Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The US Military is Not the Death Star

Matthew Yglesias finds a nice analogy to explain how we ended up in Iraq -- Star Wars. The real reason we went to Iraq was "shock and awe." We were supposed to show how powerful we were and scare other countries into behaving. The US Military was supposed to play the role of the Death Star.

The key Star Wars clip:
Tarkin: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

Tagge: But that's impossible. How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

Tarkin: The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.
Yglesias's main argument:
What Tarkin's talking about here is a leading power -- the Empire -- trying to do away with the former constitutional order ("the last remnants of the Old Republic") in order to create a hegemonic one (Palpatine Unbound, as it were). Tagge is skeptical that this will work -- the political processes may be cumbersome, but they're actually necessary to maintain the system's stability. It would actually be even more cumbersome for the center to be constantly trying to impose its will on everyone without the assistance of the bureaucracy. Tarkin's counterproposal is that the development of the Death Star has changed the situation -- use it once on Alderaan to make an example of them, and in the future fear will keep the local systems in line.

And I think it's fairly clear that something of this sort was motivating the Bush administration in 2002-2003. The key decisionmakers took the view that technological developments (the "revolution in military affairs") had radically enhanced America's ability to overthrow foreign governments. Rather than simply keep this power in our back pocket for use when circumstances clearly warranted it (as in Afghanistan) there was a palpable desire to make an example out of Iraq to send a message.
Of course, the potential logical flaw in this plan was immediately pointed out by Princess Leia:
The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.
When you try to bully people around, you inevitably piss them off, and more people choose to fight back. And, today, more so than in the past, one needn't have a big army to fight back. Individuals or small groups can fight back on their own through terrorist actions. How the war hawks didn't put this basic intuition together is beyond me.

As I've argued before, the best way I can see to fight terrorism is to focus on reducing demand not supply.

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