Monday, November 03, 2003

Imagining the death of the king was once a very serious crime. Not merely planning or threatening to kill him, but referring to the fact that he would some day die. At first this may seem merely one more bit of megalomania, but given the kings power and importance combined with human vulnerability, it makes a kind of sense. It was illegal to say "Of course we both love our king, but I can't help thinking we will both be better off one day in the far future when he dies of old age." This could lead to people tentatviely sounding each other out for an eventual conspiracy.

Is a democratic republic different? It is. There is much less potential temptaion when a vice president chosen by the president will take over, and when the people may well make a similar choice next election, so there is much less risk of free speech leading to revolution. More importantly, we can openly discuss threats to democracy itself, since there is no plausible case that the vast majority of us might benefit from violent revolution. We dare discuss even the most horrible of threats to our way of life, to see how they might be averted, and what price is worth paying to avoid them, and what could be done to minimize their impact if they came to pass despite everything.

Imagine American failure in Iraq. I have written before about how I believe this can be prevented and will do so again, but in a democracy with free speech even failure can be contemplated for a moment. Imagine total failure in Iraq, probably not in the form of another dictatorial government which we could kill, but in a way which lead to radically decreased trust and respect for the United States. I don't think any government would ever contemplate war on us even then - we have shown we can destroy any government we choose despite our unwillingness to kill massive numbers of civilians. Even North Korea prefers to blackmail us rather than fight us. Yet we would have much less leverage to fight nuclear proliferation, and we have announced that WMD are what we most fear. I don't know if Saudi Arabia really intends to become a nuclear power with Pakistan's help or not, but if so it won't stop there. If any of the growing number of nuclear nations becomes destabalized, the new government would not threaten the United States even indirectly unless they were truly internationalist Al Queda style : willing to accept the defeat of the nation they ruled in the name of militant Islam - or unless some members felt that way secretly. If that happened, we would not be attacked by missiles to be intercepted by a pretty little SDI. Nuclear bombs would be smuggled in by suicide bombers, most of whom would be intercepted, at least at first. Yet it is possible to imagine the defeat of all we stand for, with a few dozen key cities eventually destroyed by bombs, and an unconditional withdrawal on our part from the Arab world - or more likely yet, the grim acceptance on our part of a need to kill millions of civilians. Neither one would protect us - different terrorist cells have different objectives sometimes, and someone might always chose to advance the glorious jihad.

Not that this would benefit any Muslims. It has been shown that a decentralized network of fanatics can make a formidable weapon of war, but not that they can enforce the rule of law and create prosperity. Factions would be forced to stick to what they know, attacking other brands of Islam partly because they need someone to blame for increased poverty, and partly because that is what they have chosen to become.

We have stared over the edge of the abyss. Unlike Vietnam, if 50,000 deaths could prevent this, it would be worthwhile. Yes, even new taxes would be justified. The latter might or might not be needed, I doubt the former would help. It is possible though that the proposals here may seem less radical now.

Would this hell necessarily be the consequence of defeat in Iraq? No. Even a forced retreat must be contemplated if we fail to counter new terrorist tactics faster than they are invented. If it ever came to seem we would lose 50,000 men and still be defeated, it would be better to retreat before they died. Even if we lost the battle of Iraq, we could still win the Middle Eastern war - by the same tactics. Oddly enough, the more blood the terrorists shed, the less it will seem like a failure of will on our part. We must give the Iraqi's as much opportunity to help us as possible, partly so that it will be seen where the blame lies if it is not rebuilt. Yet we must also begin to rebuild the Middle East outside Iraq as proposed by the industrialist linked to in the previous post - as we should have done instead of invading Iraq.

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