Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Therapeutic Choice

Skip to the bottom to hear why I really wrote this essay - especially if you find you hate it.

Americans are presented with a choice in this election rare in our history. Both major candidates agree on the need to stay the course in Iraq, and going forward, their plans are similar. But on the broader war on terror the differences are huge. Is it to be further blustering by an increasingly isolated nation, and more misdirected use of America’s military might - or a smart, tough world war to neutralize the terrorists, change the conditions that created them, and truly secure the homeland?

Mr. Bush has frequently mocked his opponent for a pre-9/11 worldview, but Bush's own worldview is all too familiar to anyone that grew up in the Cold War - that awful era of duck-and-cover, mutual assured destruction, and nuclear winter. In Bush's mind, the war on terror is a new Cold War: a mighty confrontation between good and evil, a vast chessboard in which the Forces Of Democracy vie with the Axis of Evil. In this epic struggle, nations can fall like dominoes; or freedom can march like a crowd of avenging angels and dispel darkness, or tear down a Berlin Wall, all to the tumultuous roar of the welcoming crowds lining the street and strewing roses. In this great game, it is easy to find the enemy, and easy to see when we win, or occasionally fail ("damn! we lost China!"). Fighting terror is really no different from fighting the commies: it just requires a few dollars here and there, and an appropriate tribute of dead and crippled Americans.

Many of us had previously written off just such na´vetÚ, but we never dreamed that our suspicions would be confirmed so explicitly by Bush himself, when he said of Osama bin laden: "I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan".

In the now-lost age of unperturbed cheerleading and baseball, things were not all that bad before al Qaeda overdid it by knocking down skyscrapers and a corner of the Pentagon - not by "running Afghanistan", but by exploiting knowledge of a small chink in our armor, and using a handful of fanatics, living under deep cover for years, completely committed to hatred of the United States. But when the kingpins of the operation slipped away in Afghanistan, little George Bush knew just what to do - what every good ballplayer does after a game slips away - start thinking about the next game. And not the tricky game of stopping, or finding, bin Laden - the clean, familiar game of applying "shock and awe" to the usual suspects. Saddam Hussein and Iraq had little military force after defeat by Daddy Bush and decade of sanctions, but they were the best opponent little George could find on short notice. Who would know that that lovely invasion would have brought on all the present messy and really bothersome cargo of IEDs, beheadings, and missing explosives? Who would know that there wouldn't be even one little hidden WMD program to justify it? Still, it was a familiar war, with familiar props, like tanks and troops and evil dictators, and it kept our minds off the other war, the dirty war of terror, the war in which we were all suddenly targets. And wasn't it fun to watch ol' W, our cheerleader in chief, fly onto that aircraft carrier, and visit the troops on Thanksgiving with a plastic turkey? And anyway, we've decided the real goal was to topple dictators, implant democracy, and change the status quo of the Middle East!

To Bush, terrorist killings, like the first World Trade Center bombing or the USS Cole, do not require new methods, new tools, new ways of attacking the enemy. They do not require working out the tedious technical details of blocking the borders, securing chemical plants, refereeing turf fights between intelligence agencies, or even reading your memos. Bush even mocks his opponent for suggesting that the 9/11 terrorists - an organized band of criminals - could be compared to organized crime, and defeated with the same techniques! No, instead Bush sticks to the tried-and-true methods of Reagan and Daddy Bush: if tax cuts, deficits, and massive military expenditures brought down the Soviet Union, surely they will defeat al Qaeda.

Bush's attitude is a therapeutic view of the present struggle. It suggests our enemy is someplace we can see on the globe, and that we can measure our progress with colored maps and body counts. We all long to make sense of what is incomprehensible - a mass murdering out of the Dark Age - and Bush gives us solid goals, concrete enemies, and in himself, a sincere and resolute incarnation of the US's side of the struggle. Surely, we will be safe with Mr. Bush to protect us, with that mighty aircraft carrier to ward away the crafty villains that have infiltrated our once-secure world. It is all too easy to get caught up in that view, which ignores details like Islamist psychopaths, the mess on the West Bank, and all the possible messes here at home, and gives us something understandable to cheer about: the first election in 5,000 years in Afghanistan, and (perhaps, maybe someday) a consensual government replacing autocracy in the heart of the ancient caliphate.

To all you of the therapeutic mindset, listen up. We can no more defeat the terrorists of 9/11 by invading Iraq than we could defeat the Nazis with box knives. We cannot win the new war by continuing to fight the last war. Bush's "war against terror" is big, shocking, and awful, but is the wrong kind of war, against the wrong enemy.

