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Saturday, June 18, 2005

Its the wrong war, in the wrong place . . . 

I always read Stirling Newberry's posts on The Blogging of the President because I always learn something.
And when I read his writing, I also find that he articulates my own incoherent thoughts -- the ones I didn't know I was thinking until I read his writing (get it? got it? good)
Here is his latest "The Wrong War":
. . . the cost of Vietnam was not merely the cost of the [Vietnam] war, but the cost of the [Six Day] war that occured because the United States did not have deterent capabilities. There is a vital reason why many military planners do not favor using military capacity at every opportunity: namely, the threat is often more powerful than the realization. A nation at peace can threaten many nations with attack. A nation at war cannot . . .
The US . . . is bogged down [in Iraq]. . . at the very moment that the next war is taking shape. The next war is over the control of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the means to deliver them . . . The players in this next war are China, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Iran. The consequences of failure to contain proliferation could quite well be as severe as the failure to contain the 1967 tensions in the middle east. Military force is an essential component of state craft. Most specifically, correctly understanding that the military instrument is both blunt, and easily tangled in the weeds. The great statesmen are great because of their understanding that avoiding unnecessary wars is as important as fighting necessary ones.
Vietnam was an unnecessary war, Iraq was an unnecessary war. It is a matter of when, not if, the lack of US strategic flexibility because of Iraq will be exploited. Just as it was a matter of when, not if, the US quagmire in Vietnam was to be seen as a chance to be exploited by the Soviet Union and the Arab states of that time. It might well be that those who seek to use this gap will be mistaken, and they will pay heavily for their folly. That will be very cold comfort in the new geo-political environment that the attempt will bring on.
I would only add one point to Stirling's comment -- the world has been better off over the last century because the United States could speak softly but carry a big stick. We needed the US to persuade bullies to back down, to settle potentially disruptive disputes, and to quietly shift the balance of power toward the rule of law.
The US didn't always do the right thing, of course, but the world always knew that it COULD act if it wanted to.
Not anymore, unfortunately. The US administration now speaks loudly -- Bolton bullying, Condi whining, Rummy pontificating, Bush lecturing, Cheney lying -- but Iraq has shown the world that the US doesn't have much of a stick to wave around anymore. It's very sad, and scary too.

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