Tuesday, February 08, 2005

150. Is America Really Dangerous?

Our attention is very much concentrated on the war in Iraq, begun under
questionable circumstances by the present US administration in March 2003. Starting a war is relatively easy, but guiding a war to a successful conclusion is a very different matter. Events intervene.

The initial military successes of the American Army in defeating the uniformed forces of the dictator Saddam Hussein have been squandered by a combination of poor planning and a series of political blunders, among them

- failure to prevent the destruction and plunder of hospitals, public
buildings, and museums;
- an arbitrary disbandment of the Iraqi Army, and dismissal of all former Baath Party members from administrative posts, thus pushing an estimated 2 million people into unemployment;
- failure to restore basic public services to the civilian population, in
particular clean water and electricity

so that now the army of occupation (for such it has become) is faced with an armed insurgency of ever-increasing effectiveness, an expanding sophistication in its organization and methods of attack, and a worrying increase in the level of civilian support.

History is full of examples of ill-planned, arrogant, military adventures

- Crassus marches into Parthia (Persia) in 53 BC.
- Varus crosses the Rhine in 14 AD.
- The Fourth Crusade in 1204.
- Napoleon's Russian Campaign in 1812.
- The Crimean War of 1854-56.
- The Paraguayan War of 1864-70.
- The Austrian attack on Serbia in 1914.

And perhaps we should include the Vietnam War, in which America was
politically (if not militarily) defeated. Iraq seems to be shaping up as a
desert version of Vietnam, another hastily-planned and ill thought out intervention into a faraway foreign land which is not turning out as planned.

There seems to be a cycle of about 25-30 years (a generational change) which allows America to forget the mistakes of the past and embark upon new overseas adventures very similar to disastrous experiences in the past. There is a distinct lack of historical and institutional memory, as if the past were a “dead area” with no relevance or connection to the events of the present.

No other country in the world operates in such a comparable historical vacuum. No other country in the world comes even close to the massive projection of military power that the United States is capable of. It’s a dangerous combination.

Even more chilling is that the current US leadership, from Bush and his Cabinet colleagues down to the level of middle-management appointees, has little or no respect or even interest in the kind of reality that the rest of the world operates within. They are living in a cloud cuckoo land of political mythology which brooks no opposition or criticism (much like the fundamental Protestant Christianity to which many of them adhere) and which simply belittles or ignores inconvenient facts. One inconvenient fact is that America is well on its way to losing the war in Iraq.

Another inconvenient fact is that traditional American freedoms (freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from want, freedom from fear) are being steadily dismantled by an administration that bandies the word “freedom” about like a talisman (27 separate mentions in President Bush’s recent State of the Union address).

While the Republic falters at home, the country behaves like an imperial power overseas. If recent polls are to be believed, America is now seen as one of the greatest single threats to world peace by citizens of other countries. Israel tops the list at 59% followed by Iran, North Korea and the USA, all on 53%.

This inconvenient fact can be put down to “anti-Americanism”by the effete Europeans (especially the damn French!), because all these carping foreigners are jealous of the American Way of Life. Would it were so simple. These poll numbers have taken a radical shift into negativity only within the last four years. What has happened over the last four years to account for such negativity? This is the real question that needs to be addressed.