Sunday, August 10, 2008

Putin Asks Bush, "Or What?"

The heart of Pentagon strategic planning for the last half century could be described with one word, deterrence. And behind this strategy was a little open secret. As the USA spent unimaginable sums of money to build the greatest military machine the world had ever seen, the little open secret was this: the military colossus was not meant to ever be used. From the earliest days of the cold war, the intent was always to threaten and intimidate, not to annihilate, any potential adversary. The strength was designed to prevent a war, not win a war. Pentagon planners (at least the wiser ones) knew that when intimidating and threatening turned to shooting, the United States military might not be as invincible as everyone thought. Vietnam had shown that there were limits to US military power. But until George W. Bush came along, Vietnam could be dismissed as a fluke that was tragically rooted in a lack of strong national resolve.

The Soviets understood deterrence. They played by our rules, and finally threw in the towel. Last year (2007) the Russians spent 19 billion dollars on their military. Even old Saddam Hussein understood how the game was supposed to be played. After his capture and before his execution, he was debriefed for nearly a year by an expert interrogator from the FBI. During this time he revealed that he never thought the USA would invade his country. He knew that invasion wasn't supposed to be part of our strategic game plan. The only person who didn't understand the Pentagon game plan was George W. Bush. Never known for a keen intellect, and certainly never one to grasp philosophical subtlety, he rode in with guns blazing like John Wayne—the proverbial cowboy with a fancy hat and boots but no saddle.

We faced an insurgent enemy in Iraq with no army, no capability to mass produce arms and munitions, no transportation infrastructure, no heavy combat vehicles, and no air power whatsoever. Nothing but a willingness to die for their cause. We truly were Goliath to the Iraqi insurgent's David, and victory should have come quickly and easily, but Bush will leave his presidency with his war still unresolved. In a very real sense, the Iraqi insurgents have achieved victory over America by teaching the rest of the world two words, "Or what?" Those two words have made the entire "force as threat" strategy of the Pentagon obsolete. Bush says to Pakistan, "You are not allowed to harbor Taliban terrorists," and Pakistan responds, "Or what?" Bush tells the Saudis to increase their oil production, and the Saudis ask, “Or what?” Bush tells the leaders of Myanmar to allow foreign aid to flow to the hurricane victims, and the Myanmar leaders ignore him, sending the silent reply of, “Or what?” Bush forbids North Korea to develop nuclear-tipped missiles, and North Korea responds, “Or what?” And, finally, yesterday at the Olympics in China, Bush told Putin to respect the sovereignty of breakaway Georgia and back away from all out war, and Putin simply said, “Or what?”

When you strip away all the macho patriotic flag-waving hype, the fact remains that Iraq has shown the world that the United States can be rolled. Everyone now knows that Vietnam was no fluke. World War III was prevented for almost 60 years by deterrence, but deterrence is out the window now as a credible national strategy for self preservation. That will be the lasting legacy of George W. Bush.

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