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The end of hyperpower

November 29th, 2004

Something that’s really striking about the Ukraine crisis is the quiescence of the supposed global hyperpower. Powell took a firm line a few days ago, but he’s a lame duck who can’t be presumed to speak for the Administration. As was pointed out at (pro-war Left site) Harry’s Place, Bush’s own statement on the issue was anything but a ringing affirmation of democracy, perhaps because of Yanukovych’s membership of the Coalition of the Willing. In any case, the US has been happy to leave the running of the issue to the EU.

That’s not surprising, perhaps, given that Ukraine is a long way from Washington and right next to the EU, but how about the current situation in Iran? The US has 140 000 troops right next door to a potential nuclear power, and the threat is being dealt with (or perhaps not dealt with) by negotations with the EU.

The obvious point is that the resources of all kinds (military, diplomatic, financial and in terms of moral standing) expended on the Iraq crusade have weakened the US government to the point where it has nothing with which to impose its will on Iran. The US government can’t credibly threaten an invasion because it doesn’t have the troops, it can’t run a long bombing campaign in case the Iranians foment a Shia insurgency in Iraq, it can’t negotiate because it has already painted itself into a corner with the “Axis of Evil” line, it can’t rally the world to its cause because of its belligerent unilateralism in the past, it can’t buy the Iranians off because it’s broke, and it can’t use its intelligence resource to catch out the Iranians in any lies they are telling because US intelligence has been fatally discredited. Bush can still blow up the world, but then, so can Putin.

The era of hyperpower has been short indeed.

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  1. Razor
    November 29th, 2004 at 17:15 | #1

    John, a bit of wishful thinking on your behalf. I would like to see some more detailed information to back up your claim that the US of A couldn’t fight another war at the moment. In fact if you do some research into the Strategic posturing, Order of Battle and Logistics on the US military, you will find that they do have the ability to take on another localised conflict/war. Since the Cold War finished the US planned their forces on the ability to fight two wars, admittedly more focussed on a Mid-East and a North Asian war, but they can do it. As for the logistics, even the consistent bombing campaign in Kosovo hardly made a dent in their stockpiles.

    First your hooking into them for going to war, and now your getting into them because you don’t think they can fight two wars at once, let alone side by side. A bit inconsistent I think.

    By my estimates they have about 5 un-commited aircraft carriers and the rest of the Navy aren’t busy launching Tomohawks at anybody, 1 Marine Expiditionary Unit, the 2nd Armoured Division in South Korea (which is the most powerful land formation of its’ size in the world), at least one Armoured Cavalry Regiment, XVIII Airborne Corps (2 Airborne Divisions) and a spare Amroured/Mechanised Division in both Europe and Continental US of A, plus the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. I can’t give you much on the Airforce side of things but they ain’t overly committed at the moment (ie. no more than when they were enforcing ‘No FLy’ operations in Iraq pre-Gulf War II). And we haven’t started going through potential Allies Order of Battle.

    An dif the hyperpower is dead, who is their equal? Are there now two or more super-powers?

  2. Fyodor
    November 29th, 2004 at 19:35 | #2

    Razor,

    The USA’s “spare” military capacity is very close to zero. For every carrier battle group deployed in foreign waters, another 2-3 are either back home in refit, in transit or in training. The USA’s land forces (which are essential to any potential invasion) are in even greater disarray. The USA is involuntarily extending the tours of duty of reservists serving in Iraq and converting National Guard armour and artillery units to infantry to cover the dearth of grunts on the ground in Iraq. It simply does not have enough spare brigades/divisions to launch an invasion of Iran. The 8th army forces cannot be removed from South Korea (remember the other member of the AoE?), the airborne corps has been shattered by continuous service in Iraq and Afghanistan and the USMC is likewise fully engaged in Iraq.

    Now, the USA could easily train up a few new divisions, buy new carriers etc., but they’re not available RIGHT NOW, which is precisely the problem in terms of strong-arming Iran.

    I happen to disagree with the Prof that the USA has lost its “hyperpower” edge, but extremely poor strategy (i.e. invading Iraq and retaining no strategic reserve) and inadequate force preparation (i.e. the now evaporated “Cold War Dividend” that saw massive cutbacks in military spending) have left the USA vulnerable to new threats.

    On the Ukraine, I don’t believe the USA’s apparent indifference reflects weakness, so much as other priorities. That is, winning the war in Iraq is more important to the Bush administration than ending Russian hegemony in the CIS. Bush needs Putin’s support in the UN, on the oil price and in Central Asia. I suspect it’s just realpolitik at work.

  3. Alex
    November 29th, 2004 at 19:42 | #3

    The Yanks don’t need to do anything about Iran’s nuclear threat, because if (when) they get too close, the Israelis will bomb them again, just like last time.

