January, 2003

Fruits of Thought

New Year's Resolution

The president has unveiled his new economic plan, and the Democrats tried to upstage him by coming out a day early with one of their own. There is no better illustration of how 9/11 changed the world than how unimportant this battle over economic policy seems to be.

The test of our political leadership no longer lies in how well they conduct this kind of Kabuki opera over domestic policy. We now stand at a precipice, and our future will be determined by how the international situation is dealt with.

Following World War II, the world came to be divided between the two great power blocks – the U.S. on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. Rogue states around the world fell into line, some because they needed the protection of a great power, others because they were bought off with aid or weapons. In the end, although the world was a dangerous place, the rogue states were limited in their actions by the tolerance of their great power sponsors.

After the collapse of communism and the splintering of the Soviet Union, the world stepped safely back from Armageddon. But, with the absence of restraint on the rogue nations from the great powers, the world has now become unstable.

The detritus of communism, most notably North Korea, shows the problem clearly. Their ideology is a joke, their economic system impoverishing, their political system a throwback to monarchy. They have nothing to offer their own people or the world. So they make trouble to extort aid.

January 27th is the crucial date in the New Year. That is the date on which the head of the U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, must report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq’s compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441.

The inspection effort is commonly misunderstood. It is not the responsibility of the inspectors to catch Iraq in possession of weapons of mass destruction. It is virtually impossible to find anything hidden in such a large country with a few inspectors. Instead, the inspectors are there to monitor Iraq’s own efforts to destroy its weapons.

The most likely course for 2003 is that Hans Blix will declare Iraq to not be in compliance with Resolution 1441, and the United States, with our allies, will move against Iraq with military action. The U.S. will do most of the fighting. It is unlikely, however, that we will not have the support of many allies, including many neighboring nations.

In the months preceding the war, many nations have claimed they won’t be part of it, etc., but mostly this is a matter of very weak countries not wanting to have to deal with Saddam if the U.S. doesn’t follow through. Once it is clear that Iraq will be liberated, nations will want to have a say in the post-Saddam Iraq, and they will join the coalition to gain a seat at the table.

We will win the war in Iraq. There is a problem, though. Although Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has recently stated that we have more than enough military assets to fight both North Korea and Iraq at the same time, if he means without the use of nuclear weapons, he is almost certainly not correct.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, we have significantly reduced the sheer size of our military. Even just since the ending of the Gulf War, we’ve seen our military shrink. We once talked of building a 600-ship navy and now can’t count half that number. At the time of the Gulf War, we had 18 Army combat divisions – today just 10. Almost half our air wings have been retired. In fact, if we are busy in Iraq, and North Korea uses that time as a moment to invade South Korea, we will be short on all the assets we need to defeat the North Koreans.

And, the Iraqi war will have an aftermath as well. One of the lessons of 9/11 is that we cannot be indifferent to what is going on in countries that we really don’t have much interest in. Afghanistan is as unimportant to the U.S. as one can imagine. But if we leave these nations to their own devices, they become breeding grounds for terrorism.

So after we get rid of Saddam and clean out the weapons development programs, we then have the really hard work ahead of us: Helping to build a democratic, capitalistic state in Iraq in which people will have a real stake in peace.

It is a very heavy burden for us to carry, but it is the only way. We must tie the world together with trade and travel, building institutions that give people a voice so they won’t be quick to commit their sons to military action.

There is some good news. It is unlikely that hordes of Chinese soldiers will join North Korea in any military adventure. Although China is not a democracy, the prosperity of many Chinese now depends on free access to markets in the west, access that would surely close if China supported North Korea.

Iraq was always the most educated, most secular, and most middle-class of the Arab states. There is no more likely place to believe that a commercial republic could be established in the Arab world.

Year 2003 begins with us a sobered nation. We were bloodied, but not bowed by 9/11 and as we look around we realize the world is still a very dangerous place and the hopes for a post-communist “peace dividend” must be deferred.

We should not regret our current state. To each generation is given another task, and this is ours. If we face it with courage and strength, we can leave our children a better world. That’s quite a resolution for any New Year’s Day.  pb