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Two and a half wars

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 18 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday a North Korean nuclear test would be a very provocative act and the United States would have to assess its options should it be carried out.

Rice’s warning, at a news conference in Cairo, reflected widespread concern within the Bush administration. She stressed, however, that a North Korean test was an issue for the neighborhood and not just for the United States.

It would be a very provocative act, she said. Still, she said, they have not yet done it.

Rice did not elaborate on the options she said the United States would consider if North Korea followed through on it threat.

— Ann Gearan, Forbes.com (2006-10-03): U.S.: N. Korea Nuclear Test Unacceptable

Now, I reject, root and branch, the whole terror-empire geopolitics that are so proudly endorsed by both the ruling Right and the Cold War liberals who dominate the Loyal Opposition. But suppose that you take those ideas on their own terms for a second. The strategic question that Rice’s blustering raises is this. Even granting the legitimacy of the enterprise, given the way the United States is hopelessly mired in ever-worsening civil wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention whatever the endgame for the increasingly bellicose diplomatic confrontation with Iran may be, just what options does the United States realistically have left at this point?

Everything has limits, even global superpowers. The War Party, especially in its more bellicose factions, fantasizes that the United States has the muscle, resources, know-how, and will to sustain itself as the head of a geopolitical power structure which amounts to world empire in everything but name; and it is precisely these people who are most fond of passing themselves off as hard-nosed policy realists against the saccharine dreams of hippies, pacifist zealots, moonbats, the terminally clueless, and countless other denizens of whatever La-La Land they imagine you have to be from to possibly have doubts about the latest march to war. But they are wrong, dead wrong, and their pose is growing more evidently absurd every day. Unfortunately, we, not they, will be forced to deal with the human consequences of the colossal disasters they are pulling us into.

4 replies to Two and a half wars Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Sergio Méndez


    There is no discussion about your point concerning the war party and its war fantasies. But I wonder, anyways, what will be a proper libertarian-anarchist way to counter the treat of totalitarian regimen like North Korea? The same can be said with Iran. As much as I think, I really find hard to think what to do in this cases.

  2. Rad Geek


    Well, resisting tyrannical or predatory regimes is a hard problem — not just for anarchism, but for any political doctrine at all. (I mean, look at the job that the current regime in Washington is doing.) I don’t have many general answers (and I’m inclined to doubt that there is any kind of one-size-fits-all solution).

    That said, I’m not sure which threats you have in mind to counter. The North Korean regime is appalling but I think it’s quite likely that it would pose very little military threat to anyone outside its immediate neighborhood (its own citizens, and South Korea and Japan, mainly) if not for the United States’ efforts to bestride the narrow world like a collosus. So as far as countering threats to the U.S. from remote tyrannies and terror-states, I think that most of the work will be done simply by withdrawing the U.S. military-political apparatus from its occupation of the world at large.

    As far as what people who are in the neighborhood should do (including the people under the DPRK’s boots), well, I don’t know. There are lots of ways of organizing bottom-up, grassroots defense without putting together a centralized standing army — citizen militias, guerrilla cells, mass nonviolent resistance, conspiracies for targeted assassination, etc. I have no idea which would work best, or if any would work at all, in a given set of circumstances. But one of the main things is to recognize that the problem you’re dealing with becomes very different, and probbly more tractable, if you look at it in terms of a bunch of people each trying to fend off intruders from their own neighborhood or their own town, rather than a big centralized State trying to defend their borders and their National Interests and so on and so forth. The latter needs a big centralized army to realistically manage; but I don’t know that the former does.

  3. labyrus

    Realistically, Rad Geek, the US still has a lot of options. They aren’t anywhere near total war. Rationing, Drafts, and forced conversion of civilian into military infrastructure hasn’t happened yet, but I’m not entirely convinced that it won’t.

    A WWII-style state-directed military economy may well be just what the party of power wants.

  4. Rad Geek


    It’s certainly true that the U.S. government could greatly expand its capacity for global war over the short term if the ruling faction is willing to implement a radical expansion of the war machine. My point has to do with what they’re capable of under present conditions and their likely capacities for the near future. The official military doctrine for many years has been that the United States should be capable of fighting two and a half wars around the world at the same time with the resources that it has, and the fact of the matter is that Clinton-era scale-backs in the size of the military make it unlikely that even that is realistic. (Which I think the situation on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan is demonstrating.) A fundamental change to the situation, even if politically feasible, would take time to implement. Certainly any regime that the U.S. diplomatic apparat tries to intimidate at the moment has every reason to see the veiled threats of military action as little more than empty bluster.

    I think that moves toward War Communism are certainly possible, and that the leading factions of the War Party wouldn’t have any scruples against them. Some would even actively desire it. But whether it’s politically feasible is another question. I’m hardly ruling the possibility out, and I think any intelligent effort to resist the War Party needs to take the possibility seriously. But I don’t think it would be easily or quickly accomplished, either. In any case if the hawks want to bluster and sputter about North Korea or Iran or whatever, then their fantasies are going to require some real, fundamental changes to the structure of the war machine to fulfill, and we ought to hold them to spelling out just what it is that they are proposing.

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