Age Of Tactics
May 11, 2002
By Jeremiah Bourque
there is a theme in the last month, it is the absence of one.
Long-term, strategic thinking is dead. What we see before
our eyes is a never-ending series of maneuvers designed for
short-term, tactical goals. Nowhere is this more apparent
than in the behavior of the President and Israeli PM Ariel
Sharon regarding their mutual evasion of responsibility for
the Middle East, and Sharon's transparent use of the latest
suicide bombing to begin yet another bloody operation. As
I write this, troops are massing near Gaza for a showdown
that Hamas and Sharon both want to see.
Sharon is leaking to Israeli papers that his overriding goal
here is to bloody the Palestinians so that this generation
of youths understands that Israel is invincible, something
that they supposedly were not taught like their fathers were.
Presumably, their children and children's children will also
require such lessons.
Of course, that presumes they'll be producing children.
This sort of thinking is the extent of the strategy that
I am finding.
In the Netherlands, a far-right leader who was, perhaps unjustly,
called a fascist and Hitler clone, but most definitely was
anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic, was assassinated for the
simple reason that the death of a human was preferable than
the deaths of many animals for fur. Prison will now be the
killer's retirement home. If he survives to the end of his
mandatory sentence, he will likely be released as a proud
old man, incapable of hurting anyone ever again. One wonders
if he will like the world he enters; his action will have
long-term consequences, seemingly all of which he has failed
Conservative actions in the United States on many fronts,
including those regarding the Second Amendment, the national
debt, Medicare, taxes, and corporate regulation, seem not
a coherent whole, but scorched earth tactics following tenets
laid out by donors, radical philosophers, and shortsighted
fools. There is no building here; only destruction.
We are held hostage to a strange mating dance between the
Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army, all for
the sake of preserving all-important egos. Meanwhile, the
Secretary of the Army's division at Enron is exposed as having
been key to the bilking of the average citizen, exposing the
sheer lunacy of the "It's The Free Market, STUPID!" argument
that Enron was simply fulfilling market demand and that there
was not enough electricity because of California's stupid
decisions. This division asked for many times more electricity
than it needed or was willing to pay for, creating the appearance
of a system-wide shortage, enabling Enron energy sellers to
evade restrictions on what they could charge, and greatly
punish the regular buyers of electricity, such as California's
power utilities, forced to resell the power at restricted
prices. Then, of course, everyone complained about the restrictive
When I was on the conservative Free Republic message board
arguing against this bilking, the impression I received -
it is not important to quote fanatics here - was that it is
perfectly acceptable and moral to be a predatory seller. In
a perfectly functioning economic system, I might even agree
with the proposal, though such a perfect system does not exist.
However, defrauding on the selling end, AND on the buying
end, in other words, manipulation of demand, is nothing but
an astounding level of contempt for any concept of fair trade.
Even cutting out the regulations this was designed to skirt,
the gaming of an exchange in this manner... well, would we
allow this on Wall Street? Would we allow this at the Tokyo
Stock Exchange? We most certainly would call it the transparent
criminality that it is.
I don't know if the economic Darwinists of the conservative
Web even acknowledge the ability of corporations to manipulate
demand. Though possibly a separate issue, I have heard more
times than I want to count how "only the Government can use
Force," and how the use of force, which only the Government
can do, is horrible and atrocious. The Government, that evil
entity, can place restrictions on buying and selling, which
are evil, for with a willing buyer and a willing seller, there
can be nothing that can be called unreasonable pricing.
This is likely why Medicare reimbursements have been cut
5.4%. In the eyes of "economic conservatives," which are usually
presented as the good guys, "Your money, or your life," is
not seen as an unfair trade in any sense whatsoever. To many,
the lack of money to preserve your bodily functions is seen
as proof of your having accumulated insufficient virtue from
other citizens through the course of your life span. Thus,
in an economic sense, you deserve to die.
I'm not making this up.
But at least Enron actually has a strategy.
Our foreign policy, for instance, does not.
The foreign policy of the United States bounces between various
concepts. Among them:
- Stop Powell.
- Stop Sharon.
- Stop Arafat.
- Stop Prince Abdullah.
- Stop President Mubarak.
- Stop Saddam Hussein.
- Stop Osama Bin Laden.
- Stop Kristol from badmouthing American policy.
- Stop the Europeans from messing everything up.
- Stop Israel from obstructing the UN.
- Stop Iraq from obstructing the UN.
- Stop the UN.
- Stop the International Criminal Court from having American
- Stop the media from calling US foreign policy "Inconsistent."
- Stop being inconsistent.
As you can see, these goals are mutually inconsistent. Without
a clear theory of what the United States wants, we are reduced
to what the President wants, which is to be seen as doing
something without doing something, and to cover his rear end
from the conservative base without seeming totally out of
touch from world affairs. Which are, of course, themselves
What a disaster.
At least guys like David Horowitz have a strategy, as low
and corrupt as it is. (That strategy being, smear, destroy,
dominate, extinguish, and when all else fails, whine, whine,
whine.) This President simply cannot make up his mind for
any length of time on matters of foreign policy.
In domestic policy, there is a strategy, but it's the conservative
movement's, not the President's. Thus, the sad truth is that
this administration is essentially deconstructing American
life as we know it, running on auto. These people are trained
to disregard the media and public opinion, ram things down
everyone's throats, and to hell with the consequences. The
normal means of dissent seem insufficient to do any practical
If any good can come from recognizing this decentralized
approach to assaulting sanity in government, it is that the
lack of a coherent strategy on the part of conservative leaders
leaves a void. It would be a terrible mistake to fight tactics
with more tactics. Rather, tactics must be used, but there
must be some semblance of an idea of what the end goal is.
As things stand now, Bush will likely be reelected. He may
not, but there are not, as yet, credible candidates who seem
able to withstand the Reagan-like "America Is Great" message
that places the incumbent in a position of being the epitome
of all that is good and just in the world. (Kind of like Ariel
Sharon is supposed to be.) While certainly wise to oppose
his reelection fervently, I don't put much stock in it, myself.
Besides, I'm an analyst; I'm a worst-case scenario planner.
Let's assume that Bush gets reelected., is able to stack
the federal and supreme courts with like-minded people, and
social programs become seriously endangered. More broadly,
the constitutional fabric of the nation is under assault.
What to do?
There needs to be a set of priorities.
To go beyond the Age of Tactics, "the Left" has to come up
with a coherent idea of what it wants to be, and why. It used
to be that this could be taken for granted. I don't think
that's a good idea anymore. After all, look at the huge disaffected
masses of youth who are cynical, pessimistic about the seeming
inevitability of the conservative social agenda taking greater
power over our lives, and figures such as Joe Lieberman ready
to condemn their interests at every turn in order to appear
to be moral and moderate.
A single article cannot be intended to be a political manifesto,
but perhaps it will serve a purpose as a starting point, demonstrating
that shortsighted foolishness cannot pay off, and is not paying
off for Republicans. For Democrats and their sympathizers
to capitalize, true strategic vision is necessary. Ideas are
what politics is truly about. The application of ideas cannot
begin without ideas in the first place. Things have to start
Coming up with ideas is easy for conservatives, because their
ideas are all old; that's why they're conservatives. They
want to conserve old ideas, convincing themselves that if
it's old, it's good. It's harder for liberals. Even so...
shouldn't we set our goals a little higher?
I think that's what strategic vision is all about.