free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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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.


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.

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.
Monday, March 17, 2003

--- Choice of Evils ---

Plan Iraq had been pressed to the extent that there is no benign alternative. On every side there is the prospect of manifest harm to US principles and interests. What are we up against?

Suppose US refrains from invading Iraq at this point.
Emboldened, Saddam may resist inspection. Saddam may underestimate US/allied resolve, with serious consequences in future encounters. Other international actors may miscalculate likewise, with dire consequences.

Saddam's ruthless regime stays in power.

In domestic politics, a "Who lost Iraq?" faction emerges to blame so-called "appeasers" for every subsequent misfortune.
Suppose we invade Iraq, against the express or implied will of the Security Council.
US maintains on the order of 100,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, taking sporadic casualties ... sometimes in triple digits. The burden is aggravated by developments outside the dotted lines -- downstream regional conflicts (whether incidental or deliberate), loss of allies, demise of peacekeeping institutions, opportunistic thrusts by unrelated actors out-of-region. As a result the familiar all-volunteer, reserve-heavy US force structure becomes unsustainable.

Containment of unchecked US power becomes a widely shared concern. China, France, Russia and others gain stature (and economic clout) as preferred strategic partners and defense vendors. US loses basing rights, overflight privileges and other military concessions (in nearly 130 nations at present). US air power, sea power and global reach are compromised.

US-friendly factions lose influence everywhere. Noncommitted states become overtly anti-American. Anti-US alliances develop. Terrorists win new state sponsors. US (predictably) resorts to 1960's-style regime puppeteering (with predictable blowback). Military factions gain influence, some develop into dictatorships, and some of those become Saddam clones.

With the US isolated, Israel is isolated by proxy. Postwar domestic reaction and overextended defense programs may make US an ally in name only.

In Iraq's democracy after Saddam, US is the all-purpose scapegoat. Organized anti-US factions are major (if not dominant) political forces. International terrorist habitat improves by orders of magnitude, even under US military governance.

Immediate reactive terrorist acts may occur, but should not be chalked up against the war. Most will be works-in-progress moved up on the calendar (with corresponding reduction in near-future deliveries). Long term prospects are harder to assess, but the incidence of global terrorism increases in most variations.

International intelligence and law enforcement relationships are compromised. Transparent political gamesmanship creates fertile ground for a new generation of high-clearance turncoats like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

Identifiable US brands, US-based multinationals, US tourism are disadvantaged in global markets. Favorable exchange rates and foreign capital inflows -- both premised on positive US economic outlook -- are reversed. Multilateral trade declines. World economic output declines. Military budgets absorb larger fractions of remaining output.

[Most of the consequences above are at the optimistic end of the scale. Pessimistic scenarios include pandemic plague and WW III. The mid-scale portfolio would include a Chinese embassy bombing, extended regional warfare, major disruption of oil supplies, small-scale nuclear exchange, immediate proliferation of nukes to radical Islamic states.]

In light of best current information (and misinformation), it's possible no WMD caches exist. [Call it 3 chances in 10.] This would be more than embarrassing.
Either way, Plan Iraq was destined to estrange Americans from each other, bitterly, perhaps violently, in ways that will persist after all of us are gone.

Either way, a large fraction of US citizens -- maybe an overwhelming majority, maybe a permanently embattled minority -- will eventually learn they've been driven warward (in Tom Friedman's words) "on the wings of a lie".

Suppose we had waited.
The situation would have changed markedly when and if a single US "solid intelligence" lead had ever panned out on the ground.

The situation would have changed measurably when and if inspectors met increased resistance.

The situation would have changed markedly when gamma ray surveys confirmed or disconfirmed presence of a nuke program.

The situation would have changed (perhaps not favorably) if US revealed an explicit post-Saddam plan of governance.

The situation would have changed if US conveyed a more disciplined, less bloodthirsty impression to its diplomatic peers.
The war now cranks on of its own momentum ... as large projects are wont to when interim findings separate The Plan from its reasons for being.