June 18, 2007

The Omnipotence Illusion

Hatched by Dafydd

Not a lot happening today in the news -- at least nothing that begs for elucidation; so I've returned to a musing of mine from several weeks ago: Why have Americans turned against the Iraq war? Why do they see America heading in the "wrong direction" by such a wide margin? Why did they throw out the GOP? Why do they now seem to be rejecting the Democrats?

What are they looking for that they evidently cannot find in any mortal leader? Specifically about the war, though, since that is the most important foreign-policy right now.

Senate Majority Larder Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%) would of course say, "Because we've lost! It's hopeless. We're doomed, doomed... we've learned a difficult lesson, we must simply accept it and humble ourselves." But as you have probably guessed, I consider that to be a cowardly and unAmerican cop-out that doesn't really "explain" anything. Why does Reid think we've lost?

For I note that he never actually tells us what he considers the "victory conditions" to be. Does he even have any, or does he proclaim defeat for no reason at all? Are his conditions realistic? If they include both a requirement of perfection and a short timeline -- for example, "Osama bin Laden himself must come and prostrate himself before us; and this must happen before the American voters get bored" -- then under those requirements, any war worth fighting is unwinnable.

However, under a more realistic set of victory conditions, we're actually doing pretty well:

  • We overthrew Saddam Hussein and the Baathists;
  • We killed his demented offspring;
  • We drove Iraqis to vote for a constitution;
  • We got them to elect a parliament -- twice!
  • We built up the most powerful Arab army in the region and have worked with the Iraqis to professionalize the army and the national police;
  • We rebuilt a huge amount of the infrastructure in Iraq, replacing the crumbling antiquities left behind by a couple years of war and decades of rule by Hussein;
  • We helped turn the Sunni tribesmen away from al-Qaeda, and now they are actually at war with the jihadis;
  • We have pretty effectively stifled the Mahdi Militia and the Badr Organization (the two main Shiite extremist paramilitary groups), such that neither actually runs the government (as many expected they would);
  • We have pretty much pacified 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces, and we are now bringing a counterinsurgency campaign to bear on the last three: Anbar, Diyala, and Baghdad;
  • And we did this all for a cost of about 3,500 American soldiers over four years. While every loss of a soldier or Marine is a personal tragedy, it's still an extraordinarily low number by warfare standards -- especially considering what we have accomplished.

So how could the American people look at that record and think we're losing?

I believe we're running smack into what I call the Omnipotence Illusion: The delusional idea that America is so powerful that we are literally omnipotent... thus, any result less than perfection, over a timeframe longer than the length of a typical plot arc on CSI or the Sopranos, is rejected as lame and unworthy... and we must find who is to blame for America failing to be as effective as God.

The purest version of the Omnipotence Illusion occurred during and after Hurricane Katrina: The total loss of life in New Orleans was about 1,000 souls -- out of a city whose population then was about 1.5 million in the metropolitan area, a death rate of a scant 0.07%! The federal government responded forcefully and rapidly (in fact, before the hurricane even made landfall); and even the mistakes were understandable in the confusion.

Consider the magnitude of a fairly powerful hurricane, followed by a burst levee and massive flooding: With all that, the government response must have been extraordinarily good to save 99.93% of the population.

Yet instead, the Katrina response is seen by most Americans as a complete failure... because, measured against a television standard of absolute perfection (no deaths, no destroyed homes, nobody displaced) -- 1,000 deaths, many destroyed homes, and tens of thousands of displaced people seems like "no response at all."

And the same appears to be happening in Iraq. Reid can get away with saying "we've already lost" and that Gens. Peter Pace and David Petraeus are "incompetent" because he and his fellow Democrats have successfully convinced the American people that only swift perfection in Iraq can be counted as success: If Iraqi democracy is at all messy; if there is any violence at all in Iraq (or indeed, anywhere else in the Middle East), or if it all takes longer than Harry Reid's attention span, then that must be counted a complete and miserable failure.

I don't know whether our country can break itself out of the Omnipotence Illusion death spiral; the terrorists and their enablers in the Democratic Party rely on the supposition that we cannot; therefore, if they can only make future fights ugly, bloody, and make them last longer than a few months, then America will inevitably retreat and surrender. Democrats believe that if only the voters can be made to feel ashamed to be American, they will come live in the surrender house with the Democrats.

