Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The Strength of the Weak
In the modern day a different chemistry is at work in the power relationships of modern states. Superpowers have believed, perhaps on thinking dating back to the second world war, that, while economic power wins influence, real power is acquired through the accumulation of superior armaments, or 'the barrel of a gun' as Mao put it. The Soviet Union discovered. to its chagrin, in the Hindu Kush, that this is not so; the Americans, in Vietnam, the same hard lesson. But somehow, the neo-cons advising Bush chose to forget/ignore these lessons and believed their big military stick would wield 'shock and awe' which would deliver Nixon's 'hearts and minds.'
But, the neo-cons seemed not to appreciate how fundamentally the world has changed since 1945. Superpower democracies maybe able to outspend the world several times over in defence terms but, in its execution, their power is grievously limited by two factors: their will to conquer is seldom as intense as their lightly armed enemies is to resist; and moreover, while such enemies can afford to bleed as much as they choose, a democracy is circumscribed by a polity which unsurprisingly takes exception to seeing the flower of its youth arriving home in bodybags. What power the superpower wields is therefore strictly limited and is operative usually only for a short time. For example, in the case of Iraq, US-UK had only a small window of time in which to win the battles and consolidate their conquest. They achieved the first but bungled the second and very soon the pendulum of advantage had swung away from the high-tech leviathan towards the militia men armed with AK 47s and an astonishing flair for savagery. That Nixonian equation was always suspect; now it is surely totally inoperative.
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