The Long View 2003-01-01

Happy New Years' 2003.

In retrospect, I think John was a lot better at understanding domestic politics [given his interests, this probably extends to the English-speaking countries, or even the whole of the West in some cases] than international relations. The predictions he made here are almost the exact opposite of what happened, except for the one about ballistic missile defense.

2003: Deal With It
Prescience is cheap. Just look here if you don't believe me. The problem with 2003 is that the future has arrived. What do you do when years of forecasts and scenarios become present realities? The problem is not prediction, but management.
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It is some evidence that we have entered the sort of crisis period that Strauss & Howe call a Fourth Turning that even the reactionary Left has given up on trying to just get back to normal. Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel (for whom I have always had a soft spot) recently proposed to reinstate the draft. This could be the beginning of something. By the congressman's own account, the point of a draft would be to make the military less usable, since even the children of members of Congress would have to fight. (One might also note that the US needs a mass army of riflemen about as much as it needs mounted cavalry.) However, his proposal also has a universal national-service component, for those who can't or won't serve in the military. For better or worse, that latter aspect actually has some appeal across the political spectrum. The next step in the evolution of American liberalism will be an appreciation of the possibility that winning the war could advance the liberal agendas far better than losing it.
Some throwbacks to '90s thinking continue to appear, of course. President Clinton's first Secretary of State, the hapless Warren Christopher, said in an editorial in yesterday's New York Times that Iraq should go on the back burner, while the US deals with the new crisis on the Korean peninsula. His reasoning is that the Executive Branch can handle only one crisis at a time. During the Carter Administration, Christopher served as an undersecretary in the State Department, where he helped manage the crisis occasioned by the Iranians' seizure of American diplomats. He offers this reminiscence:
"I recall how this relatively confined crisis submerged all other issues for 14 months, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan."
This makes Christopher even less sanguine than Henry Kissenger. Kissenger used to say that the US could not handle more than two crises at a time, because there is no room for more than two sets of maps on the table in the White House Situation Room.
Actually, there are many reasons why the Carter Administration is looked back on as an era of awesome incompetence, but map space is not one of them.
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As for wars and rumors of wars, I will make no predictions, but I will state some contingencies that might become relevant by the summer:
* The hard part in the Middle East would come after the occupation of Iraq. The US military would then share borders with Iran and Syria, both of whose regimes are in need of changing. Iran is a sophisticated country with a lively civil society (you can tell by their much admired film industry); the Iranians will probably do the job themselves, once they see the way history is going. Syria, in contrast, is a dreary tyranny. Like Iraq, it is ruled by the stultifying Baathist Party. It is also the proximate supporter of the world's most virulent terrorist organizations. (Iran is the ultimate supporter, but that's another issue.) One war of liberation could quickly lead to another.
*During the First Gulf War, the North Koreans amused themselves by partially mobilizing, just so the US would not forget about them. They imagine they are doing no more now, but they may not have read Strauss & Howe; the US becomes a different country during eras like this. Although North Korean political culture does not seem capable of diplomacy, it will be necessary to go through the motions for the first half of this year at least. It would be reasonable to expect that the US will accelerate the deployment of every class of missile defense.
For what little my opinion is worth, I am inclined to think that any major terrorist strikes in the West will energize people, at least in America, to support the conventional wars more strongly. The publics are quicker to see the relationship between terrorist organizations and rogue states than are the editorialists. There will be little patience for the argument that the imminence of attacks against Iraq or Syria provoked the terrorism; despite the long reign of the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, international blackmail remains unpopular.
Finally, here is a speculation even more unfounded than what I have said above. If crowds cheer in the streets of Baghdad as American tanks parade through the city, if it becomes apparent that the regime changes are in fact wars of liberation, then maybe the locus of legitimacy will shift a little for the world's cosmopolitans. They will scarcely abandon the UN and the World Court, of course. However, they may start to think of the US as a feature of the cosmopolitan system, and not just as a sovereign state distended beyond all reason. Since American cosmopolitans are influential beyond their numbers or desert, the effect on US domestic politics would be startling.

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