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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 27 September 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Quiet! You might embolden our enemies!

Let's go back to October of 2001 and listen to Richard Perle. This is from and interview on Nightline -
Having destroyed the Taliban, having destroyed Saddam's regime, the message to the others is, "You're next." Two words. Very efficient diplomacy. " You're next, and if you don't shut down the terrorist networks on your territory, we'll take you down, too. Is it worth it?" Of course it isn't worth it. It isn't worth it for any of them.
Thus we are where we are today.

Over at Hullabaloo Digby comments -
You can almost smell the testosterone, can't you? These guys really believed this Neverneverland nonsense. I'm afraid our Boy King still does.

He's just being his typical two-faced self bellowing "bring 'em on" one day and then falling over with the vapors the next because Kerry's words might make the bad guys mad. Nothing new there.
Well, yes, they believed this was the face of the new diplomacy. Thrown out the old way of doing things internationally, and flex some muscles. Folks will fall in line.

But the bastards aren't following in line. People are fighting back when they are not supposed to fight back.

And what is this about Bush "falling over with the vapors because Kerry's words might make the bad guys mad?"

Last weekend in Rhetoric: The campaigns settle on their preferred rhetorical devices for the final weeks you can find a discussion of the new attack on John Kerry, that support of John Kerry is support of terrorism. But what I missed there was the key word in the whole concept. That word is "embolden." And everyone seems to be trying to deal with that word as it is now used day in and day out in the speeches Bush delivers: the things Kerry says - that things aren't going well and we need to do this or that differently - embolden our enemies and undermine our good work. Bush is getting a lot of mileage from that single word.

Matthew Yglesias has discussed use of the word this at length, and he applies some logic to the matter -
Does anyone really believe, after all, that our enemies currently lack for boldness of all things? One can say accurately various nasty things about Osama, his hardened core of terrorists-cum-special-forces, his more conventional guerilla fighters, Zarqawi, al-Sadr, their followers, etc., but one thing they certainly aren't is some kind of chickenshit force that would be really scary if only they got bolder.

... The notion that the USA could possibly impress these guys with grand displays of machismo is silly. The bad guys here are hard-core and that's just the way it is. A strategy to beat them has to be smart and has to use the many advantages America really does have. Worrying about the other side's boldness isn't going to get us anywhere.
And this on Bush -
Truly the man is immune to self-doubt, introspection, and minor concepts like letting his thinking be influenced by reality or learning from experience. And things will only get worse if his mismanagement is ratified by the electorate... It dawns on me that someone really badly needs to ask Bush if he has any regrets about challenging the insurgents to "bring it on" and kill hundreds of additional US troops and significantly more Iraqi civilians. Talk about emboldening America's enemies. I'm sure the relatives of our dead soldiers really appreciate the president's armchair machismo.
Ah yes, armchair machismo.

The curious things here is how effective this is - asking each voter to channel his or her inner bully and feel good about pushing others around. Hey, it works. Read the polls. The internal numbers generally show that people feel Bush has driven the economy into near collapse with the tax cuts for the wealthy and the resulting deficits, that the job situation is awful, that he has no clue about healthcare or the environment, or even about basic science... and generally he's in way over his head - but they love how he sneers at the bad guys. That feels real good. We are an angry country and he has become the point man for our anger. That's good enough for the majority of those who will vote. That's what the polls show.

And Bush has directed a good portion of that anger at John Kerry. Kerry, by criticizing the execution of the war, and the war itself, is trying to make the bullies look foolish, and since we all buy into "the bully approach" as what must be done, and which also just feels so good, Kerry is attacking us all. So fight back!

Some don't buy it. This from Digby is shrill but an interesting counterargument -
And anyway, doesn't it seem a bit, well...girlie-manish...for our swaggering Crusader Codpiece to be tremulously waving his hands and shushing his opponents because it might make the nasty terrorists even bolder than they already are? Surely, superheroes such as he are much too strong and manly to care whether the bad guys are emboldened by talk of any kind. Real men say "bring it on," right?

Clearly, people who are willing to blow themselves up aren't suffering from a lack of physical courage. That is not the problem. Indeed, until we create a corps of suicide bombers they have the advantage in willing human cannon fodder material. Our military superiority isn't supposed to be our "courage" and "boldness" - it is our international leadership, advanced technology and smart strategy, none of which Junior has employed worth a busted fuck.

This has been part of the fallacy driving Junior's misbegotten strategy from day one. While it's obvious that a fair amount of his ridiculous Hopalong Cassidy bullshit was calculated to thrill the rubes here at home, there is ample evidence that many of the starry-eyed neocons truly believed that a thrilling show of Big American Power would snap some of those Ay-rabs out of their little dreamworld and bring them around right quick to the knowledge that they can never win against us, the Ubermenschen.
Nietzsche? Just who are we using as models? Nietzsche mentioned this ubermenschen concept very briefly only in the prologue of Thus Spoke Zarathustra - thinking of Napoleon. And what Nietzsche wrote may have somehow led to the odd little Austrian fellow with the mustache. Oh my!

No. Let's not got there.

But in the end, this thrilling show of Big American Power has not snapped the bad guys out of their dream world. Actually it seems to have - note this irony well - emboldened them. As noted last weekend, the whole concept of threatening folks into a sniveling, fearful puddle of compliance just doesn't work very well.

To repeat - Think of the bully who has you cornered, grabs your shirt and sneers, "Okay, give ten good reasons I shouldn't beat the crap out of you right now?" An angry and frustrated American people can understand why playing the part of that bully is just plain satisfying, and relatively easy given our military resources - no one pushes us around. Hey, anything else is just too much of a bother, and kind of French.

But it is too bad that people who have been repeatedly bullied fight back in sneaky ways that make life hard. They just don't get it. Algeria in the fifties, Vietnam in the sixties, Gaza and the West bank now, Northern Ireland since 1688 - and so many other examples of the defeated and powerless just not accepting their worthlessness - make you wonder if this "prove to me you don't deserve a beating" stance really works.

It doesn't, but it's what we do. And one does not sense much change in the air.

And I guess all of these words above have also emboldened our enemies.

But that just doesn't make sense.

Our enemies should worry that we might suddenly change course, gather real allies, and suddenly shift from using any brute force at all to using crafty diplomacy (secret deals and back-door alliances and all the rest) and the soft power of making them look silly and us look good. If "the West" got all cooperative and sly and subtle? They'd be in trouble.

Lucky for them that will never happen now.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 28 September 2004 09:52 PDT home

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