Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Reaping the Whirlwind

So the democrats won the election. Great. People were fed up with Iraq, since the media made sure we all know what a disaster it is. Of course, the people actually on the ground there don't seem to feel the war has been a disaster of that magnitude, but hey- would the media lie about something like that?

(Eye roll and disgusted retching sound).

So now Pelosi et al will have their chance. I'm betting I know their plan: embarass Bush, and attack him at every turn. That way, after all, they'll remind us of his failures and thus win everything in 2008. Which I find scary on many levels...

By way of introduction, I have degrees in History and Political Science, and served many years in the Army. While I don't claim to be the ultimate expert, I do know a bit about war and politics, from an intellectual angle at least. So here's what I see coming down the road...

One of my favorite books is The Causes of War, by Geoffrey Blainey. Essentially, his central theme is that war is a decision made by rational people, based on a cost/benefit analysis. Both sides have to believe that the potential payoff to a victory is enough to offset the risk of defeat. After all, if you win big, you get all the marbles. If you lose big, then you're screwed. Furthermore, both sides have to believe the risks of conflict offset the benefits of inactivity. But of course both sides have the option of backing off, and giving the other side whatever is needed to avoid conflict. So they have to believe that the cost of capitulation is greater than the cost of defeat, even though in absolute terms it's likely less.

Put more simplistically, if giving the other country "A" will avoid a war, then the leaders of Nation 1 can either concede "A" to Nation 2, or they can fight, which brings up the risk of defeat; and the loss of not only "A", but potentially also"B", and "C"- and perhaps even their own national identity. So if Nation 1 chooses the "war option", then they must feel that giving up "A" without a fight is a worse choice than losing a war. Conversely, Nation 2 must feel that getting "A" is worth risking the loss of "Z", "Y", and "X".

Follow me? Good.

Now here's the other thing: how does a war happen? Well, Blainey mentions a number of requirements- there must be contention between the countries- whatever the conflict is about; there must be Propinquity- the ability to reach one another. (For instance, Finland and Zaire are unlikely to go to war. They have no grounds for dispute between them, and neither country has the ability to reach the other with enough military power to force a resolution. ( "Power projection" is the technical term.) The other main requirement is that the two sides must disagree about their relative strength. Nation 1 must believe they are stronger, and thus able to defeat Nation 2, while the latter believes they are stronger and thus certain to win. (There are other "requirements" but for my purposes here these are the most relevant ones).

This is fairly intuitive: if someone picks a fight, you'll wisely walk away if you doubt your ability to win, but if the aggressor is the proverbial 98 pound weakling and you are Mike Tyson, then you stomp him and move on.

Okay, so now our two hypothetical nations are at war. Eventually, the war will end. How and why? Well, there are three options. First, there's a political change in one nation, secondly, the two sides conclude that the war is costing too much blood and treasure, with no return on the "investment" (think the Korean War). Finally, one side is defeated so decisively that they realize they are, in fact, far weaker than the other, with no chance of victory.

The best example of this is WWII. In 1941, Hitler and his generals felt that they could defeat the Soviet Union and made the choice to invade. Stalin on the other hand, felt that he could defeat Hitler, and made the decision to resist, rather than surrender. Both sides felt they could win. By May of 1945, it was obvious which side was right. Hitler realized that, for whatever reason, he had been defeated. He committed suicide, given the (only) alternative was capture and execution. His successor immediately surrendered.

Japan and the US was another example. Once we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Emperor of Japan forced the government to make peace. By that point, Japan's cities were being bombed into rubble, their navy was essentially non-existent, and the only option was to try and inflict massive casualties on the Americans, which would be more than offset by the horrible losses likely for the people of Japan. The Japanese were finally convinced that in fact they couldn't win.

In Vietnam, on the other hand, the US became convinced that (from a political standpoint) there was no hope of victory, and essentially gave up.

Again, this is all being explained in a simplistic manner. There are other issues, which I'm ignoring for the sake of clarity.

So all of this is background for the point that I'm finally getting to. Here's the big problem hurtling down the road. Iran. With the democrats able to play a more important role than previously, it remains to be seen what they'll do. As stated above, I think they'll attack Bush, since that is in the interests of their own party. However, I think that is a horrific mistake for the US as a whole.

Sadly, for numerous reasons, President Bush is badly wounded. His ability to make and carry out policy has been limited for several months, and now is hurt even more. The democrats have never been bashful about attacking him- remember that the two "idiots emeritus", Clinton and Carter, have attacked Bush constantly. (Note that prior to 2000, no ex-president had ever gone abroad and criticized his successor. It was bad form, but when you have no shame and no ethics, then anything goes.) So our foreign policy will be unsure. The democrats will have no problem, I suspect, undermining Bush for their own perceived gain. The problem will of course, get worse the closer we get to the 2008 election.

So what will happen? Other countries which dislike the US-which is most of them-a fact that no rational person can blame on Bush- will know that they can act without fear of US response. After all, at this point, does anyone believe that Bush could invade Syria, for instance? Even if the military is capable of it, the media and the left would go apes**t. Bush would almost certainly be impeached. (Unless of course Syria openly attacked the US, which they wouldn't do. Goes back to the whole diagreement about who would win.)

