Monday, September 27, 2004

The Roller Coaster vs the Framework: Viewing War with and without Context

The Wraith's blood pressure shot up today on reports that terrorist brainiac and al-Qaeda ideologue, al-Zawahiri, was captured in Pakistan. The reports were quickly denied.

Nevertheless, the story is all-to-believable and illustrates just how quickly things can change. This is a war, with progresses and set backs just like any other war. You never know what the next update will bring. That's why politicians can't fall into the trap of responding to events as they occur. Rather a successful politician must have conceptual framework into which the various events will fit. Otherwise the politician finds himself on an intellectual and emotional roller coaster, optimistic after a capture, defeatist after a successful attack.

It's ironic because Kerry is portrayed as the intellectual and W as the boob, but Kerry is the one on the roller coaster and W is the one with the framework. You may not agree with or like W's framework, but it provides him consistency and steadfastness in the War on Terror and in Iraq, which, not coincidentally he sees as part of one and the same struggle. From the start of the war, through Hussein's capture and the transfer of power to the sieges of Fallujah and Najaf and the current insurgencies (there's more than one) W has maitained one viewpoint and advanced one argument. You may think this is stubborn but it is what all vicotorious war leaders do. (I'm not saying that W is Lincoln but look back on Lincoln during the Civil War. He continually and consistently pushed his generals to take the war to the Confederacy. Through victories and defeats, some horribly bloody, Lincoln maintained a single vision of what the war was and how to win it. History now records McClellan as the general who refused to fight and the eventual loser in the election of 1864 but at the time he was a hero to millions of Americans who saw Lincoln leading them into a war they could not win.)

Kerry's supporters claim that he is not inconsistent, just that his position has 'evolved.' But it's interesting how his position evolves in parallel with events. After Hussein's capture Kerry issued the now famous quote, in a debate against the anti-war Howard Dean, that whoever thought Hussein should still be in power was unfit to be president. Nine months, later after attacks and assassinations, Kerry's position is 'evolving' into something very close to that of Dean's. This is not the flip-flop crap. It's a symptom of something deeper. Kerry does not yet have a mental and emotional (much less spiritual) framework into which he can fit the various facts of the war in Iraq and the war on terror. It is this structure which gives the facts of war a larger context and meaning, so that a tactical defeat can be understood as a strategic advance or vis-a-versa. All Kerry has are facts, events that by themselves provide only the immediate and contextless meaning of an anecdote.

This is not to say that there is no anti-war framework available to him, it's just that it is easy to caricature and hard to defend. There is a consistent anti-war arguement. For example, the capture of Hussein would not be an unqualified good in this framework, the arguement being that if Hussein was still in power Iraq would be stable and the risk of instability outweighs the risk of Hussein ruling Iraq, even if he would be developing WMDs after the sanctions were lifted. Kerry cannot make this arguement without alienating many voters.

If Kerry is elected he will have to decide how to think about the War. Events happen to quickly and there is too much information to patiently and deliberatively consider each fact on its own. Without a method of relating these facts, without a vision of the war in the largest sense, without a political and historical context to judge events as they occur, Kerry's presidency will be like his campaign: always responding, always on defense, always behind events, analyzing the last attack as our enemies prepare for one after the next. And the one after that.

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