Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Friday | May 02, 2003

We won! What's our prize? (RonK, Seattle)

I'll short-shrift the political, economic, legal and cultural consequences, and focus on the reason most of us think we dealt ourselves into the game: national security. What did we win in Iraq?

We lost a measure of conventional security.

In the short run, active combat degrades readiness ... but we can catch up easily if nothing much happens this year in history. What about the long run?

Counting direct internal hostility, suppression of internal conflicts, immediate collateral conflicts (e.g., Kurds/Turks), territorial defense, and loss of other bases and partners, figure on keeping 200-600,000 troops in theater for the rest of our lives. (For political expediency, we could go lighter temporarily -- at the risk of things getting out of hand.)

Figure on proportionate out-of-theater commitments (though with greater flexibility) in support, training, rotation. At the low end, we can handle it. At the high end, we'll need a radically different force structure.

Rational expectation of future US military conflict outside Iraq has increased. Downstream regional conflict remains a live possibility. Peacekeeping institutions and peacemaking efforts are degraded worldwide. Defense buildups will occur worldwide, and some of these -- through a variety of familiar mechanisms -- will stumble into overt conflict. Unrelated actors may see our foot stuck in the Iraq oil-bucket, and make opportunistic mischief.

All this is above and beyond "baseline" incidence -- nearly one occasion per annum in which we act, threaten, or consider military action. Beyond the scope of this post, indirect economic and political interactions point to an even more conflict-ridden planet.

The next posse will be harder to round up -- though we don't really want anybody to be able to play on our level anyway -- and lesser powers are already exploring anybody-but-USA partnerships. We're on our own.

Iraq didn't put up much of a fight, but US vulnerabilities have been exposed and will be studied for exploitation. We've created powerful incentives to develop (and market) the tools. We enjoy an immense margin of military advantage against all comers, but key components of this margin could evaporate in mid-conflict without warning.

We've run regional subpowers out of the power-balance game, and we're dumb enough to think that's an advantage. It's not. As the Boss of Everything, everything comes to our desk. For parties in conflict -- anybody, anywhere -- there's no final settlement until US weighs in. An imperial US takes most of the fun out of any local third-party intervention. Many conflicts will be protracted rather then resolved, as both sides wait to see who the US dubs "freedom fighter" or "terrorist".

So we're cast as the lead in a lot of scripts we've never even read. It's never been our strong suit, and we don't have the inclination, bandwidth or attention-span for any of it.

In the win column, we gained negotiation-free basing arrangements on Iraqi soil. (Our next moves, and global reaction, may cost us existing arrangements elsewhere.) And we expanded the ranks of our battle-tested armed forces ... though honestly it wasn't that stiff a test.

We lost a large measure of security against Weapons of Mass Destruction.

If Saddam had everything we ever said he had, and had time to finish his science projects, he represented less than a tenth of a percent of our total WMD exposure. We burned relationships, we ruined our intelligence reputation, and we took our eye off 10,000 balls in the air. We gave dozens of second-tier actors the incentive to accelerate their nuke programs. We taught everybody not to confront us without a big ace in the hole.

We lost hugely in the "war" on terrorism.

We made more people feel more intensely that their world is the way it is because US makes it that way. If anyone has a beef with anything, they have a beef with the US. If they want to change it, there's no point shaking a fist at a local puppet. There's no hope a local win will change the System. And there's no point in taking on the US above-board.

Forget what you've been hearing for the past year and a half. Terrorism doesn't depend on money, or state sponsors ... though it will use both if it can. Organized terrorism lives or dies on the dynamics of two key population subgroups:

(1) A small collection of aggrieved persons who are mad enough to make plans, and disciplined enough to execute them.

(2) A large collection of persons who (given the opportunity) would fail to inform on members or activities of group #1.

Without a sizable group #2, group #1 can't recruit or operate without blowing their cover.

We have just given both groups massive, permanent reinforcements.

When will we get hit, and by whom, with what? There's no way to tell. It might be a long way off ... it might come from an unexpected quarter ... but it's coming, and we gave it a big push.

RonK, Seattle

Posted May 02, 2003 04:09 PM | Comments (52)


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