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January 31, 2007

Cognitive Dissonance On Iraq War

bootsy.jpg It is a uniquely American tableau. Nowhere else in the world can one imagine the scene being played out in quite this way.

Up on Capitol Hill politicians duck life and death decisions with oily rhetoric designed to cover up the inconvenient truth. But no matter how long the palaver goes on, hard choices must be made and human beings will suffer and die as a result. There is no question about that. Not really.

The only real questions are these: which people will die, can the killing be limited, and in the end who will be stuck with the blame?

But Washington has always been a city of shadows and misdirection and so the pompous posturing continues, aided by a gullible press and a freshman Senator melodramatically thrusting his son's combat boots into the air. The cameras long ago panned away from the Iraqis and the troops who fight, and bleed, and come home in coffins. Now it is all about Senator Webb; his angst and his anger. And so the media rush to cover the dog and pony show, brushing aside the son who left college early to join a war his father trashes at every opportunity.

No matter. Lance Corporal Webb is just one more brainwashed soldier whose opinion the media finds not suitable for your consumption. It's not 'fair and balanced' enough; it doesn't support the metamessage they wish to convey. And anyway, Daddy just keeps talking... and talking... and talking and we wouldn't want to miss a single, precious soundbyte:

TIMES-DISPATCH: The Times-Dispatch has called on you and your colleagues to shake President Bush’s extended hand and help fix our nation’s health insurance and payment system. Will you?

WEBB: A lot people lost their hands in Iraq. Three thousand soldiers, and counting, have lost even more.

TIMES-DISPATCH: Err… um … that’s nice. Well, actually it’s not nice at all, but that’s beside the point. My question wasn’t about hands in general, but about Bush’s in particular. Will you shake it?

WEBB: Just yesterday my boy called me from Iraq. He said some of the locals were shaking in fear. It’s not healthy, and America will have to pay for years to come, all because George W. Bush wasn’t prescient enough in 2003 to figure out what a brilliant guy I was at the time.

TIMES-DISPATCH: That’s not what I asked. What I asked was, will you shake the President’s hand?

WEBB: I think that is between me and my hand.

More and more our national debate on the war has become infected with an eerie sort of cognitive dissonance, the sort of pervasive escapism one expects to find in Hollywood, but not on Capitol Hill. It should not surprise us then to find a popular drama series, Fox television's "24", grappling more honestly with the unforgiving tradeoffs between security and freedom than our elected leaders:

Terrorist threats place American civilians and government officials in a position in which they must choose between conflicting loyalties. It is the show's genius, and the key to its enduring appeal, that its writers almost never lapse into thinking that these choices are simple. This is not to say that there are no right and wrong answers. But right and wrong are often only clear -- especially to the characters, but even to the viewer -- in retrospect.

...But it is not merely a question of choosing between family and a greater good; or -- in other contexts that crop up repeatedly on the show -- between civil liberties and national security; or between torture and human rights. It is a failing of our politics that these kinds of questions, in the real world, are presented by both sides as either easy to answer or unnecessary to choose between -- or both. It is one achievement of "24" that it treats these tradeoffs as both real and difficult. They are questions that depend on the circumstances in which they are asked.

If only Congress faced reality as unflinchingly as Jack Bauer does each week on our TV screens. But there is the wrath of CAIR to consider - that sort of tough talk doesn't play well with the focus groups, and so it is best to step over the crack in the sidewalk, lest it break our backs. Even Muslim-Americans hesitate to speak out, as M. Zuhdi Jasser, a former Navy commander, comments:

To this point, the Muslim community has been able to completely avoid any real debate over Islamism. In fact, we see now a movement in England and the West to blame the West’s foreign policy as a root cause of terror rather than the real root cause — theocratic Islamist ideology.

But in a very real sense, are ordinary Americans any different? For five years now, afraid of igniting deep divisions within our own society, we have oh-so-sensitively avoided any real debate over the war on terror and what must be done if we mean to win it. The real and quite inconvenient truth, revealed in a recent poll, is that the majority of the American people aren't even sure they want us to win. And our fighting men have heard that message loud and clear. They know their efforts are not supported no matter what warm and fuzzy words issue forth from the belly of Congress. One has only to read Senator John Warner's tragically nonsensical resolution to hear one thing loud and clear: the Republican Party has asked our military to accomplish a mission with a plan they admit has not worked in the past for lack of resources.

And, having openly admitted that fact, they now refuse the commander, whose appointment they just overwhelmingly approved, the troops and equipment he just told Congress he needs to do the job.

