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Four More Years: "Five or Six" More Wars?

Kevin Drum makes the case that if Bush is reelected, the president -- with a little help from Bill Luti's "intelligence" workshop -- will get us embroiled in some more wars against some of the "five or six" countries Luti says have traits "no responsible leader can allow."

I have some serious doubts about that theory. First off the bat is the obvious "Bill Luti and what army?" question. There's the army we've got in Iraq, and then there's the other army that's recovering from its last shift in Iraq and preparing to go back to Iraq. I'm not seeing any other armies. The Bush administration, meanwhile, fought against a proposal to permanently expand the active duty army and, in general, has failed to take the sort of steps that would be precursors to future wars. I've spoken, moreover, with some of the folks in town most inclined toward hot, hawkish rhetoric on Iran, and all of them (rightly) recognize that invading the country would be a fiasco. They've got some notions which I think are half-baked, unsound, and reflect what Jacob Levy has aptly termed " a general positioning as 'hawkish'" rather than a viable policy alternaive.

Thinking about the other countries with bad traits, the case for fiasco seems stronger almost across the board. You've got Saudi Arabia (holy cities), Pakistan (way too many people, nuclear bombs), North Korea (nuclear bombs, ballistic missiles, an impoverished population providing for which would sap our economy), maybe Sudan (too big, in Africa). The exception is Syria, which presents Iran-like problems but to a lesser degree, and with regards to which the case for the intolerability of the present regime is by far the weakest.

To invade any of these countries would require a sort of mobilization of American society that I strongly doubt public opinion would accept, and which the Bush administration has done nothing to lay the groundwork for. So I don't think you're going to see it. Now, of course, given a sufficiently large terrorist attack, all bets may be off. If a hundred people are blown up in a train station, it's hard to see a draft, a massive boost in military spending, and a new war. But if a thousand people are killed somewhere? Maybe. Five thousand? Quite possibly. On the other hand, given a sufficiently massive terrorist attack one reason Bush might be inclined to launch a new war is that a person like, say, me could then be pursuaded to support it. The reality is that Bush and Kerry have both been mighty vague as to what, in practice, they will do in case al-Qaeda unleashes some kind of new massive terrorist attack. I usually believe we haven't seen a new massive attack because al-Qaeda can't launch an attack like that, but maybe they can, and maybe they will, and the American response to such an attack -- irrespective of administration --- is very hard to predict at this point.

Assuming there isn't a mass casualty attack, I would refer Kevin to his excellent article in The Washington Monthly and suggest that he's right -- absent a big attack a second Bush term is likely to be consumed by scandal and counterspin. Bill Luti is about as likely to be indicted as to be making policy in a second term. At the moment the strings seem to be in the hands of various figures at the NSC whose actual views about things are not well understood. Michael Gerson is quite the hawkish idealist, but he's only a speechwriter, albeit a good one.

UPDATE: See also Gideon Rose in the Monthly, "The Empire Strikes Out", which I basically agree with except Rose fails to consider the possibility of a new mass-casualty attack.

September 5, 2004 | Permalink

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