Saturday, October 23, 2004

Reality Check

Slashdot recently cited an article that demonstrates that Bush supporters hold beliefs that are out of sync with the facts. Most still believe that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda and that Iraq was involved in 9/11. The answers of most of the Bush supporters on Slashdot simply reiterate this position, or state that you have to be tough on Islamic fanatics because they want us dead.

The point is not whether you oppose Islamo-fascism. The majority of the most vehement critics of Islamo-Fascism also opposed the war in Iraq, because it played into the extermists hands. The argument is about strategy, not about the goal. And I am repeatedly astonished by the apparent incapacity of Bush supporters to distinguish between these.

This observation, shared by most of those critical of Bush and his supporters, is the reason we believe that Bush supporters have lost touch with reality. What we see is a rigid adherence to a single, poorly conceived strategy. This strategy is like trying to perform brain surgery with a pick-axe. The major points of this strategy are:

1. Use of superpower style tactics against guerilla opponents--long range attacks, with large area of effect destructive capabilities--in other words, Shock and Awe. Shock and Awe, however, has high collateral damage, destroys infrastructure, and has very limited success against small mobile guerilla groups. In fact, this strategy is designed for fortified emplacements of mixed units, including tanks, artillery, and infantry, who are committed to holding a position. None of these conditions apply in Iraq. Ultimately, Saddam and the majority of his forces were killed or captured by ground troops, not by cluster bombs and long range strikes. This scorched earth strategy was also used in Vietnam. It didn't work there either.

2. An obsession with Iraq regardless of its connection to Political Islam. This obsession pre-dated 9/11, and 9/11 was only the pretext for for doing what elements of the Bush administration already wanted to do. In fact, Saddam Hussein, however vicious, was the one leader of an Arab country who had no ties to Political Islam, and who had always traditionally been despised by extremist Muslims in general and bin Laden in particular. 9/11 made invasion of Iraq a lower priority, not a higher one, however much we may have loathed Saddam Hussein or been appalled by his policies. Removing him simply opened the door in Iraq to the very people we were supposed to be fighting against.

3. The inability to determine between friend, foe, and neutral parties. Bush came out early on and said that if you were not with America against terrorism, you were against it. There are many people who agree in principle but not in practice; they support the goal but not the methods. Most of the Iraqi people are neither with the American troops nor against them--most don't bear them any ill will, but simply don't want them around, shooting or blowing up their neighborhoods. This lack of enthusiasm is difficult to understand for troops who have bought the black and white picture and consider themselves liberators fighting the good fight, and who may have expected the reception given the Allies in northern Europe during WWII. Unprepared for the lukewarm reception, some are assuming that the civilians actually support the other side. It's hard to win the peace when you go in thinking that the people you were meant to save are already the enemy. The result is that the Bush administration is firing blindly into the world, missing the target and making a lot of new enemies.

4. Poor comprehension of the enemy. There is a tendency to describe all opponents in the war as terrorists. In fact, actual terrorists of the Al Queda type may be quite rare. Instead, American troops are faced with a combination of criminal gangs, nationalist resistance, foreign agitators, and terrorists, with the majority probably being criminal gangs. The motivation and tactics of each of these groups is quite different, and strategies which work well against one type will actually give advantages to others. For example, diplomacy is best used against nationalists, who can be turned against foreign agitators, and criminals must be hit financially.

5. Predictability and rigidity. Bush is steadfast, no doubt about that--so steadfast that everyone knows what buttons to push and what he'll do when they're pressed. This provides the likes of Al Queda with the opportunity to play him, and to plan long in advance, even before the event that causes him to react. The terrorists are suicidal; they not only have no fear of retaliation, they are counting on it. Their goal is to provoke the most extreme form of retaliation possible, in the hopes that the Americans will offend enough people to gain sympathy for the terrorist cause. They have gotten exactly what they wanted. In fighting terrorism, the target must be the meme itself. Innocent casualties work to spread the meme, and must be avoided. Otherwise the terrorists will replace their numbers faster than they lose them, and the war can never be won.

Jesus told us to love our enemies. Sun Tzu said that we must know our enemies. In fact, they amount to the same thing--in order to know our enemies, we must first empathize with them and see the world from their point of view. This may lead us to find a way to end the animosity, but it will certainly lead us to understand better how to destroy them. Bush simply called them evil and left it at that. That's not good enough. When critics attempt to explain where the terrorists are coming from, conservatives always cry bleeding heart and turn away. The result is that they have no idea who their enemy is, or how to fight them.

A terrorist is always a man in a crowd, using innocents as cover, hoping you'll kill some of them too. If you want to take him out, you have to take careful, steady aim and take him out with one shot. Bush is just snapping the gun up and spraying the area on full auto. Maybe he will hit the target, and maybe he won't. But one thing is certain: where there was once only one angry man, there will now be a crowd of angry men.