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The Age Of Tactics

May 11, 2002
By Jeremiah Bourque

If 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 to recognize.

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 retail prices.

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 cooperation.
- 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 mutually inconsistent.

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 good.

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 from somewhere.

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.

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