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NOTE to READERS:
All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.
the COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.
OTHER GOOD STUFF:
Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
--- A Convergence of Parallel Li(n)es ---There's been some grousing lately that Democrats have no clear position on Iraq. What is -- or ought to be -- the Democratic Party position? The question itself is beneath contempt. Should Democrats have a party position on Iraq? No. Hell, no. In the tarnished tradition of bipartisan foreign policy, Declaration of War (or functional equivalent) must be an absolutley free vote -- a vote of conscience.
Before that vote of conscience, does Plan Iraq deserve robust, forthright debate? HELL, yes. As (Nader stooge) Phil Donahue threatens Democrats in Congress with the "Profiles in Cowardice" tag, I must agree, and I'd apply the same yellow brush to their Republican colleagues, and to President Bush.
Bush is dead serious about war with Iraq, but -- in studied deliberation, on current evidence -- he can't make the sale. He prefers exploiting the election cycle to abbreviate debate on Iraq, and using Iraq to suppress election-season debate on domestic issues. His avoidance of debate is cowardly.Bush and Daschle have no viable political alternatives; Lott has no palatable alternatives. Nevertheless, all three should take their political lumps and play the statesmen -- deferring any binding vote until after the election.
There are discomforting parallels in the throwaway lines offered as pretext now, and those offered in promotion of an earlier adventure.
In the heat of 1960's high-stakes toss-up election, the die was cast. Televised Nixon-Kennedy debates became a battle for supremacy in anti-communist bluster. On the way to a razor-thin victory, JFK laid down a series of high-profile markers on containing Red China, and inherited a string of low-profile operations in places most Americans had never heard of -- Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam.
Today, in the heat of a high-stakes toss-up election, new markers are being laid down in a battle for supremacy in anti-terrorist bluster.
Then, as now, playing on naive ethnic identifications, our leaders gulled us into conflating one adversary with another.
Vietnam was a USSR client state and China's traditional adversary, not the advance guard of China's "Yellow Peril". It would have been a useful refractory buffer state (in the euro-socialist model of Yugoslavia) against Chinese Expansionism, which (as it turns out) never existed. Our leaders knew; the people didn't.Then, as now, we stood on the threshold of war halfway around the world, and our leaders assured us the next step forward was vital in the looming clash of civilizations.
Then, as now, we were exhorted to take up arms in self-defense, to confront a malignant menace.
It will seem implausible today, but average Americans were conditioned to anticipate hordes of yellow soldiers in Red Army uniforms, marching like army ants, destroying everything in their path, eventually gnawing their way through redwood forests and purple mountain majesties. My 9th-grade civics teacher explained how they could march tirelessly on a handful of rice a day.Then, as now, our expressed higher purpose was to liberate captive peoples, bringing them a better way of life.
Then, as now, our enemy was a demonized former partner in regional stability.
Then, as now, we banked on highland minority tribes as our ace in the hole ... knowing nothing of their language, culture, history or vital interests, and frankly caring less.
Then, as now, the case for war was a concoction of bright, shining lies ... transparent enough at the time, if anybody bothered to look.
Then, as now, most of us conceded the real reason must be something the President knew, something he dared not reveal.
Then, as now, public figures operated under pressure to demonstrate unity, lest the enemy sense weakness.
The, as now, the media waxed enthusiastic in their democratic idealism and lust for the Big Story.
Then, as now, the first step -- the first regime change -- was a piece of cake. (So was the second, and the third.)
"Now, as a result of our taking the strong stand that we did, the civil war there was ended; and today, at least in the south of Indochina, the Communists have moved out and we do have a strong, free bastion there." (Nixon, 1960)Then, as now, our first efforts were operationally efficient, but failed to produce the intended results.
Then, as now, we were a decade into the conflict before the President asked Congress to endorse a blank check.
I remember the sweltering August night as if it were yesterday. The voiceover-of-God announced "we interrupt this program". LBJ told us (falsely, we know now) that North Vietnam had attacked US vessels in the Tonkin Gulf, and we weren't going to stand for it. Even as I believed it then, I knew -- how, I don't know -- something wasn't right. Someting in the eyes? Body language? I felt it viscerally ... felt the cable snap and the elevator plummet ... and "wasn't it a long way down?"Then, we found ourselves mired in a war We The People had neither debated nor endorsed nor properly understood at any of several tollgates on the road to hell.
