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On Emboldening

My aunt mentioned last night that all of a sudden she was hearing the usually "plainspoken" George W. Bush say some kind of fancy word. "Embolden?" I asked. And that, it turns out, was right on the money, as noted by Kevin Drum and Mark Kleiman. At any rate, aside from providing an unusually clear formulation of the Bush campaign's dissent-is-treason tactic, this whole theory seems to me to embed a curious analytic flaw into the nature of our present situation.

Does anyone really believe, after all, that our enemies currently lack for boldness of all things? One can say accurately various nasty things about Osama, his hardened core of terrorists-cum-special-forces, his more conventional guerilla fighters, Zarqawi, al-Sadr, their followers, etc., but one thing they certainly aren't is some kind of chickenshit force that would be really scary if only they got bolder. We're talking about volunteer recruits who didn't sign up for any valuable job training, subsidized college loans, generous post-retirement health and pension benefits, or whatever. They don't have air support, or heavily armored transport vehicles, or well-defended bases, or Medevac planes, or state-of-the-art helmets. Most every government on earth would arrest them at any time doing such a thing became feasible. And yet, they're running around, slipping past border patrols, blowing shit up, hijacking this and that, taking enormous casualties, peppering American bases with mortar fire, standing and fighting and getting killed by better-trained, better-equipped US soldiers, etc. They are, in other words, pretty freaking bold as is.

And we're not going to become any bolder than them. The notion that the USA could possibly impress these guys with grand displays of machismo is silly. The bad guys here are hard core and that's just the way it is. A strategy to beat them has to be smart and has to use the many advantages America really does have. Worrying about the other side's boldness isn't going to get us anywhere.

September 25, 2004 | Permalink

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Matthew Yglesias on the widespread use on the right of the word "emboldening": Does anyone really believe, after all, that our enemies currently lack for boldness of all things? One can say accurately various nasty things about Osama, his hardened... [Read More]

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Comments

Hey, I agree with you. But this administration is much more interested in casting roles than in governing, and this is no different... the insurgents (and al Qaida, etc.) are craven petty criminals who delight in killing even their own at random, blah blah blah, while GWB and US soldiers in general are honorable soldiers who WILL win the war because of their steely-eyed resolve and, of course, the appropriate cheerleading efforts by the folks back home (the lack of which provides an excuse for failure, never mind that soldiers who need constant adulation probably would do better with additional training instead).

As I said, they're just casting directors-- at this point I would't even give their efforts enough credit to be called marketing, because for that you need an actual product to sell-- and they're casting themselves as the good guys, in some unholy rip-off of everyone from Henry Fonda to John Wayne to Bruce Willis.

Posted by: latts | Sep 25, 2004 11:08:06 AM

By the power vested in me, courtesy of the ATVSIOF, I proclaim today Troy Donohue Day. Collars up, everyone. Girls included. Go out there, today. Be cool. Be emoldened. More than that: be embiggened!

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Sep 25, 2004 11:08:49 AM

I'd say that, as far as "emboldening the enemy" goes, telling the truth about the situation in Iraq pales far in comparison to saying to insurgents:

"Bring It On."

Schoolyard trash-talking -- now THAT's emboldened the enemy.

Keef

Posted by: Keef | Sep 25, 2004 11:18:36 AM

Emboldening the Enemy: We have heard all this before with Viet Nam. The sad thing
is how long it takes to outgrow the hatred that came out of it. As you see, we are still hung up on the anti-war activities
of the 1970s.

Also, it anyone else puzzled at how "shocked" the SBVets are to read about
atrocities having ocurred in Viet Nam?

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr | Sep 25, 2004 11:31:57 AM

I used to think that America had some hope for independent political thought -- not something that I'd necessarily agree with, but something at least bordering on originality, ingenuity, what have you. 9/11 blew independent thought outta the water for the masses, and Iraq is pounding what remains on the rocks. I don't mean to oversimplify or condescend, honestly -- but looking at this trainwreck election and listening to the outright lies and delustions that surround it, I can't say that I have a lot of hope left. Or maybe I'm just pessimistic today.

Posted by: santo | Sep 25, 2004 11:42:54 AM

And the thing about us not committing war crimes in Southeast Asia is the acme of delusion -- and dangerous when mainstream in a violent superpower.

