Wednesday, December 02, 2009

America's Might

Just a brief thought about American military might. I can't recall if I've written this recently, so forgive me for repeating myself...

The non-Styx Claim: I've read many people claim that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have emboldened our enemies because it demonstrates that the US is not all-powerful and that sustained guerrilla warfare will undermine the American resolve. The conclusion of these pundits is that the wars have weakened the culture of intimidation that the U.S. needs to maintain in order to scare the world into loving us. Or something like that.

The Styx Response: OK, here's the deal. We need to make a distinction between the way that idiots think and the way that our enemies/allies think. Idiots will believe propaganda, myths, and won't read newspapers. Generally speaking, idiots aren't powerful and don't run countries - this is especially true for autocracies whose leadership are often cruel, canny mobsters. Alas, it's possible that democracies can elect idiots - and this happened to us back in 2004 with Bush (because, it bears repeating, Bush lost the election in 2000, although because he got very close some could say that it matters - and, sadly, this *is* something I repeat over and over and never ask forgiveness despite my polite request at the beginning of this post).

So, yeah, GWBush and his ilk were idiots and did not actually pay attention to the real facts (e.g. they believed there were no difference between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq). And this had real consequences. But generally this is not true and it's wise to behave as if the other countries of the world are led by people who endeavor to know real facts and to plan consequences accordingly. And, I'd posit, the more powerful the country, the more likely the leaders are to know the true facts.

OK, that's my ground-rule to analyzing the above claim about the current two wars.

My conclusion is that the wise, fact-loving countries still fear the United States' might, possibly at the same level they did before these two wars. Why?

(1) We still have enormous numbers of nuclear weapons and as such can destroy every country in the world. This is not the Styx getting all jingo on you and posturing for the mirror, this is part of how the other nations see us. We can destroy them all - many of them without a serious counter-strike.

(2) While #1 is known and cited, the next point is the same one but for conventional forces. I claimed here that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were botched, but I misspoke: the war part of those wars went well, it's the recovery and reconstruction that was botched. This is a big difference, especially if you are an enemy of the U.S. We had the power then, and have the power now, to utterly and unilaterally destroy a foreign government. If we as a nation weren't so moral as to be concerned with rebuilding, if all we wanted to do was destroy another nation, then our wars were successes!

Please remember that: from the standpoint of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, they are no longer in power. And that matters a lot for our enemies. You can ask why we haven't done that more often (e.g. to Cuba, since the fall of the Soviet Union) and I assume it's to maintain the general ability of US military supremacy (which I define, in part, as our ability to act unilaterally).

So the botchedness is from the position of 'nation building' not fear and destruction - which is the whole argument of the above idiots.

(3) While we are definitely hurting because of the two wars - all war is expensive - we haven't raised taxes nor called a draft. As such, from our enemies standpoint, we are running the wars rather easily. Unlike Vietnam, Korea, and especially WWII, these two wars have had comparatively little impact on everyday American lives. Yeah, you know that already, but just apply it logically to the above question: if we know it, other countries know it (because the knowledge is freely available). And even though our economy is in the dumps now, and while I think extricating from Iraq will help alleviate the dumpitude, the one didn't directly cause the other.

(4) Related to point #3 is that just as we are not sacrificing too much to run these wars, our enemies know that if we wanted to we could thus gear up to fight even more wars. Granted, most experts claim that we are at our military's limit right now. The Iraq surge before and the new Afghanistan surge have stretched us to the utmost. But that's within our volunteer-army sacrifice-less guidelines of no draft and no tax. I'm not denying the enormous sacrifices of our military - including the hapless sods who joined the guard many years ago and were thrust by Bush-Cheney into unagreed commitments and stop-loss madness. All true.

But the country hasn't sacrificed for the two wars because Bush-Cheney were trying to steal them. They didn't want us to question how and why the wars were being fought. We were sold lies about Iraq and 9/11, and since we didn't have to pay up front, Congress and the GOP were able to ignore the consequences. This is why the wars are so hated now: because the lies have been exposed.

But were we to face a true existential threat then that would change. So, quiz, based on what I've said above: if the American people were convinced that the only way to stop Iran from becoming a rogue nuclear state hell-bent on destroying America with nukes, then would we be able to fight that third war?

First of all, I need to deal with the cynics who would say: the American people won't believe the threat because of the lies of Cheney and Iraq.
The Styx says: if the threat were credibly stated, and if it were real, then our government would be able to prove the claim without the smoke and mirrors Bush needed to employ to dupe Congress/the Press. So for the purpose of this quiz, the threat is credible and believed.

So the idiots would say: we cannot fight a third war because we're stretched thin!

The Styx would say: of course we could fight a third war. We fought World War II in three major theaters (1. Europe (North Africa to Italy to France), 2. Pacific (Australia to Indonesia to Philippines to Japan), 3. India-China-Burma). We did so because of a draft and rationing at home. And we can do so again if existentially threatened.

Last point: many wags try to compare the current U.S. position/empire to the Romans or the UK. I'd refute the comparisons with two facts: the US is both an isolated island 'empire' (like UK) but with a huge land-size and natural resources. We run contiguously from coast-to-coast. Our borders are with a wussy frozen North and a chaotic developing nation to the South. Running an empire from England was always a stretch because they lacked the internal national resources to conduct their wars; the same for Rome, except they had major border issues as well. We don't. More anon if needed.

To review/conclude: our allies know that we're still the strongest around. Our enemies, because they're run (usually) by intelligent fact-loving despots who want to maintain a hold on their seized wealth, also know that. Our paramount strength has not been undermined by our two wars because (a) we still have the most nukes, (b) we have shown we can act unilaterally and while we may botch nation building we're awesome at government destruction, (c) we're running our wars without a draft or raised taxes, and (d) if we wanted to tax and draft, we'd be even more destructive.

First pic from here, second from here, third pic from the Wiki.

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