  4. November 29th, 2004 at 19:44 | #4

    Pr Q’s rumour that the US hyper-power is deas may be exaggerated. The US is being subtle about the use of a little firm-economic and soft-cultural power, rather than hard-military power, to get its way in the Ukraine. It seems to be working. US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev

    the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

    Officially, the US government spent $41m (£21.7m) organising and funding the year-long operation to get rid of Milosevic from October 1999. In Ukraine, the figure is said to be around $14m.

    US pollsters and professional consultants are hired to organise focus groups and use psephological data to plot strategy. The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.

    Freedom House and the Democratic party’s NDI helped fund and organise the “largest civil regional election monitoring effort” in Ukraine, involving more than 1,000 trained observers. They also organised exit polls.

    The US cant do much about internal development of Iran’s nuclear capacity. It has shot itself in the foot in Iraq alright, most likely the Iranians provided the bullets.

  5. November 29th, 2004 at 20:29 | #5

    Truly John, that was unworthy of you. If the Americans had their fingerprints all over Ukraine’s citizens’ revolution (as many others are alleging, in fact) you’d be blogging about the continued heavy-handedness of the Bush White House. That they’re not up to their necks in oranges leads you to call their attitude “quiescence.” Come off it.

    Same with Iran. A nuclear threat that can’t be dealt with because of Bush’s mistaken foreign policy you say. If (and, more likely, when) the US acts against Tehran you’ll say how awful it all is.

    How any of you characters on the left manage to score a feed when your worldview is one Speedy Gonzales of a moving feast is beyond me.

  6. November 29th, 2004 at 20:50 | #6

    Fyodor at November 29, 2004 07:35 PM seems a little behind the curve, as usual:

    [The US] simply does not have enough spare brigades/divisions to launch an invasion of Iran.

    If Fyodor wasnt looking for war in all the wrong places he would realise that the disarmament of rogue states was a complement, not substitute, for US military regime change.

  7. harry
    November 29th, 2004 at 21:53 | #7

    C.L.,
    How do you see the Americans dealing with Iran?

    I would have thought that the redeployment of the Black Watch in Iraq prior to Falluja spoke volumes about America’s ability to bring in new troops. As does Fyodor’s stuff about extending reservists deployements etc.
    As would complaints from senior US commanders in Afghanistan that their resources keep getting redirected to Iraq.

    It’s all very well have a number of units around the world, but many of them can’t be moved. The ones in South Korean, for instance, have to stay put. And it’s all very well having a number of units around the world but the politics of their deployment has to be taken into account.
    North Korea and Iran know this – why do you think they’ve been rattling sabres louder than they have in years? They know they can get away with it.

  8. John Quiggin
    November 29th, 2004 at 22:14 | #8

    Razor, I think your analysis sums it up. By stripping everything else bare, including the Korean peninsula. Europe and all domestic forces, the US could just scrape together five divisions, which, all going well, would be enough for an invasion of Iran.

    So, look ahead 12 months. How do you propose that these divisions should be relieved? As Fyodor says, there’s nothing left.

    Razor, CL and others have read all sorts of assumptions into this post, but the main point is a simple factual one. Whether or not military intervention in Iran is desirable, or might become so, the option has been foreclosed by the Iraq fiasco.

    Alex, the Iranians learned their lesson from Osirak. The crucial stuff is now in hardened underground sites.

  9. November 29th, 2004 at 22:19 | #9

    I’m not sure what the answer is Harry. Obviously Israel has what is – by now – a very dust-covered plan for levelling Iran’s facility. My understanding, however, is that this is not necessarily a straight-forward operation, militarily speaking. I’d be interested in hearing others’ opinions on that.

    What seems probable is that Washington will pressure the EU and the UN over the next six months to put sterner condemnations of Iran’s gaming of the system on the table.

    I don’t see the Bush/Rice doctrine on pre-emption as being an absolutist modus operandi. Rather, I think what they look for and build on are internationally official but unfulfilled punitive instruments. If enough of those can be tabled by the UN’s atomic agency and Iran continues to be obstructionist and cute, an ultimatum could then be efficaciously delivered.

    Whether the demolition job is done by Israel or the US, what I really hope is that having tried valiantly to do things pacifically, the EU will acknowledge the necessity of action and give Washington its moral sanction. If that happens, the chances of an Iranian incursion into Iraq would seem less likely.

    Why? Not for fear of French troops or German tanks – not in the first instance – but because one of the great weapons in Tehran’s armoury is the strategically valuable propaganda about an isolated and morally repudiated White House. Without that, Tehran’s own isolation might give the mullahs pause for thought given the agitation for modernisation with Iran itself and the ease with which Saddam Hussein was crushed.

    Time is obviously of the essence.

  10. November 29th, 2004 at 22:22 | #10

    Should have read:

    “…Tehran’s own isolation might give the mullahs pause for thought given the agitation for modernisation within Iran itself.”

