Monday, June 29, 2009

The Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy

While listening to people discuss the possible use of US military power to somehow solve the electoral crisis in Iran, I invented a new guideline for military force. I call it the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy. It's generally acknowledged that the US has the best-equipped, best-trained army on the planet. We've got an unstoppable naval fleet, with dozens of ships that can flatten any coastal or near-coastal city and, via cruise missles or aircraft, even strike targets a thousand miles inland. I mean, really -- picture that. We can park a missile carrier off the coast of New York City, and it can drop ordnance on a specific house in Houston, Texas. We've got aircraft that can outrun bullets. We've got tanks that can accurately hit enemy tanks six miles away. Our technology and training are the best in the world.

Everybody (that is, everybody who plays Mechwarrior or watches Manga) is familiar with a variety of Humongous Mecha: giant mechanized war machines that walk on two huge mechanical legs, armored like tanks and bristling with an array of advanced weaponry and military electronics. They can lay down enormous firepower over long distances and soak amazing amounts of damage; they're the ultimate battlefield weapon of the future. Now, for any potential military engagement, picture that you've got an enormous army of Humongous Mecha. Will they help the situation? If you're fighting a front-line battle against soldiers and tanks and helicopters, yeah! They're the war machine of the future! If your goal is to Blow Stuff Up and Sow Carnage, bring on the MadCats! If your intention is Shock And Awe, go for it!

On the other hand, if your objective is political or social, giant war machines are probably a bad option. They're not the right tool for quelling civil unrest; they're not good for winning hearts and minds. And they're inappropriate for securing voting rights, unless you need to blast some voter suppression attack helicopters.

Thus, the Humongous Mecha Theory of Foreign Policy: if you wouldn't use Humongous Mecha, you probably shouldn't use the US military, either. We've got incredible armed forces. But they're not the right tool for every job. I think our political leaders and pundit class fall too easily under Maslow's Hammer: if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail. We spend more on our military than every other country in the world, combined. It'd be silly to do that and never actually use the resulting armed forces. But we never think of spending a non-ridiculous amount on the military; rather, we justify our expenses by looking for places to fight. Plus, it's hard to wield diplomatic or economic pressure well, but Blowing Things Up is fairly straightforward. Not necessarily easy, not necessarily useful, but straightforward.

No comments: