Top Menu

Dear Reader, we make this and other articles available for free online to serve those unable to afford or access the print edition of Monthly Review. If you read the magazine online and can afford a print subscription, we hope you will consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.
New this week!

Giving War a Chance

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen during the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, January 6, 2021

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen during the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, January 6, 2021. Credit: CFR, "A World of Mounting Disarray," January 6, 2022.

Laurence H. Shoup is a California-based author and activist. He is the author of numerous articles and five books, including Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics 1976–2019 (Monthly Review Press, 2019).

For over a century, a private think tank and membership organization, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), has been foremost in setting U.S. imperial grand strategy. The council is the ultimate agenda-setting, strategic planning, and consensus-forming organization of the U.S. capitalist ruling class. Its activities help unite this class not just as a class in itself, but also as a class for itself.1

In 2002, the council published a full-length book entitled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Kenneth M. Pollock, a member of its staff. A dozen CFR members and leaders read and made comments to improve the book, so it was in some ways a collective work. The book put forth a number of lies to justify the invasion and occupation, including the supposed danger posed by weapons of mass destruction that, as it turned out, the Iraqi government did not have. Combined with this fear of weapons of mass destruction, this Pollock-CFR book asserted that an invasion and takeover of Iraq would be an “enormous boon” for the United States because global oil supplies would be assured and the United States could positively transform the Middle East by building “a new Iraq.” Council members in and out of the government provided additional support for these ideas, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq followed in less than a year.2

In today’s much different world, a comparable book—Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict by Elbridge A. Colby—was published in fall 2021 by Yale University Press, whose director, John Donatich, is a longtime CFR member. Colby was admitted as a member of the CFR in 2016 and was a top Defense Department official in the Donald Trump administration.3 He is well connected to the U.S. capitalist ruling class and recognized as an up-and-coming strategic and military intellectual. His book offers us a window into the strategic policy ideas, discussions, and debates now happening among politically and economically powerful circles in the United States, both inside and outside the CFR.

Strategy of Denial provides an opportunity to concretely observe how the monopoly capitalist ruling class is preparing the people of the United States for what could be a catastrophic world war. The book is comparable to Pollock’s in that its purpose is exactly the same: magnifying threats and increasing fears in order to build support among attentive publics and capitalist ruling class leaders for a possible war, this time with China. Its focus is the perceived danger to U.S. world and regional hegemony that China poses in Asia and, to a much lesser extent, Russia in Europe. It offers policy recommendations on how to stop both powers from becoming regionally dominant through U.S. preparation for and willingness to engage in wars, both limited and, if necessary, nuclear. One can observe daily in the U.S. media how the right and “moderate” wings of the capitalist ruling class are working toward creating a strongly anti-China consensus in the United States.

Strategy of Denial

Colby begins his book with two epigraphs from Carl von Clausewitz’s nineteenth-century classic On War. The essence of the first of these is: “the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking.” The second is: “Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument.” From the outset then, Strategy of Denial is clearly a war and military policy book. As Colby writes: “This book is about war, but it is about fighting a war to prevent China…from dominating a key region of the world” (Asia). Colby sees continued U.S. imperialist hegemony in Asia as central to U.S. economic freedom and prosperity. He begins by asserting that “Asia comprises approximately 40 percent of global gross national product” and is “the locus of about two-thirds of global growth.” Europe is second in importance with about 25 percent, and North America is third with about 20 percent, making 85 percent of global gross national product from these three regions.4

If a state such as China could establish hegemony over a key region such as Asia, it would have substantial incentives to use its power to disfavor and exclude the United States from reasonably free trade and access to these wealthy regions in ways that would undermine America’s core purposes, shift the balance of power against the United States, and ultimately open the country to direct coercion in ways that would compromise Americans’ freedom, prosperity, and even physical security. This is because if China could establish hegemony over Asia, it could then set up a commercial and trading bloc anchored in the world’s largest market that would privilege its own and subordinates’ economies while disfavoring America’s.… The steady erosion of America’s economic power would ultimately weaken the nation’s social vitality and stability.5

Colby elaborates on this “very significant” theme a few pages later:

An arrangement that burdened America’s ability to trade with Asia, which is the world’s largest market and includes many of the world’s most advanced economies, would depress the relative wealth of the United States. This in turn would weaken American power and consequently its ability to influence events.… By undermining Americans’ prosperity and expectations of future growth, China would make American society worse off and more susceptible to internal disputes over a stagnant economic pie.6