But those who support the WAGJ rely instead upon the idea that the Omnipotence Illusion is a temporary aberration of the American people; that the Americans who beat the Nazis and then beat the Soviets can also hang tough long enough to beat the jihadis.

This is the house of traditional Americans, from Bunker Hill to the Cold war; we believe that our soldiers -- who are hanging tough and are not in despair -- are more representative of the American people than are Harry Reid and Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 95%).

I do not know which house will prove more prophetic in the end; but I do know that those who live in the first house have already surrendered their courage, their will, and their honor, living in a perpetual twilight of unseized opportunity. And that is a horrible enough way to live that I would far rather stake all on the second house prevailing.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 18, 2007, at the time of 6:51 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Terry Gain

Dafydd, I agree wih you. Except on the political front at home developments in the war over the past six months have been mainly positive.

The above hissed in response by: Terry Gain [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2007 7:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

So how could the American people look at that record and think we're losing?

Maybe they don't maybe that is just what is being reported???


You Are Not Alone

Perhaps you have been sitting at home nights listening to the Talking Heads and the Democratic Leadership, telling you What Americans Want, and it is not what YOU want.

If this has been making you feel that you are alone and out of sinc with the rest of the Country, I have some good news for you.

It may not be true at all and the fact is that you are not alone

I ran into some interesting details in Dr Sanity.

I have not heard anything like this on the News and I doubt that you have either.


Here is just one for a small sample

A separate POS poll finds 57% of voters support staying in Iraq until the job is finished and “the Iraqi government can maintain control and provide security for its people.” And 59% of voters say pulling out of Iraq immediately would do more to harm America’s reputation in the world than staying until order is restored (35%); (2/5-7, 2007).

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll show 69% of American voters trust military commanders more than members of Congress (18%) to decide when United States troops should leave Iraq. This includes 52% of Democrats, 69% of Independents and 88% of Republicans (3/27-28, 2007).

According to a recent Pew Research survey, only 17% of Americans want an immediate withdrawal of troops (4/18-22, 2007). That same poll found a plurality of adults (45%) believe a terrorist attack against the United States is more likely if we withdraw our troops from Iraq while the “country remains unstable”

Now that is only part of the whole, but does it sound like what you have been seeing on TV or reading in the Papers?

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 12:19 AM

The following hissed in response by: Terrye

I also think that there are people who start to think about the resources being used and they think, the government should be spending that on Americans. It is the same way with foreign aid. Anything beyond our oceans that requires time and money becomes a burden to many Americans. I have heard that time and again.Why spend all that money in Iraq when we have people here who need the help?

So, people begin to wonder at the relevance of it all.

I think it would be disastrous for Americans to run from Iraq, in fact I think we would never stop running.

I have often wondered if we could defeat the Nazis and the Soviets today, given the attention span and self absorption of many Americans. Rebuilding Europe took years and years and we are still there. None of those things were accomplished quickly and without costs. But most Americans seem to think it about a day and a half and then everyone came home.

The above hissed in response by: Terrye [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 3:55 AM

The following hissed in response by: howardhughes

Politicians and media folk treat events in the same manner that a woman tries on clothes. They turn and ajust the story this way and that all the while thinking about what will suit their need and make them look best. And if the story doesn't fit their need, they get upset with the mirror, their take on the story, and try more versions until acheiving the result they want.
As Jack Nicholson said in "A Few Good Men," "The truth, they can't handle the truth!"

The above hissed in response by: howardhughes [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 4:50 AM

The following hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive

I don't quite share the Omnipotence Illusion concept.

Sure, enough arguments are based on unstated expectations of perfect behavior and perfect results that the natural frustration arising from any small flaw can be channeled against the leaders who somehow failed in their omnipotence.

But the main instrument here is the MSM, which not only does that channelling, but deliberately magnifies the frustration. Whether the magnification is from a deliberate political drive to purge public life of any decisive leaders not beholden to Democrats, or simply from a mindless devotion to overdramatization to pump ratings, who knows. Americans and Europeans both are fed by their media with celebrity-creations or celebrity-destructions, and indeed that might be read as a contest to identify the Most Omnipotent Celebrity. But when all the information that colors a citizen's view of current events comes from such a cheap process, it's no wonder that those frustrations lead to an infantile demand for Results Now! (just like the 60s), and no stomach for digging into a long effort based on principles instead of instant gratification - no matter how superior our principles and material strengths might be in comparison with street realities in Iraq.

