November 12, 2009

"I Reject Your Reality..."

Hatched by Dafydd

"...And substitute my own!"

So reads a t-shirt often worn by Adam Savage, one of the two original starts of the Discovery Channel's series Mythbusters, which I have slavishly watched since the very first episode (I think that was the episode where they busted the myth of the rocket-propelled car launching into the air).

The tee commemorates a pithy summary Adam Savage delivered on the show, I can even remember whether he meant it optimistically or sarcastically: "I reject your reality and substitute my own!" I remember Adam saying that, but I can't recall now what precipitated the remark. But after today, I suggest he send his wonderful t-shirt to another fellow who now has a greater claim to it: President Barack H. Obama.

Take a look and tell me I'm exaggerating:

President Barack Obama rejected the Afghanistan war options before him and asked for revisions, his defense secretary said Thursday, after the U.S. ambassador in Kabul argued that a significant U.S. troop increase would only prop up a weak, corruption-tainted government.

"I'm not happy with the options reality has offered me; I demand you produce new fantasy options more to my liking!"

Let's take an Eikenberry detour. Yes indeed, he was once a military commander in Afghanistan; but he's not the commander now, and he hasn't been for well over two years -- during which time the situation has changed dramatically. Note that he also left before Gen. David Petraeus achieved such a thorough and remarkable victory in Iraq using a very similar strategy.

In 2007, as the Iraq COIN was picking up, Eikenberry was named Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and NATO was not officially involved in the Iraq War (as they are in Afghanistan). Thus I see no evidence that Eikenberry has spent any significant time studying the Iraq COIN -- or even talking to David Petraeus, who, as Commander of CENTCOM, is now McChrystal's boss.

Nor was Ambassador Eikenberry a COIN specialist when he wore a uniform instead of a suit. So why should his advice trump McChrystal's in the Obamacle's mind? (Except for the obvious explanation: Because what Eikenberry says, by happenstance or design, precisely matches what Obama wants to hear.)

Eikenberry's argument for why we should abandon Afghanistan is not exactly subtle; I think it boils down to the peculiar idea that the purpose of a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy is to "prop-up" the existing government, whatever it may be; therefore, since we don't like the fellow that Afghan voters elected, Hamid Karzai, we shouldn't prop it up by implementing a COIN strategy. Instead, we should focus on "training" the indiginous Afghan troops.

Most others experts on the subject I've read -- I'm certainly not an expert, so I must rely on others, such as Fred Kagen or David Petraeus -- seem to believe the purpose of COIN is to improve civilian security throughout the country, thus to enlist civilian support for the war effort against the insurgents and deny the latter the chaos and collapse they need to seize the government.

It needn't incorporate any support for the specific civilian government at all, just for the concept of democratic voting. All we need from Karzai is that he not interfere with Afghan troops' participation in COIN-related joint patrols and operations... which is, incidentally, exactly how we go about training the local forces, both military and tribal militia, in the first place. No joint ops -- no training.

Here is the Eikenberry thesis on display:

Obama's ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, who is also a former commander in Afghanistan, twice in the last week voiced strong dissent against sending large numbers of new forces, according to an administration official. That puts him at odds with the current war commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is seeking thousands more troops.

Eikenberry's misgivings, expressed in classified cables to Washington, highlight administration concerns that bolstering the American presence in Afghanistan could make the country more reliant on the U.S., not less. He expressed his objections just ahead of Obama's latest war meeting Wednesday.

But there is an even more disturbing possibility: If AP is accurately recounting Eikenberry's objections (and I don't know that to be the case), then he, too, believes that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations consist of nothing but "send 40,000 more troops" -- rather than "implement a COIN strategy, then decide how many troops we need." (McChrystal adds, "Psst... it turns out to be about 40,000 more than we have right now"). This would put the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the same conceptual box as the elite news media.

It's hard to swallow the contention that a former lieutenant general (that's a 3-banger) in the United States Army would be blissfully unaware of what counterinsurgency strategy is, and how it differs from a counter-terrorism strategy... where we "fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt". I hope that's not the problem. But if not, then what makes Eikenberry think he's more fit to opine on Afghanistan than the general that Barack Obama himself hand-picked to do just that? (And who is, as I understand it, an expert on COIN strategy.)

(There is a third, even more disturbing possibility: That Eikenberry knows very well that McChrystal is right, that a COIN strategy is the only one that leads to victory; but the ambassador believes that victory is the last thing Obama wants. In that case, Eikenberry may be quietly conspiring to lose the war, either to give Obama's leftist supporters the terrible American defeat they demand, or to deny President Bush the victory he earned. Or both. I certainly hope this is not what's going through Eikenberry's mind!)