Then China “would also be able to establish predominance over Central Asia. Such a powerful China could begin to project much greater power into additional regions, such as the Middle East and even the Western Hemisphere.” The “best way” for China to “gain global preeminence is first to establish regional hegemony in Asia.” Colby then argues in alarmist terms that the “unipolar moment” of U.S. total world domination is over. Whereas ten years ago “the United States spent more on defense than the next eighteen countries combined.… Today, that margin has shrunk; it spends as much as the next seven combined, and China, which has leapt into second place, has increased its defense spending by around 10 percent every year for the past twenty-five years.”7 The book’s aim, therefore, is

to describe how Americans can deal with this new reality and pursue and protect their interests abroad…how they can be prepared to wage war for very important interests and do so in a sane way. This is a defense strategy book; it is rooted in grand strategy, but its focus is on military affairs. War is not just another province of human activity; I argue that military affairs are in important respects determinative.… Success for the strategy in this book would be…a situation in which the threat of war in not salient. But attaining this goal, paradoxically, requires a clear and rigorous focus on war.8

Colby then asserts that “favorable regional balances of power,” achieved through an “antihegemonic coalition” of nations, would prevent China from taking over individual nations one by one and becoming the dominant power in Asia. Furthermore, the United States would have to be the “external balancer” required to unify such an alliance. The U.S. commitment to defend all nations in the coalition would have to be credible. The next logical step is to define who should be part of this alliance/coalition, and from there where the “defensive perimeter” should be drawn. Here, Colby cautions that “half-hearted commitments” are “ill-advised in the face of an aspirant like China.… Effective, prudent alliances in such circumstances involve picking clear lines and sticking to them.” The “defense perimeter” that Colby advocates for runs from Japan and South Korea on the north through the Taiwan Strait to the Philippines on the south. Included in the anti-China coalition would be the following nations: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and India.9 Colby stresses the strategic, geopolitical, and geoeconomic importance of the frontline defense perimeter as follows:

The defense perimeter question is particularly important in the cases of South Korea and the Philippines, both of which are U.S. allies, as well as Taiwan, which has a special quasi-alliance with the United States. Withdrawing commitments from these states would have tremendous consequences…they are (not coincidentally) arrayed along the first island chain, providing a critical geographical position and forming a natural military boundary. Excluding Taiwan or the Philippines from the American defense perimeter would open a major gap in the first island chain and enable China to project military power into the broader Pacific and Southeast Asia. Abandoning South Korea, meanwhile, would mean excluding from the coalition one of the world’s largest and most advanced economies. It would also heavily expose Japan, the linchpin of the American defensive position in Asia.10

Colby therefore concludes that the “first priority” for the United States in Asia is to develop the “ability to conduct a denial defense of Taiwan.” This means denying China’s ability to use military force to take over Taiwan. One set of options Colby discusses that would do this is “to engage Chinese invasion forces before they even got under way. The defenders might, for instance, seek to disable or destroy Chinese transport ships and aircraft before they left Chinese ports or airstrips. The defenders might also try to obstruct key ports; neutralize key elements of Chinese command and control and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance networks; or attack other critical enablers, including other targets on the Chinese mainland.”11

If the “denial defense” of Taiwan was effective, Colby believes that China could escalate the situation into an ongoing longer and broader but still “limited war” between China and the United States. The United States would then be in a good position to keep the “burden of escalation on China’s shoulders.” Such a war could be “limited” by mutually agreed upon “rule sets” that spell out what is allowed through

explicit messaging and demonstrated behavior. This approach would very likely necessitate at least some strikes on the Chinese mainland. But there is almost certainly no way the defenders could succeed without striking at the mainland, where the vast bulk of China’s military power is located and from where its invasion would be launched and supported. If the United States forswore the ability to attack targets on the Chinese mainland that were materially involved in the war, it would gravely weaken its ability to defend Taiwan; treating them as off-limits would also raise questions about U.S. seriousness and resolve.12

Once a “limited war” was underway, the temptation and danger of using nuclear weapons to try to win enters the picture. A potentially disastrous game of “nuclear chicken” is clearly on Colby’s mental map of possible results, as illustrated by his statement that: “If China is willing to use nuclear weapons and the United States is not, Beijing will dominate over whatever interests are at stake—whether about Taiwan’s fate, that of another U.S. ally, or free American access to Asia more broadly.” He concludes that a “state must have some way of responding effectively with its own nuclear forces—or it will be dominated.”13

For Colby, the way out of this possibly catastrophic result is U.S. “resolve,” one of his favorite words. If the United States is “resolute and prepared,” China would not use nuclear weapons because it would be “supremely risky, and quite possibly enormously destructive and counterproductive for China itself.” This “resolve,” per Colby, would allow the United States to outlast China even if the bulk of China’s military forces were still intact after an initial push to try to capture Taiwan. He recognizes that the internal political stability of China would be impacted by a humiliating defeat at the hands of the United States, but still believes that China would not use its survivable nuclear forces “against the United States itself,” though he concedes that the effort of ending such a war would be an “inherently experimental activity.”14