  11. harry
    November 29th, 2004 at 23:12 | #11

    Yeah, I really don’t see a clear path of action either.
    I simply can’t think of anyone who’s going to be too eager to go into Iran – look at how long it took for NATO bombings to get underway in Kosovo; and we’re not talking about merely bombing but a full scale invasion. A threat of military action has to be credible to be a true threat. The Iranian’s perceive America to currently not have a credible threat so they are going wild.

    Personally I think Iran has won. Nothing the EU or UN can do will compel them to hand over their nukes. Even then there is nothing to stop them handing over all but one or two and no-one will ever know. They will take their lead largely from North Korea.

    I mean, the international community (however you want to define it) can’t even get their sh!t together over Dafur; and that has the added moral imperative of stopping genocide, and involves invading a nation with a totally crap army.
    Dafur is child’s play compared with Iran.

  12. November 29th, 2004 at 23:34 | #12

    Agreed Harry, your last point’s a killer comparison. Put it this way, if nothing’s being said or done about this in, say, two months, well… I’ll be disappointed.

  13. Dan Hardie
    November 30th, 2004 at 03:37 | #13

    ‘Alex, the Iranians learned their lesson from Osirak. The crucial stuff is now in hardened underground sites.’

    John, I’d like to think that there won’t be a US or Israeli airstrike on Iran. But William Lind, a rightwing Iraq dove and well-informed defence analyst, says the US has ‘recently sold Israel several hundred deep-earth penetrator bombs.’ (http://www.sftt.org/cgi-bin/csNews/csNews.cgi?database=DefenseWatch.db&command=viewone&op=t&id=700&rnd=131.87847846571532)
    Could just be rumour, but…

  14. Seymour Paine
    November 30th, 2004 at 03:50 | #14

    Ouch! And so correct (in my view). Apparently, Americans (and I am one of them) would prefer we play at being a hyperpower rather than really being one.

    All I know is: We (and I mean the world) are potentially in big doo-doo for the foreseeable future.

  15. November 30th, 2004 at 07:11 | #15

    Fallows had a similar thesis in a recent Atlantic Monthly article on Bush’s lost year here (paid subscription required)

    Some excerpts here.

    The PR war seems to be failing according to some advisers as well.

  16. November 30th, 2004 at 07:39 | #16

    Its ahrd to see how taking out the Iranina nuclear program would involve more than a couple of thousand troops – why would they want to or need to invade the whole country?

  17. Tony Healy
    November 30th, 2004 at 08:13 | #17

    The use of civilian troops in Iraq doesn’t mean America has exhaused its forces. It’s actually part of the process of keeping its regular forces fresh and ready for other activity.

    American doctrine explicitly provides for being able to simultaneously fight major conflicts in two theatres while also preserving the ability to defend continental America. It has the forces to do this.

    Of the carriers and their associated powerful battle groups, seven are on station or in standard deployment training. The other five are in scheduled maintenance and could be deployed in ten weeks.

  18. harry
    November 30th, 2004 at 08:38 | #18

    Giles wrote “Its ahrd to see how taking out the Iranina nuclear program would involve more than a couple of thousand troops ”

    They have to be sure they get the nukes and all parts of the program that makes them. US (and western) intelligence on Iran is negligable – there is no guarentee that the US know where all the nukes are. If the US doesn’t get them all then (a) it is a failed misiion; and (b) gives the Iranians a pretty good reason to hit back with anything they have left.

    Those ‘several thousand troops’ have to be protected from anything the Iranians care to throw at them. When we went into East Timor we took our anti-aircraft missile batteries and moved nearly all our F-18s up to Darwin. Of course, West Timorese militia don’t have aircraft, so who were the antiaircraft missiles and F-18s for? And there was a US carrier that was moved down much much closer to Indonesia as well.

    There is no way the Yanks would send only a couple of thousand troops.
    If they want to find all the nuclear material they will have to shut the country down otherwise they’ll just be playing an extended game of tag.
    The type of bomb they are worried about is a low-yield ‘suitcase’ or ‘dirty’ bomb and they are very easy to move around.

  19. Red Peter
    November 30th, 2004 at 09:17 | #19

    The pentagon has run war game scenarios on Iran and admit that none of the outcomes so far look very pretty.

    But since when has hyperpower come to mean omnipotent uber-nation? There have always been limits on US power and clearly the continued occupation of Iraq adds some extra drag. So what? Unless some other power supersede’s it in the mean time, Iraq will be a transient moment in the history of US hegemony.

  20. pwe
    November 30th, 2004 at 09:57 | #20

    Have any of the people in this thread who think signifcant military intervention in Iran actually looked at a map of the place? It’s nearly all mountainous – very mountainous. No simple matter of driving your tanks around anything nasty that’s in your way, or bombing everything to shit from 20,000 feet. I think the US military is very aware of what it will encounter in Iran and has absolutely no desire to fight there, and won’t. They are not easybeats like the Iraqi Army. Not to mention what the Iranians could do to Persian Gulf traffic, and did anybody say Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? Ha!

