The Powell doctrine:
While the Powell Doctrine is generally thought simply to prescribe the setting of clear objectives and the use of overwhelming force to achieve them, it also sets out a series of questions that policymakers must ask and answer before committing American lives to war. They make sobering reading today:
“Is the political objective we seek to achieve important, clearly defined and understood? Have all other nonviolent policy means failed? Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed? How might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop further and what might be the consequences?”
As much as it pains me to agree with a New York Times editorialist, Mark Danner is correct to point out the last question as being the salient one. If war with the jihad is necessary, then Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two centers that must be destroyed. The decision to focus on the more politically “doable” Iraq makes sense from an operations point of view, but could still turn out to be fatal should it have provided the impetus and the time for Iran to develop its nuclear weapons.
Jonah Goldberg once celebrated inactivism; on a related note, just yesterday, Big Chilly was asking me why so many of the opinions I express here tend towards the negative. The reason for this is that most government actions are either inherently negative or will have an unexpectedly negative result. The Founding Fathers recognized this, which was why they designed a system that is obviously inefficient.
The Law of Unintended Consequences must always be taken into account. It will be interesting to see how it comes into play, even if we turn out to be fortunate enough to hit a low-probability success in Iraqi nation-building.