If the war continued, dire consequences could result if China tried to reconstitute an invasion capability. Stopping this

would require destroying more and more Chinese military and industrial targets. Since China could always move military forces from one zone to another, produce arms in new or different factories, or launch air or missile strikes at US allies from various locations across its vast territory, all of China could become the target of a thoroughgoing denial campaign. True denial of China’s ability to reconstitute its capacity to attack Taiwan or another US ally in the coalition could therefore turn into an effort to destroy a much broader fraction—if not the entirety—of the Chinese military and industrial base.… The natural end point of a pure denial approach could well, then, be the full scale defeat of the Chinese military and state.15

But if a full-scale, all-out war fails, then “selective friendly nuclear proliferation may be the least bad option, though this would not be a panacea and would be dangerous.” In other words, the United States could give nuclear weapons to states in conflict with China, such as Taiwan, although Colby does not explicitly say that Taiwan would be a recipient. Peace and detente with China are the goal, says Colby, but achieving this “requires firm and focused action, and acceptance of the distinct possibility of war with China.”16

The last part of the book focuses on what Colby calls the “binding strategy,” how to generate the “resolve,” the “strength and determination” needed to “choose to fight” a war. The key point here is how to maneuver China, through “deliberate action,” into appearing extremely threatening to coalition members: “China must not be allowed to precipitate and fight a war over Taiwan or the Philippines in a manner that makes it seem insufficiently threatening to the other regional nation’s vital interests.… The United States…must therefore prepare, posture, and act to compel China to have to conduct its campaign in ways that indicate it is a greater and more malign threat not only to the state it has targeted but to the security and dignity of the other states that might come to its defense.” To give war a chance, the final words of Colby’s book assert that United States must be prepared to endorse: “sacrificing peace in order to preserve it.”17

Strategy of Denial puts front and center how the economic interests of multinational corporations owned by the U.S. capitalist ruling class heavily influenced many aspects of U.S. imperialism’s foreign policy formulation and its lethal execution. This book argues that U.S. hegemony could be undermined by a China “trading bloc” restricting access to “wealthy regions,” reducing corporate profits and capital accumulation (labeled “core purposes” of the United States). This in turn would “depress relative wealth” in the United States, possibly leading to instability in the country. To prevent this possibility, an aggressive world war needs to be prepared for, since military affairs are “determinative.” A supposed “denial defense of Taiwan” soon turns into a U.S. sneak attack on China’s ports and airfields before a Chinese invasion force “even got underway.” The supposed “defenders,” by now aggressors, then might escalate by striking at many locations on the Chinese mainland, possibly leading to regime change, the “full scale defeat of the Chinese military and state.” This supposed “limited war” could easily escalate into each side attempting to “dominate” through an unlimited nuclear war, with, to put it mildly, absolutely catastrophic results for humanity and other life on our planet. As if this was not enough, the possibility of “friendly nuclear proliferation” should be considered as “the least bad option.” At the same time, the “resolve” of the United States and its allies must be generated by a policy of manipulation, maneuvering China into appearing more threatening than it really is.

Geopolitics also enter into Colby’s thinking, with the typical determinism characteristic of this brand of strategic “realism.” As expressed in Strategy of Denial, if Taiwan falls into the Chinese orbit, the entire U.S. hegemonic position in Asia collapses, and Japan, the Philippines, and even Australia could exit the U.S. orbit, leading to Chinese domination of Asia and the rise of Chinese power in the Middle East and even in the Western Hemisphere. But Colby is making sweeping generalizations about future results that no one can know. To the geopolitical thinker, every sector of the globe appears strategically key. In Vietnam, for example, the “domino theory” that was part of the U.S. justification of that war was later proved to be false and the United States was defeated.

It should also be pointed out that, in its victorious Cold War with the Soviet Union, the United States never defined its “defense perimeter” to include territories that the Soviets claimed as their own. This is exactly what Strategy of Denial does, since the book stresses Taiwan’s central strategic location within the U.S. “defense perimeter.” China claims—and the U.S. government has agreed in the past—that Taiwan is part of China, using language during the Jimmy Carter administration in 1979 to the effect that the People’s Republic is the “sole legal government of China.” In 1982, under Ronald Reagan, the U.S. government stated that it “acknowledges” the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China.18 It is clearly unwise to attempt to reverse this longstanding policy position.

Finally, Colby’s analysis is largely based on additional unproven and often highly questionable assumptions. These include (1) that military affairs are “determinative”; (2) that the United States needs to be hegemonic in Asia to have a vibrant economy; (3) that China is set on achieving regional hegemony by military means; (4) that U.S. military preparations are the best way to respond to China’s ambitions and actions; and (5) that the nations of the region are willing to join an “antihegemonic coalition” that aims at a military confrontation with China. Once these assumptions are seriously questioned, his elaborate argument fails.

In sum, this is a bellicose and deeply irresponsible book, whose author considers it part of the “realist” tradition of U.S. foreign policy. To fully understand its context and possible influence, we need to dig deeper into its origins, including details about its author, his close capitalist ruling-class connections, and the promotion of the book in the powerful ruling-class circles of which Colby is himself part.

