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The Lost Hegemon (pt 1)

Rolling Stone assembled a round-table discussion with Richard Clarke, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Bob Graham, Juan Cole and others (from the military, diplomatic and intelligence services) about three scenarios for the end of the US involvement in the Iraq conflict (note I didn't say the end of the conflict itself). These are no wild-haired radicals; for the most part, they're conservative, traditional DC players. And what they see is grim.

Best Case: "Civil War in Iraq and a Stronger Al Qaeda."

Scheuer [former CIA head of the bin Laden unit]: No matter what happens now, the Islamists will have beaten both of the superpowers -- first the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and now the United States in the heart of Islam. The impact of that in Islamic civilization is going to be enormous. We have made bin Laden a prophet: His organizing concept for Al Qaeda was "The Russians are a lot tougher than the Americans. If we can beat the Russians, then we can eventually beat the Americans." Even more important, Al Qaeda will have contiguous territory on the Arab peninsula to attack from.

Most-Likely Case: "Years of Ethnic Cleansing and War with Iran."

McPeak [former member, US Joint Chiefs of Staff]: We're going to see a full-scale intercommunal war that may not burn out until one side is all dead, all gone. The Kurds would like to sit on the sidelines, but I don't see how they stay out, especially up in the Kirkuk area, where they sit on a lot of oil. This is going to be ethnic cleansing like we had in Kosovo or Bosnia -- but written big, in capital letters. And we can't stop it.

Worst Case: "World War III."

Freeman [former ambassador to Saudi Arabia]: This could become the Islamic equivalent of the Thirty Years War between Protestants and Catholics in Europe in the 1600s -- a religious schism that blossoms into overt mayhem and murder and massacres and warfare. The various Iraqi factions will obtain the backing of other Middle Eastern states as they conduct their ideological and ethnic struggles. It will be a free-for-all that spreads beyond the anarchic zone of Iraq.

The American presence at the top of the international heap couldn't last forever, but the decline need not have been this fast and this devastating to the planet. It's clear that the Bush administration has so weakened American international power -- military, economic, moral -- that there are few plausible scenarios for American hegemony continuing much longer. We're moving into what may be the most dangerous period in world history, with the confluence of accelerating climate disaster, super-empowered "global guerillas," the likely emergence of singularity-grade material technologies by the end of the next decade, and (of course) the global repercussions of the Iraq catastrophe. But we'll enter this period without any broadly-recognized, broadly-respected international leadership.

Does that make things all the worse?

Or does that give us an unexpected opportunity to adopt unconventional strategies?


Holy crap:

Scheuer: There isn't any upper limit to how many people could get killed. Depending on how long the war lasts -- a million casualties?

And the rest of it is not much better than that.

the million casualty figure. I thought that Iraqi casualties were already at about 650,000
**Total deaths (all excess deaths) Johns Hopkins:
654,965 (range of 392,979-942,636)[18][19]
References Lancet

Potential matchup Shia/Sunni.

Percentage shia

Percentage sunni

Ebb and flow of hegemon. Downturn at the end of vietnam but it came back. The US is still the big dog and will be co-leaders with China starting in about 2020-2040. Then with India as well in 2040-2060.

US could always return after pullout, plus pullout is not assured. Withdrawing to using proxies, CIA, UAVs and robots would provide some level of event shaping and fewer casualties.

Ethnic cleansing Bosnia and Kosovo did end and neither side was wiped out.

Al Qaeda sunni

Iran is mainly Shia

Preventing the worsening of problems or delaying certain situations for years is important if action is taken in that time to alter the technology equation. Ramp up alternative energy and nuclear. Make civilization more robust.

Plus in 20 months new and more competent people can come in and shift the situation.

Scenario 1 and 2 are situations that need not be that bad for the US.

These are side-effects of bad technology, political and energy policy.

Good point about the numbers, Brian -- a million deaths may be a woeful *under* estimate.

The reason I think that the situation for the American hegemon now differs from the post-Vietnam era is that, in the 1970s, the US was not the sole superpower. This meant that European and other allies had to soften whatever objections they had to American policies -- they needed to remain within the US nuclear umbrella. Similarly, the US leadership couldn't go so far as to alienate allies, to avoid any appearance of weakness vs. the USSR.

People sometimes forget just how much the Cold War/bipolar standoff shaped the behavior of states and leaders. Analysts and pundits analyzed everything the US and USSR did through the Cold War lens. Ironically, as dangerous as it was, the Cold War period was extremely stable and simple in comparison to today.

Power is defined by political scientists as the ability to get others to do what they otherwise would not do. That may be based on force; that may be based on money; that may be based on moral or cultural influence. In each of these categories, the US is demonstrably much less capable than it was a decade earlier. Some of that is for exogenous reasons (global downturn in tech economy in the early 2000s, e.g.), but the vast majority of it is due to conscious policy choices by the current administration.

The US isn't about to become a middling global also-ran, but it will have a very hard time reasserting any leadership role in the coming years, even post-Bush. Too much US power has been squandered and lost. Other states -- you mention China -- will step up in certain circumstances, but nobody is positioned to step into the global hegemon role. China doesn't have the power. EU doesn't have the power. India doesn't have the power. And now, the US doesn't have the power.

For those who can appreciate a good visual representation, the BBC has a history of violence in Baghdad since the invasion. You can find it here (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/in_depth/baghdad_navigator/)

Try dragging the slider across the timeline at a steady pace. The rising tide of violence and increasing coordination becomes evident.


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