    -pwe

  21. Phoencian in a time of Romans
    November 30th, 2004 at 11:05 | #21

    The Yanks don’t need to do anything about Iran’s nuclear threat, because if (when) they get too close, the Israelis will bomb them again, just like last time.

    Yes indeedy. The Iranians, a people developing an atomic bomb and expanding their influence subtly throughout the Islamic parts of the former Soviet Union, are far too stupid to ever ever learn from experience…

  22. Razor
    November 30th, 2004 at 12:46 | #22

    Fyodor

    I am well aware of the rotation, refit and training for the Aircraft Carrier Battle Groups. The fact those ideal maintenance and training cycles are in place doesn’t mean that they can’t be re-arranged.

    Your use of the terms dissarray and shattered are hardly appropriate. Just because some formations have had a fairly high operational tempo and are tired does not mean that they are in dissarray or shattered. Having worked with US Forces on a number of occaisions I believe they would take exception at that remark.

    As for using Artillery and Armour as Infantry, well lets see – when I was in an Armoured unit we did a weeks dismounted training every year because that was a secondary role. In Somolia, the Aussie Artillery were used for Civil Affairs Liaison, and in East Timor I’m pretty sure the drop shorts were doing a lot of patrolling. Amazing. (The reason the Artillery wear white lanyards is so that they can dye it any colour they need too.)

    The 2nd Armored Div could be removed from South Korea, (fuck – some South Koreans are demanding it!) because the South Korean Military is more than well prepared to defend their turf. That is only a political issue – they could rotate 25ID in from Hawaii, as they regularly do.

    The USMC is not fully engaged in Iraq.

    And as for the notion of not having a strategic reserve – poppycock and balderdash – go onto the official US DOD websites and look at their order of battle, even assuming it is hollow, so divide it by three – there is shit loads of strategic reserve.

    The US have done Iraq without doing more than break into a light sweat. They have not fully mobilised their Reserve and National Guard. They have increased the budget deficit, which will more than likely turn out to have the same impact as the Reagan deficit did. It is not a huge impact. Wait till they really get up and running, if they want too.

    I agree on the stupid run down of forces post Cold War and the rest of the Western World has been just as stupid. Australia showed that in both Somalia and Iraq where our logistics systems barely coped.

  23. Katz
    November 30th, 2004 at 14:49 | #23

    Jack Strocchi’s reference to the subtle use of soft power as a potent instrument of US foreign policy raises the question of US rationale for choosing hard power over soft power, or vice versa.

    Choice, it may be argued, is influenced by geopolitical interest: the like Georgia before it, Ukraine, for example, is a buffer state of strategic interest to the US but not important economically. Iraq, on the other hand, figures large in US calculations for its energy future.* [See break-out below]

    It might be argued the the Bush administration chooses exercise of soft power from convenience and exercise of hard power from necessity.

    Certainly, the US hyperpower that it may be, is still a little chary about trespassing too insultingly into the sphere of influence of Russia, the erstwhile other superpower.

    There also seems to be a racist element to Bush administration choice of modality. White Christians in the old Soviet Union find their sensibilities more solicitously acknowledged than semetic Muslims in the Middle East.

    [Breakout]

    *On the subject of US economic interests in Iraq it is noteworthy that Bush amended within the last 24 hours his notorious Executive Order 13303, ending the proclaimed state of national emergency, but maintaining the immunity of private oil interests from prosecution. On the other hand, the immunity of the Iraqi government from prosecution is rescinded, backdated to the end of June 2004.

  24. JC
    November 30th, 2004 at 16:25 | #24

    You make excellent points Razor. But one question which has always dogged me considering the supposed availability of excess ground troops for a possible continuation of hostilities in other theatres. If:

    1) there is extra slack in US forces as you suggest, and..
    2) they clearly need more troops in Iraq now (read Black Watch redeployment, re-enlistment of discharged Reserve and National Guard troops)

    Then why don’t they use those troops now? It’s one thing to say that they COULD use those troops, but they SHOULD be using them now – and they’re not. Why? Presuming you are correct of course.

  25. Razor
    November 30th, 2004 at 16:53 | #25

    It is your, and others, opinion that the Coalition need more troops in Iraq. That does not gel with what the hierachy are saying – they say they have enough troops on the ground in Iraq. See comments in the last 24 hours by CINC CENTCOMM and many others.

    The Black Watch redeployment was a media beat up. It was quiet down South and they wanted more troops near their main effort. Big f***ing deal. One Battalion Group re-orientation in a Corps size theater is not a big deal. The beat up about this was crap promoted by lefty politicians and media that directly caused British casualties. I have no doubt that the media hype caused the terrorists to deliberately target, and film for their friends in the media, the Black Watch. The blood of those soldiers is on the hands of the politicians and media who beat this up. I couldn’t believe the Blair government made it public.

