7.29.2005

dreams of empire die hard

Bob Herbert says, It's the oil, stupid.
It is now generally understood that the U.S.-led war in Iraq has become a debacle. Nevertheless, Iraqis are supposed to have their constitution ratified and a permanent government elected by the end of the year. It's a logical escape hatch for George W. Bush. He could declare victory, as a senator once suggested to Lyndon Johnson in the early years of Vietnam, and bring the troops home as quickly as possible.

His mantra would be: There's a government in place. We won. We're out of there.

But don't count on it. The Bush administration has no plans to bring the troops home from this misguided war, which has taken a fearful toll in lives and injuries while at the same time weakening the military, damaging the international reputation of the United States, serving as a world-class recruiting tool for terrorist groups and blowing a hole the size of Baghdad in Washington's budget.

. . .

What has so often gotten lost in all the talk about terror and weapons of mass destruction is the fact that for so many of the most influential members of the Bush administration, the obsessive desire to invade Iraq preceded the Sept. 11 attacks. It preceded the Bush administration. The neoconservatives were beating the war drums on Iraq as far back as the late 1990's.

Iraq was supposed to be a first step. . . .

The point here is that the invasion of Iraq was part of a much larger, long-term policy that had to do with the U.S. imposing its will, militarily when necessary, throughout the Middle East and beyond. The war has gone badly, and the viciousness of the Iraq insurgency has put the torch to the idea of further pre-emptive adventures by the Bush administration.

But dreams of empire die hard. American G.I.'s are dug into Iraq, and the bases have been built for a long stay. The war may be going badly, but the primary consideration is that there is still a tremendous amount of oil at stake, the second-largest reserves on the planet. And neocon fantasies aside, the global competition for the planet's finite oil reserves intensifies by the hour.

Lyndon Johnson ignored the unsolicited advice of Senator George Aiken of Vermont - to declare victory in Vietnam in 1966. The war continued for nearly a decade. Many high-level government figures believe that U.S. troops will be in Iraq for a minimum of 5 more years, and perhaps 10.

That should be understood by the people who think that the formation of a permanent Iraqi government will lead to the withdrawal of American troops. There is no real withdrawal plan. The fighting and the dying will continue indefinitely.
Read the column.

25 comments:

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Well, there's already signs that the neocons dreams of empire have been crushed by reality, and the administration realizes it. I don't think Wolfowitz's "promotion" to the world bank was a reward, it was because he was booted out.

However, this administration is incapable of admiting it made a mistake, so they're glued in Iraq now.

If anything, this is the end of the mighty superpower days of the U.S. The world has watched and taken note that a rag-tag bunch of at most 10,000 fighters seems to be a match for the most advanced military on earth. Unlike Vietnam, there's no other country backing the rebels. This is more like the Soviet's invasion and defeat in Afghanistan. The U.S. has lost the respect of its friends, but it's also lost the fear of its enemies. I'm not sure though that it's sunk into the majority of Americans that they are neither feared or respected any more.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

Since you live in NYC, did you here about this?

RobfromAlberta said...

If anything, this is the end of the mighty superpower days of the U.S.

It's never been a good wager, betting against the United States. The British, the Spanish, the Japanese, the Nazis and the Soviets all learned that lesson the hard way.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

They all fall sometime.....It's just a question of whether its a soft fade into the sunset like Britain or France, or an implosion like Rome or Russia.

RobfromAlberta said...

No question, but the US has a quality, none of the previous superpowers have had, it is remarkably adaptive and self-corrective. Take Vietnam for instance, many of the same things that are being said about the US now were being said then. The US was defeated and humiliated when it pulled out of Vietnam. The communists had scored a major victory. In 1973, you could have been forgiven for predicting the Chinese and Russians would march all over Asia. Then there was the Arab oil embargo. The US economy was devastated. In the late 70s, it looked the US was going the way of Rome in the 5th century. Yet what happened? The Russians soon found themselves bogged down in Afghanistan while the US learned from its mistakes. It became the the most powerful nation the world had ever seen and the Soviet Union collapsed.

I don't expect the US will resist the inevitable fate of all empires indefinitely, but that collapse is still a few generations away at least.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

I suppose.

Actually, it might be tommorow, or a thousand years away. The signs are there that this is one of those potential breaking points, but not necessarily one.