But other lesser acts against the US will be ignored. Anything short of open war will be tolerated. And this is the Wind that will be sown. Iran, a country which is openly hostile to the US, will push even harder than they have been. At this point, they believe that they have enough support in the Mideast, among both other states and especially among terrorist groups, that they could offset the overwhelming military strength of the US. And let's face it, Iran has some conventional strength also. They could probably put up a decent fight against a US invasion, if it were to happen. Certainly, they could inflict casualties, which would be their goal. After all, kill 3000 Americans in Iraq, and watch support for the War collapse. They've watched the US in Vietnam, Somalia, Lebanon, and now Iraq. And they've seen the consistent lesson. bin Laden preaches that if you inflict casualties, the US will run away (being a "paper tiger") and no doubt the Mullahs know it also.

And at this point, Iran has as much influence in Iraq as the US, and they didn't need to send in 150,00 troops. If Bush is weakened any further by a Party with a strong "bring home the troops now" wing, then Iran will be able to push even harder, which will cause more problems for the US, and inflict more casualties, thus increasing the demands to withdraw. Make no mistake, either: the Iranian leadership knows this. When they're ready, they'll ramp it up, as they've done before. And once they do, then Bush will have to make concessions of some kind. He'll have no choice. Once he does so, Iran gains a little bit more political strength, since to the rest of the Muslim world, the US will be grovelling before them, looking for handouts. Fear of the US will grow less, and more Muslims will flock to the Iranian banner, hoping to restore the Caliphate.

And let's not forget the whole nuclear issue. Every month that goes by brings them closer to the Bomb. Once they have it, they'll be able to threaten anyone in the Mideast, especially if the US is unwilling or unable to get involved for political reasons. And this is something that I see coming down the road, unless the US stops it. But Bush will lack the ability to stop them politically, leaving only military force. Which the domestic left will not allow...

So then what happens? Well, a more aggressive Iran, confident that they hold a better hand than the US, and have more options all around the region, will become more assertive yet. At some point, the leaders of Iran will decide that they can act without risk, confident that they have "home field advantage" over the US, and can bring chaos to the whole area, should the US try and act.

Guess what? This is the point where Iran will seriously believe that they can defeat the US. And the US will likely disagree. And that will be the last factor needed to cause a war. Sure, it could be a miscalculation by Iran, or on the other hand, it could be that the US miscalculates, being sufficiently weakened that Iran can win (God forbid). Either way, the end result will be a war. And that will likely push the cost of oil through the roof, just for starters.

Other problems will follow. Many of our European "friends" are willing to accomodate almost anything that Iran does, since if they stay out of the fight and make nice, then Iran will be nice to them. So France, Germany, Russia, China, and most of the mideast countries will either be neutral or pro-Iran. So it'll be the US and (hopefully) Britain pretty much alone. And that means a pile of trouble in the UN.

At that point, the US will either have to back down or go all the way. And by all the way, I mean a formal declaration of war, with increased-perhaps total- mobilization. And then the internal politics of the US becomes a major factor. Many on the left will oppose this hypothetical war just because it is (to them) the result of US arrogance. The media will probably concur. We'll unfortunately have to consider the loyalty of our Muslim residents. Some might actively work for Iran within our borders: internal sabotage by US citizens will, for the first time, become a real problem. Also, what about our borders? Will we stop all "Middle Eastern looking" persons from entering the country? Will it matter, or will Iranian agents already be here? Remember also that many non-Mideastern people are converting to Islam, (which is not an accident) both here and in Europe, so will we be able to trust anyone? If we try and limit entry into the US for everyone, what will be the economic and social implications? Will it even matter, given the porous nature of our borders?

Hard questions, and I don't have any answers. All I know is that time is on the side of the Iranians. Barring a catastrophic miscalculation by Iran, the US would go into such a war completely divided. The outcome to this scenario would be at best a stalemate, which would become an Iranian (read Muslim) victory. Which to anyone that has actually studied Islam on even a superficial level, would clearly lead to more aggression against the West. And Europe will undoubtedly then make even more attempts to ingratiate themselves with Iran. And it would get worse and worse. Having sown the wind, the US will then reap the whirlwind...

On the other hand, suppose Iran were to miscalculate, and got caught doing something which was either a " straw that breaks the camel's back", or was clearly an act of war- like, I don't know, attacking an embassy or something. (Frankly, I think it would have to be much worse. Seize an embassy and then slaughter the people inside, for instance). Then they would see how badly they miscalculated: when a country commits that kind of act against a western democracy (as Blainey also explains), then they tend to find that "Hell hath no fury like a democracy". At that point, Iran would have to fight for their life-indeed, the very existence of their nation. Nuclear weapons would be on the table then, and there's no question that the US has more and better ones than Iran. It would be Total War, 21st century style. And nobody wants to see that, I suspect. In this instance, Iran will be the party that sowed the wind. And guess what they'll reap?

Of course, if Iran miscalculated, then there would be a chance for a relatively peaceful solution: perhaps the government would be overthrown by the Iranian people, or some kind of resistance could arise. But I don't think the former is any more likely than someone giving me a brand new Lexus tomorrow.

So what next? I wish I knew. In a few months, I suspect we'll have an idea of what the Democrats have in mind, and also an idea of how Iran is playing their cards. I'm not optimistic about either. I hear the wind picking up, and soon it'll be time to sow. Whatever happens, I think that the US needs to force a resolution, sooner rather than later. Time is on the side of the Iranians. And unfortunately, they know it, far better than Pelosi and her friends.


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