Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Does Cheney understand what he's saying?

Dick Cheney says that America must avoid giving the perception of weakness, lest we invite more terrorist attacks. I can't read anyone's mind, least of all a terrorist's but, assuming Cheney is right, the Bush administration has done more to place us in harm's way than any US government since 1941.

The Iraq war, in which the US has deployed a bare 130,000 troops, plus the 20,000 or so in Afghanistan, has so depleted the personnel resources of the armed forces that many of the troops are reservists. Those troops, especially the reservists, have been poorly equipped, poorly provisioned, and even poorly fed. There aren't enough troops on the ground to effectively maintain an occupation (and yes, I know that the occupation is supposedly over, but that's merely a convenient fiction) and fresh troops aren't available to allow the overstressed, exhausted ones in-country to rotate out.

Everyone knows that the United States holds primacy in the world when it comes to sophisticated weapons - it's true enough, and in that way we DO project strength - but it's strength at a distance. If we get ourselves involved in a campaign like the '91 Iraq war or the Bosnian campaign, where most of the force is applied from aircraft and by artillery, we do pack an incredible wallop. But when called upon to settle in and not just win territory but garrison and hold it, we have demonstrated that we do NOT have what it takes. That's why there's so much talk now of re-establishing the draft - without large numbers of soldiers on the ground, doing not just combat but policing, public relations, administration, and all those other things that our armies USED to do, there's no way for us to project anything BUT weakness.

If the bellicosity of Cheney and his (titular) boss have done anything, they have shown to the world - terrorists and sovereign nations alike - that we are anything but strong. The preemptive strike against Iraq demonstrated not only that the US is weak AND KNOWS IT (the truly strong do not need fight to prove they are strong), it also is serving as a guide to others. Iran, North Korea, and other countries on the edge, have been taught that to appear weak, as Iraq did, is to invite disaster. Why choose Iraq, when Iran and North Korea are so much more a threat? Simple - they have nukes (or we think they have nukes, which from their poit of view is just as good). Holding the nuke card, as North Korea is demonstrating, is the way to avoid Iraq's fate. Is it any wonder that Iran is anxiously trying to draw one of those cards from the deck while we're still busy raking in the Iraq chips? Nukes in the hands of nut-jobs like Kim Jong Il and anybody else who can get 'em before we notice surely doesn't make us safer.

The bin Ladens and Zarqawis and McVeighs of the world aren't impressed by military strength. Armies are of little use in a "war" against individuals and small cells. Terrorists, most of the time, do nothing at all. They're not interested in conquering territory or aquiring resources. They, by definition, exist to sow terror. The only techniques that will work against them are intelligence-gathering, intelligence-analysis, and traditional flat-foot police work. The 9/11 commision's findings show that our government, especially on the Bush watch, just isn't very strong there either. And by pursuing the Saddam chimera while Osama was gamboling in the caves of Tora Bora, they've shown that they really don't care much about terrorists anyway - terrorists are too hard to deal with for people who understand the world only through the lens of the Soviet Cold War.

So - Cheney says we must project strength to protect ourselves. He may very well be right. If he is, he's making a hell of a case for putting himself out of a job and replacing the weakness-projecting Bush adminstration with one that better understands how the world really works today.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?