Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Red Dawn 21?

Fortress America by Fantasy Flight Games

Those old enough will remember the pulp fiction Red Scare 1984 movie Red dawn, which implausibly postulated a surprise invasion of an isolated United States (Including paratroopers landing outside a high school in Colorado) by the Soviet Union, Cuba and Nicaraugua.

Around the same time Milton Bradley came out with Fortress America (an elaboration of SPI's Invasion America) which assumed a slightly more militarily plausible scenario that involved basically the whole world ganging up on the USA with a Chinese-led Asian alliance attacking the West Coast, a union of South American nations coming up through Mexico and a Euro-Soviet coalition hitting the East Coast.

While a great fantasy and an entertaining game idea, the plausibility factor was pretty low, to say the least.

Now there's a new version of the classic game coming out and it's interesting to me how this new recasting of the background seems somewhat more plausible than the 80s version did. The first decade of the 21st Century was not a good one for the USA and its relations with much of the world. America's approach to the War on Terror, for example, has had a negative impact on public opinion in many quarters. While some of the damage has been reversed under the new administration, one can hardly say that it's an approach that's settled in. The opposition party and its main candidate has openly called for a return to the more bellicose and unilateralist approach that  shook our allies and emboldened our enemies. It's certainly possible to imagine a return to that policy depending upon the outcome of November.

And even if the current administration is returned to power, the drone campaign it's been waging across the globe is inherently an affront to international norms of sovereignty. The US gets away with it for now because its so enormously powerful, its targets are generally weak and unpopular and no one else has the ability to do it. All of these, however, are factors subject to change. No useful weapon remains the exclusive domain of a nation and more than one commenter has pointed out that American enthusiasm for drone warfare is likely to wane once we start being on the receiving end of it.

America's run of hegemonic power has been very unusual in world historical terms because it has been and remains essentially unchallenged.  The usual pattern in history is for the other great powers to combine when any one power threatened to achieve hegemony. At its peak, during the Pax Britannica, Britain was content to have a naval power equal to the next two navies combined. And, of course, it had a small army that was no threat to any continental power. Today the USN is stronger than the navies of the entire rest of the world put together. No possible combination of powers is competitive. And, of course, the reality is that most of the other significant navies are US allies. The US Army, while not the largest in the world, is still very large and even more capable and is clearly capable of destroying any middle rank regional power.

The world has generally seemed to view the American hegemony as relatively benign, as  such things go, and there's been relatively little push-back so far. But things can change in politics and the insularity of Americans and particularly of certain strains of current political thought could cause foreign powers to rethink their acceptance of the status quo.

The in-game scenario that assumes the world combines to thwart a US suddenly invulnerable to missile attack isn't the strongest such scenario, but it's probably the most acceptable one for a wide audience. There was a little bit of a brouhaha when the game came out when an alternative and edgier background scenario was leaked.  One might legitimately wonder if the controversy was because it struck a little too close to the truth for people's comfort.

In any case, it's worth remembering that, as rich as America is, it's not richer than the rest of the world put together.  Figures vary, but the US share of the world's GDP is around 25% or so -- by far the single largest. But, obviously, the rest of the world does have a 3-1 edge in GDP and even if a significant portion remained neutral, there are quite a few combination of powers that could add up to more than the US in raw economic output. And, of course, from a population standpoint the US is hopeless, being outnumbered more than 20 to 1.

Back when the first edition of Fortress America came out the ideological battle lines were clear: Freedom vs. Communism. And we in the US were clearly the "Good Guys."

Now no global ideological struggle is really underway (The Islamist Jihad having very little growth potential or appeal outside a particular cultural milieu. If it were not for oil it would be insignificant) and in the wake of waterboarding, renditions, Gitmo, drone strikes and "preventive war" it's not necessarily clear that we're the unambiguous good guys. So I wouldn't be surprised to see come mainstream commentary about this game when it starts hitting the store shelves in a week or so.

Oh, and there's a remake of Red Dawn due out this year, too.  This time with North Koreans (?!) invading the US! (Changed post production from China -- another case of being, perhaps, too close to the truth?) Frankly, I think the Nicaraguans were more plausible! Coincidence? I think not!

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