    As for the man managemnt of the US Forces – that is what you put your hand up for when you sign on. It is not as if they have fully mobilised. In fact one of the reasons for the lack of need for a draft is that the US learnt it’s lesson from Vietnam, when they didn’t mobilise the Reserve or National Guard, and are using these resources on an as required basis.

    One of the major reasons they do not want more troops is that more and more Iraqi forces are completing their training and coming on line. This is good strategy because making the Iraqis responsible for their own security will, as they become more succesful, allow a reduction in Coalition forces over time and let the Iraqis take over runing their country.

    In summary they dont need or want extra troops and the Iraqi forces are increasing in size and effectiveness anyway.

    Edited for coarse language, JQ

  26. JC
    November 30th, 2004 at 16:59 | #26

    Okay fair enough. Iraq does not need more US troops. They are not stretched. Any reports to suggest otherwise are a media beatup, which is primarily the fault of the Left, who of course have blood on their hands. Therefore the US is quite capable of starting another war with Iran. Gotcha.

    Anyone care to dispute this? There is a militarily ignorant mind up for grabs here.

  27. Razor
    November 30th, 2004 at 17:39 | #27

    Sorry for the language John. Will keep it clean from now on.

  28. harry
    November 30th, 2004 at 19:37 | #28

    Razor wrote: “The Black Watch redeployment was a media beat up. … “I couldn’t believe the Blair government made it public.”

    I was in England at the time and this issue dominated the headlines and parliament for days. It came out because many said that a secret deal had been done by Blair to bail out the ‘over-stretched US forces’. They argued that since it was in the American zone the Americans should supply fresh troops if they were needed, not the UK. They wanted a debate in parliament which Blair vacilitated on until it was conveniently too late – many said the decision was made before the issue blew up.
    Not only did this mean everyone was told the Black Watch were moving, it was also revealed why they were moving: to allow US forces to be moved for the coming attack on Fallujah. Note that this was three weeks before they went into Fallujah. No wonder most of the insurgents there scarped. I don’t seriously beleive that the US thought they were inviting the insurgents to a stand-up fight.

    It all is a bit reminiscent of the press revealing the Argentinians had fused their bombs incorrectly during the Falklands War.

  29. derrida derider
    November 30th, 2004 at 21:36 | #29

    The US government can’t credibly threaten an invasion because it doesn’t have the troops, it can’t run a long bombing campaign in case the Iranians foment a Shia insurgency in Iraq, it can’t negotiate because it has already painted itself into a corner with the “Axis of Evil” line, it can’t rally the world to its cause because of its belligerent unilateralism in the past, it can’t buy the Iranians off because it’s broke, and it can’t use its intelligence resource to catch out the Iranians in any lies they are telling because US intelligence has been fatally discredited.

    A nice statement of the disaster Bush has created for the US. All true anti-Americans cheered at Bush’s re-election.

  30. November 30th, 2004 at 22:00 | #30

    Here’s a suggestion, JQ: why not set up a “black museum” of examples of the sort of thing you’ve seen fit to edit for coarse language etc., for our general edification and instruction – the larger meaning of “amusement” – with identifying information redacted to protect the guilty?

  31. JC
    December 1st, 2004 at 15:47 | #31

    I said, Anyone care to dispute this? There is a militarily ignorant mind up for grabs here.

    Oh c’mon. I’ve given you Lefties a whole day. Persuade me. Don’t leave me to Razor, The Enforcer over here. Anybody? Anybody? Oh well.

    [Mind lurches relunctantly to the Right]

  32. Razor
    December 1st, 2004 at 16:30 | #32

    Welcome to the right JC, although I don’t see how understanding military capability has a political bias.

    Kind regards

  33. John Quiggin
    December 1st, 2004 at 16:46 | #33

    JC, your irony alerts were on!

    Just to put things in terms of simple arithmetic, the active duty military (Army+Marines) has about 700 000 members. Iran is bigger than Iraq and an occupation would face more vigourous opposition, so let’s suppose it would require a sustained commitment of 250 000, making 400 000 or so for the Middle East as a whole. Standard doctrine for these things calls for one year in the field and two years out, but lets say that they stick to one year on, one year off.

    That’s 800 000 troops needed. Even pushing the National Guard, Reserves and so on to the limits, and stripping everything else to the bare minimum, it can’t be done with current resources.

    Of course, the US is a rich and populous country. Given a hefty tax increase and the reintroduction of the draft, it could easily put a million troops into the field. I don’t think GWB is the man for this, but others may disagree.

  34. Razor
    December 1st, 2004 at 17:38 | #34

    Given that the Europeans have been leading the push on Iran, wouldn’t one expect them to contribute some forces?

  35. John Quiggin
    December 1st, 2004 at 17:47 | #35

    If the worst came to the worst, a substantial European commitment would be needed.

