Over the years only a small handful of policy pundits have struggled to find a core principle that might explain the American government’s irrational desire to expand its Cold War military alliance (NATO). With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the demobilization of Warsaw Pact forces, the organization no longer had a reason to live and should have been disbanded. Instead, under the Bill Clinton regime NATO found new life and new members and after 9/11 it was assigned a new purpose in the Bush administration’s war on terror. Flash forward to November 2010 when one of America’s few truly astute commentators, the now deceased William Pfaff, resorted to the term “medieval mysticism” to describe what had become of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. “American policy seems to these allies to be lost in fantasies as Alice was lost in a mathematician’s logical joke, in which all was reversed from what existed in real life, on the other side of the looking glass” Pfaff wrote. Today, NATO remains more than ever lost on the other side of the mirror with the only exceptions being the location has changed from Afghanistan to Russia’s border states while the fantasy has transformed from making an Afghan democracy out of terrorists, warlords and drug kingpins into a World War II style Nazi blitzkrieg on Moscow.
As odd as it may seem to American audiences of 2016, William Pfaff’s use of medieval mysticism to describe American thinking is not as far beneath the surface of present day American policy as one might think. In fact following the crisis brought about by the failure of advanced technology to defeat Communism in Vietnam, America’s premier defense intellectuals were quick to fall back on the Middle Ages for a moral justification of their fantasies.
One vivid example came from future Reagan administration officials Colin S. Gray and Keith Payne in the summer 1980 edition of Foreign Policy magazine who declared in an article titled “Victory is Possible” that: “Nuclear War is possible. But unlike Armageddon, the apocalyptic war prophesied to end history, nuclear war can have a wide range of options” If American nuclear power is to support U.S. foreign policy objectives, the United States must possess the ability to wage nuclear war rationally.”