Only after the fact would all the pieces fit together and you'ld go "oh, its so obvious!".

I doubt anyone in 1980 would have believed the Soviet Union would be gone by the next decade, but it happened.

Actually, its the "American exceptionalism" that you're talking about that will bring about the end. Eventually, overconfidence will cause them to extend too far. That's why major powers generally collapse after they've reached their peak.

David Cho said...

I am surprised that you haven't blogged about how the constitution being drafted will contain even less rights for women than they had under Hussein. Or have I missed it?

L-girl said...

Hi guys, interesting discussion going on here.

Only after the fact would all the pieces fit together and you'ld go "oh, its so obvious!".

I doubt anyone in 1980 would have believed the Soviet Union would be gone by the next decade, but it happened.


Good point. History is a guide, but the future is impossible to predict. I think I just said this in another comment somewhere.

I am surprised that you haven't blogged about how the constitution being drafted will contain even less rights for women than they had under Hussein. Or have I missed it?

You're right, it's a natural topic for me - and no, you didn't miss it. Sometimes I'm so angry or saddened by something that I can't react to it quickly, I kind of skirt around it (in my mind) until I can get my feelings under control and focus. This is one of those occasions. So... soon.

L-girl said...

Since you live in NYC, did you here about this?

HUGE news here, front cover of all the tabloids. Quite the embarrassment - but no surprise coming from the NYPD.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

"Here" instead of "Hear".....

I'm really bad at checking my spelling before I submit. My mind is saying one thing, but my hand's typing another.

RobfromAlberta said...

Eventually, overconfidence will cause them to extend too far.

It's only overconfidence if you can't back it up. The war in Iraq is bad optics, but, in reality, failure in the war will not have dire consequences for the US. At some point, the US will declare victory, pull out and wash its hands of the whole mess. It will then study what went wrong and likely come out of it better equipped to deal with future threats.

One threat that does concern me a little bit is the growing trade imbalance with China. The US has had a large trade deficit for a long time, but its domestic economy is so large, it didn't really matter. But now, the deficit is big enough to be a drag on the whole economy and is, at the same time, enriching the one country which could be a threat to US interests. China is far more dangerous than Al Qaeda will ever be.

James said...

The perfect gift for the post-7/7 New Yorker: Fourth Amendment Apparel! T-shirts, backpacks, and tote-bags printed with the text of the US Fourth Amendment.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

According to Fox news, the latest dastardly scheme by Bin Laden is to poison America's cocaine supply. Considering the source, I doubt it.

However, the U.S. government sprayed the poison paraquat on marijuana fields in the late 70's and early 80's. Reagan's drug tzar said that it would "teach them a lesson" if a kid died from smoking the poisoned pot.

Wrye said...

It will then study what went wrong and likely come out of it better equipped to deal with future threats.

Well, yes and no, Rob. The US doesn't always draw the right lessons, for one. Did they draw the right lessons from Vietnam? Well, maybe yes to go by Gulf War One, maybe no by the current imbroglio. The US trdemark in armed conflict (post 1812) has *always* been overwhelming industrial strength and thus firepower, rather than strategic flexibility.

They are the largest, most advanced military on the planet. Those are not qualities which encourage flexibility and improvisation.

And the China bogeyman is precisely that. I'm not knocking you, Rob, let me be clear, but I think this idea has been pushed into the public sphere from the likes of the PNAC, and it's a bit rotten. Allow me to illustrate.

One threat that does concern me a little bit is the growing trade imbalance with Canada. The US has had a large trade deficit for a long time, but its domestic economy is so large, it didn't really matter. But now, the deficit is big enough to be a drag on the whole economy and is, at the same time, enriching a country which is not America. That country is therefore more dangerous than Al Qaeda.

That sounds a little silly, doesn't it?

But indeed, in absolute terms, Canada IS more dangerous to the US than Al Qaeda. Frankly, most countries on earth are, (sorry Lichtenstein) IF you start looking at them as potential enemies and rivals rather than, say, trading partners wanting to grow and prosper.

And furthermore, in absolute terms, the US is the most dangerous country on earth, IF you started thinking of it as an enemy rather than a friend. This point is simply inarguable. The US has enough Plutonium to murder each and every person on the planet several trillion times, just for starters.

