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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Myth of American Power

A thought I've had recently, and I'm fairly sure I've commented on this before but it's something I want to emphasise: the U.S. has very little actual power to influence the course of events in other countries by means of military intervention. That might seem to some to be a radical statement, but the truth is that without major orchestration on the part of a good portion of the world (a-la World War II), history can't be changed by interventions of the type we're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq. It can be delayed, and I think we're seeing that most sharply in Afghanistan where the Taliban are slowly retaking the country, but ultimately it can't be moved out of its course.

Think of the mathematical concept of limits. A "limit" is an approximation of what the output of a function will look like when analyzed over a set (which can be finite or infinite) of input values. In some cases functions have well-defined limits, in others there is no limit (i.e. the numbers keep growing and growing) or the limit could be zero. To me, history is a function that looks chaotic when analyzed up-close or over a "finite" period of time, but when you consider much larger chunks of time the chaos averages itself out. Right now, the U.S. presence in Iraq is one of these chaotic finite chunks of history. But over the long-term, the gentle and subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) influence of local politics, not U.S. military power, will determine the course of its history. I don't know enough about Iraq's history to say what the "limit" of that function is, but I do know that regardless of how much military effort we put into it, Iraq will still largely be the same country after we leave.

This has always been the case, although again and again various administrations have failed to see that their military actions don't really affect the politics at work in a country. Russia is largely the same country now under Putin that it was under Communism, there are just different names and different political ideals obscuring that fact somewhat. Latin America and Africa contain numerous examples of countries where U.S. military aid or intervention did little to change local politics, and after the dust settled they continued on in their course.

I believe people can change history, but it can't be done through military intervention. Rather, local politics must take precedence and that's the only viable framework for real change. How Al-Maliki is doing politically is vastly more important to the stability and future of Iraq than our "surge". It is also the reason why I support a full withdrawl of U.S. troops as soon as possible. The political and real-world damage caused by their presence greatly outweighs the transitory benefits of the occupation. And, in the end, it won't matter much. Once we withdraw, the local political process can come to the fore. It may be messy, but allowing Iraq to pursue its own political history without military influence is a far better option then delaying the inevitable and causing undue bloodshed in the process. And we as a country would do well to understand the very real limits on the effectiveness of military power to affect political change.

Andrew 12:10 AM : |


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