But back to the One, who is ultimately calling the shots here. His philosophy of "I reject your reality and substitute my own" is, in fact, the standard modus vivendi of liberalism. As in:

  • "I reject the reality that one must work hard, or at least smart, to live well; I substitute the reality where I can sit around and smoke pot all day but still receive a national income (big enough to pay for my dope)."
  • "I reject the reality that says the best remedy for bad speech is more good speech; I substitute the reality where we can simply outlaw or ban bad speech, and then all that will be left is good speech."
  • "I reject the reality that increasing health-insurance demand (via mandate) while decreasing supply (by driving companies out of business) will result in much more expensive insurance; I substitute the reality where a complete government takeover will lower costs, improve care, and expand the pool of those covered."
  • "I reject the reality that we need cheap energy; I substitute the reality where we can tax the hell out of it, raise energy costs through the roof (as Obama himself gleefully predicted), declare more and more energy sources off-limits, and therefore make America stronger and more prosperous."
  • "I reject the reality that doubling taxation of the average Joe will leave him with less money to spend; I substitute the reality where doubling taxation results in an explosion of new economic growth, causing the economy to take off like a rocket."
  • "I reject the reality that Israel needs the ability to defend itself, or it will be destroyed; I substitute the reality where, if Israel will only give the Palestinians everything they want, while demanding nothing in return, the latter will be so grateful they will become fast friends with the Jewish state." (Alternatively: "I reject the reality that Jews should be allowed to have a state; I substitute the reality where Jews are so uniquely evil that they are the only "race" who should be barely-tolerated strangers wherever they live.")

To the liberal, reality is infinitely malleable: If you don't like it, just hold your breath, close your eyes, strain really hard, and intensely visualize the new reality. When you open your eyes and gasp in a lungful, the new reality will miraculously have been subbed in!

This seems to work in some environments but not others. It works great in Hollywood; and it works reasonably well in two-party politics -- averaging out to being successful about half the time. However, it doesn't seem to work much at all in warfare, where the default reality has a depressing way of contradicting the happy-facers, rudely and abruptly.

Alas, even that catastrophe could play into the hand of Barack Obama and his incompetocracy; after bargaining down the number of troops we need -- and implementing Slow Joe Biden's counter-terrorism strategy, rather than a COIN strategy -- we might be handed a signal, Vietnam-style defeat. Then B.O. could declare:

  1. "Clearly this means the war was unwinnable from the beginning, and my predecessor should never have invaded Afghanistan in the first place."
  2. "I gave the policy of the previous administration every opportunity; I even sent more troops -- not once, but twice! It's time to admit that the whole adventure was a terrible miscalculation, pull out, accept that defeat was inevitable, and MoveOn."
  3. "Now the whole country understands why I have embarked upon a new era of Strategic Reassurance, talking to our enemies without preconditions, instead of the "cowboy militarism" of the Republican Party.

    "We're going to redouble our efforts to talk Iran and North Korea into doing what's best for America, rather than what's best for themselves. I know we've tried it again and again, and it's never worked yet; but by the Law of Averages, that means we're due to hit the jackpot really soon now!"

In the long run, I don't think a strategy of denying reality is a military winner; and a long-run strategy of hoping for American defeat will not be a political winner in 2010 or 2012. But as John Maynard Keynes is reputed to have said, "In the long run, we're all dead."

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 12, 2009, at the time of 5:55 PM

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“…And substitute my own!” So reads a t-shirt often worn by Adam Savage, one of the two original starts of the Discovery Channel’s series Mythbusters, which I have slavishly watched since the very first episode (I think that was ... [Read More]

Tracked on November 12, 2009 5:29 PM


The following hissed in response by: JSchuler

The Mythbusters instance you are talking about is actually the episode where they replicate a scene from "American Graffiti" involving a car axle and steel cable. Adam gave his customary probabilistic list of outcomes beforehand. Afterwards, he repeated the list, only with different values for the likelihood of each. When confronted with the discrepancy, he denies and issues his famous statement.

I'm just working from memory here, but if that isn't how it happened, well, I think you know where I'm going with this....

The above hissed in response by: JSchuler [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 12, 2009 9:01 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


I think that was one of the few times I was really disappointed when they busted a myth -- irked that you couldn't really do that with a car. Most of the time, I maintain a lordly detachment...


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 12, 2009 11:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: AD

The big question is which strategy, Counter-Insurgency or Counter-Terrorism, will they conduct here in America?
But of course, DHS Sec Napolitano has already declared that anti-Obama activities constitute terrorism; so, it looks like the die has been cast.

The above hissed in response by: AD [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 13, 2009 10:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

I've always thought that the fundamental difference between republicans and democrats is the difference between objective and subjective reality.

Unfortunately in many cases, perception is reality.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2009 11:23 AM

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