And this is the entire argument I see: uh-oh, another country's economy is growing and they might be an economic rival. We'd better suggest that this means they'll therfore automatically become a military threat. Doesn't that line of thinking seem just a little bit...paranoid?

L-girl said...

My mind is saying one thing, but my hand's typing another.

I do it constantly on the sound-alike words. I have to proofread all my theres, theirs, they'res. Its and it's is a killer. :)

Fourth Amendment Apparel! T-shirts, backpacks, and tote-bags printed with the text of the US Fourth Amendment.

Can you please start selling this on Cafe Press??? I want mine asap!! :)

However, the U.S. government sprayed the poison paraquat on marijuana fields in the late 70's and early 80's. Reagan's drug tzar said that it would "teach them a lesson" if a kid died from smoking the poisoned pot.

This was an endless topic of conversation and concern when I was in high school. There were scare stories about people whose lungs were ruined by smoking paraquat-laced pot. At the time we all believed them. Now I have to assume they were urban legend. But it scared the hell out of us.

Of course, I didn't smoke pot any less because of it. Hmm.

RobfromAlberta said...

Did they draw the right lessons from Vietnam? Well, maybe yes to go by Gulf War One, maybe no by the current imbroglio.

The main lesson they learned from Vietnam is not tactical, it's structural. The US reformed their military after Vietnam into an all-volunteer, highly-professional and integrated force. That philosophy is still in force today.

One threat that does concern me a little bit is the growing trade imbalance with Canada. The US has had a large trade deficit for a long time, but its domestic economy is so large, it didn't really matter. But now, the deficit is big enough to be a drag on the whole economy and is, at the same time, enriching a country which is not America. That country is therefore more dangerous than Al Qaeda.

That sounds a little silly, doesn't it?


It doesn't just sound silly, it is silly. China is a threat because it has 2.3 million soldiers, a nuclear arsenal and a developing space program. It competes with the US for Asian energy supplies and its economy is growing at several times the rate of any western nation.

Canada, on the other hand, is less of a threat to the US than a decent-sized criminal organization, let alone an international terrorist group. Why? Because we are powerless to act against the US due to our economic dependency. What are we going to do, cut off our energy exports? It would cause a political and economic crisis in Canada even before the US strategic reserve ran out and it could be contrued as an act of war. Any economic sanction we used to gain leverage against the US would be turned back several times over against us.

James said...

"Can you please start selling this on Cafe Press??? I want mine asap!! :)"

Um, oops -- I forgot to include the URL:

http://www.cafepress.com/nosearch

Anonymous said...

It's real?! This is great!

Thanks James! I thought you were making a clever joke.

L-girl on iPAQ

James said...

"It's real?! This is great!
Thanks James! I thought you were making a clever joke."

It's real. Found it on BoingBoing, a great source of all sorts of weirdness.

Lone Primate said...

It's never been a good wager, betting against the United States. The British, the Spanish, the Japanese, the Nazis and the Soviets all learned that lesson the hard way.

Wagers against the British, Spanish, Japanese, Germans, and Soviets were all also bad bets at one time or another, Rob. Nothing last forever, particularly if it's not taken care of. Adding a half a trillion dollars in debt every year falls into that category, I'm afraid.

Lone Primate said...

I don't expect the US will resist the inevitable fate of all empires indefinitely, but that collapse is still a few generations away at least.

An appropriate time to make this statement would have been about 40 years ago. In 1960, the US represented around 1/2 of the world's productivity. It's nowhere near that now. As late as 1987 or 1988, the US was net creditor nation. Now, not even a generation later, it's the biggest debtor nation in the world, and in history. The American standard of living is supported, day in and day out, by the voluntary lending of about two billion dollars a day by foreign governments and investors -- primarily, the People's Republic of China and Japan. If they get tired of floating the loans or their interests shift (say, China wants Taiwan more than the money), the crash is going to be instantaneous. The US dollar has been falling in value relative to other major currencies since the 1960s -- this is to say that anyone who invests their savings in US dollars is, in truth, losing equity, and has been for a very long time. The primary lifeboat for the greenback is the TINA (there is no alternative) syndrome; historically, there's been no global alternative to the US dollar since around the end of the Second World War. That's no longer the case. The euro represents an economy roughly the same size as that of the US, but without its debt burden. The US dollar was tumbling tremendously against the euro till March when the Fed started raising interest rates. In other words, the Fed arrested the fall of the US dollar by making life harder on average Americans trying to pay their bills. When a star runs out of hydrogen and starts fusing helium into carbon, the end is really not that far away. China, Europe, India, and a host of other nations are on the brink of breaking the logjam of the past 60 years. Things are going to change. Soon. Rapidly.