Convenient translation: "You, sir, have just been relieved of command. Oh, go ahead and keep the fancy title and uniform, feel free to take the blame when the mission fails, but we are dictating to you how to do your job. By the way, this is the same job your predecessor was tasked with, but though we all complained for years there weren't enough boots on the ground, we now think you ought to be able to do the job with insufficient resources. And don't bother trying to tell us what you think you need because we are not interested. That is all.".

And with this solemn pronouncement from Senator Warner, the cognitive dissonance is complete. So many things have been clarified for us. The President may have thought he was the Commander-in-Chief, but now we know better. As McQ (who has himself questioned the wisdom of the surge in the past) notes, there is a time for discussion, and a time when, having voiced your disagreement, you close ranks and get behind the plan. Of course, this metaphor assumes all parties are on the same side, and that they truly want to win.

Those assumptions have now been rather thoroughly refuted, and Congress, though it will not openly assume responsibility for the outcome, has refused to allow either the President or the military to direct military operations.

What the Warner resolution makes crystal clear is that General Petraeus may have thought he was in charge of military operations, but General Abizaid's judgment and that of his junior officers, not the current commanding General's, will be allowed to overrule the word of the commander and decide events on the ground:

Whereas, U.S. Central Command Commander General John Abizaid testified to Congress on November 15, 2006, "I met with every divisional commander, General Casey, the Corps Commander, [and] General Dempsey. We all talked together. And I said, in your professional opinion, if we were to bring in more American troops now, does it add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq? And they all said no.

And so now we know the value of all that talk of "listening to the Generals". It was all a matter of which Generals, wasn't it? We don't want to listen to General Mattis, or General Zilmer:

Additional troops earmarked for that region under President Bush's planned increase will buy the region the time it desperately needs, Zilmer said.

"What these additional Marines provide to us is an ability to reinforce the success that we've seen in the last couple of months," he said. "It allows us to get to some of the areas that we haven't been able to establish the presence we would have liked.

"But at the end of the day, it's still about providing that time, and that's what these 4,000 Marines will give us. They will provide that additional time for us to develop the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police, which at the end of the day, are essential to the long-term security and stability in Anbar province."

Well General Zilmer, you have your answer from General Senator Warner. Put that little piece of Republican Party support in your pipe and smoke it.

Posted by Cassandra at January 31, 2007 07:27 AM

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I commented a few days back that I was going to give Senator Warner an opportunity to show me his plan before making up my mind. I have seen his plan - such as it is - and have made up my mind.

WHEREAS, the senior Senator from the Old Dominion has seen fit to undermine the authority of Commander in Chief in a most public and embarrassing manner at a critical moment in this nation's battle for Iraq;

Whereas, this seasoned political survivor has engaged in such action in hopes of distancing himself from an unpopular president, waging an unpopular war, as preparation for making a run for an unprecedented 8oth term in office;

Whereas, both the seasoned Senator and his junior sidekick, Robin, have disgraced the Commonwealth and its citizens, both those who stand upon it soil and those lie beneath it in Arlington;


You can go to hell.

Posted by: spd rdr at January 31, 2007 12:26 PM

Geez spd, and you were wondering what was wrong with Ohio last year?

Crazy, stupid, political fear.

It's catching.

Last night I actually watched a couple of minutes of "Hardball" with Chrissy Matthews, as he was interviewing John Ensign of Nevada, and I was interested in hearing what Mr. Ensign had to say. In the final go-round, Chris gave Sen. Ensign a not-so subtle chance to denounce the "ideologues that led us into this war."

What about the "ideologues" who oppose everything about this? Oh, that's different. Never mind.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 31, 2007 01:04 PM

Since they all seem to be devoid of the courage of their convictions ,"I voted for the war before I voted against it", we can all be certain to remind them , repeatedly, about their cowardice.

Posted by: Edward Lunny at January 31, 2007 01:04 PM


Posted by: RICHARD DAUGHERTY at January 31, 2007 02:52 PM

Virginia is NOT Massachusetts. After Senator Kerry's latests remarks in Davos, here's hoping Massachusetts is no longer Massachusetts.

On a more serious note, let us talk of impeachment of our nations enemies as they sit in the Senate and in Congress. I have never seen behaviour this dispicable from people who have sworn to protect and defend the USA. Whether they be Democrat or Republican they need to be removed. If impeachment isn't possible, 2008 is just down the road.

Posted by: joated at January 31, 2007 03:46 PM

More troops, fewer troops, push in, pull out, whatever route is taken the consequences are going to be bad now.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at January 31, 2007 08:51 PM

Ah yes, politicians, the second oldest profession.
(Which bears a striking resemblance to the first)

Posted by: camojack at February 1, 2007 01:20 AM

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