Funding and Initial Collaborators

A book often has many origins, and Strategy of Denial is no exception. The book had two known major funders, as well as the group of two dozen friends, supporters, and collaborators who most influenced Colby’s thinking and “took the time to review and comment on drafts of parts or all of the book.” The two major funders mentioned in the acknowledgments are the Hirsch Family (Larry Hirsch is one of the twenty-four reviewers) and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Hirsch is a multimillionaire businessman (private equity, homebuilding, oil and gas corporations) and Republican Party funder based in Dallas, Texas. The Smith Richardson Foundation website lists for the grant year 2019 a grant for $124,894 to Colby to research and write a book on “a national defense strategy in an era of renewed great power competition.” It is unclear if Colby received grants from this foundation prior to or after 2019. Both of these major funders have strong CFR connections. Hirsch is chairman of the think tank Center for European Policy Analysis, whose president, Alina Polyakova, is a CFR member. Another director, Thomas Firestone, is also a member, along with the late Madeleine Albright, the CFR’s former honorary director emerita and head of their international advisory council. Five of the fourteen governors of the Smith Richardson Foundation are CFR members, two of them former council directors.19

This group of twenty-four initial collaborators have special characteristics. First, 100 percent are men. Second, thirteen have worked in the U.S. government, almost evenly balanced between Republican and Democratic administrations. Nine are CFR members or former CFR employees. Nine worked for the U.S. Defense Department, and six worked at the think tank Center for New American Security. Two in particular deserve special mention because of their role in the Joe Biden administration. CFR member Jonathan Finer is currently deputy national security advisor under Jake Sullivan. He also has a long history in Democratic administrations, as chief of staff and director of policy planning for secretary of state John Kerry, speech writer for Biden, and policy advisor to Antony Blinken during the Barack Obama years. Ely Ratner, currently assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, previously served as deputy national security advisor to Vice President Biden in 2015–17. He was also a senior fellow for China studies at the CFR. Ratner made news in December 2021 when he testified before a Senate committee that Taiwan was “critical to the defense of vital U.S. interests,” since it is located at a key “node within the first island chain, anchoring a network of U.S. allies and partners.”20 Obviously, Colby’s analysis and conclusions have already become very influential in the Defense Department, and among some policymakers historically close to President Biden.

A third key person in the group of twenty-four who was asked to review Strategy of Denial before publication is Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a graduate of Stanford and Yale. Known as a strong Trump loyalist, Hawley first captured the national spotlight by giving an encouraging clenched fist salute to the January 6, 2021, violent insurrectionists attempting a coup by attacking the Capitol. Hawley clearly favored overturning the 2020 election and illegally maintaining Trump as president and was also the first U.S. senator to declare his intention to oppose the certification of Biden’s election. He was one of a handful of Republican senators (dubbed the “sedition caucus”) that, without any evidence of fraud, voted to try to overturn election results in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania. In 2018, he won election as a senator from Missouri with big contributions from right-wing groups, including the Charles Koch political machine, and is reported to have presidential ambitions. In addition, Alexander Velez-Green, Hawley’s national security advisor, helped Colby immensely with the book and receives Colby’s special praise in the acknowledgments section of Strategy of Denial: “This book would simply not be what it is without Alexander Velez-Green, to whom I owe an inestimable debt. Alex’s brilliance, rigor, care and effort were invaluable in helping transform a rough and often jumbled manuscript into this final product. A great many of the ideas, structure, and logical constructs of this book—their heart—bear Alex’s profound imprint. I cannot thank him enough.”21

Needless to say, Senator Hawley’s foreign policy positions closely follow the perspectives outlined in Colby’s book. Colby’s close connection with the Missouri senator and Hawley’s national security advisor tells us something important about his right-wing politics, including his defense of Hawley when the senator came under attack for his support of the January 6 insurrection. Colby lamely tweeted that Hawley was simply trying to speak up for those who feel disenfranchised. But that is just the beginning.

Family Background

Colby, named after his army officer great-grandfather, comes from a prominent ruling-class family, which gives him instant credibility in powerful circles and the potential for real influence. The original Colby in the United States was Anthony Colby, who arrived in Massachusetts Bay from England with the John Winthrop fleet in 1630. Since then, the Colby family has supplied top military officers, a secretary of state (Bainbridge Colby in the Woodrow Wilson administration), and a CIA director (William E. Colby, who served in Saigon as “deputy ambassador for pacification” during the U.S. war on Vietnam and then became CIA chief under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford). While in Vietnam, William E. Colby, Elbridge Colby’s grandfather, was in charge of the infamous Phoenix Program, which targeted Vietnamese civilians for capture, interrogation, torture, and assassination. Experts such as Douglas Valentine have described the program as a “civilian assassination program.”22 Estimates of Vietnamese civilians murdered, sometimes through torture, by this program range from 26,000 to 40,000 individuals.

