Sunday, August 07, 2005

Theodoric of DC

Regular readers know I've criticized our political and military leadership for playing cynical word games, particularly in regard to the insurgents-as-terrorists deceit. But not all word games are created equal.

The administration has taken a lot of heat for floating GSAVE---the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. That's too bad, because that acronym represents an attempt to refine and focus our collective understanding of what we're really fighting. About a month ago, I wrote about this and quoted Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who retired last week as commander of all Marine forces in the Pacific theater:
This war has a popular label and a political label, but it's not accurate. Terrorism is a means of power projection, it's a weapon, it's a tool of war. Think of it as our enemy's stealth bomber. This is no more a war on terrorism than World War II was a war on submarines. It's not just semantics. Words have meaning. And these words are leading us down to the wrong concept.
The rest of Lt. Gen. Gregson's comments appear here. It's a must-read.

What's interesting is that Gregson's sanity appears to have had some traction at the senior levels of the Pentagon. Yes, "global struggle against violent extremism" is slightly convoluted and has a distinctly bureaucratic whiff about it. But guess what? It's a helluva better description of what we're actually fighting than "global war on terror." And once you define the problem correctly, the solution suddenly becomes a bit more clear. When you postulate that the threat we face is violent extremism, presumably you can begin to address its root causes. Then you can ask what it is about allies of ours like Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that creates violent extremism. And maybe that leads to some other uncomfortable questions---such as if violent extremism is the problem, why have we lost almost two thousand troops in an invasion and occupation of what was the most secular Muslim nation in the Middle East that produced exactly none of the attackers for 9/11 or any subsequent al-Qaeda operation outside of Iraq?

Maybe President Bush deep-sixed GSAVE because he instinctively realized this. Or maybe someone realized it for him. And the "struggle president" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as the "war president", does it? But the reluctance to move toward an accurate, enlightened definition of the battle we're fighting is true to his form. Undoubtedly, he defines the backward, reflexive path in his own mind as "staying the course." It's arguable that the worst thing to happen to Bush's presidency was Ronald Reagan; he seems to take the reasons for Reagan's success---unwavering principle, keeping it simple, staying on message---and apply them to his own presidency in ways that create limiting, shallow, or flat-out bad policy. Where Reagan was principled, Bush is rigid. If Bush is "conservative" he embodies the least flattering connotations of that term. In him, conservatism manifests itself as intransigence, obstinacy and ultimately ineffectiveness.

That's why instead of GWOT or GSAVE, a more appropriate acronym might be BAMM: the Battle Against Meaningless Mantras. Of course it's one thing to be bromidic and stubborn about issues of domestic policy; it's quite another when the lives of troops and civilians are at stake during a war.

It all reminds me of that old Saturday Night Live skit in which Steve Martin plays "Theodoric Of York"---a doctor in the Middle Ages who blood-lets, worms and leeches his patients, and in the process makes them far sicker than they would otherwise have been without any treatment. When faced with the opportunity to choose a more honest and enlightened path, Theodoric sticks with the reactionary, regressive methods that work for him but put his patients into their graves:
Joan: Dead! Dead! I can't believe it! My little daughter dead!

Theodoric of York: Now, Mrs. Miller, you're distraught, may be suffering from nervous exhaustion. I think you'd feel better if I let some of your blood.

Joan: You charlatan! You killed my daughter, just like you killed most of my other children! Why don't you admit it! You don't know what you're doing!

Theodoric of York: [ steps toward the camera ] Wait a minute. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps I've been wrong to blindly follow the medical traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe we barbers should test these assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a "scientific method". Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, navigation. Perhaps I could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! [ thinks for a minute ] Naaaaaahhh!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that SNL segment fondly. Unfortunately, it is a relevant comparison.

8/07/2005 9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the current national misfortune is that in order for Bush/Cheney to maintain their 'image' of leadership, they have to project 'infallibility' as a component.

Tragically this is preventing anyone from making any course corrections. For example, to double the size of the occupation in Iraq 'might' provide enough security to ge the water and electricity back on. Or delivering the reconstruction projects into Iraqi hands, thus putting the Iraqi people back to work, and getting the American contractors our of their since they are such a drain on our resources anyway. But to actually change course in order to save American and Iraqi lives would what (?) make us think Bush is fallible? Beyond hubris.

8/07/2005 12:09 PM  
Anonymous JWC said...

Interesting post. I laughed over the GSAVE change, but you have a good point. So it is not surprising that Bush didn't like it, being the "war" president and all.

Heaven help us all. I fear for our country.

