Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How to Make Enemies and Scare People

Divide & Conquer. It's one of the most basic tactics of warfare, because it's obviously better to separate one's enemies into smaller groups in order to defeat them more easily than if they are all grouped together. Then why is it that so many people insist on lumping all their enemies into as big a group as possible? Because they don't actually want to conquer their enemies. They want to conquer their supporters by making them as scared as possible of the vast hordes opposing them.

And we see this on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives want us deathly afraid of the Islamofascist menace that consists of every single Muslim on the face of the earth, as well as any conceivable Muslim supporter (which is anyone not officially on their side). And so they lump all Muslims together and consider the Sunni v. Shiite divide that has gone on for centuries to be a cheap ruse to lull us into a false sense of security. But too many liberals use the same technique, and consider all Republicans to be identical, every Christian to be the same Christian, and anyone who isn't with them to be against them.

And I've never understood that idea. I've always believed that it's best to find ways of dividing your opponents rather than forcing them together. That it would be best to use sticks and carrots to make good Muslims separate themselves from bad Muslims, by convincing them that good things happen to good people and that they don't need to fear us. And for conservatives, that it would be best to convince the Social Conservatives that the Fiscal Conservatives are screwing them over, and to make both sides hate each other...as they naturally should. After all, Social Conservatives support a large government that intrudes into our daily lives and forces us to obey their moral code. When it comes to interpreting the constitution, these guys are as liberal as they come.

But again, some people aren't interested in actually defeating their foes or winning the war. They just like the process that puts them at the head of faction of scared supporters. For them, victory would mean the end of power; and so it's best to make the enemy look as scary as possible.

Family Terrorists

And I was thinking about this while reading this NY Times piece by a former interrogator in Iraq:
Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.
And this was one of the biggest problems with the war in Iraq. Sure, the Bushies wanted to win. But they had to win their way. The political victory had to come before the military victory, and if the two conflicted, politics won out.

Because the politics dictated that we were fighting evil. We weren't being attacked by brave Iraqis defending their homes, families, and lives. We were fighting the cowardly bastards who attacked us on 9/11, or at a minimum, people who were sympathetic to them. And for us to admit that we were fighting the people we were pretending to free, everything went down the tubes. That put the lie to the entire rationale for the war (after the WMD rationale turned out to be phony). Our foreign enemies list was written based upon our domestic political needs.

And worst of all, politics dictated that we needed to attack Iran. And so that meant we needed to pretend that the Sunnis attacking us were being led by the Shiites in Iran; despite all evidence to the contrary. And sure, the Bushies wanted to win the war in Iraq; but not if that meant they wouldn't get an easy shot at Iran.

Combine & Fear Monger

And so conservatives insisted that all Muslims were Islamofascists who could not be dissuaded from trying to destroy America, and must be destroyed.  But of course, this is all just stupid. In reality, everyone is really just looking out for themselves; and that's it. People will always work with the largest group that they think best serves their interests...always. And once you realize that it ceases to be in your best interests to stay in any specific group, you bail. It's that simple.

And so the question always comes down to how to make it so that it benefits people to join your group and reject your enemy's group. And in that context, invading Iraq and treating all Iraqis as suspected Islamofascists was a horrible idea. Because "Shoot First, Shoot Later, and Don't Ask Questions" is a sensible policy if everyone's a baddie. But if we're already treating Iraqis as if they were terrorists, then it only empowers them to actually become terrorists, as there was no disincentive to join.

And the same goes with dealing with Republicans and conservatives and Christians and anyone else who might side with our foes. It seems like they're one big monolithic group when they all recite the same talking points, but the problem is when you mistake the talking points for their actual beliefs. Because once you get around the talking points and start addressing what somebody actually believes, you'll find that every one of them has entirely different beliefs than any other one. And once you get to their real beliefs, you'll find that many of these people are actually liberals who simply lack the perspective with which to properly understand their own beliefs.

Liberal Cootie Shots

And that's really the whole point of conservative talking points; to inoculate these people against their own beliefs, while making their official positions sound unacceptable to us. But you'd be surprised at how many of these people still believe in a functioning government.  They might rant against Big Daddy Government intruding on their lives, but it's obvious from the very nature of their absurd caricature of government that it's a conservative myth that they hate; not the actual government.  And the "small" government they prefer is the one we actually have, while the government they demonize is merely the one that exists in their minds.

Hell, I know a lifelong conservative Republican who now blames the government for the financial crisis because our laws allowed lenders to get away with what they did, and actually blames the government for not having more oversight over the banking industry. Of course, she wouldn't put that in those words and still thinks that government is the problem; but it's obvious from her statements that the truth is otherwise.  She now thinks we needed more government intervention.  And this is the case far more often than we realize.  The truth is that most conservatives are liberals who have been trained to think otherwise.

Yet there are liberals who insist that we just can't deal with these people and must fight them at every turn; as if it somehow benefits us to see them as the caricatures they see us as.  And there are examples of this kind of thing throughout modern history, such as the neo-cons who now take credit for defeating the Soviet Union.  While they now insist they were proven right about everything, they were the absolute last people who predicted such a thing could ever happen...and it was one of the worst things that happened to them until they got their war with Iraq. 

Some people want to lead their side to victory, while others profit by sustained warfare.  And the way to tell the difference is to determine which side has plans to minimize the size and threat of their foes, and which side insists the foe is infinite and almost unbeatable. And if someone says that their enemy is so evil that we must copy their tactics to defeat them; watch out, the enemy is them.

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