Monday, September 15, 2003

Cui Bono

The 9/11 attacks were enormously beneficial to Mr. Bush, who probably would have been tarred and feathered for his disastrous economic record by now were it not for the hysteria about terrorism. Noting this fact, many people around the world think that Bush actually signed up Ben Laden to destroy the Twin Towers or at least looked the other way so that the desired outcome could come to pass. I certainly don’t buy into this conspiracy theory. After all, if we reason on the basis of who benefits most, the logical suspicion would be that it was Ben Laden who hired Bush since Bush has furthered the aims of Ben Laden, i.e. the decline of America, even more than Ben Laden has benefited Bush. If this supposition is true—and we know that mysterious Saudi money bailed out Bush during at least one of his failed business adventures—Ben Laden certainly bet smart. America is now diplomatically isolated, widely hated, militarily weak, and financially stretched— far less powerful now than we were three years ago.


I write that America is militarily weak. That runs against the premise of umpteen op-ed pieces that we have unprecedented military superiority. But that meme is getting a tad shopworn and was always a bit dodgy because military power is not a scalar quantity. In some respects we are powerful indeed. In others, not particularly. A nation isn’t militarily strong simpliciter but only in relationship to particular political purposes. As a defensive force, the U.S. military is fantastically strong and our almost complete ownership of the world’s oceans pretty much precludes any other nation from projecting power offshore. As an offensive force, on the contrary, our strength was always vastly overrated. We had and perhaps have the power to beat any other armed force in a given battle. As the Conquest of Iraq demonstrates, however, we simply don’t have the manpower to occupy much territory without leveraging our power with willing allies. Now that we’re bogged down in Mesopotamia, even the hapless North Koreans are feeling cocky.

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