8/07/2005 1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

8/07/2005 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everything they say, everything they do is marketing; high-priced, pre-packaged, poll-tested, for our emotional reaction. What did Wolfowitz say: whatever reason would stick with the public. The Republican party has become the party of 2-bit tricks, gossip, lies, and innuendos. The one thing I wish the Republican party would stop is calling themselves Conservatives; because they are anything but.

Bush looks weak (his back is humped over and he is shriveled-up like a prune, and his arms hang and swing like an ape); he needs a strong image accompanied with strong talk like "bring'em on". Presto. So he calls himself the war prez. When he campaigned in Iowa, it was the "peace" prez, when it was Colorado it was the "war" prez. Sounds just like the hooker line in Pretty Woman... I'll be anyone you want me to be... Bush's kind of integrity?

But are we safer today? Are we better off today?

Anyone remember the "Shock and Awe" campaign; watching it on the boob-tube like a Schwarzenegger movie. I can't tell, are we still in the "Shock and Awe" campaign, or did that die with the slogan "Mission Accomplished" and the embedded journalists all left over there to come back over here.

8/07/2005 6:18 PM  
Blogger 277fia said...

You simply can't "move toward an accurate, enlightened definition of the battle we're fighting" without discussing the impact of oil and then secondly, Israel on US policy. To assume that islamic extremism is solely driven by ideology and not state-sponsored is naive. And to think that the war on Iraq had anything to do with terrorism or WMDs is plain dumb.

Compare the fate of Libya's Gadhafi with Saddam's. In 1999, Libya began negotiating with the Clinton administration. Gadhafi played it smart and fended off European investors for five years until US sanctions were lifted. Occidental Petroleum, in May 2002,reported to its shareholders that its Libyan business would resume.

On the other hand, Saddam, who has to be the stupidest dictator on the face of the planet, entered into development deals with France, Russia and China. To top it off,in late 2000, he announced that Iraq would only accept Euros as payment. Saddam's fate was sealed. Against him were the US oil industry, a US president with a personal grudge and a US administration stacked with rabid pro-Israeli neocons.

The 9/11 report targeted West Africa to become a terrorist hot spot. Not coincidentally, 20% of our oil is expected to come from there in the future and the US is busy building military facilities all over the continent. At the same time, every country from Kuwait to China is angling for a piece of the action.

To secure US oil supplies, the US will support corrupt and ruthless governments. Yesterday's NY Times reported that the US is dependent on Saudi oil and Bush's handholding with the crown prince was planned to as a deliberate sign of US support for the royal family. What propaganda tools will does General Gregson propose to argue against the truth?

Every country in the Middle East is acutely aware of Israel's extraordinary overt and covert influence on US policy. Neocon think tanks argued for the prvatization of Iraqi oil to destroy OPEC. For more than a decade, the necon-sponsored INC manufactured evidence against Iraq. The neocons support a fragmented Iraq which is just where Iraq is headed. Supposedly, Mossad is in Kurdistan to support Kurdish nationalism. And so on. Who do you think is busy building an argument to overthrow the Iranian government?

General Gregson can't blame everything on Sunni extremists. It's a lot more complicated.

8/07/2005 7:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's no coincidence that Bush sees the scientific method as just another theory, on a par with "intelligent design."

Truly, we are living with the consequences of faith-based policy.

8/07/2005 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Bon Scott said...

So how does one explain to folks that the modern conservative movement, started by Goldwater(Marx), brought to fruition by Reagan(Lenin) is now being controlled by the Stalinists of the movement(that is reactionary dolts who only care about power)??

8/08/2005 3:26 AM  
Anonymous EWK said...

Exactly, Bush can't accept the switch to GSAVE, because essentially what GSAVE is saying is "all that stuff John Kerry said that we ripped him for and called him soft on terror, well actually that is what we need to do."

8/08/2005 1:17 PM  
Blogger DrDave said...

Billmon over at the Whiskey Bar has coined a far better acronym in his satirical Bush Radio Address:

"[T]he War of Heroic Action against Terrorism for the Future of a United Christian Kulture -- or, as my NSC counterterrorism experts sometimes call it: WHATtheFUCK?"

8/08/2005 9:47 PM  
Blogger A.L. said...

That post was spot on. Well done.

8/09/2005 12:53 AM  
Anonymous paperwight said...

Exactly, Bush can't accept the switch to GSAVE, because essentially what GSAVE is saying is "all that stuff John Kerry said that we ripped him for and called him soft on terror, well actually that is what we need to do."

Well, yes, and a bit more.

8/09/2005 9:07 PM  
Anonymous texaspete said...

Worming and leeching. Yep!

8/10/2005 12:26 PM  
Anonymous garth said...

like, three weeks after 9/11 David Cross said "You can't have a War on Terror any more than you can have a War on Jealousy."

Just catching on?

8/16/2005 4:27 AM  
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