The above hissed in response by: Insufficiently Sensitive [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 8:58 AM

The following hissed in response by: BigLeeH

I have another theory which, I think, captures the celebrity-culture and the invincibility syndrome as corollaries. I think our society has lost its ability to deal with tragedy as tragedy. This is something I wrote about in The Teleoscope a while back. Here is a (rather too long) excerpt (sorry).

I once overheard a group of women talking about a cat that had been run over. Since the owner of the cat was not present, one of the women felt free to voice her opinion: Well, that's what you get when you let your cat run around loose, she said. She seemed quite angry at the cat's owner for not taking more care to control the animal. To her the story of the cat was not at all a tragedy. It was all about bad management and she was rather cross about it.

In Greek drama "Tragedy" is meant to instruct. Tragedies are cautionary tales that show that innocence and good intentions are not sufficient. The hero can still have hamartia -- a lack of balance or "fatal flaw" that causes him, although blameless, to act wrongly, leading to his destruction. For the lesson to be properly learned it is important for the hero to be without blame. If we are angry at the hero then we will distance ourselves from him, and from his problems, and we will not be forced to examine our own phyches for the subtle errors that tragedies explore.

It is important to remember that tragedy focuses on the results of our actions -- not merely on unfortunate events. I have owned a cat who would reliably make a dash for the door whenever I came in carrying a bag of groceries, knowing that being so burdened I would find it difficult to perform the manoeuvre needed to keep the cat inside -- kicking the cat and slamming the door in one continuous motion. That cat eventually disappeared and I have no doubt that like the cat in the conversation above, she was hit by a car. Tragic clearly, but much of the "fatal flaw" was to be found in the cat herself.

You might think that, since tragedy concerns itself with the results of one's own actions, it would follow that events totally outside of one's control would not be tragic. If someone is walking down the sidewalk and he is is struck by a giant meteor, or someone eles is sitting in her office when a terrorist flys an airplane into the window, where is the action that caused these events? What is the "fatal flaw" that marks the event as a tragedy? There is one. It is a flaw that we all have, in varying degrees. We like to forget we are mortal. We don't always do the most important things first and, if we are suddenly reminded of our own mortality, they often never get done at all.

I think that we, as a society, are afflicted with a petulant refusal to experience tragedy, simply as tragedy and, as a result, we fail to learn the lessons that tragic events can teach us. We insist that our lives go smoothly and, when unfortunate events happen we immediately look for someone with whom we can become angry. If we are personally affected by the tragic events we look for someone else to blame so we don't have to deal with our own lack of preparation -- physical, financial or spiritual -- and, even if we do blame ourselves, self-directed anger is neither a fair nor a helpful response. If we are not personally affected we have an irrational tendency to blame the victim. Well, that's what you get if you let your cat run around loose, we think. It saves us from the pain of empathy and allows us to refuse to come to terms with the fact that our cats might prefer a shorter life in the sunshine, or that our own children might make mistakes and come to harm.

One of the ways we shield ourselves from experiencing the instructive pain of tragic events is to insist on a false dichotomy -- that an event must be either a "tragedy" or an "outrage" but that it cannot be both. If we can find the smallest trace of culpability we will focus on it, and the comfortable, soothing anger it affords us, and ignore the larger part which, being merely tragic, we don't like to think about.

As a further example of how this works, consider these two stories in todays news. First, a Yahoo News story about an eleven-year-old killed by a bear while camping and second, a Washington Post story about how by overprotecting our kids we are raising a generation of children with no experience of the outdoors. I think the WP story is the more important but, given that the harm described in the WP story is diffuse and the bear attack is clearly tragic which do you suppose will get more attention. And, yes, there are already stories about how the Parks Service should have closed the campground because of the bear.

The above hissed in response by: BigLeeH [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 11:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

I blame science fiction and spy movies. Bad science fiction and spy movies. There is so much of it on TV that people start to believe anything is possible. If James Bond has an invisible car, and can kill 50 baddies without reloading his Walther PPK, then what the hell is wrong with the U.S. Marines?

I also blame our own success. Imagine how people would feel if Al Queda had successfully performed a couple more terrorist attacks in the U.S.? The fear is gone, replaced by ennui. And lies. Always lies.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 12:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: exDemo

There re a few point sot add to your quite correct view of the reality.

