontaise’s superiority to HMS Phoenix and San Florenzo was greater than that of the USS Constitution to HMS Guerrière or HMS Java. He also claims that against European opponents during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars the British lost only five out of around 200 actions between two ‘ships of approximately equal force (that is, where the difference was less than one half).’[9]

This seems to be a rather wide definition of ‘approximately equal force’, but the point is that British were used to defeating more powerful European opponents at sea. Anglo-American sea actions were normally won by the more powerful ship. The RN had a long tradition of victory, but the USN was a young force.

Thus, victories by the USN over the RN had a much greater impact on morale in both countries than was apparently justified by a dispassionate analysis of the relative strengths of the ships involved.


[1] T. Roosevelt, The Naval War of 1812, 2 vols. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900-2). vol. i. pp. 82-88

[2] A. T. Mahan, Sea Power in Its Relations to the War of 1812, 2 vols. (London,: Samson Low, Marston, 1905). vol. i, p. 421.

[3] Roosevelt, Naval War. vol. i, p. 139.

[4] Mahan, Sea Power 1812. vol. i, pp. 422-23.

[5] Ibid. vol. i, pp. 391-92.

[6] Roosevelt, Naval War. vol. i, p. 120.

[7] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 (London: Allen Lane, 2004), p. 568.

[8] Roosevelt, Naval War, pp. 120-21.

[9] Ibid., pp. 122-23.

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