Sunday, September 25, 2005

Speculations on the political aftermath of Bush's lost war in Iraq

The conservative military analyst and Iraq War critic William Lind is speculating about some of the political repercussions of the Iraq War:  Important Distinctions 09/24/05.

This is one that seems credible.  His reference to "Fourth Generation" is to the concept of "Fourth Generation Warfare", i.e., dispersed guerrilla-type warfare, to summarize it very briefly.

That is just what Fourth Generation opponents strive for, a systemic breakdown in their state adversary. The danger sign in America is not a hot national debate over the war in Iraq and its course, but precisely the absence of such a debate – which, as former Senator Gary Hart has pointed out, is largely due to a lack of courage on the part of the Democrats. Far from ensuring a united nation, what such a lack of debate and absence of alternatives makes probable is a bitter fracturing of the American body politic once the loss of the war becomes evident to the public. The public will feel itself betrayed, not merely by one political party, but by the whole political system.

The Democrats are in serious danger of passing up a real opportunity to benefit politically from Bush's disaster in Iraq by their timidity in criticizing the war.

Having said that, Lind considerably overstates the reluctance of the Democrats to criticize the Iraq War.  After all, Democrats from Ted Kennedy to Robert Byrd criticized Bush's drive to war even during the build-up in 2002.  And the likelihood of a present-day Republican equivalent to William Fulbright or Wayne Morse during the Vietnam War, who were willing to forcefully challenge the war policies of their own party's president, seems very unlikely at this point.

That great Maverick McCain can't come up with anything better than to call for escalating the war.

So it's not entirely right to say that there is an absence of debate among the political leadership over the Iraq War.  But I still think that because of the Democrats' general reluctance to challenge Bush over his Mesopotamian adventure, the outcome he fears, of the public feeling betrayed by "the whole political system" is very possible.

And that would not be good for liberal/progressive politics, or for the Democratic Party.  Voters who are cynical about government either don't vote or they vote for candidates who bash government, i.e., Republicans.  The Democrats' strength is among voters who appreciate the positive value of democratic government used on behalf of the people.

Lind then jumps to a conclusion that seems to me to be so vague as to be largely meaningless:

If the absence of a loyal opposition and alternative courses of action further delegitimizes the American state in the eye of the public, the forces of the Fourth Generation will have won a victory of far greater proportions than anything that could happen on the ground in Iraq. The Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan played a central role in the collapse of the Soviet state. Could the American defeat in Iraq have similar consequences here? The chance is far greater than Washington elites can imagine.

I don't regard that as much more than a melodramatic analogy.  But what is very possible is that the people of the US will insist on a more realistic - and far more modest - foreign policy.  And on one that doesn't involve trying to have the US unilaterally run the world, or using war and the threat of war as our primary tool of foreign policy.

As Andrew Bacevich has pointed out, if the US set a target of a military budget equal to the sum of those of the ten nations that are closest to us, it would still mean a huge cut in the military budget and yet leave the United States as the "hyperpower" of the world.  But doing that would also requiring adjusting the US foreign policy to realistic standards.  And it would certainly mean flushing the warmongers' doctrine of preventive war that the Bush administration has made the current official policy of the US.

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