Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drunk With Power? More Like Dusted

Remember 1994? The Party Of Limited Government? The death of the "liberal" idea that government can and should solve all of our problems?

Things have changed since then, haven't they? Let's take a trip into the mind of Newt Gingrich, with Reason's Dave Weigel serving as travel agent:

I believe the United States should have been prepared to use whatever resources were necessary to fundamentally change the region. You ask Reagan in 1979, "Do we have to use troops to make Poland a free country and collapse the Berlin Wall? I think he would have said "Probably not." And we didn't.

So you can't go back. I mean, we never fully mobilized. We never brought to bear all of our assets. We were never serious about this. What we've done is a series of reasonable management steps. We can manage the 23-day campaign to Baghdad. And then Bremer can manage the American administration of Iraq. But we never took seriously, backing up as the big step and saying "Wait a second, this is about a whole region." So pressuring the Syrians from day one, which was frankly easier than pressuring the Iraqis, if we were willing to do it.
...
Now, we have known for the last 20 years that the Abadan refinery is the only refinery in Iran. That Iran only produces 60 percent of its gas. That we have an entire Navy not occupied in Iraq. People say to me: "We're overstretched." Not in the Navy. So I start by saying countries that are serious, that have the most powerful economy on the planet, that have the most powerful military on the planet, that have the most cutting edge technology on the planet, could do lots of things. Tell me about the cell phones in Iran. Tell me about the computers in Iran. How much effort have we made to make sure the right software is there? How much effort have we made to give every student in Iran a free cell phone? To help organize the resistance? To do the things we did in Poland?

So I don't want to start and say "Yes, would invade" or "No, we wouldn't invade." I want to suggest to you that a grand strategy would have said "We're going to change the region." Now everybody who wants to change the region, I say, fine: You're on our team. Remember at one point Bush said "You're either with us or against us?" Well, what did that mean? With us for what?

I would suggest a grand strategy, if you work out this alternative history, of thinking creatively. Bring back the Reagan team, among other things. Bring back the pre-Stansfield Turner retirees from the CIA. People who had actually done this stuff. People the entire team that had done Afghanistan. There were lots of assets available in 2001 if we wanted to use them.


Nowhere in this "Grant Strategy" that Newt pines for is there so much as a peep about the limits of the power of the military to "change a region". Nowhere does he pause to consider what happens if we shoot for the moon and miss. Nowhere is there any talk about the inefficiency of government.

His entire dream is based on the idea that as long as we "sit back" and formulate a "grand strategy" to "change the region", we can do whatever we want. That we can change an entire society from the ground up, as long as we are "serious", "think creatively" and/or "bring to bear all of our assets".

It's pure delusion. The first Iraq war, with its easy, cartoonish victory over Saddam's army and laser-guided missiles flying down chimneys and whatnot, sprinkled PCP into our nation's collective sack of pot (television, I guess). It made us think our army was invincible and omnipotent. It's powerful and awesome, but just because you've got a powerful jackhammer doesn't mean you can perform oral surgery with it. Armies don't change things - they blow them up.

Government can't end poverty, can't keep everyone from using drugs, can't make every 18-year old a virgin, can't keep everyone from driving drunk, and can't stop millions of central Americans from sneaking across the border. Nor can it change an entire society from religious, oil-fueled dictatorship to western-style democracy. The former ideas are at least (usually) expressed in statistics; you can argue that this or that policy will reduce drug use or illegal immigration or drunk driving fatalities. Yet Newt isn't talking about making the Middle East more democratic, and George Bush isn't talking about reducing terrorism. The goal of modern neoconservatism is a complete revolution, taking place in several nations, engineered by an external entity that most of the people of those nations hate. It's not something you can do halfway. It's all or nothing. The highest law in the land has to be eviscerated to accomplish it. And I'm not talking about the Constitution - I'm talking about Murphy's Law.

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