June 12, 2006

Sequels are never any good

from - RSA

I was against U.S. involvement in the Gulf War, back in 1990. Was I stupid? Looking back, fifteen years later, I don't think so (though I have gone back and forth in my opinion). My objections to it, now, are pretty easy to see as implications of the so-called law of unintended consequences. Basically, the idea is that if the U.S. hadn't gone into Kuwait, there would have been a downside for not having backed an ally, but it wouldn't have been nearly as bad as what has actually happened years later.

First the hypothetical downside:

  • America's international reputation suffers.
  • America's foreign policy becomes more constrained in response.
  • Americans pay more for gas.
  • A foreign despot in the Middle East increases in strength and influence.

I'll grant that I'm not especially knowledgeable about history, but I see an obvious pattern here, except perhaps for the last point (which I'll argue is pretty much inevitable no matter what we do).

What about unintended consequences? Here's one: According to Wikipedia, "[A]s of the year 2000, 183,000 Gulf War veterans, more than a quarter of the troops who participated in the War, have been declared permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs." The other consequences that I have in mind are more psychological. What lessons did George W. Bush and his cronies learn from the Gulf War?

  • It's easy to line up an international coalition for a war in the Middle East. Not so much.

  • A war doesn't need to cost much, and the burden can be spread around internationally. Not so much.

  • A war can be won quickly and easily, with few casualties. Not so much.

  • The people in a war zone will be grateful to the soldiers. Some, but not all.

  • The American people will stand behind a man who stays the course. I do think this is true, but the underlying assumption is that the man is not a lying dunce.

I'm sure it would be possible to construct a very long list of comparisons of what went right in Desert Storm and what went wrong in Iraqi Freedom, but it would be a bit depressing.

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Posted by RSA at June 12, 2006 05:59 PM
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