Posted by: santo | Sep 25, 2004 11:44:07 AM

I'm pretty sure this is what Bill Maher got fired for saying.

Posted by: Kriston | Sep 25, 2004 11:46:16 AM

Probably everyone already knows this, but. . .

I see the "embolden" strategy as being yet another way for the Bushies to say ridiculous things that are hard to disprove. Sure, saying that Kerry or even those who read this blog are "emboldening" the enemy is also quite hard to prove. But in the current political climate, it is not proving something that matters, it is disproving something.

So this might be a fairly effective line of attack, with the qualification that like most of the Bush campaign strategies it seems to be aimed at motivating the already committed rather than trying to convince anyone. No one is more convinced of the truth of Kerry's accusations than the Bush campaign. The Bushies know that truth and common sense are not their friends, so they're hoping to scare enough tinfoil whackjobs into leaving their alien-and-liberal-proof bomb shelters just long enough to vote.

It's frustrating to know this nation is governed by people with absolutely no moral compass, but also satisfying to see this level of desperation.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 25, 2004 11:48:42 AM

It seems that the most important republican talking point regarding Iraq for is that terrorists are going there instead of coming here.

This is offered as an explanation for why there have not been any attacks on US soil since 9/11.

The counter that Bush is recruiting more terrorists is just too subtle. Americans assume Arabs hate us already.

The fact that Rumsfeld admits we are creating more terrorists than we are killing changes nothing.

My questions for liberals are:

Do you believe Bush's policies have prevented another 9/11 style attack?

What can Kerry do better than Bush to prevent another 9/11 style attack.

If Bush is elected, how would that increase the danger of another 9/11 style attack?

Posted by: Avis Pattin | Sep 25, 2004 12:35:40 PM

Yes, Kriston, this is exactly what Bill Maher got fired for saying. Matt, you're fired.

Posted by: fnook | Sep 25, 2004 12:43:08 PM

Whoa - J. Davis beat me to it - can this be that far ahead?:

"That a people might embiggen America,
that a man might embiggen his soul."

I mean, Our Leader even has a brother named Jeb, right? That's Empire, baby!

Posted by: grishaxxx | Sep 25, 2004 12:59:16 PM

No, the Bush policies have not prevented another attack. We already know the attacks come at wide intervals.

The most likely "next" attack would be to send in a container- or multiple containers- to our virtually undefended ports. Only 2-3 % of the containers are searched at the present time. Working with Congressional Democrats from coastal states Kerry could reverse the present imbalance of funding for Homeland Security.

It seems almost certain the Bush, if re-elected, would continue to use Homeland Security funding as a political slush fund to reward states like Montana. Put that together with Ashcroft's announcement that fighting marijuana will be a higher priority than fighting cocaine or opiate smuggling, and we have a recipe for disaster. Especially when we consider the spike in Bush popularity after 9-11. Crows and coyotes will always return to a place where they found food.

Posted by: serial catowner | Sep 25, 2004 1:04:23 PM

you are generally right on with your comments, but i take umbrage with "... generous post-retirement health and pension benefits, or whatever....". we used to expect this from any employer-and we were not being shot at or blowen up or "Marched" to death(remember bataan). while i do NOT support iran-i DO support the troops! and please sir, so should you.

Posted by: billie | Sep 25, 2004 8:19:53 PM

Here's my fear, which came to me mowing the lawn. Bush-Cheney, et. al. are so desperate to hold power they came up with the "vote for us or you'll die" line, even though they know their chances of preventing another terrorists attack is the same as mine-zero.
I know from my nice, non-ideological Republican neighbors that much support for Bush is pure superstition. We haven't been attacked yet, so he must be doing a good job. Here's where fear comes in.
If I were a terrorist, I'd plan a mass atrocity for the morning of Nov. 3. Consider the options.
If Bush won the night before, his re-election would stand revealed as based on a lie.
If Kerry won, his presidency would be over before it began.
If it was up in the air, say with that Colorado referendum, well, life in Baghdad might not look so bad by Thanksgiving.