Elbridge Colby’s father, Princeton and Yale alumnus Jonathan E. Colby, is also worth discussing, both because the book is dedicated to him and because he has been a senior advisor and a managing director at the Carlyle Group, a private equity corporation in Washington DC. The key founder and today co-executive chairman of Carlyle is billionaire David M. Rubenstein, who is also the chairman of the CFR. Jonathan Colby is a member of the council and has been donating, likely annually, to the CFR at a high level at least since 2007. In the 2020–21 year, he gave to the CFR at the $25,000 to $49,999 level. Jonathan Colby’s career, like that of his father William, has been closely connected to Asia. While working for Blackstone Group, another private equity corporation, he was responsible for the firm’s financial advisory business in Asia—first in Tokyo, then in Hong Kong. From 1980 to 1989, he was the head of Asian mergers and acquisitions for the First Boston Corporation.23 He also served in the Nixon administration on the National Security Council under the direction of Henry Kissinger. While likely not yet at the billionaire wealth level, the Colby family is clearly part of the capitalist ruling class of the United States.

The Carlyle Group

In recent decades, the Carlyle Group, which has extensive interests in Asia and Europe, has become important for Colby family wealth. Carlyle is a private equity corporation with investments worldwide. What Carlyle and other private equity companies like Blackstone, Apollo Global Management, and KKR do first is raise billions in investment funds from wealthy backers worldwide. Carlyle’s 2020 Annual Report states that it had 2,650 fund investors across ninety-five countries. In the past, these are known to have included leading banks and state pension funds, CFR former director and billionaire George Soros, and wealthy Saudi princes and members of the bin Laden family. The company conducts extensive research on targeted corporations, buys and takes over the ones that show the most promise, finding ways to improve them (such as increasing “efficiency” by firing workers), then selling all or parts of these companies within a few years. The goal is always to make profit by selling the corporations that they buy up and control.

Profits from this capitalist activity have been vast, as seen by the rapidly accumulating wealth of these private equity firms and those running them. Each has created a large number of billionaires and multimillionaires. In the case of Carlyle, founded in 1987, it recently had almost $300 billion in assets under management, invested in several hundred active portfolio companies in eighty-two countries on six continents, with hundreds of thousands of workers employed in its portfolio companies. Additionally, Carlyle has a $66 billion global credit arm, with thousands of borrower relationships and a “global investment solutions” arm with $60 billion assets under management in 284 investment vehicles. All these figures are constantly changing, usually increasing, due to the buying and selling nature of private equity.24

The working class and the environment do not, of course, fare well under the rule of Carlyle and U.S. corporations generally, with obscene differences in income and wealth. What little recent information is available indicates that, in the case of Carlyle-owned businesses in the United States, hourly pay ranged from $10 an hour for an “activity assistant” and $12.43 an hour for a “front desk agent,” to $14 an hour for a housekeeper ($28,000 a year), and $29.90 an hour ($59,800 a year) for a charge nurse. Contrast this with the estimated $4.3 billion net worth of Carlyle co-chair David Rubenstein.25 Without even having to work, Rubenstein’s $4.3 billion invested at a minimum 5 percent return would give him $215,000,000 a year to live on.

Not only that, but the Carlyle Group ranks number fifty-seven on the list of the worst toxic air polluters in the United States, compiled by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts based on 2018 data. The Political Economy Research Institute specifies thirty-nine manufacturing locations all around the country where these Carlyle facilities operate. On the list of the worst water polluters, Carlyle ranks number seventy-sixth, with twenty-three facilities listed, also based on 2018 data. In addition, Kinder Morgan, one of the Carlyle-owned companies, appears as number seventy among the Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index, with 2018 greenhouse gas carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 10,261,286 metric tons. Besides being a heavy polluter of our planet, Carlyle also has owned Combined Systems International, which manufacturers the tear gas used by the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi dictatorship to suppress the Egyptian people.26

Historically, Carlyle has garnered massive levels of influence in the United States and other governmental circles by employing retired officials and using their connections, knowledge, and lobbying ability to plan their investments, especially in the military-industrial complex. Carlyle’s early specialty was military contracting, taking over companies with billions of dollars in military contracts, such as United Defense, Inc. The roster of former government officials (most of those from the United States are also CFR members) who once worked for Carlyle and exemplify this type of access capitalism includes George H. W. Bush, secretary of state James Baker III, Defense Department secretary (and former deputy director of the CIA) Frank Carlucci, Office of Management and Budget director Richard Darman, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission Arthur Levitt, Federal Communications Commission chairman William E. Kennard, Bill Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty, UK prime minister John Major, president of Bundesbank Germany Karl Otto Pohl, Philippines president Fidel Ramos, Thai premier Anan Panyarachun, and prime minister of South Korea Park Tae-joon. Currently, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, both present CFR members, are Carlyle veterans. In the case of Youngkin, his vast wealth from his years with Carlyle (estimated at $470 million by Forbes) allowed him to spend tens of millions of his own money to hire political consultants and produce a slick political campaign to define himself favorably and win the election in late 2021.27

