Saturday, December 23, 2006


I was wrong, to think that the Joint Chiefs would oppose Bush's "Surge" plan.

Kevin Drum summarizes my initial reaction:

So we're not quite sure what we're going to do with them, but after meeting with the new SecDef we're suddenly quite sure we need them. Another courageous moment for our military leadership.

Still, honesty compels me to say that I'm glad this is going to happen. I know this makes me a bad person with no concern
for human life etc. etc. (feel free to expand on this sentiment in comments), but at some point we have to come to a conclusion on this stuff. Conservatives long ago convinced themselves against all evidence that we could have won in Vietnam if we'd only added more troops or used more napalm or nuked Hanoi or whatever, and they're going to do the same thing in Iraq unless we allow them to play this out the way they want. If they don't get to play the game their way, they'll spend the next couple of decades trying to persuade the American public
that there was nothing wrong with the idea of invading Iraq at all. We just never put the necessary resources into it.

The premise of "Coming Perfect Storm" was that Bush's policies, being bad policies, would have bad consequences, and, at least, some of those policies would have consequences bad enough to trigger a "political storm" -- a confluence of events, which form a compelling narrative destructive to the power of at least some political actors and movements. My hope is that Bush and the Republican Right suffer; my fear is that Democrats and the Left will ultimately get the blame.

Politics is theatre and political action is dramatic action. Propaganda works as a tool of politics, because narratives, giving meaning to political action, is often more important to the electorate than the functional outcomes of actual policy.

It would be a misunderstanding to think that I am arguing here, for pramatism, that I have an unstated wish that people would lose their illusions, and become more interested in technocratic policy analysis. There is inherent ambiguity, to policy outcomes; the analysis, which would let us point to this or that event as an outcome depends, fundamentally, on the plausibility of counterfactual narratives. We cannot escape human nature, or the limits of knowledge. As humans, we depend on dramatic narrative to give meaning and direction to our lives and our actions -- individually and collectively. We cannot escape the centrality of narrative, which is built into us.

And, we cannot escape basic limits on knowledge: just to illustrate, consider the importance of policies to prevent bad outcomes. Preventing bad outcomes is a lot of what policy is about; but, the success of such policies is in the things that did not happen -- completely counterfactual things. Drama is built out of what did happen, and how we respond. Bush's gain in political power from preventing the attack on the World Trade Center would have been extremely modest, in comparison to the augmentation of his power and popularity, which was the consequence of failing to prevent it. Such are the paradoxes of political drama.

So, now we are confronted with a war gone wrong. Do we cut our losses by leaving, or do we realize our losses by leaving?

Democrats advocate the first -- that we will cut our losses by leaving; Republicans appear confident that they can sell the latter narrative: "we leave = we lose". The Republican scheme has the advantage that many of the costs and consequences of the failed Iraq policy will come after, after our leaving. In the post hoc, propter hoc world of narrative, it is the work of a propagandist's moment to make the leaving the cause of all that follows, and not the failures of the war policy, occupation and reconstruction policies, themselves.

So, Kevin Drum recognizing this dynamic, hopes that continued failure will gradually and further undermine the Right-wing narrative -- and not incidentally, the credibility of the narrators -- and, ultimately, result in the American People "learning" a moral lesson from the narrative of Bush's Adventure in Iraq. That, ultimately, is the function of a political storm: to create a narrative, which creates meaning and guides and motivates action.

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