In that respect the sudden and unexpected weakening of the United Nations is less the result of Kofi Annan's individual shenanigans than a symptom that the bottom has fallen out of the whole postwar system.This was followed by some interesting comments by reader Grim:
If this analysis is correct, the world crisis should accelerate rather than diminish in the coming years and months, not in the least because the United States seems to have no plan to fill the power vacuum with anything. The promotion of democracy is at heart an act of faith in the self-organizing ability of nations; it means getting rid of one dictator without necessarily having another waiting in the wings. It is so counterintuitive to disciples of realpolitik as to resemble madness. Or put more cynically, the promotion of democracy is a gamble only a country with a missile defense system, control of space, homeland defense and a global reach can afford to take. If you have your six-gun drawn, you can overturn the poker table. In retrospect, the real mistake the September 11 planners made to underestimate how radical the US could be. This does not necessarily mean America will win the hand; but it does indicate how high it is willing to raise the stakes.
The metaphor works best if we view the situation as a series of poker hands, rather than just one.
The phenomenon of "gambler's ruin" states that, if a game goes on long enough, the House will always win. (See: http://www.jimloy.com/gambling/ruin.htm for a through analysis of this model.) In a game in which there is no house, but rather two individual players, the one who has the most resources will eventually win everything. This is true even if the odds favor the gambler against the House, or the poor player against the rich one (which they never do in reality, but might in the metaphor).
That being so, the nature of poker makes it wise for the House -- or the richer player -- to raise the stakes as high and as quickly as possible, confident in its ability to take losses that would cripple the poorer player. It can afford to lose a few hands, even at very high stakes, knowing that eventually the odds will bring ruin to its opponent.
This is even truer in war than in poker, because a poker game can end when either side decides to walk away. Thus, the poker player who gets lucky can walk away before he reaches the otherwise inevitable ruin.
Wars end only by mutual agreement, or when the point of ruin has been reached. There is no saying, "OK, we Islamists got lucky on 9/11. War's over now -- no more fighting."
The United States is plainly in the role of The House here, or at least the far-wealthier gambler. Raising the stakes and waiting for the inevitable is therefore wise policy, if we can indeed afford to absorb the losses in the meantime. So long as nuclear and biological weapons are not fielded, it would seem that we can.