Asia represents a very important market for Carlyle. As Kewsong Lee, the billionaire co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, pointed out: “Asia is a critical market for Carlyle.” Carlyle began investing in Asia in 1998 and has since taken over more than 160 companies through its Asia private equity platform. The group had $20 billion of assets under management in the region as of March 2018, and was then executing a Carlyle Asia Partners V fund of $6.55 billion. Many of these assets are based in Taiwan. In fact, Taiwan has held a special position for Carlyle from early in the company’s history. Frank Carlucci, chairman of Carlyle from 1992 to 2003, was also simultaneously chairman of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council from 1999 to 2002. The purpose of this and other similar business councils is to promote trade and investment between the countries involved in such partnerships, and Carlucci/Carlyle was well positioned from an early date to buy and sell Taiwan-based corporations.

One study, published in Business History in 2016, focuses on a small segment of Carlyle’s activities in China. It analyzed four large buyout bids executed from 2005 to 2007, one in China and three in Taiwan. The one in China, a $440 million deal to acquire the Xugong Construction Machinery Company, had problems due to the need for regulatory approval from a strong Chinese state. Carlyle eventually compromised, reducing its ownership goal from 85 to 45 percent and giving up its attempt to have the right to appoint the chairman of the board, but the deal was still not approved. The regulatory environment in China proved unsupportive of this leveraged buyout despite Carlyle’s compromises. In Taiwan, Carlyle was able to acquire Ta Chong Bank and Eastern Multimedia successfully, but failed to close the deal on its offer to buy Advanced Semiconductor Engineering due to reported inability to agree on a final price. The conclusion was that a supportive national institutional framework was required for leveraged buyout success. Financial capitalist corporations like Carlyle want to be able to buy and sell companies without restrictions and do what they want to profit from each company’s resources and workers. China does not allow such unrestricted access, putting up roadblocks to the unfettered capitalism favored by neoliberal thinkers like Colby family members.28

Elbridge A. Colby, a Brief Biography

Elbridge Colby, not surprisingly, has personal investments in Carlyle, and interest in a family trust likely largely based on the Carlyle wealth accumulated by his father. He served in Trump’s Defense Department in 2017–18, having an important role in developing the 2018 U.S. National Security Strategy. As a government employee, Colby had to submit a public disclosure report. This report, Office of Government Ethics Form 278C, reveals that Colby was paid $167,774 for just over one year’s employment in the Defense Department and owns a house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, worth between $1 million and $5 million. Chevy Chase has been described as “one of the richest and whitest communities” in the United States. More importantly, Colby owns a one-third interest in a “Family Irrevocable Trust” and investments in “Carlyle Partners…privatization/leveraged buyouts in aerospace, defense, health care, consumer/retail, industrial, IT, telecom, manufacturing, media.… Proportionate share of value and income not readily ascertainable.” This disclosure form also reveals that, as of 2018, Colby had already been a consultant for a long list of private military and intelligence organizations, including Booz Allen Hamilton, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, RAND Corporation, Sandia National Laboratory, and Institute for Defense Analysis.29

Educated at Harvard and Yale, early in his career Colby served for over five years in the U.S. government at the Department of Defense, Department of State, and in the intelligence community working on a variety of weapons, strategic forces, and intelligence matters, including service in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority. From 2010 to 2017, he worked for the Center for New American Security think tank in Washington DC, ending up as the Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow. This think tank has been heavily funded by military contractors like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed; super-rich capitalists like the Murdoch family (the Quadrivium Foundation); the Smith-Richardson and McArthur Foundations; the U.S. Departments of State and Defense; the Carnegie Corporation; top U.S. multinational corporations like Bank of America, Chevron, Cisco, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Goldman Sachs; the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office; the embassy of Japan; and the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The organization’s leadership includes numerous CFR members, including its CEO Richard Fontaine. One of its two founders, Kurt M. Campbell, another council man, is Asia tsar to the Biden administration.30

Service in the Trump administration’s Defense Department followed, where he was a central figure in the production of the 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy document, subtitled “Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge.” Strategy of Denial can be seen, to some extent, as an elaboration of this official eleven-page-long document, which begins by stressing that interstate competition is now the primary concern of U.S. national security, and that Russia, North Korea, Iran, and especially China are the states that threaten continued U.S. world domination. Peace through strength is the message, needed to prevent “reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.” China is seen as wanting to achieve regional hegemony first, then to displace the United States to gain worldwide preeminence in the future. U.S. strategy to continue its global hegemony involves building a more lethal military force by prioritizing preparedness for war, modernizing varied military capabilities including nuclear forces and space war-fighting domains, and strengthening the developing alliance system in the Indo-Pacific and North Atlantic Treaty Organization.31