Posted by: JMGee | Sep 26, 2004 12:19:47 AM

I don't agree with the Bush strategy, and I think the Iraq adventure is one of the greatest mistakes of modern history.

Nevertheless you are conflating two senses of bold. Bush's statement may be wrong, but it is not illogical.

Some al-Qaeda fighters definitely are on the extreme of physical bravery. A Canadian reporter says that when an Ansar al-Islam fighter gets blown up, fighters all around the city celebrate his entry into heaven with cries of Allah Akbar.

However, what Bush means by "emboldening" is more to do with group objectives. Osama bin Laden disseminates the theory that the superpowers are militarily strong, but weak in spirit. They developed that ideology in Afghanistan, and they believe it was confirmed in Somalia. There, the USA abandoned the mission after horrifying images of burned soldiers were released.

In this sense, Somalia really did embolden al-Qaeda. Suddenly they could think about modifying the agenda of a superpower, by public displays of cruelty. This is clearly what they hope to achieve with videotaped beheadings.

Bush is in a serious bind here (of his own making). It is difficult to make any retreat or scaling back of goals, without al-Qaeda drawing the lesson that they should be even more insanely cruel. Can we agree that this is not a belief you want to encourage in your enemy? That way lies Beslan.

Posted by: Neil K | Sep 26, 2004 9:07:04 AM

War is no longer about battlefield supremacy- we have that, and will until the Chinese achieve parity- which is at least 30 years off, imho.

My recollection is that you were not entirely opposed to this war, and not entirely in favor of it. Thing is that while you can change horses as often as you want, as a nation, we can't. This war drives me nuts- I really hate it, even though I support it- but I recognize that it is not primarily about my mental state.

Having started this, we atre obliged to finish it. It is true that we should abandon it if it becomes clear that it _cannot be won_. That is what people do when they realize they have lost. If John Kerry wants to declare defeat, I think that that is within the bounds of political discourse... he would lose by an enormous amount in the upcoming election, of course.

Instead, Kerry has chosen to give incentives to the forces we are fighting, seeking personal advantage. He has, simply, incentivized killing our soldiers, and innocent Iraqis. That's what Bush means when he says embolden, and it's not a very obscure term in this context. They are brave cause they think they can win.

It is very difficult to oppose a wartime President, for exactly this reason. There is a needle that must be threaded here.

There is a reason that challengers have always tried to thread that needle in the past... Kerry has not. In failing to do so he has undermined the war and emboldened our enemies, full stop.

Posted by: Tagore Smith | Sep 26, 2004 10:03:33 AM

"That way lies Beslan."

Except -- doesn't the Chechen War in fact disprove a causal relationship here? Beslan happened despite the willingness of the Russian military and government to "stay the course" in Chechnya and impress the enemy with their cruelty.

Posted by: Doctor Slack | Sep 26, 2004 1:19:33 PM

Instead, Kerry has chosen to give incentives to the forces we are fighting, seeking personal advantage.

It's exactly the opposite. Saying 'we'll stay in your country indefinitely' gives the forces 'we' are fighting an incentive to keep on fighting.

Saying 'we'll be out of your country soon' gives them an incentive to stop fighting, because their goal is not to kill Americans, but to liberate their country from the Americans.

Posted by: abb1 | Sep 26, 2004 1:35:31 PM

I'd like to see an article linking this John Wayne approach to the war with the GOP's ongoing fascination with making tough-guy movie stars into politicians. Seems like the case could be made that real life is not like the movies, and that's why Bush's guys are blowing the war so badly.

Posted by: eliot | Sep 26, 2004 5:39:56 PM

Doctor Slack: maybe you have a point. I don't know enough about the Chechen conflict to say. I probably shouldn't have used that example.

abb1: If it becomes clear the USA is leaving, the various factions will start fighting each other for control. The conflict might become more intense, since victory over home-grown factions is more possible and brings more immediate rewards.

Only if the USA is totally neutral can they escape that conflict.

Anyway, I would just like to point out that leaving has big costs. And so does staying. Bush has really gotten the USA (and by extension the rest of us) in a no-win situation. Unless they can salvage a stable democracy there, and I seriously doubt it, we have to decide which scenario we dislike the least.

