Henry Kissinger used to open his graduate seminars by explaining that it was now time to forget everything the students thought they knew -- from media, civics classes, political (much less religious) dogma, and so forth -- about how the world worked, and discover how it does, in fact, work. Shame nobody puts that kind of candor out where people can see it, hunh?!
Before we can understand the ISG report, I'm persuaded we need to grasp something of the arts of both government itself, and geopolitics. An LJ post or six can at least give us a start -- particularly thanks to former** career U.S. diplomat John Brady Kiesling's recent book, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower, snippets from which will (in parts IV and V, sigh) largely introduce the subject for us here. If you find this sort of stuff interesting, you might consider picking up this readable and revealing book.*** If not, take at least this point: the use of power in the world is not solely a matter of military force, espionage, and financial leverage, "and then there's them stoopid debating societies" -- instead, diplomacy is itself the use of power by other means. If one misses this point, one can't hope to understand the content, purpose, or importance of the ISG report.
Last bit from me, for a while. In brief, Henry Kissinger is absolutely right (though the following is my formulation, not his):
Government -- at all levels, in all countries, and in all times and places -- is the art of animal control: of using various carrots and sticks to gain human acquiescence to the dictates of current privilege. Until we see that clearly, events can only be mysterious and unpredictable to us; the motives of public actors opaque; and our own formulations necessarily borrowed from commentators who are largely, if often unconsciously, paid to mislead us.****
Next: the Kiesling quotes (first post of two).
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Title of a famous (and controversial) 1954 SF story. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cold_Equations
** Kiesling resigned in protest in the run-up to the Iraq War, not least because he thought it threatened the survival of American power.
*** My purpose is not to swear by its every word. I've noted before its author's biggest blind spot: a sporadic reluctance to apply the same realpolitik analysis to U.S., as to everyone else's, motives, in the more extreme cases; and he's further (though less so) hampered by the traditional State Department bias against the (equally biased) perspectives of both the military and clandestine services. The book is still invaluable, and quite unlike most anything else on the public market. The next footnote contains another -- nearly the other -- such writer (one whom Kiesling cordially dislikes); and Kiesling himself cites yet another, an early C20th diplomat I haven't read: E.H. Carr's The Twenty Years' Crisis: 1919-1939.
**** While we're on the subject, another highly readable source on such matters is the libertarian socialist Noam Chomsky. One needn't share either his social philosophy, or his dislike of both government and privilege itself, to benefit by the clarity of his explication of power.