A Prescription For Endless Conflict

'Clueless'--The Dangerous Intellectual Confusion Of A President

October, 2006 Feature--Truth Based Logic

Logical errors in President Bush's September 11, 2006 address: "Drama queen" exaggeration of the historic significance of contemporary terrorists, which can only help those terrorists recruit new sacrificial blood. The notion that staying in Iraq long after the overthrow of an antagonistic Government somehow reduces likelihood of another major attack on the United States. The claim that introducing Democracy by force will cure problems of clashing interests & ideologies.

On September 11, 2006, President Bush addressed the American people via a telecast on all four networks, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The remarks offered nothing that differed from what has become standard Presidential spin on the War On Terror since the Second Inaugural Address on January 20th of last year: A myopic focus on ill or undefined terms, as mystic solutions to major problems among the earth's peoples, coupled with gross exaggeration of the historic importance of the immediate foe and of the President's personal role and "calling."

Tired of this endless iteration of the same fallacies, the simplistic parade of ghost written sound bites based upon transparent intellectual errors, we drafted an immediate response, posting the following at many Web venues:


As one listened to the President of the United States, last night (September 11, 2006), memories of a funny movie crept into one's conscious. It was about pampered teenaged girls, who lived to take their Mom's credit cards to the shopping mall after school each day, and was appropriately titled, "Clueless!" It was a palliating notion. The bleak reality of the speech was far from a subject for humor. The other quite-beside-the real-point notion was that any conscientious Speech or Debate Professor in America would have graded the effort an absolute failure. Few College Freshman could have put on a more pathetic performance.

There was so much wrong with the speech that it would not justify any comment at all, were it not being delivered by a President of the most powerful Federation of States that the World has ever known; by a President armed with nuclear weapons and a military budget that dwarfs that of any other leader on the planet. Moreover, a President who claims to be keeping America safe, when he has--until only the past few months--virtually ignored a flood of incongruous immigration across our Southern border.

We list but some of George W. Bush's more dangerous errors in logic:

1. The claim that our battle with Terrorists, behind the attack five years ago, will be the defining conflict of the 21st Century.

2. The claim that the War must continue until either we or the Terrorists are destroyed.

[This sort of delusional, "Drama Queen," hyperbole only helps the present Terrorist gangs recruit new blood; while, to the extent that anyone in a leadership position actually believes that the President actually believes what he says, undermines confidence among our natural allies. There is no way that a group of international outlaws, without even a true homeland, can possibly threaten the continued existence of any major Western power, much less the United States of America. To compare the threat of cave hiding fanatics to that posed by Germany and Japan in the 1940s, or that posed by the Communist Empire in the 1950s through 1980s, is, to understate the matter, absurd.]

3. The claim that by staying in Iraq, long after we overthrew the antagonistic Government, we are taking the War to the Terrorists in a manner that somehow makes it less likely that they will come here.

[The President fails even to differentiate among the various types of armed resistance that we are encountering. This is not merely sloppy analysis. It is truly "clueless," since these are supposed to be part of a force that would--according to his argument--otherwise be coming here. Certainly those who are attacking our armed forces--as opposed to attacking other Iraqis--would traditionally be characterized as "guerrillas," not "terrorists." There is absolutely no reason to assume that "guerrillas," resisting a foreign occupation, are likely candidates, absent that occupation, to sneak into a Federation, 5 to 8,000 miles away, to commit suicide in order to terrorize other peoples, as a way to make a religious statement.

While there are those who have come in from outside Iraq to employ terrorist tactics against both Americans and sympathetic Iraqis, indeed openly identifying themselves with known Terrorists, there is no evidence to suggest that these are there as an alternative to sneaking into the United States. The functions of those in Iraq are not similar to those of the carefully trained group that accomplished the disaster on September 11, 2001. By all indications, that particular project was years in development. Again, this foe does not have the remotest semblance of the capacity of a major power, except in the mind of the President. What evidence is there--or by what logic can he hypothesize--that anyone being trained for another dramatic attack on American civilians, within the United States, has been sent instead to Iraq, rather than simply infiltrated over our poorly guarded Southern border; which, even after the President's belated promise this past May 15th, does not have even 10% of the armed protection provided American personnel in Iraq?]

4. The claim that introducing Democracy (by armed force) is some sort of magic cure for all ideological antagonism.

[The abject stupidity of this has been explored in several previous essays. This is the same theme that the President sounded in his Second Inaugural Address, where he used the word "Freedom" in at least six different and conflicting senses in another short speech. We posted a staged debate on that, putting portions of George Washington's celebrated "Farewell Address" in juxtaposition with the Bush speech, to let the reader decide who had the valid argument. (See George Washington Debates George W. Bush.) We have also explored the whole issue of whether Democracy can work in a Third World Nation with a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, population in Democracy In The Third World.

Of course, Democracy does not necessarily work well in the First World either. Hitler came to power in Germany by means of the Democracy known as the Weimar Republic. Apparently, the President has not bothered to actually learn very much about the great struggles of the 20th Century, to which he sought comparison. He certainly shows little or no understanding of whom the moderates are, and whom the fanatics, in the very region that he would reengineer--nor of how "well" an older British experiment in changing other people's culture went in Ireland.]

5. The claim that we need political unity in order to wage a successful war on Terrorism.

[While it would certainly be advantageous to get most of us on the "same page" with respect to any problem, it is childish, playground hysteria, to suggest or imply that there should not be serious debate on the tactics to be employed in any project involving the use of military force. Whether or not we remain in Iraq one day longer than absolutely necessary, to see that it does not collapse into chaos, is a legitimate issue. Whether we should insult over a billion people by suggesting that we have a role in changing their culture--something which beyond question helps Terrorists recruit--is a legitimate issue (that is, if rejecting the President's abandonment of the traditional American policy of treating others with respect, is not self-evidently the wiser course). And where, and to what purpose, we commit our youth is a legitimate topic for debate. (That is, unless this President would deny his own people that level of "Freedom" that he would force on others.)

There is no legitimate debate over whether or not we need to destroy those who would wreak havoc on our people and interests. Of course, we must. But there are questions that must be debated as to what is the most effective way to accomplish that necessary aim. Again, this President remains clueless as to what should be obvious.

The President's integrity, judgment, patriotism and competence, are all called into question by his failure to effectively defend the Southern border. His appeal to our sorrow over the losses on September 11, 2001, should not be allowed to divert anyone's attention from all of the things that he has not done--which he clearly should have done--in the interim. In the context employed, it smacks more of demagoguery than compassion.]

These are the random thoughts of this Conservative Republican from Ohio, on the day after another pathetic, "clueless," performance from one for whom we once had high hopes.

William Flax

Additional Comments

A major area of confusion, reflected not only in the President's rhetoric, but fairly generally among those supporting his policies, is between the tactics of modern "Terrorism" & Islamic culture. This error is usually rationalized by reference to a warlike history--to conversion by the sword. And yet, while violence often begets violence, what we have witnessed, both in the outrages committed by Al Qaeda and in the suicide bombings by fanatic guerrillas, targeting civilians in Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere, reflect tactics not culture. Every true religion (true in the sense of genuine) believes that it is the true religion (true in the sense of eternal verities). There certainly have been historically very significant wars between Christian & Islamic peoples, which indeed had the sort of dramatic implications that the President has claimed for the present confrontations. The differences, however, are immense, both in degree and in the actual nature of the conflicts.

When Islam actually threatened the continued existence of the West; when forcible conversion was a realistic goal, not the fantasy of a "clueless" man seeking the aggrandizement of his own sense of importance, while trying to immerse the rest of us in his "calling"; Islamic armies not only had the capacity to conquer Western peoples, they were actively doing so on a major scale. The appeal of the fanatic fringe, represented by Al Qaeda, to a substantial segment in the Near & Middle Easts grows in large measure from the frustration of those who have seen their once proud peoples humiliated in conflicts with the now more militarily advanced Western Nations. The modern disparity leaves no prospect for Islam to destroy the West militarily--or to forcibly convert any Western Nation. That is a total "pipe dream"--one beyond the capability of mere tobacco to engender. How much less capable is a marginal rebel group such as Al Qaeda--or any other revolutionary faction--of wreaking anything so dramatic!

Indeed, as their very tactics have woken up many Western peoples to the folly of allowing large scale immigration from ethnically incongruous populations--thus actually reducing prospects for a continued Islamic spread via changing demographics in Europe and elsewhere--any viable Islamic threat to the West may actually be receding. This reality does not fit the need of the "drama queens," both of the West and East, to feel important. (Bin Laden needs President Bush's confirmation of Al Qaeda's historic significance even more than Bush needs bin Laden to justify his revival of the Dean Rusk foreign policy of the 1960s.) The truth is that no one has offered either to surrender to the terrorists or convert to Islam as a response to terrorist attacks. The rhetoric suggesting such an outcome is the purest nonsense.

Yet bin Laden offers a form of escape from the reality of Islamic decline to that species of "true believer," who cannot accept unpleasant truth without a need to find a scape-goat. And Al Qaeda's scape-goats are the moderate Arab leaders, such as the House of Saud, and the United States, whom he blames for propping up both the House of Saud and the Israelis. And while a policy of treating him as an Internationalist thug--who will not respect the sovereign independence of nations--a criminal to be hunted down and destroyed, might have limited his capacity for criminal mischief; the Bush gambit of treating his movement as a major player in the history of this Century can only increase his appeal to those "true believers," as the leader of a cause worth dying for.

But all of that stated, the tactics that the terrorists have adopted are not specific to either their cause or ideology. They are equally suitable for use by a vast range of potential mischief makers, and a failure to recognize and understand this point may condemn us to an endless succession of Terror crises, even after we finally put Al Qaeda into a more accurate perspective.

The Japanese Subway incident, a few years back, comes immediately to mind. But can anyone doubt that the Anarchists of a 100 years, or more ago, would not have embraced similar tactics and modern technology to harass established social orders? The tactics are those dictated by an inability to contend on an equal footing with either the Armed Forces or Police of any advanced Political Society. Again, they are not specific to Islamic Fundamentalism. Even the suicidal aspects of many of the attacks, are hardly specific to Islam. Cause driven fanatics have willingly sacrificed their lives throughout the human experience. So, too, have many, ordinarily calm, patriots.

Of course, not all major threats, anticipated from the subject outlaws, involve suicidal efforts. The threats of biological, chemical or radiological atrocities do not necessarily involve someone blowing themselves up in the delivery. While Al Qaeda might wish to engineer a panic by some such exotic means, there are other varieties of criminal, who might seek the same ability for a quite different purpose. Would a revival of the old Hindu criminal cults, such as the Assassins and Thuggees not be equally willing to use such tactics for purposes of extortion? What about the Latino criminal gangs, from Mexico and Central America, now showing up in American Cities as a result of our poorly guarded Southern border?

The President's quixotic "calling" to try to force Democracy on other peoples does absolutely nothing to address the actual tactical threat--nothing, that is, beyond helping Terrorists recruit. As witness our staged Washington vs. Bush debate, linked both above and below, the President used the term "Freedom" in at least six different and conflicting senses in his short Inaugural Address. That is confusion, not idealism. That is winning us enemies not friends. The idiocy of claiming a victory because of pictures of illiterate and semi-literate Iraqis holding up inked fingers, after they have dutifully voted for lists of candidates that their factional leaders provided, epitomizes the same confusion. The Iraqi equivalent to the block voting that goes on in the inner cities of America, is not a phenomena equivalent in any rational sense to Athenian Democracy, nor modern Swiss Democracy, nor anything that would have been considered acceptable to the wise, good men, who gave us our Constitutional Republics.

With his "drama queen" hat on, Mr. Bush defined his sense of struggle:

This struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it is a struggle for civilization. We are fighting to maintain the way of life enjoyed by free nations. And we're fighting for the possibility that good and decent people across the Middle East can raise up societies based on freedom and tolerance and personal dignity.

We note that nowhere does the President discuss in what way he is qualified to define freedom, tolerance and personal dignity for others. He comes from a New England background, yet is seemingly unaware of New England's own history--of the fact that her people originally came to establish religion based communities, with strict dogmatic mandates;--that to many people, "freedom" consists in having a community of like-minded persons, where the rules of conduct conform to one's deeply held religious beliefs. This President, in short, does not understand why to many who do not share his particular social views, at this moment in time, he appears not as a champion of freedom, but as an ideological fanatic to be resisted at any cost.

Mr. Bush continued:

We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom. Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom, and whether the forces of moderation can prevail. For 60 years, these doubts guided our policies in the Middle East. And then, on a bright September morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage. Years of pursuing stability to promote peace had left us with neither. So we changed our policies, and committed America's influence in the world to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism.

There was more such rhetoric. But that passage captures the gist of the President's justification for that "calling," to which he has referred. The whole paragraph illustrates confusion; confusion both as to history and human psychology. Above all, it combines the arrogance of ignorance with a confusion of both purpose and philosophy.

The President appears oblivious to the fact that different peoples have different priorities; that what is seen as freedom or tyranny may often depend upon the extent to which a particular Government respects the priorities of the subjects doing the viewing. The struggle between tyranny and freedom, understood, is an eternal conflict, whether any particular self-righteous fellow has previously grasped the point. And we suspect that very few peoples would want one with this President's demonstrated analytic ability defining their "Freedom."

The significance to the President of the "60 years," mentioned, is no clearer than much of his other thinking. Sixty years ago, we were not really the major player in the area described as the "Middle East"; although it was sixty years ago that President Truman acted decisively to force Stalin to pull Soviet forces out of Northern Iran. As a result, America had a trusted ally in the Shah of Iran, until his overthrow 33 years later. Late in 1946, the last French troops withdrew from Lebanon, which had been granted its independence a few years earlier. Lebanon was known, both for calm and moderation, for a long time thereafter; indeed, producing two leaders, each highly respected in the West in the 1950s and 1960s. The terrible Civil Wars came later.

