In WOT, Perfect Must Not Be Enemy Of Good

March 9, 2006

I can’t tell you how many columns I’ve read lately acknowledging that Republicans are in deep disarray. But most of these, and many more, concede the Democrats’ own problems prevent them from capitalizing on the GOP difficulties.

Both observations, I think, are largely true. But the parties’ respective problems stem from different sources. Much of the Republicans’ problems result from their being in power at an extraordinary time and the unrealistic expectations the public demands from its leaders.

We live in an enormously dangerous world. We don’t even know for sure who our enemy is. Yes, it’s radical Islamic terrorists. But what about ostensibly less radical Muslims? How about anti-American Arab populations whose governments are controlled by apparently America-friendly regimes, like the UAE?

Our failure to recognize our ambivalence about the degree to which we can trust “friendly” Arab states, whether the UAE, Saudi Arabia, or even the newly formed Iraqi government once we loosen the reins, clouds our judgment. If the Dubai Ports deal demonstrates nothing else, it reveals our uncertainty in that we’ve fully identified the enemy.

As ominous a threat as Communism was, the threat came from its dictators. The subject people, all oppressed, were hardly invested philosophically, much less theologically, in Marxism, which had long since lost its idealistic appeal — except, perhaps, to European and American “intellectuals” — and become an excuse for subjugating the people it promised to deliver.

But radical Islam is an animating worldview, for which many of its adherents are willing to martyr themselves. Unlike Communism, the global threat it represents does not wholly depend on the rise and fall of nation states.

President Bush inherited the War on Terror. He didn’t have the choice of inaction, like President Clinton before him. Once our mainland was attacked, we had to respond, quickly and decisively, though we didn’t have a sufficient understanding of the nature and extent of our enemy and hadn’t yet developed a comprehensive strategy to deal with Islamic terrorists. But President Bush, building on a prescient blueprint drafted by President Reagan, formulated one with remarkable alacrity.

While things appeared to be going well, President Bush was widely respected and most Americans felt comfortable under his national security stewardship. But war is unpredictable and doesn’t always go as planned. The only thing certain about it, say the generals, is the inevitability of the unexpected. This, I believe, is where many of the president’s problems lie.

We are a proud people, with an unusual knack for solving problems: We have conquered frontiers of science and technology we never even dreamed we would confront. But with these conquests and our increasing societal acclimation to instant gratification, we have become spoiled. We demand perfection in an imperfect world, immediate resolution of problems that are necessarily long term, and, more to the point, veritable clairvoyance in our foreign policy dealings.

If not American society as a whole, the Democrats for sure demand clairvoyance from this president. They say that because we didn’t find WMD stockpiles in Iraq, he lied in saying they were there. But since when has lying been defined as affirming something as true you believed at the time was true, but later discovered might not have been? Democrats have also condemned Bush for failing to anticipate, with certainty, all the consequences of removing Saddam, including the intramural sectarian strife — which has been exaggerated by the antiwar media.

Never mind that no one could possibly have known for sure what would happen if we removed Saddam. We still can’t be sure today. But President Bush, being in office at the time, had to make the hard decisions without the luxury of the hindsight lenses with which he is now being judged by his exacting, armchair detractors.

Even if he could have foreknown a measure of chaos would ensue in the wake of the vacuum created by deposing Saddam, he most likely would still have decided to attack Iraq, because he reasonably believed, based on the best available information, that Saddam posed a threat to our national security.

Must we remind ourselves that war is not an exact science? In the War on Terror, we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

For example, we shouldn’t abandon President Bush’s secondary goal of civilizing and pacifying the Middle East through democratizing Iraq, just because it is far from guaranteed. Does anyone have a better, more constructive, idea? You can be sure the Democrats don’t.

Their lack of viable alternative plans, though, is not because they haven’t thought about them. Rather, it’s symptomatic of (and inherent in) their worldview, which paralyzes them from sober leadership and decisive action in the War on Terror. This is the primary reason they are powerless to exploit the president’s current difficulties. I’ll explore this phenomenon next time.