We do not need to pacify all 18 provinces before starting to stand down. We merely have to bleed the opponents enough that the Iraqi can handle them, all by themselves.

By that measure the Surge was a success before it began as it bought time to flesh out the manpower of the new National Police and give some more training time to the fully sized new Iraqi army.

The Surge was not necessary in Anbar province, the heartland of the Al Queda in Iraq. The local politicians, the ultimate survivors, decided the Iraqi Sunnis, their constituents, were finally fed up with the AQI foreign killers. They are enough to drive the AQI from Anbar, but in the meantime surge troops are helping kill off a lot of AQI. That hastens pacifying Anbar.

Oil and lots of it has been discovered in Sunni Anbar. They don't need to share with the the Kurds or Shia any longer, they will have their own oil money. But they do need a pacified country to exploit it. Two political stones have been cast.

Baghdad is a big city, and like any big city it is hard to pacify. But the Surge troops are cleaning it of some of the killers. Zaquawi in his memoirs recovered at is death, didn't think much of the Baghdad AQI. AQI was never very strong there except in the Sunni enclaves. The Sunni sheiks like their equivalents in Anbar are daring to come out against the AQI there too. Its a sure sign that AQI is doomed there. But Baghdad will still have its Mahdi Shia terrorists.

Diyallah is a the last province in turmoil. A mixed Shia, Sunni province but really a Shia stronghold. The political effects of the Shia Iraqi government has undermined Al Sadr and his Mahdi militias much more than any military operation. Sadr and his allies have been self-purged from the Iraqi Shia government. The government didn't fall; proven to be unnecessary, they won't be invited back.

Sadr has been revealed to be an Iranian stooge. In exile in Iran, the Persian killers are detested much more than the American occupiers. There is no place for AQI to make a stand in Diyallah, without being finked on, by the Shia there. There are indication that the Anbar Awakening, the Sunni politicians turning on AQI, has already showed up in Diyallah. AQI is doomed, even if not defeated.

Arabs don't like Persians, any more then the Irish like the English. Persia isn't capable of defeating the Iraqi Army without an invasion and the Iraqi Army wouldn't fight alone, even if the Iranians mullahs were not over extended as is, and stupid enough to try.

Finally, there is now and was at the time of the beginning of the Surge, a sufficiently strong Iraqi government, with its Army and Police to win over the nonexistent guerrilla armies of the AQI or al Sadr. The Surge time window has been enough to confirm that, to make that a certainty.

the war won't be over in November, but the Iraqis know who the foreigners are by dress and accent. unlike the US troops. They can't hide and the only indigenous one, has been discredited and shown to be a Persian tool.

Besides why would the majority Shia, so long persecuted, and out of power turn on their own Shia government now definitely in charge, at long last? They wouldn't and they won't.

I wouldn't want to be an AQI or Mahdi Persian stooge when the western MSM isn't looking over their shoulders. They will be lucky to be merely hung.

Remember the VC armies and NVA armies couldn't tip over South Vietnam without a standard invasions spearheaded by 5 armored divisions.

I still predict that Mr. Bush will declare Victory in November or at least Victory in Sight. Enough to announce we can start to bring some troops home. The progress in Baghdad city province that the MSM has had to concede, and Anbar is already enough to be creditable.

Fifteen provinces pacified, the situation in the 16th and 17th,Anbar and Baghdad much better off; the situation in the last, Diyallh improving he will announce we can start planning to bring the troops home after the successful Surge. "Peace with Honor" and then start withdrawing some troops in the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2008.

The Democrats will be screwed!! Just like 1972. Landslide Guiliani/Thompson or Thompson/Guiliani. US Senate back in Republican hands. Senate rules restore no filibuster on Judicial appointments as was the norm for 150 years. The gamg of fourteen is beheaded, McCain, Lindsey and Hagel disredited.

And four more years to replace dying liberals on the Bench with Alito/Scalia clones.


The above hissed in response by: exDemo [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 12:55 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The Democrats will be screwed!! Just like 1972. Landslide Guiliani/Thompson or Thompson/Guiliani. US Senate back in Republican hands. Senate rules restore no filibuster on Judicial appointments as was the norm for 150 years. The gamg of fourteen is beheaded, McCain, Lindsey and Hagel disredited.

And four more years to replace dying liberals on the Bench with Alito/Scalia clones.


Buck up, old chap; don't be so depressed. <g>


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2007 3:01 PM

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