Posted by: Neil K | Sep 26, 2004 5:47:43 PM

abb1: If it becomes clear the USA is leaving, the various factions will start fighting each other for control. The conflict might become more intense, since victory over home-grown factions is more possible and brings more immediate rewards.

I don't pretend to know what the various factions will be doing. Maybe they'll rent a hall in Philadelphia and ratify a constitution or something. But if they do start fighting - so what? And what about that supposedly benevolent and wise Sistani guy who, supposedly, can turn out millions of people on a dime. Who can fight against that?

Posted by: abb1 | Sep 26, 2004 5:59:17 PM

abb1:

It's exactly the opposite. Saying 'we'll stay in your country indefinitely' gives the forces 'we' are fighting an incentive to keep on fighting.


The official message from the administration has always been that we would get out of Iraq as soon as we could leave her reasonably whole- you can argue that that is not their actual intention, but it has always been their official position.

It's the reasonably whole bit that is the problem. You also say:

Saying 'we'll be out of your country soon' gives them an incentive to stop fighting, because their goal is not to kill Americans, but to liberate their country from the Americans.

That would be true if we were willing to let Iraq degenerate into full-blown civil war, likely followed by a regime no better than the Baathists we removed from power.

We shouldn't insist that Iraq instantly become an enlightened Western democracy, or that Baghdad become Babylon-on-the-Hudson-on-the-Tigris. But I think we should insist, if it is within our power to do so, that Iraq become a state is likely to move in that direction.

There is a bit of a Chinese finger trap here- we can't leave _until_ they stop fighting, unless we are willing to concede defeat, and abdicate all responsibility for the future state of Iraq.

I'll agree that we have made some very serious mistakes that have given Iraqis who might otherwise have supported a real political process in Iraq an incentive to fight us with bombs and RPGs. We need to start doing a better job in this respect- otherwise we will, in fact, lose. The results of that would not be pretty for us, or for Iraq- they would also not be pretty for other nations we fight in the future. You also say:

Maybe they'll rent a hall in Philadelphia and ratify a constitution or something. But if they do start fighting - so what? And what about that supposedly benevolent and wise Sistani guy who, supposedly, can turn out millions of people on a dime. Who can fight against that?

The point is that they're not interested in renting that hall- if they were they would at least try to find out if we are sincere in our statements re democracy in Iraq. As for the "So What?"- well I'm not sure how to answer that- I think it matters that Iraq not go through a tremendously bloody civil war, followed by rule by the most ruthless faction involved.

As for Sistani- Saddam was certainly able to fight against that- anyone with better arms and no concern for loss of life will be able to fight it easily. But I'm not so sure Sistani should wind up running the country, even if he could.

Posted by: Tagore Smith | Sep 26, 2004 9:42:29 PM

A very useful post saying stuff we all knew back when we called them the mujahedeen. I attribute our pervasive memory losses to the drinking water.
The weirdest thing: I saw a bit of Reagan on TV the other day and he seemed like a kind and decent human being. How our standards change.

Posted by: John Isbell | Sep 26, 2004 9:55:10 PM

see Iraq Wounded for the full story.


They're burned, or blinded, or sparring with death


The story of the military hospital where there's no escaping the horrors of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan



BY MATTHEW MCALLESTER
STAFF CORRESPONDENT

September 27, 2004


LANDSTUHL, Germany - The medical team that accompanied the soldier on the Thursday morning flight from Iraq had worked the whole way to keep him alive, his body burned and lacerated by the fire and metal of a roadside bomb.

They were low on oxygen by the time the green military ambulance reached the front door of the hospital.

"Get me more O2," shouted out a visibly upset nurse, Maj. Pat Bradshaw. She had been up and working for 28 hours, ferrying the wounded out of Iraq.

"She's stressed," said Capt. George Sakakini, a physician in charge of the team that greets the wounded. He watched from the curbside through the early-morning drizzle, keeping an eye on his highly trained squad of doctors, nurses and chaplains. "Someone's trying to die on her."

Full green oxygen tank in place, its contents filtering into the unconscious man's lungs, the team lowered the soldier on his stretcher to the ground. His scorched face was a painter's palette of the colors of pain: yellow, mauve, bright red.

Posted by: Editoress | Sep 27, 2004 9:14:14 AM

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