The Limits to American Power

James Adler

When it comes to issues of genuine international concern, such as  Iran's deeply offensive current President, in tandem with its nuclear program,  sometimes I find myself wishing that America's neoconservatives were right about the magnitude of American power; but these neoconservative strategists would be wise not to forget even a sampling of modern history's salient and humbling facts.

The United States:
  • was not able to stop either the Soviet Union or China from acquiring nuclear weapons.
  • could not prevent the USSR's post-War  takeover and occupation of Eastern Europe
  • could not stop China from becoming Communist in 1949.
  • could not make North Korea to surrender in the Korean War (even with 50,000 US soldiers dead).
  • actually lost the Vietnam war to tiny North Vietnam (with another 50,000 US soldiers dead).
  • could not prevent Cuba from becoming Communist in 1959 or the Bay of Pigs from floundering in 1961.
  • could not prevent the crushing of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 or Dubcek's Czech "Spring" of 1968.
  • could not rescue the American hostages in the US Embassy in Iran.
  • could not prevent India or Pakistan from acquiring nuclear weapons.
  • could not create a successful world order of peace and prosperity after the implosion of Soviet and East European Communism in 1989.
  • could not catch either Osama bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar or will even necessarily prevent the Taliban from retaking Afghanistan.
  • could not remotely succeed in Iraq, and for that matter could not prevent Israel from claiming Jerusalem as its capital and pouring 450,000 of its settlers over the Green Line--both of these also against American wishes and policies.

There are limits to American power.

Sometimes I also wish there weren't such limits, and neoconservatives may laugh now, but consider the low likelihood of US success at destroying a multiplicity of secret, dispersed, buried, and bunkered Iranian nuclear sites, and the impact - on the United States, Europe, the Arab and Islamic worlds, and moderate Muslim societies like those of Jordan and Egypt and Pakistan - of pictures of the scores of inevitably mutilated and burnt bodies of Iranian children getting continuously rebroadcast on Al Jazeera and the rest of worldwide television.

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