Then, the war hobbled pursuit of US interests elsewhere in the world.Today, we still at a loss for words. Every released archive and first-person confession only deepens the mystery. This much is clear: our leaders knew the disclosed casus belli was nonsense; our leaders knew the hidden agenda was insubstantial; leader after leader perpetuated the charade rather than own up to previous error.
Of those who saw combat then, relatively few went on to greater things. Today, some of those who avoided service are promoting war with Iraq by cultivating popular misconceptions ... myths that are not taken seriously in their own informed circles ... fictions that will not stand the test of time.
Again, what were the lessons of Vietnam? Have we forgotten the cost of going to war without authentic consent? If the gambit plays out badly -- as honest strategists know it can -- questions will be raised, documents leaked, and "managed information" exposed for what it is, and poll-sniffing trough-feeders who foreclose debate in trade for a mess of political convenience will be judged harshly in the court of History ... and perhaps even more cruelly in the night court inquisitions of Conscience.
The current public case for the current recommended action is a fraud upon the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps a better case can be laid, but I stand against those who would coerce, misinform and stampede us with rhetorical sleight-of-hand ... and I stand with Senator Byrd when he thunders "Lay on, Macduff, and damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'".
Wednesday, September 18, 2002
--- Field Guide to Bellicose Casuistry ---"Of course you know, this means WAR!" (Groucho Marx, Duck Soup) By long-standing tradition, the call to arms calls for some grievous injury, irresistible opportunity or absolute exigency -- a casus belli.
In neighborhood disputes or small claims court, a certain suspicion attaches to bills of grievance that are inconstant, overly long, overly diversified or fundamentally unsatisfiable. Similar doubt attaches when old, cold grievances are abruptly reheated. It's possible to wage war for longstanding or compound reasons (strategic calculations are always compound) ... and hostile gestures do tend to generate opposing stockpiles of auxiliary grievances ... but (unless we have already taken sides) we naturally suspect either a vicious cycle of retaliation, or some baser animus dressed up for public consumption. Inquiring minds want to know: What's the real beef?
The stated case for Plan Iraq keeps budding and branching and mutating, yet the prescription remains: Forcible regime change, by any means necessary. Here's a ramble through the thicket of publicly-endorsed justifications. Some are pulp fiction, some are mere decorative embellishments on the rolling war-wagon, some are plausible and serious.
"Saddam is a Tin-Pot Dictator" Mere name-calling. We've sponsored scads of tin-pot dictators -- including Saddam -- when it served our purposes. "Saddam is Defiant" Ah, that's something else entirely. We've pulled the throne out from under scads of tin-pot dictators when they became "defiant" ... but it's hardly a respectable premise.But what's the REAL casus belli? The roster above is mostly an inventory of pretexts. In alleging (as I do) a public case built on mirrorboxes and flashpowder, it's fair to ask "OK, wise guy, what's the hidden motive?". Speculation abounds, with some superhawks candidly hyping the imperial imperative.
"Sanctions Must End" The sanctions regime is a real quagmire. It fails the intended purpose, real people are suffering and dying, blame rubs off on us, and we can't conveniently just call it off. Regime change effectively knocks over the chessboard, and in the next game there are no sanctions ... but we haven't "backed off" either.Summing up, what have we got? For the administration's true reasons it's not clear ... my "serious" list includes the potential threat to Israel, the sanctions quagmire exit strategy, the assassination attempt, the plunder and transformation arguments, and the Freudian angle. For (informed) US public consumption: Israel, broken promises and UN credibility (especially targeting coalition aircraft), and assassination. For the international market: UN credibility. [Brilliant stroke! Bush outmaneuvered everybody ... maybe even himself!] For the timing and urgency: politics, pure and simple, down and dirty.
Monday, September 16, 2002
--- A Twisted Straw in the Winds of Multilateralism ---ABC News polling results from Sept. 12-14, following GWB's UN speech:
"Would you favor or oppose having U.S. forces take military action against Iraq to force Saddam Hussein from power?" 68% responded in favor. But suppose "... U.S. allies opposed such military action ..."? Then 75% favor the move!!!Another artifact of subjects' inability to parse questions phrased in the negative? Or does our "screw the French" crowd really outnumber those who favor military intervention but draw the line at unilateral action?
In other results, this sample now leans more strongly to the premise that such action would reduce the threat of terrorism (55%), rather than increase it (36%) ... now thinks GWB has "a clear policy on Iraq" (60 to 35%) ... but still wants more evidence (50 to 48%).
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
--- Suggested Exercise for 9/11 ---Walk three thousand steps anywhere you like, counting every step.
You will not succeed, but you will learn much from the exercise.
Monday, September 09, 2002
--- US Intel Operatives Held, Tortured ---A Slate.com Explainer sums up the case for a meeting between Mohamed Atta's Prague and Iraqi intelligence in Prague.
According to Newsweek, when an FBI agent recently told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that the meeting was "unlikely," Wolfowitz grilled him until he agreed it was technically possible.The "meeting" may have been a case of dual mistaken identity -- Atta looked like a Prague auto dealer who knew an Iraqi national whose name sounded like that of a high-level IIS official. Reconstruction places Atta on US soil before and after the "meeting", with no sign he crossed US or Czech borders in the interim ... and his movements normally left tracks.
Analysis: Absent proof positive of Atta's whereabouts on April 9, the meeting is still "technically possible" ... but it's way beyond the bounds of reasonable suggestive inference. If you were determined to advance the case for Saddam's complicity in 9/11 -- and you had credible supporting information -- you'd bury this item just to avoid looking
But if this flimsy thread were all you had, and you still hung your whole case on it ... you'd be a knave, or a crank, or a fool. You'd torture the evidence to support a predetermined conclusion. And it you were also a high-ranking national security official ... you'd torture the faculties of career professionals, trying to get them to cough up some hairball of supportive plausible coincidence.
Sunday's NYT featured a Week in Review special report on intelligence in the age of terrorism. Good as far as it goes [we'll pick up some of those threads in later articles], but important distorting influences go largely unremarked.
In the most pristine environments -- before any hint of coercion -- distortion creeps into analysis of sparse data against sparse background in the presence of random noise, source noise, channel bias, deliberate withholding, obfuscation and misdirection. Everyone is subject to expectation bias, hopes, fears, pet theories, obsessions, the universal human propensity to recognize patterns even in pattern-free data, blind spots, cognitive dissonance, echoes of past triumphs or past failures, force of habit, calibration, extinguishment, boredom, and the ever-present risk of an erroneous major premise.
Every institution has corrupt biases of internal origin. It's always tempting to find the jot of data that could "save" your own earlier discredited finding. Parkinson's Law applies. Some beats are always more status-laden, career-aggrandizing, or simply "juicier" than others. Humans tend to pick sides between competing propositions, and form "cheering sections" for their favorites. Humans develop opinions about policy objectives, and develop opinions as to which findings favor which policies. Missing an obvious finding is a career-limiting move, so intel is biased to discovering the obvious ... whereas information value is maximized by detecting the unexpected. And when intelligence gathering (discovering what is) gets mixed up with covert operations (changing what will be), every form of budget and agenda bias goes into overdrive. [Special concerns here re CIA command of armed drone aircraft.]
Wading into deeper waters, counterfeit intelligence corrupts the democratic political process, just as democratic political pressures corrupt the intelligence process ... and these effects reinforce each other. The War Cabinet's quest for a compelling casus belli raises these concerns in high relief.
For perspective, a stroll though the recent annals of corrupt intelligence ...
As documented extensively in the Pentagon Papers, two decades of intel coercion/corruption dragged US into Vietnam and kept us there. We turned against our (OSS's) man Ho Chi Minh in favor of French rule, then regime-changed emergent left-wing democracy in the former French colony, leaving Vietnam divided. We regime-changed our own hapless puppet into the grave (Diem, 1963). Intelligence kept telling our leaders what they wanted to hear -- that they could steer history by applying minimal force with maximal effect -- and it all kept turning out disastrously wrong. We regime-changed leaders at provincial, tribal and village level. The 1964 Tonkin Gulf "incident" (which in retrospect was either a misreport, a wholesale fabrication, or a routine coastal defense response) provided the rationale -- and the authorizing resolution -- for years of massive escalation. At the end (1975) we abandoned a failing regime in a militarized and destabilized region ... and the chain reaction hasn't settled out yet.In the presence of political agendas, intelligence data will be tortured to fit the case, and the intelligence apparatus will be tortured to produce the "right" answers. This can become a vicious circle (as in Vietnam), trapping our leaders in a dark of their own making, and creating new pressures and pretexts for conveniently fanciful findings.
Ramping up for Plan Iraq, the bullshit generators will be working overtime. Our bullshit detectors should be tuned accordingly. In another forum a couple weeks ago, I suggested we look for a fresh Tonkin Gulf pretext ... and suggested last week that we'll suddenly discover new and urgent threats behind Saddam's kimono. And so it is.