Read the mainstream news from countries in the Middle East. They are filled with outrage at what they perceive as America's injustice to Iraq. Most of that outrage is not directed at America, but at Bush. Then read the fatwas of the extremists, which talk of what they perceive as America's injustice in Iraq and Palestine and Chechnya - to mention nothing of Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan - and also of what we did in Spain in the 15th century and in Tyre, Gaza, and Jerusalem in the 12th century. We have been inflaming, feeding and nurturing that hatred with fiascos like Abu Ghraib, and spreading it from the few, to the many. And that will not bring us closer to security, or to a final defeat of that hatred. The terror of September 11, 2001, is not that it happened, but how it happened. We are fighting an enemy whose weapons are our own planes, chemical plants, nuclear plants; an enemy that does not need roads and artillery to strike; an enemy whose only tool is hatred.

A Kerry presidency, I suspect, will not long continue the therapeutic conflict that is so dear to some of us. We will not continue to stand against the majority of the world, defending assertions about preemptive warfare, aggressive interrogation, and trying to spread democracy by shipping young men and women to the Middle East to be shot at in their store-bought body armor. There may be alliances to cheer at, or even military action directed at rogue states, but it will be action with a purpose and a plan.

There are artists, musicians, and entertainers who have turned out to support Kerry. Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bruce Springsteen, and John Fogerty earn our respect when show that they care about our country. They cannot sing, or write, or act al Qaeda away, but they can help the rest of us to find the strength to turn away from Mr. Bush's therapeutic war and push aside the security blanket of faith in an all-powerful, resolute commander-in-chief.. There are billionaires, who no longer worry about the struggle to make any more money, or the struggle to remain safe, and who are not impressed by Bush's enormous tax cuts to them and others in their class, and who are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the real war on terror. There are many in the media who are willing to help us explore the truth, in spite of constant attacks from those to whom "mainstream media" is an epithet, from those who will only present a fact when it suits their case.

And now, Americans are quietly making up their minds. They are talking to friends and neighbors, reading newspapers and web sites. They are fact-checking attack ads and discovering that claims about Kerry's "flip-flopping" and the using an "international test" are little more than lies. They are putting aside mystery and science fiction novels to slog through the 9/11 report. They are asking whether Bush's economy is indeed run for the benefit of unionists, farmers, miners, truckers, and average folk, as he likes to claim, or for those rich enough not to have to make a living. And they are asking themselves if Bush's war, for all its moral clarity and ease of scoring, is really the best way of protecting their loved ones.

I believe George Bush is going to lose this election, not because of the "Vote for Change" rock tour, not because of Air America, not because of Kitty Kelley's fraud hyped on national media, not because of Soros's MoveOn.org hit pieces, not because of Fahrenheit 9/11, not because of the Nobel Prizes and Cannes Film Awards, not because of Rathergate and ABC Memogate, not because of the European press, not because of Kofi Annan's remonstrations, not because of the leaks of rogue CIA Beltway insiders, not because of the support of Jimmy Carter and other Nobel Prize winners, and not because of Joe Wilson, Anonymous, and Richard Clarke - and more.

Why? Because the majority of Americans don't need therapy. They don't want the comfort of a familiar but phony re-run of the cold war, and a cheerleader-in-chief, when there are real threats to our very survival that need to be faced. And they are smart enough recognize lies, and strong enough to face the facts, and resolute enough to face the real enemy - not just the enemy that we can find, but the enemy that would infiltrate our own country and kill us.

When all is said and done, it still is as simple as that.


This essay is a mirror image of a frequently-blogged essay by Victor Hanson of the same title, and I wrote it to prove a point. Hanson's essay is incredibly powerful emotionally, but if you read it carefully, it is devoid of content. Part 1 attacks a a John Kerry that doesn't exist, a sort of hand-wringing neurotic cross between Woody Allen and Alan Alda. It reminds us of 9/11, then praises the war in Iraq, without establishing any logical connection to the two. Part 2 then it warns us not to believe "puppets of inspiration" like Bruce Springsteen, media broadcasters like Dan Rather, anyone "with a JD or PhD", Richard Clark, etc. It says we've made up our minds. It says, in the end, "Ignore the man behind the curtain - I'm from the Red Team, and I'm here to tell you what to think."

The essay above has the same form, but inverted. I attack a George Bush that (feverently I hope) doesn't exist - a warmongering buffoon. I got a little nauseous writing part 2 as "don't worry, be stupid" so I turned that around a little differently. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it. I'm not the skilled writer Hanson is, but I compensated by using his prose whenever I could, and in the end, I think it pushes a lot of buttons. And it's just as devoid of actual facts or logic as the original essay.

So, if you're a Republican, and you hate this essay, look at Hanson's. (And vice-versa if your a Dem.) Which makes sense? which convinces you? If either of them really ring your bells, that's a warning sign, buddy: you're thinking with your heart, not your head. Get back into the reality-based community - you've only got a few days. Posted by William Cohen at October 27, 2004 12:38 PM