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Monday, April 14, 2003

The American Death Star

Mary over at the Watch (which has a whole bunch of great posts up) sent me this analysis from Stratfor by Dr. George Friedman on the Big Picture. Their belief is that the rationale for invasion can be reduced to 2 simple premises:

1. To transform the psychology of the Islamic world, which had perceived the United States as in essence weak and unwilling to take risks to achieve its ends.

2. To use Iraq as a strategic base of operations from which to confront Islamic regimes that are either incapable of or unwilling to deny al Qaeda and other Islamist groups access to enabling resources.

The first is really just a way to demonstrate the basic logic of the Bush Doctrine and it comes down to a rather cultish worship of Machiavelli. (Check out Michael Ledeen's onanistic writings on the subject.) You know the line:

My view is that it is desirable to be both loved
and feared; but it is difficult to achieve both and,
if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer
to be feared than loved.


Nevertheless, a ruler must make himself feared
in such a way that, even if he does not become
loved, he does not become hated. For it is
perfectly possible to be feared without incurring
hatred. And this can always be achieved if he
refrains from laying hands on the property of his
citizens and subjects.

I’m at a loss as to how this can possibly fit in with the Straussian views of the conservative Virtuecrats, but I guess it all just boils down to team sports or something. The more I delve into the philosophical foundations of the Bush Doctrine and those who support it the more incoherent it is. Christians for Machiavelli. Now that’s some intellectual gymnastics.

I suppose it is of a piece with a government that openly embraces fear and power as a policy while using the rhetoric of liberty and religion to sell it. This kind of cognitive dissonance is so pervasive that you have to give them credit for their superhuman ability to keep their heads from exploding.

Anyway, the Stratfor report takes a whack at examining the psychology of those we believe we can cow with our vast military prowess:

The simplistic idea that resentment of the United States will generate effective action by Arabs misses a crucial point. Two scales are at work here: the radicalism scale and the hope scale. On the radicalism scale, the level of radicalism and anti-Americanism in the Arab world has been off the chart for months. Increasing the level would be difficult. However, radicalism by itself does not lead to action. There must also be hope -- a sense that there are weaknesses in the U.S. position that can be exploited, that there is some possibility of victory, however distant. So long as the hope scale tends toward hopelessness, radicalism can be intense.

The United States was prepared to allow the radicalism scale to go deep into the danger zone, but Washington has been trying to keep the hope scale deeply in the green zone. Israel's failure after 1967 was inherent in its position: The Israelis depended heavily on outsiders for national security. The Arab perception was that the Israelis could be attacked by splitting them from their patrons. This sense of vulnerability led to an active response to defeat. .

It goes on to say that the US must now work to avoid projecting a sense of vulnerability and suggests that in order to ultimately prevail it must reduce the hatred. The hatred will cause us to lose control of Iraq and that loss of control will lead to a perception of vulnerability.

I agree that the administration believes all this, but it remains inexplicable to me. Yes, al Qaeda uses the “Americans are a bunch of pussies” rhetoric in their recruitment videos. And, they do harbor the illusion that they single handedly brought down the Soviets (a trait they share with the neocons.) But, does anyone believe that this invasion of Iraq has somehow made us seem invulnerable to anybody but a bunch of stupid Americans who missed the point of Star Wars?

Terrorists don’t have to defeat the mighty US military to win. These people already know that all it takes is a handful of fanatics killing American civilians on American soil to provoke our government into acting like a rabid dog by wildly undertaking reckless adventures abroad, invoking totalitarian measures at home and spending more and more of our money on warmaking capability. We could theoretically scare all the tinhorn dictators in the world into cowering like a bunch battered Democratic Senators before our mighty sword, but it is an extremely strange reading of psychology that says you can frighten suicide bombers.

But, the neocons think that terrorists are just agents of rogue states so they don’t spend a lot of time second guessing their decade old plan to rule the world. But even by their own logic, I fail to see how aggressive bellicosity toward Syria even before the bullets have stopped flying in Iraq is going to accomplish their goal of being both feared and loved.

With respect to the second point, there is some speculation that this saber rattling toward Syria is a sop to Ariel Sharon as an inducement to sign on to the "road map." On the other hand Richard Perle believes that since we’ve “liberated” 25 million Iraqis, we’ve done our part for the Arabs and the Palestinians can piss up a rope. So, as usual, nobody really knows what the hell they are up to.

Perhaps they actually believe they can force Assad to step down just by saying “boo!” But, if the Stratfor analysis is correct, if he stays in power after all of this in your face rhetoric we must invade Syria or risk being seen as vulnerable. And, if we do that then we will definitely create more hatred. It’s hard to see how they can finesse this one into another “liberation.”

When you open your big mouth and roar at other countries that you “expect” them to do what you tell them – no need for a UN resolution fig leaf or wimpy coalitions in Bush’s Empire --you’ve got to be prepared to back it up. And when you talk tough to a guy whose power rests entirely on his repressive authority you’ve left him no choice but to go down fighting. So, unless Assad humiliates himself and backs down or Bush backs down, thereby making the US appear vulnerable, we are backing ourselves into a corner. It's very likely that we will be invading Syria.