    Hence, the US can’t act without the Europeans and has been forced to leave the running to them, despite strong US disagreement with the way the Europeans are doing things. At least in my understanding of the term, this is not the behaviour of a hyperpower.

  36. JC
    December 1st, 2004 at 19:08 | #36

    John, thanks for the heads-up. The irony alerts are now off. Damn switch was busted.

    Razor, from what I’ve gathered in my recent stroll around the blogosphere is that the anti-war Left thinks Iran can’t be done and the pro-war Right thinks it can. I agree that understanding military capability shouldn’t be political – tell it to them.

    So let me get my head around this. On the one hand there could well be available troops amongst deployed and non-deployed units not serving in Iraq. And given things are going along just fine there, there is nothing to suggest any more would be required for Iran. Yes?

    But on the other hand, it may be a simple question of arithmetic. A third fighting, a third training and third resting, I once heard. It doesn’t add up. Right?

    Of course, to be sure, the US should definitely get the cooperation of the Europeans if worst comes to worst otherwise we’re all stuffed. I think, that you are agreed.

    It seems I am starting to understand this issue – nobody knows anything, and I should just have a drink and lie down.

    [Walks to the mini-bar. Lurches back to the centre]

    Damn irony switch!

  37. Tony Healy
    December 2nd, 2004 at 06:37 | #37

    This interpretation is not fair to the Americans, and doubtful as to its figures. First, America dislikes invasions and war as much as anyone and would prefer a diplomatic solution.

    Second, my understanding is that American plans expect that 12 Divisions (120,000 troops) would suffice to take Iran, along with about 3,000 special forces troops and five carriers off the coast. Three of those carriers are not far away. The important criteria is not population or area but quality of the initial air defence.

    Note that Iraq also was thought by pundits to be capable of fierce resistance, but fell easily. It even had gone to the trouble of protecting its Mig fighters in “impregnable” concrete bunkers. Those bunkers were of course destroyed in the early air campaign.

    Let us hope there is no further bloodshed in the region. But it’s not correct to dismiss US capability for force projection as exhausted.

  38. John Quiggin
    December 2nd, 2004 at 08:17 | #38

    Tony, do the planners who advise you have any plans for a subsequent occupation? The Iraq occupation is failing badly with a force larger than the one you mention.

    Or is the notion that the US can take Teheran, spend a month or two destroying nuclear facilities and then pull out, leaving an enemy country with a population of 70 million sharing borders with Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Unless the US plans to abandon the whole region, notions like “force projection” are totally irrelevant.

  39. Tony Healy
    December 2nd, 2004 at 09:51 | #39

    John, I’m not advised by planners, just as I’m sure you’re not. I was simply pointing out that your figures may have been high, and that this affects your observation about whether an occupation could be sustained and, in turn, the motivation for diplomatic solutions.

  40. December 2nd, 2004 at 13:30 | #40

    I think we are talking at cross-purposes about force projection, military capacity and regime change. Pr Q is talking about the manpower required for regime change. The others are talking about the firepower required for military prevalence in normal warfare.
    The US military, given current force structures, could destroy any other conventional military on Earth, purely by air and sea power. The US’s international offensive armament (ICBMs, boomer subs, carriers, long range bombers, logistics bases) is about an order of magnitude more effective than any single one of its rivals in the PRC, CIS, USE, JAP and OPEC state federations.
    This they can do because the US homeland is pretty much invulnerable to everything but long range missiles and terrorists. So the US can scrimp on national defence and spend money on international offence. So a military action to destroy another military apparat, as a punitive mission or pre-emptive strike, is easily within the US DoD’s powers.
    But a military actions for the purposes of regime change turns the strategy from international offensive to national defensive. This kind of action takes up huge amounts of manpower.
    The US military’s order of battle is currently not constituted for a waging two preventive wars of conquest, or liberation, at the same time. Therefore talk of more offensive warfare as a prelude to regime change is complete hooey.
    The credible threat of regime change is the basis for the claim to US hyperpower. It follows that the US’s current military force structure is not sufficient to enforce its political pretensions. So Pr Q’s criticism is valid, so far as it goes.

  41. December 2nd, 2004 at 13:47 | #41

    Actually, the USA does have the resources etc. to achieve regime change anywhere – provided it vastly changes its methods. The old trick is to use regular incursions and ringbark the area in question, then rebuild on the ashes. It’s what happened to Asia Minor.

    Even if the USA has the sustained will over time, the catch is, what if something else comes up? It’s like a patient skipping on a course of drugs. After all, Turkey and southern Italy may now exist where once the Greeks held sway, but a – much transformed – Greece still exists, grown back in the face of a once mighty power that had become the sick man of Europe. It’s not for nothing that the myth of the Hydra of Lerna used that idea of growing back in the face of insult; one must add the injury of cautery to be effective.

  42. Nabakov
    December 2nd, 2004 at 15:42 | #42
  43. Razor
    December 2nd, 2004 at 16:46 | #43

    Regime change score board –

    US/Coalition – 2 Enemy – 0.

