Monday, April 14, 2008

Past performance is no indication of future returns

Pat Buchanan's statement that there is a 'fifty-fifty chance we bomb Iran by fall' is possibly but not definitely an overstatement. Certainly Buchanan is not a cheer leader for the neo-con vision of perpetual war, oderint dum metuant.

The problem with such notions is that the recent US experience of picking fights with fourth (Iraq) or fifth (Serbia) rank military powers is probably not a good guide to decision making when facing a regional superpower such as Iran. Moreover, there is a huge difference between making such an attack when the army has no other active conflict (Serbia), a relatively small conflict that the administration is uninterested in (i.e. abandoning the hunt for Bin Laden to attack Saddam) and beginning a third full scale war while on the brink of defeat in two more.

This is how great empires collapse. Napoleon and Hitler just had to attack Russia before securing the occupation of Western Europe. The Roman Republic collapsed in the aftermath of the conquest of Gaul and the empire might well have collapsed under Augustus had he not had the good sense to cease further expansion north of the Rhine.

Before the invasion of Iraq I predicted that the occupation would follow the pattern of the British occupation in the 30s: continuous civil unrest and 50,000 civilian casualties. If you adjust for the fact that the Iraqi population is roughly ten times larger today that prediction looks fairly accurate.

If the US does attack Iran we will get the answer to a question that the Chinese have been much interested in recent years: Are their missiles good enough to sink a US capital ship? They already know that they can take out smaller craft thanks to the Hezbollah attack on an Israeli frigate. If the answer is yes the supercarrier is obsolete and so is the US claim to be a superpower.

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