Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Category Mistake Redux

Fred Kaplan, at the end of what is yet another fine column, takes note of the depressingly simplistic outlook of our President. Kaplan catches Bush committing a category mistake with rather significant repercussions:

As for Iraq, it's no news that Bush has no strategy. What did come as news—and, really, a bit of a shocker—is that he doesn't seem to know what "strategy" means.

Asked if it might be time for a new strategy in Iraq, given the unceasing rise in casualties and chaos, Bush replied, "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy. … Either you say, 'It's important we stay there and get it done,' or we leave. We're not leaving, so long as I'm the president."

The reporter followed up, "Sir, that's not really the question. The strategy—"

Bush interrupted, "Sounded like the question to me."

First, it's not clear that the Iraqi people want a "democratic society" in the Western sense. Second, and more to the point, "helping Iraqis achieve a democratic society" may be a strategic objective, but it's not a strategy—any more than "ending poverty" or "going to the moon" is a strategy.

Strategy involves how to achieve one's objectives—or, as the great British strategist B.H. Liddell Hart put it, "the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy." These are the issues that Bush refuses to address publicly—what means and resources are to be applied, in what way, at what risk, and to what end, in pursuing his policy. Instead, he reduces everything to two options: "Cut and run" or, "Stay the course." It's as if there's nothing in between, no alternative way of applying military means. Could it be that he doesn't grasp the distinction between an "objective" and a "strategy," and so doesn't see that there might be alternatives? Might our situation be that grim?

Now you know why I drink. Read the rest, and pour yourself a stiff one too.

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