Saddam (just as he was ten years ago) is shopping for aluminum centrifuge tubes. [Actually very good news, if true ... it means he's years away from homegrown nukes, and his outsource attempts haven't panned out. OTOH, it could be a head-fake.]How is it we have just enough intel to confirm Saddam's imminent threats, and enough to forecast the course of history post-Saddam ... but not enough intel to neutralize these threats more artfully? Sure, it's technically possible. Is it likely?
Bush43's "Kitchen Cabinet" (Perle, Safire, Woolsey, et al) promises the people of Iraq are waiting for liberation. We put Saddam on the run, they'll rise up, Declare Independence, convene a Continental Congreff, and get right to work on a Conftitution. Sounds good, but this rests on exactly the same intelligence assessment of internal dissent that led Bush43 to break off contact with Saddam's defeated forces. Back then, we were confident Saddam would be overthrown in short order. Now, we're confident nation-building will be a piece of cake.
Same data, same interpretation ... only back then the conclusion read "Don't go to Baghdad", and now it says "Go to Baghdad".
Now every fiber in the intelligence web is straining to produce the smoking gun, under threat of being trapped in a windowless room with Paul Wolfowitz. [As I check the background of casus belli nominees, the particulars of People v. Saddam get thinner and more contrived. Even the old reliable "Saddam gassed his own people" is questionable. More later.]
[This just in -- Tuesday's WaPo reports "the Bush administration has for now dropped what had been one of the central arguments ... Iraq's links to al Qaeda ... CIA has yet to find convincing evidence despite having combed its files and redoubled its efforts ...". The administration isn't giving up the search for this Holy Grail, just beating a tactical retreat.]
The scariest of the kitchen cabinet may be Woolsey. I see him on the tube, firm in his conclusions and the evidence be damned ... shrugging off all red flags, seizing on the most far-fetched rumors, inflating them to Godzilla proportions, and riding them around in circles, hanging on for dear life. Complain all you want about Chomsky, but Woolsey is out there in crackpot territory ... and this guy was our Director of Central Intelligence! Scary. Very scary.
But it's a scary world ... and we're not the half of it.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
--- Which is the Safe Play? ---Remarkable. Per this 8/29/02 ABC News Poll, 40% of US adults think it "would create a greater risk of further terrorism to this country -- if the United States DOES take military action against Iraq" (against 47% who believe inaction is riskier).
It's the correct answer -- "um, we're not sure, ask again later" -- but as a polling result it doesn't sound right. Maybe a small or biased (summer vacation) sample. Maybe half the folks misunderstood the question. Or maybe, out of necessity, We the People are evolving more nuanced views of issues we'd rather not even have views of.
Tuesday, September 03, 2002
--- Emerging Consensus: Plan Iraq "wouldn't be prudent" ---A remarkable consensus is emerging outside the inner circle. Though every notional scouting party shies away at a different bullet-point, they're all on the same page -- Plan Iraq (per Dana Carvey's classic tagline) wouldn't be prudent. The unifying theme is a vital piece of business neglected in the planning process.
Herewith, remedial exercise in contingency analysis. Conclusion: Preemptive regime change, in most plausible sequels, parries a threat that would not have come to fruition, and/or creates more hazards than it extinguishes. (Reviewers with professional or Constitutional responsibilities will reprise the exercise in far greater depth and detail.)
Examine the Standard Case for regime change by territorial conquest:
(1) Saddam Hussein's Iraq is developing potent Weapons of Mass Destruction (notably, nukes and delivery systems).
(2) When Saddam has WMD, he will damage the US ... either directly, or by extortion, or acting against US interests (notably Israel), or by equipping third parties (notably, Islamic terrorist networks).
(3) Forcible regime change in Iraq will prevent this damage.
Simple, isn't it? Either invade Iraq, or get blow'd up. Simple and wrong, diving headlong into the first gaping elementary pitfall.
Plan Iraq takes us merrily down the path of lowest-resolution analysis. We enter a forest of possibilities, fixate on the most prominent decision tree (maybe not the biggest in the forest, just the biggest in the immediate foreground), climb the thickest branch, and so on to whatever fruit lies at the tip.
Human nature is not adept at embracing contradictory possibilities. The discomfort of cognitive dissonance pushes us to trust all our weight to the thickest branch ... to force an issue even where cost exceeds gain ... and to choose counterfeit certitude over realistic perplexity. Social process reinforces this bias.