Since leaving government office in 2018, Colby, aside from writing Strategy of Denial and becoming director of the defense program at the Center for New American Security, has cofounded a policy group called the Marathon Initiative, which focuses “on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition.” Recently, he has also been asked to join the strategic advisory firms WestExec Advisors and American Global Strategies. WestExec is close to the Biden White House because Secretary of State Blinken cofounded the firm. Secretary of defense Lloyd Austin was also a leader of WestExec. American Global Strategies is a new consulting firm cofounded by Robert O’Brien, one of Trump’s former national security advisors. Colby has been hired as a senior advisor for American Global Strategies. In the 2020 presidential campaign, Colby gave $500 toward Trump’s re-election.32

Promotion of Strategy of Denial

Colby’s biography points out the dense and multiparty network of connections he has in the policy-making world. He has used these to good effect to promote and try to increase the influence of his new book and the policy ideas therein. Promotion is ongoing, but there are a few highlights worth mentioning here. One of Colby’s first efforts to promote Strategy of Denial was on a CFR podcast, “Rethinking U.S. Defense Strategy,” on September 14, 2021. One of the CFR’s top officials, senior vice president and director of studies James M. Lindsay, interviewed Colby, stating that he agreed with much of Colby’s strategy, but questioned how it would work in practice. This was followed up with a council-sponsored panel discussion with Colby and two other experts on October 7, 2021. From September to November 2021, the Carnegie Endowment, Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, and Brookings Institution all held well-publicized events with Colby promoting his book and ideas. At least some of these were rebroadcast on C-Span, YouTube, Apple podcasts, and Facebook. The Wall Street Journal selected Strategy of Denial as one of the top ten books of 2021.33

Conclusions

Strategy of Denial and the evident influence it appears to be having within U.S. ruling circles puts the issue of fascism squarely before the people of the United States and the world. Fascism should be seen as a step-by-step process, as more and more undemocratic, authoritarian, and warlike policies are implemented. Seven are central: control by a dominant, unquestioned leader; blind supernationalism; neoliberal economic policies favoring giant corporations and the super-rich; an obsession with national security, which promotes a cult of violence, including imperialism, militarism, war, and the threat of war; male domination and the general subordination of women and gender and sexual minorities; destruction of the labor movement; racism and the scapegoating of minority groups, including denial of equal voting and other rights. Fascism is gradually normalized and captures enough people’s minds and actions to be increasingly influential.

Strategy of Denial should be seen in this light, part of the process toward the dominance of fascist policy in the foreign policy arena, which stresses war as a means and an end. Colby’s support of the fascist demagogue Trump and his close ties to Republican Senator Josh Hawley reinforces this conclusion. The Republican Party that Colby is clearly part of needs to be seen now as a proto-fascist party, acting to try to bring full-scale fascism to the United States. Similar to what happened in the case of Kenneth Pollock’s Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, the policy suggestions in Strategy of Denial appear to be taken very seriously and are becoming influential within U.S. ruling circles, discussed and debated in and out of government. Colby’s many connections are serving him well in this regard.

Viewed from another perspective, Colby’s personal investments in the Carlyle Group and long employment at the Center for New American Security is a form of corruption and creates obvious conflicts of interest. Carlyle has massive investments in Asia, which Colby, as a Carlyle investor, is likely keen to protect, with military force if necessary. Historically, this firm has made immense profits from its ownership of military-related corporations, and these greatly increase in value when there is a war or the increased threat of war. In addition, Colby worked for many years for the Center for New American Security think tank, which has among its major funders the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office as well as large military contractors and multinational corporations with key investments in Asia and Europe. As is common among CFR and monopoly capitalist ruling-class individuals, there is no separation between personal, family, and class interests and the “national interest” as they define it.

Beyond the ongoing threat of fascism and a corrupt definition of the national interest, this “giving war a chance” book comes at a time when our world is in deep crisis. The many crises characteristic of the monopoly capitalism of our era (such as capitalist ecocide and resulting climate chaos, pandemics, the threat of major war using nuclear weapons, mass migration, and obscene levels of inequality) make it imperative for us to think and act outside the usual framework and discourse of the mass media and mainstream political commentators. This system is characterized as globalizing and hegemonic, seeking domination to maximize corporate profit and capital accumulation at any cost, even ecological destruction, resulting in climate chaos at a level that threatens the future of all life on this planet. Nationalistic rivalries leading to massive war preparation and possibly war itself, as stressed by Colby, constitute major parts of the problem. Massive spending on militarism does immense damage to our planet. The U.S. military alone is the biggest polluter in the world. Ecological destruction due to the expand-or-die nature of capitalism is a main source of pandemics plaguing the people of the world. As animals are deprived of their living spaces and flee, zoonotic diseases such as coronaviruses are spread to humans. We need a revolutionary ecological socialist transformation of the current monopoly capitalist system to avert fascism, possible world war, and environmental catastrophe.

