Flaws in US Thought–And Some Remedies

EDITORIAL, 8 Sep 2014

#340 | Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

Kuala Lumpur

Obama faces a “three-headed monster” (INYT 5 Sep 2014): Russia-Ukraine, ISIS, and Asia with a US “pivot”. Show NATO strength in Eastern Europe; crush ISIS (Colin Powell’s 9/11 remedy for Al-Qaeda); 60% of US force and “all but China” treaties in Asia-Pacific.

It is not going to work. Not with Obama-Biden-Kerry, nor with McCain; be it one monster with three heads or three with one each. There is no way in which Donbass will become a peaceful, integrated part of a unitary two-nation Ukraine; the Sunni-Arab world will find ways to integrate and undo Sykes-Picot; and no way in which one Asia-Pacific will choose USA over China. They want both, as the PM of Malaysia, Najib Razak, expresses it so well; eulogizing both.

For possible solutions or ways out see below; first a focus on the head of the US monster with a heavily flawed brain. Of course there are many US voices on top, heated discussions; however, policy, action produced by thought, comes as if from one brain to show unity. However, the flaws are also many, producing and reproducing bad policies.

  1. Mistaking the map of world states for world reality. They have governments and leaders; the USA relates to them, as a unit. But most of them are far from unitary; they have deep faultlines inside.

Remedy: A map of world nations, 2,000 rather than 200, might help to overcome culture blindness: as, for instance, not knowing Shia/Sunni when invading Iraq; not knowing Uniate/Orthodox, Ukrainian/Russian in Ukraine; or the incredible cultural complexity among and within Asian states.

  1. Confusing conflict with violence. Or “trouble”. Handling conflict becomes handling violence toward cease-fire or capitulation, then tidying up the “post-conflict” situation, only to discover that the violence reappears, perhaps with a vengeance. Nothing solved.

Remedy: Separate the concepts: conflict means incompatible goals, violence is to harm-hurt; solve the conflicts to avoid the violence.

  1. A brain programmed for victory rather than solution. Not that solution, e.g. by diplomacy, is unthought; but the wiring brings up victory (to dictate the solution) more easily. With violence and conflict mixed, untangling the wiring becomes very difficult.

Remedy: Learn handling conflicts: identify acceptable, legitimate goals in all parties, also USA, design a reality where they are met.

  1. Standing in the way: the DMA deep culture syndrome.
  • Dualism lumps together “enemies” with deep conflicts and makes them look like one monster (in the US mind Donbass-Russia-ISIS-China), and lumps together as “allies” parties also with deep conflicts (USA-ordinary Ukrainians economically, Baghdad-Riyadh-Iran, Japan-S. Korea-Taiwan).
  • Manicheism makes “us” only good, “them” only evil, failing to see the bad in the good and the good in the bad–with dualism pre-polarizing any conflict.
  • Armageddon is the logical conclusion: the final battle.

Remedy: HDT.

  • Holism to get a more complex, holistic view of the situation in space, geographical and social, and in time, history.
  • Dialectics to search for the contradictions, the yin/yang in all “holons”, also the West, the USA, and to identify the good, mutually acceptable, legitimate goals in all.
  • Transcendence, going beyond, some change to accommodate them. Method: open, questioning dialogue.
  1. Standing in the way: the CGT deep culture syndrome.
  • Chosenness by God, today’s exceptionalism, catapulting the USA above with others, making dictate, not dialogue, natural.
  • Glories and Traumas, past, present, future rank higher the more exceptional. There is much US post-traumatic stress disorder and post-glory exuberance disorder; calling for revenge and continued victory. Narcissism + Paranoia.

Remedy: Self-insight, self-healing to become a normal country; one, equal, among others, chosen to live with others, sensitive to their traumas–particularly when inflicted by the USA–and to their glories; learn handling traumas: process the past, build a cooperative future.

  1. Structure blindness: no alternative to anarchy and hierarchy. The discourse is in terms of capability and intent of actors, focused on the strong and evil; not in terms of vertical vs horizontal structures and the inevitable violence coming out of the former. In An Intimate War Mike Martin, UK advisor, points to zero understanding of Afghan structure.

Remedy: The alternative is equity–cooperation for mutual and equal benefit–missing, like holism and dialectics. Politically this means one state-one vote, economically equalizing costs and benefits, militarily cooperation all over, culturally mutual learning. A structure discourse, with equity, added to the actor discourse.

With a flawed brain, the approach to Ukraine and ISIS becomes direct violence and to Asia-Pacific becomes structural economic-military violence. Where would the six possible remedies bring us?

For Ukraine: Accept Crimea as undoing a 1954 Khrushchev mistake and dialogue with all for a federal Ukraine with two autonomous parts, one more oriented toward EU, the other toward Eurasia, exchanging access to trade and to gas-oil with each other; neutral, with rotating or committee presidency (Swiss formula). No Donbass statehood.

For ISIS: A UN-led conference about alternatives for the whole region, drawing on the pre Sykes-Picot Ottoman experiences, millet autonomy for minorities, with no special role for Turkey-Istanbul. A USA-West-Shia alliance will sharpen the faultlines, and ISIS may, like Al Qaeda, not be crushed, but spread to many other countries.

For “All But China”: “All With China.” The US-West tried for more than 20 years to exclude China from the UN in favor of Taiwan, as unsuccessful as “all but China”. After 1945 many wished Germany away and an “all but Germany” Europe; but “all with Germany” prevailed. Both should be for mutual and equal benefit, however; to be watched.

Military-industrial-intellectual complex: the more flawed the thought, the more monstrous the foreign policy action. Correct the flaws, please.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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3 Responses to “Flaws in US Thought–And Some Remedies”

  1. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Johan,

    Whilst understanding your point of view perfectly and why you’re not happy with Obama’s policies, I also understand Obama’s position and see why he’s happy with himself and excited about the challenges he faces.

    In fact, Obama faces not a “three-headed monster” but a four-headed one 1)Russia-Ukraine, 2)ISIS, 3) Asia with a US “pivot” and 4) Israel/Palestine.

    In addition, of the over 200 other armed conflicts in the world, many are also the “responsibility” of Obama and his Administration.

    What you propose is perfect for us, Peace lovers seekers, but to Obama and his cronies or business partners, your proposal would make their lives unglamourous and unexciting, with the further disadvantage that they would lose the support they receive ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$) from their main sponsors, the multi-trillion dollar Industrial Military Complex.

    I believe the UNIVERSAL ABOLITION OF MILITARISM is the ONLY solution. I wish I was wrong.

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