December 18, 2015


The Machiavelli of Maryland : Military strategist, classical scholar, cattle rancher - and an adviser to presidents, prime ministers, and the Dalai Lama. Just who is Edward Luttwak? And why do very powerful people pay vast sums for his advice? (Thomas Meaney, 9 December 2015, The Guardian)

Luttwak is a self-proclaimed "grand strategist", who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls "the logic of strategy", which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune. [...]

Outside Luttwak's house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, stands a tall metal statue of the would-be Hitler assassin Claus von Stauffenberg; a large wooden totem of Nietzsche stares out from a bay window. When I visited this spring, a helmeted figure appeared to be assembling something with industrial welding equipment through a basement window. The figure was Luttwak's elegant wife, Dalya, who greeted me at the door while Luttwak finished shearing the bushes outside. "I do sometimes worry that when I see a car moving slowly outside the house that someone has finally come to finish us off," she said. Dalya was preparing for a show in New York City, and the floor of her sculpture studio was strewn with tools and the steel rods she shapes into giant root-like structures.

Luttwak first came to Washington in 1969. After graduating from LSE, he followed his roommate Richard Perle - the neoconservative eminence grise and adviser to Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, known in the press as the "Prince of Darkness" - to work for a cold war thinktank called the Committee to Maintain a Prudence Defense Policy. Chaired by the former US secretary of state Dean Acheson, the committee was dedicated to wrapping rabid strategic proposals in the language of security and necessity. Luttwak now finds Washington to be a "pleasantly innocuous" town, but he hated it when he first arrived: "I remember going to Kissinger's favourite restaurant, Sans Souci, and eating food that would have been rejected by Italian PoWs."

Luttwak could never fully bend to the orthodoxies of the Beltway. "He has a way of thinking outside of the box, but it's so far outside of the box that you have to put a filter on it," says Paul Wolfowitz, another Iraq war architect who was also a member of Acheson's committee. "If you had asked Edward if he would have liked to be secretary of state, he would not have said no," says Perle, "but he didn't want to rise as a bureaucrat. He wanted access to power without going up ladders." Luttwak's relations with both men have cooled in recent decades. "In Washington you are considered frivolous if you write books," he said. "Wolfowitz and Perle were always supposed to be writing these great works, but they never did. I was considered unserious for knowing things."

Today, Luttwak's home office contains the better part of the Loeb classical library on its shelves, interspersed ostentatiously with helmets, pistols and stray pieces of artillery. A certificate congratulating him for his contribution to the design of the Israeli Merkava tank rests above a photo of his daughter, a former Israeli soldier, driving the same tank. Luttwak spends much of his time at the computer. He follows the news closely and interprets it as an ongoing comedy. At the time of my visit, Yemen's Houthi insurgents had just invaded the port city of Aden. "It's as if Scottish Highlanders were walking around with guns in Mayfair," he said.

"You know, I never gave George W Bush enough credit for what he's done in the Middle East," Luttwak continued. "I failed to appreciate at the time that he was a strategic genius far beyond Bismarck. He ignited a religious war between Shi'ites and Sunnis that will occupy the region for the next 1,000 years. It was a pure stroke of brilliance!"

Posted by at December 18, 2015 7:24 PM