Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Fallacious Nature of Conventional Wisdom on National Security

When Charlie Black gave his interview to Fortune in which he implied another terrorist attack on US soil would be beneficial to the McCain campaign, the backlash centered on the idea that he was in fact hoping for such an occurrence. While even I am not cynical enough to believe he could wish for such a thing, the underlying point he was trying to make still instills deep frustrations.

That idea--that Republicans are inherently more capable in the area of national security--is one that has been thoroughly debunked by all available evidence of the past 7-plus years, yet it lingers. Despite demonstrable proof that the world is less stable than when George Bush took office, the existence of an al Qaeda stronghold in the mountains of Pakistan, the creation of a new haven for unrest in Iraq, an emboldened North Korea, and a strategic windfall for Iran, conventional wisdom still holds that should terrorism return to American shores, the public would want a Republican in charge.

Apart from what should be obvious--that conventional wisdom is almost invariably wrong--there is ample proof that it is especially so in this particular case. In examining the reasons for this persistence, there seems a dearth of legitimate ones. The most glaring supposition is that the public, or the media personalities who pretend to speak for them, juxtapose positive results with strong posturing.

At nearly every turn, Bush has taken a strong rhetorical stand against terrorism, but all attempts to follow through on his threats has met with disaster and failure. After promising to "smoke 'em out of their holes," he has allowed, via a deviation of resources, al Qaeda to grow even stronger on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and concurrently the Taliban to begin to reassert itself in Kandahar and elsewhere.

Iraq is perhaps the most prescient example of valuing bluster over substance, as Bush employed bullying tactics with both Saddam Hussein, Congress, and the American public before proving his argument to be entirely devoid of veracity. Nonetheless, conventional wisdom holds. What matters is not that the US created a new terrorism nexus or handed Iran the greatest strategic windfall it could have dreamed of, but that Bush talked tough. By appearing strong in the face of a challenge, the utter failure of the follow-through is granted. Only under these circumstances could the President and his surrogates now undertake preparations for an attack of Iran under nearly identical conditions as the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. The narrative is a carbon copy, yet the failure of the previous foray does not factor into the analysis.

Why this is so is not so easy to ascertain. Liberals think it's a sign of a conservative press, but I'm more apt to think of the media as lazy, inept, and overly deferential to power. Journalists are a mouthpiece for the administration, due mainly to the lack of motivation for actual investigation, but I don't believe this will change should a Democrat take office. The press will still write articles made up entirely of quotes from public officials, and the conservatives will have even more reason to cry about a liberal press.

The second factor is that the press is afraid, journalistic integrity be damned, to be labeled un-American. Facts no longer matter. What matters is that the government is supported in its endeavors, regardless of how inept or counter-productive they are. The majority of the public has neither the time nor the initiative to follow through on the end game of the policies, so they are beholden to the superficial coverage of the American media, which eats at the trough of trivialities and conventional wisdom fallacies.

Why, then, are we to presume that McCain would be better in office than Obama? If the implication is that McCain will be an extension of Bush's stance on terror, then shouldn't the opposite conclusion be reached? How does an examination of the results of the past 7 years not lead to seeking a different angle? The policies are clearly failing, as any objective analysis would illustrate. al Qaeda is stronger. The Taliban is back. Iran is stronger. Iraq is now an unstable terrorism boon. Success cannot be found anywhere, yet still we are supposed to buy into the Bush-McCain policies.

There is only one explanation for such a position: Facts no longer matter. Results are immaterial to the argument. Words matter. He who talks the toughest wins, and if the country ends up less safe, so be it. Conventional wisdom is nearly impossible to slay. Credibility's a different animal.


Changing the Rules of the Game, April 1

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