Skeptics, try opening an argument with a hypothetical. "Wait, that's not right, or is it?" ... "How does he know that?" ... "Get to the point!" ... "How can he even suggest such a thing?" ... "Aha! He's contradicted himself!" ... "If it's not true, why even bring it up?".Thus public debate is commonly framed as if everything important is knowable -- if only we squint hard enough into the fog, and speak firmly enough to whatever awaits beyond the darkened doorway.
Still, many practical disciplines -- portfolio analysis, sports and games, scientific inference, the art of war, the conduct of history itself -- demand we overcome this urge, and cultivate tools and methods to deal with ensembles of unknowns. Let's have at it!
We'll make another pass at higher resolution, cataloging some of the thinner branches. [Our bundle of kindling here is limited to propositions whose absolute probability is arguably 1% or better, or whose annual probability density is at least 1%. Bear in mind this is an illustration, not an comprehensive analysis.]
"(1) Saddam is developing potent WMD."
This seems highly probable, but not certain. Informed sources disagree. Have we missed any salient possibilities?
(1a) Saddam was developing WMD, but has abandoned the program.
(1b) Saddam's WMD program is a deliberate bluff.
(1c) Saddam is developing strategically insignificant WMD (WWI-vintage mustard gas, poorly-dispersed anthrax, etc.).
(1d) Saddam is developing impractical WMD using technically incompetent designs.
(1e) Saddam is developing potent WMD susceptible to undisclosed US countermeasures.
(1f) Saddam's WMD program is susceptible to intelligence, and thus amenable to "editing" with finer-tipped policy instruments.
(1g) Saddam's WMD program is impenetrable in research mode, but at strategic scale becomes susceptible to intelligence.
(1h) Saddam is procuring/deploying WMD by means other than Iraqi R&D on Iraqi territory.
(1i) Saddam is a year or more away from strategic WMD capability. (If the timeline were much shorter -- and we really bought the Standard Case -- we wouldn't invade ... we'd launch).
Under contingency (1i), informed consensus centers on a three-year development horizon. And as said the Fool who avoided the gallows by offering to teach his King's horse to talk, "Much can happen in a year ... the King may die ... or the horse may die ... or I may die ... or ... the horse may talk!". Each passing year of time-to-completion turns loose a stampede of Markovian horses of a different color.
(1i) Before Saddam completes his WMD program ...
(1i1) Regime change occurs via Saddam's death by natural causes. Allowing for high-risk, high-stress lifestyle, high quality medical care, heart-healthy diet, back trouble, previous hardships, etc., we might guesstimate the probability density of this "state transition" at 3% this year, increasing rapidly with each year of attained age. This event spawns its own tree of contingencies -- not all to the good.Under these assumptions, cumulative odds are less than 50/50 that Saddam remains in power and completes WMD development ... even assuming that is his current intention, and that his current designs are feasible, and that US rules out later, better-informed interventions.
Moving on, let's feather out the second major premise:
"(2) When Saddam gets WMD, he will use them effectively against US interests."
Many observers have doubts on this one, but for sake of argument we suppose this is the weightiest branch. Any possibilities overlooked?
(2a) Saddam develops WMD (nukes, ICBMs) and is detected testing them, at which point US responds massively against the regime, or decisively against key facilities, perhaps enlisting a broader coalition.
(2b) Saddam mounts untested nukes on untested ICBM's and launches; these prove ineffective; US responds massively.
(2c) Saddam launches inadequately tested WMD; they are less than fully effective; US responds massively.
(2d) Saddam launches WMD; US intelligence and/or technical countermeasures mitigate damage; US responds massively.
(2e) Saddam develops WMD, but hesitates ... "amassing" them, or awaiting some pretext, provocation or opportunity, or using them as bargaining chips, or pursuing some other "irrational" strategic agenda. Here again most of the delay/decay contingencies under (1i) apply.
(2f) Saddam develops WMD, but changes his mind about using them. (He's crazy, isn't he?)
(2g) Saddam develops WMD, but targets them against another adversary. (He's crazy enough ... or somebody is crazy enough to pick a fight with him.)
(2h) Saddam is not suicidal after all. He covets WMD for the same reason everybody else does -- deterrence.
(2i) Saddam is not suicidal after all. He develops WMD, but is deterred by the threat of US reprisals.
(2j) Saddam is suicidal, but subordinates who are not suicidal countermand or sabotage the launch sequence. (Don't laugh ... it worked with Nixon.)
The third leg of our Standard Case has received more attention elsewhere.
"(3) US can preempt Saddam's WMD threat by forcing regime change."