Given the position Mulroney put us in in 1988, this is not good news for Canada.

Lone Primate said...

China is a threat because it has 2.3 million soldiers, a nuclear arsenal and a developing space program.

China has no foreign occupation or bases, unlike the US. One might be quick to point out Tibet, but another could just as easily point to the 55% of Mexican territory annexed after 1848.

The United States has far, far more nuclear weapons than China. And unlike China, it has used them on human beings.

How is a "developing space program" a threat to anyone? Getting into orbit, going to the moon, getting out into the universe... isn't that what we've been all about since we started walking upright in East Africa?

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

The China vs US thing is unique in history I think.

We have one major superpower, and one near superpower that are military rivals yet are Siameese twins economically.

The U.S. is heavily indebted to China, and China's growth depends on loaning money to the U.S. It seems to guarantee permanent peace between them. It's kind of like Mutually Assured Destruction, except with economics instead of nukes.

China's also an odd because unlike other major powers through history, it seems to have no desire to expand past its current borders, nor exert itself outside of its territory (Taiwan is a special case).

Maybe its because China has a lot of land, despite its huge population. The U.S. is sort of halfway, they don't want to expand their territory, but they're adamant about the world working on their terms. The most expansionist empires where the ones with the smallest homeland territory, like Japan, Germany, and England.

Lone Primate said...

The U.S. is heavily indebted to China, and China's growth depends on loaning money to the U.S. It seems to guarantee permanent peace between them. It's kind of like Mutually Assured Destruction, except with economics instead of nukes.

The trick here is that it can't, and won't, go on forever. China has been hollowing out the US for years now... money, production facilities, technical knowledge, ownership... The US is more and more a holding company for trademarks. What happens when the countries who make the goods finally turn around, take that knowledge, and start producing competing lines that don't funnel profits back to, say, Nike, and refuse to make cheap goods for Western companies who do nothing more than redistribute them while jacking up the price?

Right now, and for some time yet, China is content to flood the West, and in the US in particular, with inexpensive goods. They're taking the money and building their infrastructure -- a very good move. But the time is going to come when they feel they've done a good job builiding up the place, and they're affluent enough to start eating their own pie. They'll stay competetive, no doubt, but they will start consuming themselves what they make. Someday soon, they'll have little incentive to hand goods over to us for a nickel a ton. Right now it makes sense for them to do that, but that situation isn't going to continue indefinitely. One day, China's going to jump off that merry-go-round.

The US has lost so much of its ability to actually produce goods in the past twenty years, it's sobering. Aside from cars, what does the US actually make for export anymore? Pretty much just the greenback. Boatloads of them go abroad every day, and goodies come back. It's an immense game of musical chairs. One day, China and Japan are going to lift the needle and ask for something in exchange for all that unbacked currency, and when nothing's forthcoming, they're going to cut their losses and dump that currency on the open market in exchange for either other currencies or material assets. And the US and everyone holding large sums of their money are going to be the ones without chairs. That's when things are going to get tough for people like us. It's not something to look forward to. But the US is spending with an atrocious disregard for the future, like some freshman with his first credit card. China's happy to indulge them because it's building the nation on the backs of US debt. I don't see any way to avoid the day of reckoning. I don't know when it will come, but it will. The only question is will China be willing to let us down hard or easy? If the US does something haughty, like squawk a little too belligerntly about Taiwan or get between China and Iranian oil, then you can guess what the answer will be. China doesn't need bombs to ruin the United States; it has a much more subtle weapon in its arsenal... and it's one Americans build for them every day they walk into Wal-Mart.

Wrye said...

So, the argument is that China (Unlike Canada) is not a rational economic actor, and therefore dangerous. Nope. I am significantly less than convinced of this. China can be trusted, if anything, to do what is in their economic best interests--as they have a billion people who want a better life, I have to say their eyes are pretty firmly on the ball.

That's not to say they wouldn't be a dangerous enemy if they were forced into that position, of course. But that still belongs to the realm of self-fulfilling prophecy rather than sober analysis...