    (Actually I would say 3 – 0 if you include Libya’s change of heart). I always think “look at the scoreboard” is the best retort when you are getting sledged by a losing opposition.

  44. harry
    December 2nd, 2004 at 19:53 | #44

    Stable functioning country score board
    US/Coalition: 0 from 2

    As numerous people have said before, Razor, it doesn’t matter that the US won militarily. It hasn’t won Iraq yet. Your Regime Change is worthless – mostly because it is a Regime Removal scoreboard not a Regime Change.
    Iraq has no regime at the moment. It has martial law and is simply not a functioning country.
    Afghanistan has become a series of fiefdoms. The UN only has control of Kabul.

    A militarily insignificant unpopular despotic government held in power by bribes has been replaced by an unpopular medieval situation held together by bribes.
    A militarily weak unpopular mass-murdering dictatorship hasn’t yet been replaced by an unpopular puppet government.

    So your score board should look more like this:

    Old Regimes gone: 2.
    Useful Regimes established: None.

    If the US goes into Iran it will be:
    Old Regimes gone: 3
    Useful Regimes implemented: None.
    Extra-unhappy Muslims: 1 billion

    The coalation has killed far more Iraqis than they have lost.
    So what?
    It doesn’t mean they are winning.

    Here’s another scoreboard for you Razor.

    Osama bin Ladens Free: 1
    Osama bin Ladens Captured: 0

  45. chico o’farrill
    December 3rd, 2004 at 09:34 | #45

    Gotta say Razor old stick, you’re not looking like a winner being sledged. You’re looking like a person being comprehensively out-manouevred at each turn.

    Harry has been on fire all week, and it’s been a pleasure reading someone who seems to be very well-versed in his subject matter. His point, and that of others above, that a military victory is irrelevant if the post-script is not handled with foresight, and vision is a key one.

    It’s the long-term future of the middle-east that’s at stake here, not a points scoring blogument.

  46. Razor
    December 3rd, 2004 at 11:17 | #46

    Unlike you gentlemen, I do not, and have never pretended that a new perfect democracy would immediatley spring up to replace the old regimes. I understand that when a society has been so amoral for so long it will take time, effort and support to build a belief in the rule of law and the democracy and the institutions that support those. I can see the troops still in Japan, Korea, Cyprus, Golan Heights, East Timor, the Falklands. I have no problem with doing what ever is required for however long to get the job done.

    I do not understand why, if things have not improved in Afghanistan for instance, that around 3 million refugees have returned to the country. Is that not an indicator of improvement?

    In the particular case of the terrorists operating in Iraq, why do they keep attacking not only coalition forces but the Iraqi security forces also? Because the rule of law and democracy is an anathema to their interests. Are you saying that removal of Saddam was a failure because these terrorists were not able to be offered power in their own right? What was your plan for the removal of Saddam that would have been acceptable to these current terrorists? Or do you think that Saddam and the Taliban should have been left in power?

  47. tim g
    December 3rd, 2004 at 11:53 | #47

    Actually I would say 3 – 0 if you include Libya’s change of heart.

    Which you can’t, because they haven’t had one; Gaddafi is simply playing a much smarter PR game these days. There’s not the slightest evidence that Libya has ceased its support for terrorism – they are still on the official State Department list of terrorist sponsors. Even in very recent times there is evidence of Libyan involvement in a plot to assassinate Saudi Prince Abdullah.

    Of course, this didn’t stop lobbyists paid by the Libyan government from being allowed to contribute to Bush’s re-election campaign. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  48. harry
    December 3rd, 2004 at 21:06 | #48

    “Unlike you gentlemen, I do not, and have never pretended that a new perfect democracy would immediatley spring up to replace the old regimes.”
    America’s actions procluded this happening anyway.
    # I never thought a new perfect democracy would spring forth. When did I say it would? If you had asked I’d have said Iraq’s democracy would look much more like Elizabethan England than current day Australia. Mind you I don’t hold ‘democracy’ in the religious awe that the neo-cons do. I would have gone with something like Jordan’s political arrangements and been quite happy with that. Democracy comes from within.
    An analogy would be Australia not becoming a republic – tribalism is strong. Why does Britain have a House of Lords?

    “I understand that when a society has been so amoral for so long…”
    What the does amorality have to do with anything?

    “I can see the troops still in Japan, Korea, Cyprus, Golan Heights, East Timor, the Falklands.”
    I don’t see the relevance of any of these. Did you want me to take each of these in turn and explain why they aren’t like installing democracy in Iraq?
    Y’know like England always stations troops on it’s outposts like the Falklands and Gibraltar.
    Or like East Timor still has troops in it because the government has asked for the troops to remain because they have no money because some dipsh!t country dragged it’s feet over working out the oil and gas which is East Timor’s only source of useful income.
    Or like, Golan Heights is all about strategic positioning and nothing about democracy ebcause whoever sits on the Golan Heights can watch every single aircraft take off from Israel.
    Or like Cyprus is in a ceasefire after what was effectively civil war and while they work it all out politically the UN (including AFP officers – Hoorah!)keeps the two sides apart.
    Or like how the North Korean government is a suspicious, unpredictable, weirdarse state and they really do seem to understand that a buttload of US marines make a really good tripwire.
    Or how America just doesn’t want to let go of their piece of Japan. Oh hang on – that does sound like Iraq.