Suppose -- purely for analytical convenience -- that regime removal proceeds spotlessly. US goes through the military motions, and Saddam vacates without a shot fired in anger. The itemized inventory of sequels still explodes exponentially ... here's a generic summary.
US forces are left holding a stateless domain roughly the size and cultural complexity of California, in a neighborhood of unstable regimes and unresolved territorial disputes. The neighbors already hated us for prioritizing Iraq ahead of Palestine, and for (as they see it) starving Iraqi children. Now they resent us as a territorial menace, a defiler, and a price-cutter in the petroleum markets.
The locals despise us and our parade of carpetbagging puppets. Some of our puppets are merely ambitious, others have covert agendas (not all the same agenda). There is no tradition of democracy. An impoverished civilian population includes large non-integrated ethnic factions (Kurds, for instance, who enjoy more autonomy under the current stalemate than ever in modern history) ... and an overbuilt military establishment, now disarmed, displaced and distrusted. Concealed WMD labs still exist, but key employees are busy relocating to Syria, Iran, and points beyond. Islamic radical factions (repressed by Saddam) suddenly become hyperactive ... sure, it's a rebuilding year, but recruiting is excellent.
The holding action and "nation building" efforts absorb large portions of our military and intelligence assets, subject us to an array of ticklish bilateral diplomatic constraints, and impose a drag on our economy ... maybe for decades, certainly for years. And "much can happen in a year".
(3a) Things can happen in New Iraq, mostly because of our presence.
(3b) Things can happen in the neighborhood, either because of or in spite of our presence.
(3c) Things can happen elsewhere, in the ordinary course of geopolitics -- political, military, diplomatic, technological, cultural, natural, demographic and economic developments that would warrant serious consideration of US intervention.
(3d) Things can happen outside the ordinary course of events, by the usual knock-on effects of a major military event.
(3e) Things can happen outside the ordinary course of events, because we ripped out the course markers when we gave preemption our stamp of approval.
(3f) Things can happen outside the ordinary course of events ... precisely because we have tied up assets, expended reserves, foreclosed options and made deals with devils.
Let's focus on military happenings. (Some of our target audience is unconvinced any other kind really counts.) How often is the US called upon to project force?
Since inception, US has found occasion for a venture under arms every seven years or so ... an event density of about 0.15 per year ... but most of history was made before the shrinking globe put us all at each others' doorsteps. On today's faster, denser playing surface, a call to arms is heard perhaps every two or three years ... say 0.40 events per annum.A more refined (and more alarming) analysis would consider the scope and duration of entanglements, potential overlap, contagion and opportunism, and the consequences of non-response. If you command a hostile force -- or even a rival force -- wouldn't you want US to invade Iraq? If you are neutral or friendly -- even a declared ally -- wouldn't an aggressively interventionist US merit the #1 or #2 spot on your roster of war-game adversaries?
Speaking of contingencies ... maybe (shades of Vietnam) the stated case for Plan Iraq is not the real case. Maybe there's a plot twist or intelligence report too unsettling to share with the public ... or the Security Council, or NATO, or former Secretaries of State, or Congress.
Maybe the real motivation is some fancied bonus payoff. A twenty-one-cushion bank shot ending with secular democracy from Morocco to Malaysia? Black Gold, the plunder of conquest? Or "winning by intimidation" -- the notion (shades of Vietnam, again) that after exercising decisive strength here, we'll only have to cock an eyebrow to win the next showdown?
Or maybe (shades again, in spades) we've drawn a line in the sand, and we know it was a dumb idea, but we don't know how to back off without signaling "weakness"?
In the next half-century on a planet much like ours, but without Saddam or al Qaeda, we might reasonably expect unscripted use of WMD. Weapons of Precise Destruction could be even more disruptive. The US makes an attractive target. The Imperial US makes an even more attractive target. The next nuclear event -- by anybody, against anybody -- takes us into unknown territory ... a new world context, where Saddam might likely as not end up on our side of the table!
Against this backdrop, there is a finite chance that Plan Iraq prevents an event that would have damaged US interests (and a even smaller chance that Plan Iraq is the most efficient means to this end). In most sequels, however, we wish we'd kept our powder dry, after paying full price to spin the wheel whether the posted payoff was real or imaginary.
And "full price" means accelerating the kinetics all over our geopolitical laboratory. In other words, Plan Iraq maneuvers US into a less responsive posture in a more eventful world. This is imprudent leadership of the first magnitude ... the moral equivalent of tipping over the chessboard when we're a piece or two ahead.