Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Baker and Kissinger

The man who said "Convential armies lose wars by not winning. Unconventional armies win wars by not losing" recently generated headlines by saying the U.S. military could not win in Iraq. Meanwhile, a heavyweight collection of eggheads sits around a table and has difficulty defining what "victory" even means in Iraq.

What these critiques all have in common is the projection of some kind of "end state" which doesn't really exist. To the extent that some kind of end-state exist, say "peace", the general trajectory of human history proves these times are evanescent and rare. Wars and turmoil seem more and more capable of affecting greater fractions of humanity. Call it the Globalization of Adversity. Peace end-staters (the left in general and pacifists in particular) love the platitude "terrorism is an abstraction, and how can we be at war against an abstraction?" yet they cannot recognize the even less concrete nature of the abstraction called "peace".

The Realists, as they have come to be called, are thus characterized as coming to the rescue of the Neocons, in this latest newsround. Their intellectual heritage is one that runs from Cardinal Richelieu and Bismarck through Henry Kissinger and thus unto James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft. And their great intellectual flaw is a belief in the institution of World Systems. Kissinger's doctoral thesis was on the Congress of Vienna, and at the conclusion of hostilities in 1918 the Congress of Vienna served as the model for those constructing the world order following the Treaty of Versailles. And we all know how THAT worked out.

After the surrenders of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945 a brief world order emerged under the auspices of a briefly functional United Nations, until the Cold War heated up sufficiently to end this brief time of "peace". War by proxy dominated the bipolar world order until the Soviet system was exhausted and the bipolar world was supplanted by the New World Order (the term used by the Realists). It was obvious to the Western powers by September 11, 2001, that the New World Order was dead, but it had been dead for quite some time.

To the degree we can concretize the abstraction we call "peace", then, it seems a necessary precondition to this end-state is the exhaustion of the combatants. The more comprehensive the exhaustion, the longer lasting is the peace which follows. For example, it took the European powers over 15 years to finally ship off Napoleon to his little island, by which time anybody who could even LOOK at a musket without getting nauseated had many missing limbs. Combatant nations who were not exhausted (not always victors, see France, May 1940) served as the nexus for future conflicts.

The conventional wisdom regarding the contrast between Realist and Neocon, then, becomes a little more clear. The Realist is prepared to impose a system of geopolitical order upon a world exhausted by war. The Neocon (please forgive me this definition, I'm sure Leo Strauss is spinning in his grave, much like Marx may have spun at the actions of Lenin), proposes an idealistic natural law thesis regarding the aspirations of humanity and attempts to achieve an end state of peace by facilitating these aspirations.

These competing world-views are by no means mutually exclusive, and I believe we will see their integration in the next decade. One critical component at this moment is the fact that the combatants in the current conflict are by no means exhausted. In the era of total war, exhausting combatants was straightforward: strategic bombing degraded the logistic capacity of the nation-state, while armies in the field smashed each other until a winner emerged. Needless to say, the paradigm has shifted away from strategic bombing and nation-states. Now the most significant factor affecting warmaking capability is Sectarian Warfare, whether literally as in Sunni/Shiite or figuratively, as in Democrat/Republican. On both sides, the combatants are bombing themselves.

Long-term, the danger to liberal democracies is the degree to which sectarian Islamist Irhabists can unite against us. And the threat to the Wahabbist and Twelver agenda is the extent to which U.S. domestic politics can be set aside to allow liberals to realize they are in great danger, and the very personal danger will not be lessened if we do not prevail.