Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mistaking Life for a Crisis

Iran's nuclear ambitions are a problem that we don't have much time to solve. And this includes the possibility that Iran will go nuclear in months or simply beyond President Bush's term. If this president won't stop Iran, just who on the horizon will do the job?

Opponents of dealing with Iran over their nuclear plans sometimes argue that Iran wouldn't be a problem if we hadn't invaded Iraq and created a vacuum that Iran threatens to fill. Saddam, they argue, contained Iran. It is our own damn fault if Iran is the major threat now. Whenver our military actions fail to completely solve our problems, the complaint arises that we don't have a plan and that we are waging war incompetently.

There is even a technical term for this concept: "blowback."

This article is a prime example of this thinking:

The U.S. military has sent to Iraq a five-person team of dedicated skeptics, known in military jargon as a "red team." In a war known for its missteps and unanticipated results, the team will be assigned to review, and question, military operations. It will attempt to predict how enemies will react to various missions and what the unintended consequences might be.

Such teams have been used on an ad-hoc basis to critique specific battle plans. But this team is the first to work full time as devil's advocates, and is the first headed by officers trained as designated skeptics by Ft. Leavenworth's University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies.

Red teams try to predict how the enemy, known as "red" in military-speak, will react to an American operation.

The writer sees that we are working to anticipate enemy thinking. The writer sees that there have been misssteps and unanticipated results in the Iraq War. The writer sees that these two items are unique to Iraq. If only we could have a better plan--aided by a red team--we'd stop these missteps and unanticipated results.

There is also a technical term of art for this line of thinking. It is "stupid."

By this line of thinking, the destruction of Hitler's Nazi Germany was the largest military blunder in our history. After all, we removed a powerful bulwark against Soviet communism. Where once Hitler had the Soviets on the ropes on the Volga River in 1942, by 1945 the Soviets had penetrated the vacuum of the defeat of the Third Reich to reach the Oder River and expand Soviet communism into the heart of central Europe where we were then tied down for 45 years in an effort to keep the Soviets from making it all the way to the English Channel.

This is what life is. There are no silver bullets that let us live happily ever after with lions lying down with lambs in perfect harmony while sharing a Coke. History is a series of problems that have to be overcome. You are doing well if you manage to knock down one problem before a new one arises. And when the problem is being addressed by that very blunt instrument of military force, the chance of fine tuning the response to a problem is reduced considerably (and consider these problems and solutions when nobody is shooting--tip to Mad Minerva).

It is good that we are sending a Red Team to help in Iraq. It is a sign that we wish to wage better a war that is already notable for how well we are waging it and not how poorly we are waging it. It is not a sign that we are belatedly trying to get our act together.

History does not end. To complain that life is not what you want it to be in your utopian dreams is, as I said, stupid. To complain that war is not as you want it to be in your frankly ignorant conception of what wars should be like is equally stupid. I'll stop the use of highly technical terms now.

And if you persist in thinking that all repercussions can be foreseen and planned away, wrap your mind around this Cosmic case of Islamist blowback.

Iraq is a problem that we are working on. And the problem is better than the problem of Iraq under Saddam that we faced in March 2003. We keep knocking down the problems there.

Iran is also a problem now. I'm sorry that all our other problems haven't been neatly concluded before we have to face this problem. But that's life.

UPDATE: Here's a little blowback from the efforts to find alternative fuels to lessen our dependence on foreign oil that funds Islamist whackjobs. You wouldn't think that this has any downside. But it does:

Mexican authorities are concerned that a rise in the price of tortillas (corn flat read) will lead to civil unrest. The price of tortillas rose ten to 14 percent in 2006. The cause: international demand for corn. The government is particularly concerned about Oaxaca and Chiapas, which have both experienced extended periods of turmoil.

A story on NPR provided a little more context about why there is more international demand. It seems that growers would rather grow corn for ethanol to power our cars than sell to people to eat.

So feeling good about driving your alternative fuel vehicle comes at the price of poor Mexican paying more for food. And the instability in the Islamic world we think we are addressing by slowing the flow of money to that region is causing some instability on our border. Still feeling all morally superior about not using 100% gasoline?

If you are going to prattle on about blowback too much, keep this example in mind. Does it mean we don't try to lessen our dependence on imported oil, with ethanol one component? Of course not. Any change causes some upheaval until the players settle in to the new patterns. The key is working the new problems with some confidence that change in the name of progress is not pain-free but in the long run we are better off. That is life. Deal with it.