Thursday, March 20, 2003

The last paragraphs of a recent Talking Points Memo post are even more interesting than the rest.

Despite the certainty of war, this administration remains divided about the purpose and aftermath of this war. One camp sees this as a fairly limited, surgical effort to get rid of Saddam, put a reasonably democratic government in its place and then move on. Another camp sees this as only a first step. After this comes Iran, Syria, perhaps also Southern Lebanon, and more. And I don't mean calling them names. I mean, taking them out.

The vision of what we're trying to get is go out and give the hornets nest a few whacks and get them all out in the open and have it out with them once and for all. If that sounds scary to you, it should.

That camp in the administration would like to prosecute this war in such a way as to invite those further confrontations.

The question of whether we go that route is still to be decided. Unfortunately, the group that ended up winning the debate on Iraq inside the administration is one the that favors that future. So if you want something to work against, that's what should be on your mind...

That's a great suggestion. The problem is, we're engaged in a snowball fight from the bottom of a well. Of course the potato chip (bet you can't eat just one) camp could win straight off the bat. But even if they lose, the road to rebuilding Iraq will be difficult. It's pretty hard to imagine Iran not becoming involved in some fashion. Every time there is interference or any form of confrontation which part of the administration is trying to resolve so that we can continue our nation building without any more wars, there will be another part that is not whole heartedly with them. While the cabinet is debating whether a certain course is provocative or not, the balance may be tipped by those secretly hoping it is. The administration will not be totally unified in seeking to find a way to perform some difficult manuever peacefully.

I have seen many excellent discussions of how Iraq today is different from Japan and Germany after world war II. Joshua Marshall recently put the finishing touch on one, so I can honestly say that every aspect of this difference has been discussed more thoroughly than I could have written about it. I haven't seen any discussion of how the United States today is different from what it was right after world war II yet. People willingly accepted a much more widespread graduated income tax than they had ever paid before. They supported rationing. Favored sons of rich families (such as EX-president Bush) fought willingly in combat - and would have been insulted by any offer that they might do otherwise. Of course, it may well be that we would have the greatness of heart to do all that if our president asked us, but let's not be TOO eager to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Nobody should brag about how they would be just as brave as the soldiers actually fighting, except that they didn't happen to have the right training.

I'm worried about 'accidental imperialism'. There will be many problems in the years to come which may seem insoluble without additional warfare. It may be that they could be resolved by patient determination - yet there will be those who believe if we fail to do so it will be just as well, since the citizens of any country we take over will benefit in the long run. Yet let us not be too eager to brag that we can build as many democracies as we choose, because with each conquest it will be harder to convince the occupied (and bystanding) countries that we will start democratizing as soon as we are done conquering. It would be easy to say that we never intended to become an empire, if only people had trusted us we would have been able to create democracies instead of being forced to occupy countries permanently.

Let us not forget the fates of the great empires of history. The Roman empire was actually profitable for a long time I think - the rot from within came because people used to bread and circuses were not ready to shed their own blood, because 'vigilance' the price of liberty was not paid. But a more modern empire had the opposite problem. The British bled generation after generation of young blood, and were militarily as well as spiritually drained by their empire. To rebuild Iraqi oil fields, build a democracy, and pay for the American occupation is a great deal. Bush has been telling everyone all along America is not doing this for profit. Certain oil companies may profit, but overall I believe Bush will be righter than he knows. If you are not willing to bleed your subjects, empire is a losing game, both in money and in blood.

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