Back in the late 1980’s there was a computer simulation game called “Balance of Power” that pitched the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union against the global super power of the United States in a geopolitical contest. The game assumed only two influential countries, a bipolar reality.
The game was direct; if either country went too far in attempting to influence other countries, DEFCON 4 would be declared and the game would end in global thermonuclear war. Both players would lose, just like the ultimate scenario of the Star Wars missile defense system-inspiring movie, “War Games.”
The algorithms of the game however, did not even allow for the chance for, East and West Germany to be reunited, or for the Soviet block to dissolve. It was a major flaw in the game, but reflected the bipolar thinking of the time.
In reality, and in hind-sight, it has always been a multi-polar geopolitical scene. Back then there were U.S. satellites and Soviet satellites, but many of our allies were influencers of their own. Today, these influencers make up the complex multi-polar geopolitical reality.
The European Union, OPEC, NATO, China, North Korea, South American countries, African countries, Southeast and Southwest Asia, Australia and the various factions of the Islamic State and al Qaeda, all have regional and/or global influence through words and/or deeds that affect how the U.S. and Russia are perceived.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the world moved away from Soviet influence and towards American democracy; multi-polar players gained strength and influence. As we moved through the Clinton years however, our standing in the world diminished. It strengthened again during the Bush years, but then for the past eight years or so we have been driven towards the abyss of geopolitical enigma.
The U.S. is no longer viewed as the single super power, even though on paper we still are. If we are not willing to use our strength, the sharks that smell blood in the water will come nibbling, and if nothing happens to them on the nibble they will take bites.
Lies about a “red line in the sand” (Syria), blowing off a status of forces agreement (Iraq), neglecting security at embassies and consulates (Benghazi), declaring the Global War on Terror “over” (Afghanistan), trading an Army deserter (Bowe Bergdahl) for five high level Taliban leaders, releasing high threat detainees from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, normalizing relations with Cuba, all combine to let our enemies and non-friends know we are unwilling and unable to respond.
Even seeming innocuous incidents, such as Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, and Russian planes buzzing our ships in the Baltic Sea prove to those who would do us harm that we are impotent.
Bites will turn into a feeding frenzy – see current Syria and Iraq.
Russia has warned the U.S. that attacks on Assad’s Syrian forces will bring a response from them; ball in U.S. court.
What will the U.S. do with the ball? Pass it to the next president? Shoot it at the basket (Russians) and try to score (put them in their place)? Or will we throw it away (ignore the threat) and then suffer the consequences of leaving our fate up to others who decidedly do NOT have our best interests at heart?
One strategy could be to withdrawal completely from Syria, not as a retreat, but as a retrograde maneuver in order to let Russia have Syria all by itself. Russia would have to support Syria and rebuild the decimated country, or risk being expelled or dragged into a further quagmire. The U.S. would not benefit from “victory” in Syria, as there is no consolidated or legitimate force opposing Assad. We would be accused, and rightly so, of neocolonialism and occupation of a sovereign foreign nation.
Let Putin deal with Assad, he can have him, and the headaches and costs associated with meddling in a civil war. Putin would have to do the right thing by Syrian citizens or risk even more international disdain.
The U.S. finally got it right with the surge in Iraq, coupled with aggressive disruption of the human elements supporting al Qaeda. Many daily and nightly clandestine missions in that country, combined with the embedded U.S. soldier approach in the towns, cities and villages of Iraq, worked like magic.
The bad guys became the hunted. As more of them were captured and interrogated, more information was gleaned that helped us shut them down. Ground was taken, held and rebuilt. Instead of double-agents infiltrating U.S. and Iraqi operations, we infiltrated and killed al Qaeda from within.
The current strategy of droning leaders, bombing small targets, using only Special Forces, and releasing operatives to fight again is ineffective at best and suicidal at worst. Killing one’s and two’s with a weapons system that more often than not also kills innocent civilians is counterproductive. Enemy leaders are replaced in a heartbeat; detainees from Gitmo who become leaders of enemy organizations allows our enemies an advantage we can’t overcome with drones, bombs and hyperbole.
We are in a most vulnerable position now with less than 30 days left before a presidential election that promises either a sea change in American geopolitical strategy or guaranteed uncertainty.
You know the saying that one should do something questionable without asking permission first because it’s better to be scolded than to be told “No?” Our enemies are not asking our permission. They are being as aggressive as they need to be in order to take what they want and then telling us to bugger off if we get too curious.
It is the worst possible scenario come to life.
In war there is less right vs. wrong and more survival, and those who survive live to fight another day.
At this point in the Global War on Terror – a multi-polar geopolitical morass – we must begin to flex our muscles and play it smart as the one true super power, or the feeding frenzy will take hold and the balance of power will shift solidly to the left.