WHY DO WE NEED FRANCE, ANYWAY?….Timothy Garton Ash wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a few days ago about “the war after the war.” He is talking here about nothing so trivial as the mere postwar reconstruction of Iraq, but rather of the entire post-9/11 world order. Basically, like the three bears, he proposes three ideas: (a) American might is good, (b) American might is bad, and (c) his “just right” middle ground: the Blairite notion that we need a grand alliance against terrorism similar to the one we had in the Cold War against communism.

I think he’s right ? although, as he admits, “the trouble is the execution” ? but that still doesn’t address the key issue of why we should bother. In particular, I want to take issue with the lazy pass he gives to the “Rumsfeldian idea” that he says is half right. In particular, he agrees that:

It’s probably true that the United States can now win most wars on its own.

This has been repeated so often lately that it has become almost a cliche, especially now as the rest of the world looks on with shock and awe at the firepower we have on display in the current war. We spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined, our technology is 20 years ahead of the competition, and we are, simply, unbeatable on the battlefield.

But to steal a line from Steven Pinker, this falls into the category of ideas that are so bad they are not even wrong. A projective war like the one in Iraq requires resources so immense that even the United States can wage such a war only against a weak enemy ? and even then only with basing rights from surrounding nations. Against a minimally stronger enemy, such as Iran or North Korea, we would have a difficult time even with nearby basing rights, and we would be completely helpless without them.

This is the reason that we do need to bother with the difficult business of diplomacy and alliance building that George Bush is so obviously frustrated with: because we can’t win on our own. It is a grave mistake for neocon hawks and their ideological brethren to suggest otherwise, and an even bigger mistake to suggest that the United States can make itself safe through military might alone.

It’s not so, and we won’t be safe until our leaders realize this. I only hope they figure it out before it’s too late.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation