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Bringing The Power.


Clever people like clever solutions.

Want to know why so many smart people have been so wrong for so long on the Iraq war? Because clever people like clever solutions.

It all goes back to nerds and bullies. Nerds know one thing: bullies are scary. And they believe another thing: that intellect will trump brute force. They're right, of course. They're right that brutes are scary, and they're right that intellect is more powerful than simple thugishness. And starting from those two truths they drive the car right into a brick wall.

At sites like Winds of Change, Done With Mirrors and Stubborn Facts, very smart writers (guys I like) have spent three years missing the point. What is the point? Power. That's the point. I'll explain. Stay with me here.

The grown-up nerds (I am one, so I write from love) gaze back at their childhood and see themselves on that long ago playground carefully sidestepping the bully, snarking at the bully from behind the bully's back, scoring rhetorical points off the bully, and yet angry at themselves for cringing. As adults now they see that the bully wasn't ten feet tall. They wish they had stood up to the bully. If only they'd stood up to the bully. If only all the nerds had stood up to the bully together.

From this, I am convinced, derives the belief that war is primarily a matter of will.

It's not.

The grown-up nerds -- now all respected professionals -- have seen for themselves the triumph of intellect. The bully who terrorized them now installs multi-head showers in the master bathroom of the nerd's five bedroom colonial. The bully now adjusts the suspension on the nerd's Audi. The nerd is victorious.

And this proves the superiority of thought and idea -- cleverness -- over mere action. From this we get Rumsfeld Syndrome: the idea that war is a sort of intellectual puzzle, an engineering problem not much different than designing software. We're told that war is no longer about obliterating large numbers of enemies, no, no, it's a much more subtle business. Throw out the bully's bludgeon and replace it with the nerd's scalpel. We won't murder the enemy, we'll outwit him.

It's all a kids' book. In chapter one we see Sensitive Lad losing his lunch money to Thuggish Boy. In the last few chapters we see that Sensitive Lad has found a brilliant way to humiliate Thuggish Boy and demonstrate his own superiority. This usually involves manipulation of adults, or some clever machinery, or uniting all the nerds, or hacking a computer.

Hell, I probably wrote some of that myself.

So, the grown up nerd goes to war (or sends the bully) with these two notions firmly in his head: Will and Idea. (Tres Schopenhauer.) If we all stand together and refuse to flinch in the face of the bully, and we apply our clever, clever brains to the problem, we will prevail.

Let me explain why this is bullshit. Remember the first Indiana Jones movie? Remember when the bad guy jumps out waving his scimitar impressively, ready to cut poor Indie all to pieces? Remember how funny it was when Indiana Jones pulled his revolver and shot the guy?

War isn't a test of wills, it's a test of power. Go ahead: stand up against the bully. If you have a sword and he has a gun, you lose. Now, get all the nerds to stand up together against the bully. If you have swords and he has a machine gun, the bully still wins. Ask any poor dumb bastard who ever climbed out of a trench in Flanders and went bravely up against a German machine gun. It's not about will. It's about power. It's always about power. That's the test in war: who brought the power?

President Lincoln's great military insight was to recognize very early on that the Civil War would be a test of raw power. (It took the military a while to figure it out.) He knew he had more men, more guns, more cannon and more money. The South fought brilliantly and very bravely. They were the nerds in our scenario: bold, united, clever and doomed to lose. Why? Power. The North had more of it than they did. Who was braver? Probably the Confederates who often fought with inferior numbers and occasionally without food or boots. Who was smarter? No one was a smarter general than Robert E. Lee. And again: who won?

The other great iconic American war is World War Two. Were we braver and more determined than the Japanese? No one was ever braver or more determined than the Japanese. They're the gold standard for brave and determined. And who won? We did. Why? Because just less than three years after Japan sank our fleet at Pearl Harbor we were able to park 1,300 ships off Okinawa. We had a ship for every 75 Japanese soldiers.

Now, I'm not dismissing the necessity of courage in war. But courage is mostly a given, on all sides of a war. We were brave, but so were the Brits in 1776 and 1812, and so were the Mexicans in 1846, and the Confederates less than two decades later, and the Spaniards in 1898, and the Germans both times, and the Japanese, and the Koreans and Chinese and the Vietnamese.

We win wars when we bring the power. And the only really important use for intellect is in finding ways to bring the power: tank design in WW1, industrial production and nuclear physics in WW2, night-vision equipment and pilotless aircraft today

So. Let's go back to nerds and bullies on the playground. Standing up to the bully just gets you a beating. Hacking the bully's computer gets you a beating. Showing the whole school how much more clever you are than the bully gets you a beating. You know what doesn't get you a beating? Sneaking up behind the bully with a baseball bat and beating him so badly he's on crutches for the rest of the year.

Power. Force. Violence.

Would that it were not so. Yes, war sucks.

Why are we losing in Iraq? Because we didn't bring the power.

It's not that we aren't united. It's not that we had the "wrong" configuration of troops as opposed to the exactly "right" configuration. It's not that reporters don't like the war. It's not that the American people are weak sisters. It's not that the Iraqis are some especially tough case.

We didn't bring the power. Oh, we have the power. But we didn't bring it.

Now, belatedly, after three years of trying to convince us that we were winning, the nerds have begun to admit what has been obvious since "Stuff happens." They admit that we're having problems in Iraq. And along with the grudging admission that we aren't exactly winning, comes the sneaking concession that what they have angrily denied for three years was necessary, has beecome necessary: more power. Now the Rumsfeldians admit, we may just need more men. Say . . . 20,000 more. Just for Baghdad.

Well, too fucking late.

We didn't bring the power. The enemy had home field advantage which means they can fight a guerilla war. The enemy had the inherent advantage of fighting a defensive war. The enemy has no supply lines. And although it might still work if we were to sneak up behind the bully with a baseball bat, we are just about out of bats and the bully knows we're coming.

You don't outbrave the bully. You don't outsmart the bully. You beat the bully till he can't stand up. That's how you win a war.

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“Bringing The Power.”

  1. Anonymous Rick Says:

    "You don't outbrave the bully. You don't outsmart the bully. You beat the bully till he can't stand up. That's how you win a war."

    I agree. However, the question is: who is the bully here? We, the world's only (for now) superpower, invaded Iraq, a third-rate dictatorship, under false pretenses, with a large portion of the American people whipped into the usual war frenzy by lie upon lie upon lie from the administration. We invaded a country by choice that had no real chance of putting up a credible defense. While their government certainly sucked rocks and their dictator was a creep, that wasn't the point, EVER, and we have done a horrible job of securing a decent quality of life for the inhabitants; in many ways life there is much worse than it ever was under Saddam. Every single reason given by the administration to justify this unjustifiable war has been refuted soundly and decisively.

    We were and are the bullies here. What you are saying is that we weren't bullies ENOUGH to finish the job of bullying properly.

  2. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    So, let me get this straight: we bullied a mass murderer? We bullied a nation that had started two wars -- Iran and Kuwait -- and used posioned gas on Kurdish children?

    I think that's absurd. We could no more "bully" the Baathist government of Iraq than we could bully the Nazis.

    Now, have we fucked things up? Yes. But to go from that to creating a moral comparison between the US and Saddam that is actually morally disadvantageous to the US is ridiculous.

    By your lights we bullied Germany in 1944 and Japan in 1945. Why don't you take a survey of Germans and Japanese and find out how many of them would agree that they were ill-used by what the Americans did. Aside from a handful of unrepentant fascists you won't get any takers.

  3. Anonymous Rick Says:

    I use the term 'bullying' in the sense of employing superior force to humiliate or damage your opponent. I believe that's one of the accepted definitions. As the world's most powerful nation we bullied our allies, we bullied the UN, and against all good advice and unbiased data we violated our basic principles and unilaterally attacked a sovereign nation that had not attacked us and which posed no threat to us. What would you call that?

    You imply that because Saddam was a Really Bad Guy it was appropriate for us to attack. However, that wasn't the line at the time the adventure was being sold (or rather, rammed down our throats.) Is it your position that the nonexistent WMD and the nonexistent Saddam - al Qaeda - 9/11 connection were really well-intentioned coverups, or little white lies, in the service of the nobler purpose GWB had in mind when he had his brain fart and veered from addressing terrorism in Afghanistan (where military action was certainly justified) to trying to develop a pretext for invading Iraq? It was a geopolitical non sequitur to begin with, and now it's an abiding disaster that will take us at least a generation to put right.

    There is/was a tremendous difference between the Iraq situation and our war with the Axis powers, and I don't understand how you could try to establish an equivalence between them. Japan and Germany were powerful and aggressive countries with well-documented intentions and resources, and they were a grave threat to the entire world. Japan attacked us first, knocking out most of our navy in one blow. Germany was busy conquering Europe and enslaving our allies. Between them they were on the verge of conquering the world. We fought back, and the outcome was not ever a given. If WWII wasn't self-defense I don't know what is. In what way is that equivalent to attacking a pathetic, contained tin horn dictator?

    Why don't you take a survey of Iraquis and ask them whether things are better for them now than they were under Saddam? I think that if you asked them to characterize us in one word, it might be Iraqi for "bully."

  4. Anonymous Kevin Says:

    While I agree with what you're trying to say in general, I'm having some trouble buying into your analogy of the bully. Mostly because of my own personal experience.

    What I learned is that when you're fighting a bully, what you need to do is hurt them as much as possible, regardless of cost to yourself. Whether you win or lose that individual fight, the bully is going to look for an easier target next time around.

    This would seem to be the lessons that the Iraqi's are trying to practice against us. Not that I necessarily agree with Rick's take on this war.

  5. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    Rick and Kevin:

    My purpose was not to discuss who was or was not a bully. It was to discuss the question of how to fight a war. My analogy was addressed specifically to people on the right and center-right who bought the Rumsfeldian/Neo-Con idea of war as a precise, limited, casualty-minimizing exercise. The bully analogy was an attempt to explain how some perfectly bright people reached erroneous conclusions about the fundamental nature of war.

    The post was not about who was or was not a bully, it was about the psychology of people who imagine that war can be clean, neat, predictable and somehow humane. I was speculating on how that notion came to be so accepted.

    Secondly, I was advancing my point which was that the key "metric" in war is power, not determination or motivation or will. The failure to understand that power is the starting point has led to weak analysis of what was happening in Iraq. People have sought to place blame for the failure on the media, or the American people, or the Iraqi people when, in my view, this is a straightforward question of too little power being applied to too big a challenge. Kind of like trying to move a truck with a lawnmower engine.

    The question of how we got into this mess in the first place has been dealt with here, there and everywhere by now. I'm looking forward and trying to say, Look, Colin Powell was right, Rumsfeld was wrong, so next time someone wants to have a war let's go back to overwhelming force and knock off this 'easy-bake war' bullshit.

  6. Anonymous Rick Says:

    I do agree with you about this; I don't know where anyone got the idea that invading and holding an entire country could be accomplished on the cheap. Certainly GHWB understood this, which is why he stopped short of going into Baghdad after the first Gulf war. I'm not clear as to whether the War-Lite (tm) brand was developed as an exercise in self-delusion or as a tool for convincing us that limited war in this context would be quick, clean and painless...so that we'd get in, then when faced with the need for more resources, gladly fork them over seeing that we were committed.

  7. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:

    War-Lite is one of this big theories that people get caught up in, like Marxism or cold fusion. It's an intellectual fad.

    What's been strange is that a lot of people sort of loosely allied with John McCain have been actually demanding more men be sent, more force applied, and the great theorists have pooh-poohed it all as unecessary, naive, even treasonous.

    My point is: go to war or don't go to war but don't go halfway to war.

  8. Blogger Southern Writer Says:

    If you'd like to be part of a THANK YOU video for Miss Snark, send an e-mail to: redheartnovels@lesiavalentine.com

    Include: Your thank you - no more than 7 words

    A picture or avatar NOT in an attachment. Please don't send a link to it. I will not have time to go look up everyone's pic. If you don't have one, that's okay.

    I've spammed just about everyone (forgive me!) because not everyone's e-mail address is available to me. If you know writers who would like to be part of this project, please pass the word, but let's try to surprise her with it. Thank you for your indulgence. I really am sorry about the spam, but I didn't want to leave you out if you wanted to be in!


    p.s. I won’t have time to personally thank everyone who participates, but I DO THANK YOU!

  9. Anonymous Kevin Says:

    Sorry, I just couldn't resist the urge to play analogy police. I agree with your point on how to fight a war.

  10. Blogger M. Takhallus. Says:


    If it was your analogy I'd be over at your blog poking you with a stick. We like cranky around here.

  11. Blogger cakreiz Says:

    You wrote this 10 days ago- and I'm just now reading it. I'm always the last to find out. Goddamn brilliant... as usual. You haven't lost your touch, dude. War Lite... I love it.

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