    “I do not understand why, if things have not improved in Afghanistan for instance, that around 3 million refugees have returned to the country.
    Is that not an indicator of improvement?”
    Sure, it’s improvement. I wasn’t saying it wasn’t – just that it doesn’t represent the triumph of democracy that you think it does. 3 million people voting with their feet is impressive, but if they are just resuming where they left off (y’know – listening to music and growning opium) before the Taliban arrived then what exactly has the invasion achieved? I am not surpirsed that, living in your homeland without the Taliban around is better than sitting in a refugee camp.

    “In the particular case of the terrorists operating in Iraq, why do they keep attacking not only coalition forces but the Iraqi security forces also?”
    For the same reason Maquis fighters killed Vichy policemen.

    “Because the rule of law and democracy is an anathema to their interests.”
    No, because they are more concerned about being occupied than the rule of law and democracy right now. I believe the lyric saying is “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees”.
    Calling all Iraqi fighters ‘Terrorists’ achieves nothing other than a reinforcement of wilful ignorance. It would be like saying all right-wingers are Dick Cheney clones. It completely misrepresents the situation. It would mean for instance, that you didn’t acknowledge that (for vast amounts of the country) tribal bonds are stronger than a nationalistic feeling for Iraq as a concept.
    Why have democracy when you have a tribe? The tribal elders go and have ther meetings with other tribal elders, as they have done for millenia.

    “Are you saying that removal of Saddam was a failure because these terrorists were not able to be offered power in their own right?”
    Again with the terrorists. No I am saying the removal of Saddam was a success. However, the attempted replacement of him has been an unmitigated failure.
    You’re setting up a false dichotomy here. You are saying that:
    Remove Saddam and Impose Western Style Democracy
    or
    Surrender to Terrorism.
    This is patently absurd.

    “What was your plan for the removal of Saddam that would have been acceptable to these current terrorists?”
    Step one: I won’t call you a terrorist if you won’t call me a filthy capitalistic westerner.

    Step 2: Tribal council. Then a combination of carrot and stick – basically: foreign aid and reconstruction will flow so long as Iraq is a single country and none of you tribal leaders gets stupid ideas in his head.
    I mean, just look at how the Kurds and the Yanks get along now. The Kurds even helped root out Ansar al-Islam – a terrorist group they’d had no real reason to go after until the Yanks gave them a reason.
    Note that Ansar al-Islam is the group cited as the terrorist group Saddam was “supporting” because he wasn’t eliminating them (note the false dichotomy). Funny how Ansar al-Islam had been protected by a UN no-fly zone for the previous decade and, even without the no fly zone, Saddam would have had to go through 75,000 armed Kurds to get to them.

    “Or do you think that Saddam and the Taliban should have been left in power?”
    You are insinuating the only way there could be regime change is by military action from a foreign power.
    Any argument for their removal has to explain why a whole heap of other dictators won’t be.
    Anyone claiming the moral high ground for their removal by outside military means probably shouldn’t support similar governments or indeed the same governments 2 years before (in the case of the Taliban) or (20 years before in the case of Saddam).
    The fantasist in me says that 200,000 UN Special Forces troops should immedeately eject all harmful governments from the world and usher in a New Age of People Being Excellent to Each Other and Partying On, Dudes.
    The realist in me says, yes they should have been allowed to stay in power. “Kept in power” is another false dichotomy.

    Tell me, because you are not giving that homeless person a home does that mean you are stopping them from having a home?

  49. harry
    December 3rd, 2004 at 21:10 | #49

    Sorry, that should have read:
    Step one: I won’t call you a terrorist if you won’t call me a filthy capitalistic IMPERIALISTIC westerner.

  50. December 4th, 2004 at 15:11 | #50

    Good work.

  51. Nabakov
    December 4th, 2004 at 22:53 | #51

    Yeah, wot harry said. So there!

    I’d also add Islamic terrorism is just the thin edge of the new world disorder, an entirely new manifestion that US hard power is already struggling with. And if they continue to fight ideology with bombs, it’s only gonna get worse.

    And do you have yer own blog harry? And if so, where?
    If not,

  52. harry
    December 5th, 2004 at 21:16 | #52

    Thanks Nabakov,
    No I don’t have a blog. Quiggin and Troppo give me more than enough to think about as it is.

  53. December 10th, 2004 at 05:53 | #53

    I think so.

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