All liberations are now tied together, demanding human freedom and human survival on a sustainable planet. Part of this should be a challenge to the very legitimacy of the nation-state system, which gives each nation and the corporations within it the right to promote their own “national interest,” including emitting what they want into our common atmosphere and oceans, trumping universal human interest. Direct action at the local and national levels, a global general and climate insurgency, is needed to defeat fascism and successfully assert the rights of our common, collective humanity in favor of a globally cooperative, worker-run, ecologically based, democratic, socialist society.

Notes

  1. For detailed information and analysis about the history, nature, activities, and influence of the Council on Foreign Relations, see Laurence H. Shoup, Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics 1976–2019 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2019); Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977).
  2. Shoup, Wall Street’s Think Tank, 206–7.
  3. Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2011 (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2011), 37; Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2016 (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2016), 47, 49.
  4. Elbridge A. Colby, Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021), vi, 5, 283.
  5. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 10.
  6. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 12–13.
  7. Colby, Strategy of Denial, x, 119, 149.
  8. Colby, Strategy of Denial, xi–xii.
  9. Colby, Strategy of Denial, xiii, 68, 72–77.
  10. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 76–77.
  11. Colby, Strategy of Denial, xvi, 159.
  12. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 171, 172.
  13. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 176.
  14. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 177, 182.
  15. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 186.
  16. Colby, Strategy of Denial, xvii.
  17. Colby, Strategy of Denial, 202–4, 210–12, 284.
  18. “U.S.–PRC Joint Communique (1982),” American Institute in Taiwan, accessed April 8, 2022.
  19. Colby, Strategy of Denial, xx–xxi; “The Future of U.S. Defense Strategy, Grant Year: 2019,” Smith Richardson Foundation. The five Smith Richardson governors are Karen Elliott House (former CFR director), admiral James Stavridus (former CFR director), doctor R. Glenn Hubbard, lieutenant general H. R. McMaster, and doctor John Taylor. See the Center for European Policy Analysis website, the Smith Richardson Foundation website, and Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2018 (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2018), 2, 41–42, 54, 57, 62, 65, 68–69.
  20. Kathin Hille, “Washington Has Made Its Intensions Clear Over ‘Unsinkable’ Taiwan,” Financial Times, December 30, 2021, 4.
  21. “The Koch Coup,” Center for Media and Democracy; Colby, Strategy of Denial, xxi.
  22. Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program: America’s Use of Terror in Vietnam (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1990).
  23. Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2007 (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2007), 63; Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2021 (Washington DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2021), 2; “Jonathan E. Colby,” Carnegie Council, accessed April 7, 2022.
  24. Carlyle Group, Accelerating Growth: Annual Report 2020 (Washington DC: Carlyle Group, 2020); Antoine Gara, “Carlyle Brings in Record Earnings After a Tough Pandemic,” Financial Times, October 29, 2021.
  25. Salary figures can be found in advertisements at Indeed.com and David Rubenstein’s net worth at Forbes (#261).
  26. “Toxic 100 Air Polluters Index (2020 Report, Based on 2018 Data),” Political Economy Research Institute, accessed April 6, 2022; “Toxic 100 Water Polluters Index (2020 Report, Based on 2018 Data),” Political Economy Research Institute, accessed April 6, 2022; “Greenhouse 100 Polluters Index (2020 Report, Based on 2018 Data),” Political Economy Research Institute, accessed April 6, 2022.
  27. Dan Briody, The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2003), xv–xxvii; Lauren Fedor, “Glenn Youngkin, Political Novice Rewrites the Republican Playbook,” Financial Times, November 6–7, 2021.
  28. Douglas Cumming and Grant Fleming, “Taking China Private: The Carlyle Group Leveraged Buyouts and Financial Capitalism in China,” Business History 58, no. 3 (2016): 345–63.
  29. Elbridge A. Colby, “Public Disclosure Report Form 278C,” Office of Government Ethics, available at projects.propublica.org.
  30. “Center for a New American Security,” Influence Watch, accessed April 6, 2022; Laurence H. Shoup, “The Council on Foreign Relations, the Biden Team, and Key Policy Outcomes: Climate and China,” Monthly Review 73, no. 1 (May 2021): 3–4; Council on Foreign Relations, Annual Report 2018, 54.
  31. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Defense, 2018), 1, 2, 5–10.
  32. “The Secretive Consulting Firm That’s Become Biden’s Cabinet in Waiting,” Politico, November 23, 2020; “Our Team,” American Global Strategies, accessed April 6, 2022.
  33. “Rethinking U.S. Defense Strategy, With Elbridge A. Colby,” Council on Foreign Relations podcast, September 14, 2021; “The Evolving Military Balance in the Taiwan Strait,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 7, 2021; “The Strategy of Denial,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 15, 2021; “The Best Defense Strategy for America? Elbridge Colby on The Strategy of Denial,” Heritage Foundation, September 17, 2021; “What Is a Strategy of Denial and Does It Make Sense for America?,” Brookings Institution, November 5, 2021; “The 10 Best Books of 2021,” Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2021.
2022, Volume 74, Number 01 (May)
Comments are closed.