In a column out today, entitled "We Will Win", Steve Forbes writes ...
We must prepare ourselves for a bloody year. Terrorists will make every effort to pull off Madrid-like atrocities in the U.S. as our elections near. The forces of good, however, when combined with consistency and determination have always triumphed. This war will be no exception.
This is precisely the sort of inane mumbojumbo that will -- perhaps literally -- get us all killed. Certainly many of our young people fighting on our behalf all over the world, and perhaps more<$Ad$> than a few at home as well.
The importance of words is a conceit of wordsmiths, certainly. But they are important -- especially when they bleed through into thought and action, which happens more often than you'd think.
As we noted
several months ago, orotund, abstract language can obfuscate accountability, truth-telling, and as we're now seeing most clearly, the simple facing of reality. And, boy, are we there today -- with the repeated incantations of vague phrases which can mean anything and thus also nothing.
Why are things spinning out of control in Iraq? Why are we losing the struggle for hearts and minds in the country? Because we stand for freedom. And the terrorists hate freedom. And they're attacking us because we're bringing freedom to Iraq. And terrorists hate freedom. Therefore they hate us. And since they hate us so much of course they fight us.
That was the substance of the president's message last night. And the blurb from Forbes is more of the same -- words that can mean anything or nothing and which are being strung together before our eyes to avert our gaze from the fact that the decisions of our policy-makers have not had the effect that they said they would.
Quite evidently, the "forces of good" have had their heads handed to them any number of times when they had no clue what they were doing. That's obvious. Only a fool doesn't realize that. Falling back on such meaningless statements is precisely what people do when they find themselves unable to reconcile their expectations with what their eyes are showing them.
And this is the point: What we're grappling with here is whether we can be both resolute and
sure we're pursuing a sound strategy. But neither is possible unless we remain willing to see what our eyes are showing us. Otherwise, there's no basis to evaluate whether our strategy is sound or whether we need to correct it.
You'll remember a few days ago I made some ungenerous remarks
about the David Brooks column
in which Brooks argued that though we're going through a difficult time in Iraq we're on the right track and that what's needed is perservance and toughness to see the job through.
Brooks, Forbes and the president last night all seem to be saying the same thing in different ways. We're right, so what we need to do is keep pushing and everything will be great.
I've thought about this and thought about this and what keeps coming back to me is an experience I had a few months ago in New Hampshire -- perhaps it's one you'll relate to.
Since I'd used one in New Hampshire back in 2000, I made a point of getting a rental car that has one of those GPS direction-giving machines -- the kind that has a little computer screen and a computer voice so if you give the machine the destination you want to go to it will literally guide you, turn by turn, until you arrive.
New Hampshire's a pretty rural state and worrying about directions is usually the last thing I want to do when I'm trying to report on some campaign event. So I just love these little gizmos.
In any case, I find them amazingly effective. And I developed a lot of confidence in the directions the computerized voice regaled me with as I drove down these various country roads. I developed so much confidence, in fact, that sometimes when the road and landmarks I was seeing in front of me didn't at all seem like what the computer was telling me, I'd go with the computer's advice. And most times -- after a moment or two of befuddlement and confusion -- I saw that the computer gizmo was right.
Yet, for everyone, there's a point when the dissonance becomes too great. Occasionally, I'd be going along and the computer told me to turn right but there was no right turn. Or the computer showed the highway arching right but I was clearly banking left.
You can imagine countless analogous examples. But at a certain point you realize it's more than a moment of confusion. It's not just that the facts or, in this case, the lay of the road, hasn't yet revealed itself. Nothing looks like it's supposed to look. And you say to yourself, "Wait a second, I'm not where I think I am. I'm off the map."
And you know what? We're off the map. Recognizing that isn't a moral deficiency. It doesn't signal a lack of grit. It's just sanity.
Fareed Zakaria makes a related point -- though in very different language -- in the piece
I quoted yesterday evening:
It is conventional wisdom that the United States should stay engaged with Iraq for years. Of course it should, but for this to work Iraqis must welcome the help. In the face of escalating anti-Americanism, U.S. involvement in Iraq will be unsustainable ... Washington has a final window of opportunity to end the myriad errors that have marked its occupation and adopt a new strategy.
We may be for freedom. But if the people we're trying to 'free' don't think that's true, then it scarcely matters. If we could step down from words like 'free' and 'freedom' which have use in speeches and as broad concepts, but only a limited value for analyzing what's actually going on here, then maybe we'd be a little more effective.
Are we fighting some people who 'hate freedom'? Well, yes, if, as I assume we do, we mean by this people who want to build a closed, theocratic society and hate the secularism and liberalism of the West. But maybe we're also now fighting people who are just nationalists, or people who've been affected in some fashion adversely by the occupation. And maybe we've maneuvered ourselves so badly that now we've got the nationalists and the people who 'hate freedom' fighting together. And, even worse, maybe that's helping the people who 'hate freedom' convince the nationalists and the aggreived that they should 'hate freedom' too. And maybe there are folks there who sorta 'hate freedom' but don't necessarily hate us -- maybe Sistani, for instance, or the folks behind SCIRI, who probably more fairly fit that description than Sistani. And maybe we can drive a wedge between those two groups. Who knows if these points of analysis hold true? But we'd better start digging into the particulars of what's really happening over there or we'll become the primary victims of our whirl of empty, bamboozling phrases. And the infantile belief that everyone who doesn't follow our dictation 'hates freedom' will end up leaving a lot of people really hating us.