28 January 2007

Divide and Conquer: my response

When you play a first person shooter game like Doom, you will find after a while that the baddies behave predictably. You learn that they have a blind spot here, or forget to patrol there. Usually they don't bother investigating shooting and other noises just down the corridor, let alone go on the alert.

A death match however, where you play the same game but against other humans, is infinitely more difficult. I say infinitely, but there is inevitably a winner: one person/team is better (or luckier) than the other.

Geopolitics (and all politics) is like this, except that in real life there are no victory conditions. There is no victory, there is no end point, there is only continuous jostling. The only possible exception to this is that there may be periodic points of exhaustion, where fatigue is so great that peace follows, rather like the point where your arm is so tired you literally cannot lift your sword.

We, and the American public in particular, have been spoiled by the Second World War. The Second World War ended conclusively. One side was clearly defeated, another clearly victorious. (In fact, WWII was a defeat for most of the victors as well, but that's the topic for another essay. The USA was one of the two powers for whom it was both a technical and practical victory.) And it was all over in a few years. This unusual event laid the foundation for unrealistic expectations of war held by the American public to this day.

(Interestingly enough it was these unrealistic expectations that led to the US's technical defeat (really a victory) in the Vietnam Conflict. The American public has become like the girl who thinks that marriage is all sunshine and orange blossoms and is disappointed to discover that it consists mostly of cleaning.)

How is this relevant to Iraq?

The point is this: It is impossible to set an enormous goal, such as creating a functional democratic state along the lines of Germany or Japan in Iraq, create a plan, and follow the plan through to its successful conclusion. The actual outcome will be governed by events and the input of other actors. These other actors will be guided by their interests, their perceptions of their interests, the actions of other players and their own internal players, your actions, their interpretation of your actions, your diplomacy, etc. etc. etc. A democratic Iraq was merely the best possible outcome among many possible outcomes when the US upset the status quo, threw the dice in the air and invaded Iraq.

Launching the invasion or not launching the invasion was more or less completely within the power of the US. Everything that followed has only partially been in their hands.

This does not make America's adventure in Iraq a failure. In fact, as Luttwak pointed out, just the opposite. At least at the moment (because now is not the end point) it has been a success by any sensible measure. Just because the best possible outcome has not been achieved yet does not make it a failure. Just because there were no WMDs does not mean it was a failure.

What America has now is options. America is in a position to do almost anything. They are in a position where everyone needs them. They don't really have to do anything; they are almost like an "army in being": there sheer presence has an influence on events.

What is needed now is for the American public to have no opinion on Iraq, just to ignore it. What the US and the world doesn't need is for them to repeat their snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory after Tet 68.


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