Is the U.S. government capable of exercising any degree of competence? Or has incompetence become the new standard? In terms of going to war, the last war America decisively won was World War II. Vietnam, Afghanistan and the second Iraq War were varying degrees of disaster. The incompetence in those wars was not asking the what next question.
In Vietnam, the body count and killing our way to victory became the de facto strategy embodied by "search and destroy." The Afghan assault was to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and mutated into nation building. Similarly, after the Iraqi Army was smashed in 2003, the George W. Bush administration never asked or answered what next.
This failure has spread well beyond the use of military force. In the fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the private sector was brilliant in producing vaccines with breathtaking speed. But the federal government and Operation Warp Speed based its strategy on manufacturing and distributing hundreds of millions of vaccine doses.
Its incompetence was failing to understand that the aim should have been to inoculate about 300 million Americans by delivering shots into arms. Yet, production and distribution and not inoculation took precedence. That was an extraordinary failure.
The Jan. 6 riots and the takeover of the nation's Capitol seemed inconceivable. After the attacks of Sept. 11, protection of the nation became a top priority on which hundreds of billions of dollars were spent. And still, with all the advance warning about protesters and insurrectionists incited by Donald Trump, that the Capitol was undefended and unprepared is a colossal and singular act of incompetence.
Is the United States any better prepared for Jan. 20 and the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden than for Jan. 6, when calls for a "million man MAGA march" are circulating on the Internet and social media? We will see. One guess is that while the National Mall and Capitol Hill may be well guarded, what if rioters choose a location such as the White House, Treasury, FBI or other government building to assault? Is the United States prepared?
The more important question, however, is "what next" for Trump? The 25th Amendment will not be invoked; Trump will most likely not be censured. And he surely will not resign. The House will impeach and wisely should defer sending charges to the Senate, making the threat of a trial into a Damoclean sword hanging over Trump's head as leverage.
Then, what must be done after Jan. 20, when Trump leaves office? Current polls show Trump still has an approval rating of about 43%, a figure that has been more or less constant over the past four years. Beyond that, about 75% of Republicans have declared greater loyalty to Trump than to the party.
Gen. Colin Powell believes that once Trump is gone, his relevance will decline. One hopes that the general is correct. However, ironically, it would not be surprising to see a boost in support of Trump by his base as the House moves to impeach.
Make no mistake: The Constitution is at grave risk. A system of checks and balances with a highly divided government and public can only work if civility and compromise are in evidence. Both are not. And both parties seem intractably divided.
The GOP is the TOP -- Trump's Own Party. Democrats are split with a hard left-wing progressive element and others demanding to bring Trump to justice in which impeachment may not be a sufficient punishment. While mainstream Senate Republicans are furious with Trump's conduct, no clear consensus has developed on what actions are appropriate and which are not.
First, preventing Trump from holding any future federal office is an imperative. But a trial in the Senate now would prevent other business such as COVID-19 relief and critical legislation from being considered. As suggested, using impeachment as a lever might be a better outcome.
Second, what Trump plans once he leaves office cannot be dismissed. Banned from Twitter does not mean Trump cannot create his own Internet platform or acquire a media company from which he can rally his base, send his message and falsely claim a landslide electoral victory of which he was cheated.
Third, the vulnerability of government to physical disruption must be addressed. A new MAD -- Massive Attacks of Disruption -- must become central to our national security strategy to contain, prevent and deter it. Jan. 6 could not have more strongly made this case.
But will competence and common sense win out? If history is prologue, the nation is in trouble.
Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist and author of the upcoming book "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: The Tragic History of How Massive Attacks of Disruption Are Endangering, Infecting, Engulfing and Disuniting a 51% Nation."