Some time ago, Matt Yglesias commented on what he called "The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," that is, the idea that the only limit to what we can accompliosh is the strength of our wills.
Mark Steyn appears to be following that line of reasoning in his latest article, "World is watching as Iraq war tests U.S. mettle."
The essential theme is that directly after September 11, we got countries like Russia and Pakistan to give us assistance in fighting the Taliban even though it was not in their interests to do so because we had the determination to use our power to get our way. In other words, we were willing to threaten enough to scare them into complying. The reason why things are not going so well in the Middle East now is then, by implication, because we have lost that will.
All well and good, but what, I must ask, does Steyn think we need to do differently? He doesn't mention a solution, although the obvious implication is that we ought to threaten some action against anyone who opposes us.
He then goes on to criticize those who oppose this war for wanting to "cut and run," but he doesn't really give us any alternative other than (presumably) continuing on the way we have been. Unless, perhaps, he thinks we will win if we are "scarier."
Before going on to analyze the rest of the piece, let's analyze the idea that our force of will is what got us so much cooperation in 2001 and is the only thing lacking now.
What's the difference between September 2001 and now? It's not that anyone "liked" America or that, as the Democrats like to suggest, the country had the world's "sympathy." Pakistani generals and the Kremlin don't cave to your demands because they "sympathize."
But that misses the point. The question isn't whether or not Russia and Pakistan sympathize with us, but whether or not the rest of the world does to the extent that they stand behind us. Russia can afford to say "no" to the U.S., particularly if most of the rest of the developed world is also saying "no." It cannot afford to say "no" to the U.S. and Europe. In the latter case, Russia runs the risk of alienating the world, which could put it in a bind whenever trade negotiations or the like come up. In the former case, Russia will only alienate the U.S., and maybe not even that, because if we press the issue, we may be the ones finding ourselves alienated. We no longer have the support of the rest of the world to use as leverage against those who do not cooperate with us.
They go along because you've succeeded in impressing upon them that they've no choice. Musharraf and Co. weren't scared by America's power but by the fact that America, in the rubble of 9/11, had belatedly found the will to use that power.
Yes, but largely because we knew that September 11 gave us a window to do so without sanction. If we had tried the same thing a year earlier, there would have been serious international consequences for us.
Then Steyn goes crazy:
For example, within days it had secured agreement with the Russians on using military bases in former Soviet Central Asia for intervention in Afghanistan. That, too, must have been quite a phone call.
While this idea may apply to Musharraf, the idea that Putin was afriad that we would use our might against him is ridiculous. Russia has enough nukes to blow up the world. It doesn't do things because it is scared of our military might. Steyn is an idiot if he thinks that we threatened military action against Russia.
Moscow surely knew that any successful Afghan expedition would only cast their own failures there in an even worse light -- especially if the Americans did it out of the Russians' old bases. And yet it happened.
At this point, Steyn makes a big assumption - that we have a special ingredient that would make us more able to contain Afghanistan than the old USSR, and that Russia was worried that we would show them up in Afghanistan. In reality, they knew better than anyone how unlikely we were to establish anything in Afghanistan, or to accomplish much more than the overthrow of a particular regime we didn't like. If anything, this was a chance to show the world that no one can control Afghanistan, and thus eliminate the shame of the USSR loss in that country.
Next, Steyn starts criticizing Democrats for "wanting us to lose the war." That is, of course, a ridiculous way to phrase the issue. What Steyn is saying is that if we leave Iraq, we will have lost, so wanting us to leave is to want us to lose.
But that assumes that there is a way to win. Those who want us to leave believe that we have already lost, or at least cannot accomplish anythign more by staying. Discretion is the better part of valor, and there is nothing unpatriotic about wanting to cut our losses.
Of Australian politicians, he says:
Unlike Bush and Blair, they've succeeded in making the issue not whether the nation should have gone to war but whether the nation should lose the war.
But neither is the real question. The real question is can we win this war, and if so, how?
Finally, he misinterprets this entirely:
to begin something and be unable to stick with it to the finish is far more damaging to your reputation than if you'd never begun it in the first place.
Most people would see that as a caution against taking on ambitious projects like democratizing the Middle East. Neocons like Steyn, however, see it as an excuse to keep doubling down whenever you made a bad decision, the way a compulsive gambler keeps going for that one big jackpot that will set him right.
The fact of the matter is, that if beginning a project and not finishing it is worse than not beginning it, then it is also true that the longer you spend on the project, the worse not finishing it will be. "Cutting and running" in five years will be a lot worse than doing it today. Is Mark confident enough that we will be able to win that he will risk making an eventual defeat that much worse?
That is all.