Maybe you saw it too last week: a train, sidetracked next to I-25 between Garden of the Gods Road and Bijou, three locomotives pulling 100-plus flatcars loaded with military equipment. Trucks, hummers, backhoes, APC's -- all in desert camouflage. A tiny fragment of the vast stream of materiel flowing to the Middle East, and a rendezvous with ... what?
A textbook assault, precise, surgical, and quickly victorious? Unanticipated difficulties, as a trapped and desperate foe proves that, yes, he does have weapons of mass destruction? Military victory and diplomatic disaster, as scenes of carnage in Baghdad inspire Islamic insurrections in a half a dozen Arab countries? We'll soon know.
And it's certainly fair to ask ourselves a simple question; namely, just what the hell is going on here, anyway? We all know the Bush administration's stated rationale for war, don't we? First it was weapons of mass destruction, then it was al Qaeda, then it was regime change, then it was creating democracy in the Middle East. All well and good, and all nonsense.
Forget for a moment that Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest of the fun bunch have looked like Keystone Kops for the last couple months, as they blundered clumsily around the world. Diplomacy is not their strong suit -- and, after all, they never much cared what the United Nations thought anyway. For months, they've been intent upon removing Saddam and seizing control of Iraq. Once again, why?
For democracy? C'mon, the Bushies don't even like democracy in the United States (didn't Al Gore get half a million more votes than the president?). And besides, our best friends in the Islamic world, beginning with Saudi Arabia, are no more democratic than Saddam.
Weapons of mass destruction? If Saddam had any serious WMD's, complete with delivery systems, we'd be negotiating, not attacking.
Al Qaeda? Even Ari Fleischer knows that dog won't hunt.
Regime change? We've put up with Saddam for 25 years -- if we thought that we could keep him in his box indefinitely, we'd leave him there.
And forget all of your paranoid lefty theories about oil (as in, "What's our oil doing under their sand?") -- remember, in constant dollars, pre-war crude prices were exceptionally low. You don't wage war to ensure a supply of an abundant, low-priced commodity.
Nope, there's another reason that we're on our way to Baghdad.
Consider this: nuclear weapons are the real weapons of mass destruction. A small (1 megaton) nuclear device, exploded in any American city, would kill hundreds of thousands of people, render that city uninhabitable, and create multiple crises without parallel in modern America.
And consider this: the technology to design and build a nuclear weapon is 1940s technology. That means that even relatively poor and primitive countries -- Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Iran -- can build themselves a few nukes, given time.The Bushies believe -- and maybe they're right -- that diplomacy doesn't work. Despite agreeing to end its nuclear program, North Korea launched a second clandestine program. Iran is on the verge of producing enriched uranium, supposedly for a nuclear power plant. That's an absurd claim, since Iran, with the world's largest gas reserves, flares off enough gas to fuel a dozen good-sized power plants.
So here's the dilemma: given that diplomacy can only slow, not prevent, the acquisition of nukes by marginal states, what do you do? If you're Rumsfeld, Cheney & Co. you recognize that America, at this fleeting moment in world history, can do whatever it damn pleases.
That means that we can -- we must! -- go into these countries and literally take over. In their view, we need to forcibly intervene to end nuclear programs in any potentially hostile country. By invading Iraq, we send an unmistakable message to Ayatollah Khomeini, to Kim Jong Il, to Bashir Assad. It's simple: do what we say, or we'll take you out.
If you think that this is a recipe for permanent war, you're right. Imagine a world in which the United States military is charged with governing Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. Imagine South Korea as a postwar economic basket case, its capital in ruins, tens of thousands dead, reunited with the starving and delusional north.
Imagine a deeply divided America, sullen and angry, our basic freedoms ever more circumscribed by the exigencies of war.
Some years ago, Edward Luttwak, in Strategy: the Logic of War and Peace, noted that warfare has five levels. In ascending order they are: the technical, the tactical, the operational, the theater strategic and the grand strategic.
In Luttwak's view, failure at the upper levels negates success at the lower levels. Clearly, the Bushies are betting the farm on their grand strategy, gambling that we can easily and painlessly establish the National Security Empire.
If I were a wagering man (and I am), I'd bet against 'em. But I can't -- they've already bet their farm, and my farm, and yours too.