Israel was created in 1948, following the U.N. partition of Palestine in 1947 and the British withdrawal from what had been their Palestinian Mandate. That partition has led to several wars, but those in the area most intent on keeping the pot boiling have not been the Monarchies and traditional tribal leaderships, but the urbanized lower classes--the one's who burn Western leaders in effigy and celebrate when Terrorists commit major atrocities--in short, those whom the President would enfranchise to elect new leaders. Consider, if Jordan allowed Palestinians full suffrage: The Bedouins would lose their Kingdom, and a new Jordanian/Israeli war would be almost certain.

[In passing, consider another example of the President's intellectual confusion. His refusal to seal the Southern border has been coupled with a willingness to welcome a flood of ethnically incongruous peoples, as voting citizens; changing the culture of large areas of the United States. Yet, at the same time, he has angered the Islamic world by referring to Israel as a model. But what is it that distinguishes Israel, how it chooses leaders or an immigration policy that encourages settlement based upon lines of descent?! Lines of descent--of shared blood and shared experience, with common purpose--are the defining characteristic of a nation. If the President knew the history of the region, he would know that Lebanon had free elections before modern Israel existed. But the Israelis understand very well, one of the many truths of which this President appears blithely ignorant. Ethnicity matters!]

Enough! When the President couples "freedom & democracy," and "repression & radicalism," he is arguing by slogan, but preaching nonsense. He has not embraced anything new--anything rejected for 60 years because of our "doubts"--but embracing and copying the Leftist policy that Dean Rusk advocated during his eight years as Secretary of State (1961-1969). The Rusk policy was to answer Bolshevik Communism in the Third World, by promoting his type of Democratic Revolution before the Bolshevik Communists could promote theirs. (Rusk's policy led to popular elections and rule by the numbers, to be sure; followed by predictable chaos and genocide, as demagogues rallied the more numerous 'bottom feeders,' and launched their own versions of the "Reign of Terror," either on the tribes and ethnicities that had once provided leadership--as in the former Belgian Congo, Rhodesia and Rwanda;--or on Christians seeking their own State, as in Nigeria.)

In contrast to this reckless policy--and if it is not a form of radicalism that leads inevitably to repression, what is it(?)--there is the Washington/Jefferson foreign policy, which made us the most respected Nation on earth for generations until we came to abandon it, first under Woodrow Wilson and then under Dean Rusk. That policy is discussed in depth in the staged debate between the words of George Washington and George W. Bush, linked above and below. As Washington's Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson stated in a Memo to Washington in 1793,

Of these [treaty obligations between nations] it is true that nations are to be judges for themselves, since no one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.

Yet it should be clear that these men were neither isolationists nor pacifists--far, far from either! As Jefferson stated in a letter to John Jay, in August 1785:

Justice indeed on our part will save us from those wars which would have been produced by a contrary disposition. But to prevent those produced by the wrongs of other nations? By putting ourselves in a condition to punish them. Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish it often prevents it. This reasoning leads to the necessity of some naval force, that being the only weapon with which we can reach an enemy. I think it to our interest to punish the first insult; because an insult unpunished is the parent of many others.

The full damage that President Bush's "bull-in-a-china-shop" approach to other nations will do to our image in the world, can not be immediately calculated. But is there any man, woman or child reading this, who cannot grasp how much more understandable our position would be to all peoples-- friend or foe, alike--if it were based on treating all with respect, while responding to any insult, when we do not receive respect in return? Going after Al Qaeda, everywhere on earth, can be justified to any reasonable person. Sitting in moronic judgment on cultures, one does not understand, can only inspire new and greater insult. It is that "contrary disposition," which Washington and Jefferson sought to avoid.

Put another way: Whose advice would you follow? That of the incredibly gifted leaders, who launched the America we have inherited; those brilliant patricians who discussed policy from a thorough knowledge of the Classics, of four thousand years of history and struggle, of repeated conflicts over endlessly recurring themes; or a product of the politics of the 30 second sound bite? A politician, who with a straight face and earnest look, talks of a "calling" from the perspective of his own mistaken notion of (what was not) the actual history of one region over the past 60 years?

We know that referring to this man as "clueless" will offend some who want desperately to believe that he knows what he is doing. We may lose more than we gain by describing him as a "drama queen." But no serious student of Government, History, Anthropology or Psychology, should fail to see the incredible damage that he is doing. God may forgive some, who see & should speak, yet speak not. We, who struggle to preserve His Blessings on America, have no right to do so.

William Flax

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