Thursday, October 23, 2008

Epic Fail

Ross Douthat, in reference to Biden's "epic gaffe" about threats that a President Obama might face due to his youth and inexperience, becomes the latest to dramatically misrepresent animus against America in the world. Funnily enough, Biden is doing that too.

Biden suggests that our enemies would see the election of an inexperienced president and be persuaded to launch an attack on America... or something. This notion is of a piece with those who say that "defeat" in Iraq (whatever such a thing could mean) would "embolden" our enemies, and specifically Al Qaeda. Douthat is asserting that what Biden said is correct, and that it represents a compelling reason to vote against Obama. If we elect him, people otherwise disinclined to attack us will.

We all say questionable things, in election season, but this is just goofy.

Let me assure Ross Douthat, and Joe Biden, and John McCain, and William Kristol, et al.-- America's real enemies, Al Qaeda and similar Islamic jihadist terrorist organizations, don't exactly need encouragement. They are determined to attack the United States, and they don't need convincing. I am utterly baffled by the notion of a terrorist cell living in a cave on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, collecting weapons and developing plans, who read in a newspaper that John McCain has been elected president and just call the whole thing off. I likewise am trying to imagine Osama bin Laden resting in his own luxurious cave, hearing on the radio that Obama has been elected, and declaring "Well say! I was going to call the whole thing off, but heck, if that guy's in charge...."

The terrorists who wish to kill Americans do not need additional motivation, nor do they care who's in charge. They don't care. What prevents them from attacking is anti-terrorist intelligence and police work from across the globe, and the logistical difficulty inherent in pulling off a complex terrorist action. Despite what Jeffrey Goldberg will tell you-- and hey, I don't blame him, his career consists exclusively of AutoTexting "you're naive about terrorism", and these pundit jobs don't grow on trees-- there are very real logistical and planning difficulties associated with most terrorist attacks. It's true that few of those difficulties arise from specifically anti-terrorist security. But any number of factors could have prevented 9/11, just as seemingly minor factors (and the terrorists' stupidity) prevented the "liquid bombing" attacks.

Other nations, meanwhile, are even less likely to be at all "inspired" by the election of Obama. What is the cognitive turn that's supposed to be happening here? "Well, we weren't gonna fuck with the US, being that it's the dominant military and economic superpower in the world. But hey, that inexperienced Obama won! Launch missiles!" It's bizarre. Here's what protects the United States from foreign aggression: the fact that we have the most dominant armed forces in the history of warfare; our enormous and unprecedented nuclear arsenal; our economic dominance, particularly our influence over foreign economies and foreign national banks; our vast network of diplomatic and military alliances; our intelligence service, and cooperation from foreign intelligence services; and our soft cultural power. I'm trying to imagine what Douthat, or Biden, or whoever else is imagining, say, China's inner circle would think here. "Well, they still have the bomb, and the Army and Marines, and a Navy that could decide to only use its submarines and still destroy the Navy of any other country in the world, and an Air Force that could decide for kicks to only use planes that are at least ten years old and still dominate air combat completely-- but boy, with this guy in charge... let's invade Taiwan." I mean seriously. Obama isn't experienced enough to say "go kick their ass"? Even if he was, he won't have advisors to tell him what to do in response? Are the Joint Chiefs going to sit there while he says "I just don't know what to do"? The whole line of thinking is politicized nonsense.

We live in the age of great American solipsism. Now, not only are all other countries supposedly obsessed with us, according to some their actions against us having nothing to do with their own wants and best interests but are instead generated purely in response to the actions of the US. This is actual, literal solipsism, where no one else exists. Other countries have their own priorities, chief among them self-preservation. Foreign regimes, funnily enough, don't want to be wiped off the face of the Earth. So they tend not to undertake suicidal actions like attacking the US. This is why, for example, the idea of an Iranian attack on Israel is ludicrous. Such an attack would be suicide. It would absolutely ensure the extermination of the current Iranian regime. What kind of leaders would do such a thing? They wouldn't. The only people who think they would are people who assume any foreign powers are controlled by leaders who are stupid, or irrational, or just crazy. That's another central arrogance, and one which cripples our ability to meaningfully interpret the world. Foreign leaders don't do things for no reason, and they won't base their aggression or passivity against us on the experience of our President.


Joseph F. said...

Two points:

I honestly think both you are Douthat are misrepresenting what Biden actually said, as is typically the case among his so-called "gaffes". He wasn't saying that Obama's election would motivate such a crisis, simply that there is a high probability of one occurring regardless of who is elected, and Obama will have to be ready for it. His problem, as always, is he doesn't phrase his thoughts clearly enough.

"The only people who think they would are people who assume any foreign powers are controlled by leaders who are stupid, or irrational, or just crazy." Well, no. They just assume that Iran, specifically, is, and that they value what they consider affronts to their religion more than their own survival. This is not totally baseless. I'd have exactly the same fears about a similarly structured evangelical Christian government with someone like Sarah Palin in Ahmadinejad's position.

But I tend to believe that all powers, including the U.S., by virtue of being human institutions, are often controlled by stupid, irrational, crazy people. Most of us are all of these things to some degree. I'm not even sure there are other kinds of people.

paul said...

I quite agree in a general sense, but I think that foreign heads of state (if not terrorists) might be slightly more aggressive/muscular in their foreign policy if Obama is elected, if they perceive that he won't be as bellicose as McCain.

And, as Joseph said, the mullahs in Iran really might be 'irrational' in terms of valuing certain revelatory claims above national self-preservation (just as a suicide bomber devalues his own earthly/physical life).

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