Orson Scott Card/The Only Issue This Election Day

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The quoted text in this article, which appears inside either <blockquote> tags or shaded boxes, is copyrighted and is not being released under the license which otherwise applies to material on this site. It is reprinted here without permission from the copyright holder ("owner" hereinafter) for the purpose of fisking, i.e. a piece-by-piece analysis of its contents, which we believe to be allowed under the doctrine of fair use.

The original text is by Orson Scott Card and was copied from the following location, which we encourage you to visit in order to support any income-streams which the owner may be deriving from such visits: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2006-10-29-1.html

The responses to the original text appear in normal-sized text outside of the boxes.


There is only one issue in this election that will matter five or ten years from now, and that's the War on Terror.

And the success of the War on Terror now teeters on the fulcrum of this election.

If control of the House passes into Democratic hands, there are enough withdraw-on-a-timetable Democrats in positions of prominence that it will not only seem to be a victory for our enemies, it will be one.

OSC seems to be saying here "If we withdraw on a timetable, our enemies will have won.", but he does not defend that statement. He also does not say which enemies, though from the general theme of the essay I suppose we can presume he means "terrorists" – so he seems to be arguing from the presumption that the US presence in Iraq reduces terrorism.

Unfortunately, the opposite is not the case – if the Republican Party remains in control of both houses of Congress there is no guarantee that the outcome of the present war will be favorable for us or anyone else.

But at least there will be a chance.

I say this as a Democrat, for whom the Republican domination of government threatens many values that I hold to be important to America's role as a light among nations.

But there are no values that matter to me that will not be gravely endangered if we lose this war. And since the Democratic Party seems hellbent on losing it –

He's depending again on that "if we withdraw, we lose" statement.

and in the most damaging possible way –

Again, this needs further explanation. What are the alternatives for "withdrawal on a timetable", and how are they less damaging?

  • withdrawing randomly or in an unplanned fashion: I doubt he means this; the costs should be obvious
  • withdrawing immediately: again, I doubt he means this, and again the costs should be obvious (no time to wrap up incomplete projects, train Iraqi replacements, etc.)
  • withdrawing only when victory is clear: this opens up a whole can of worms, starting with:
    • Bush already declared victory; if we're not going by the President's official declaration, then whose declaration are we using?
    • How can we avoid another Viet Nam?
    • The damage to our troops and military readiness is already astounding; surely continuing to pour resources into Iraq would be more damaging than leaving
    • The damage to our national reputation by the way we are handling Iraq is already about as bad as it could be; what could we do differently, while remaining in Iraq, that might counter that? Any continued presence in Iraq needs a plan that takes this into account.

So I have to ask: just what sort of "damage" does he fear from a withdrawal, and how is that damage worse than the damage from staying?

I have no choice but to advocate that my party be kept from getting its hands on the reins of national power, until it proves itself once again to be capable of recognizing our core national interests instead of its own temporary partisan advantages.

This is straight mirroring... the Dems may have their issues, but the party currently demonstrating short-sightedness and corruption is the one currently in power.

To all intents and purposes, when the Democratic Party jettisoned Joseph Lieberman over the issue of his support of this war, they kicked me out as well. The party of Harry Truman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan – the party I joined back in the 1970s – is dead. Of suicide.

The "War on Terror"

I recently read an opinion piece in which the author ridiculed the very concept of a "war on terror," saying that it makes as much sense as if, after Pearl Harbor, FDR had declared a "war on aviation."

Without belaboring the obvious shortcomings of the analogy, I will agree with the central premise. The name "war on terror" clearly conceals the fact that we are really at war with specific groups and specific nations; we can no more make war on a methodology than we can make war on nitrogen.

We are not at war with any specific nation, as I understand it. We were at war with Iraq, but their government is now under our control (even if their people are not entirely). We are at war with specific groups, as he says, but it's not "war" in the same sense. Calling it a war is misleading, and is mainly done to open the door to expanded presidential powers which were designed for use when we were in danger of being invaded – when there were enemy soldiers and equipment on our soil. This is not the case now; terrorists are not soldiers, and you don't fight them the same way you fight an opposing army.

However, there are several excellent reasons why "War on Terror" is the only possible name for this war.

1. This is not a war that can be named for any particular nation or region. To call it "The Iraq War" or the "Afghanistan War" would lead to the horrible mistake of thinking that victory would consist of toppling certain governments and then going home.

This much is true. So Bush's declaration was "victory" over Saddam's government, not victory in the War on Terror. But again, how do we know when we have won that? What are the goals, what are the milestones? What is the plan for victory, and how well is it going?

In fact, it is precisely the name "War in Iraq" that is leading to the deep misconceptions that drive the Democratic position on the war. If this were in fact a war on Iraq, then in one sense we won precisely when President Bush declared victory right after we occupied Baghdad. And in another sense, we might not see victory for another five years, or even a decade – a decade in which Americans will be dying alongside Iraqis. For a "War in Iraq" to linger this way is almost too painful to contemplate.

But we are not waging a "War in Iraq." We are waging a world war, in which the campaigns to topple the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan were brilliantly successful, and the current "lukewarm" war demands great patience and determination from the American people as we ready ourselves for the next phase.

OSC confirms my earlier guess about the meaning of "victory"; good. He is also correct about the nature of a "War on Terror" being a very different beast from the War on Saddam, being a world-wide war. (So is this in fact World War III that we are waging, then? Are we starting that? I'm not sure it's fair to apply that label, but OSC said "we are waging a world war". Whether or not it's a fair label, it's a sobering thought. The only way out of it, that I see, is to admit that it's not really a "war"; it's a battle, a struggle, yes, with military targets and weapons... but it is not "war" in the same sense as "World War II" or "the Falklands War".)

2. We cannot name this war for our actual enemies, either, because there is no way to name them accurately without including some form of the word "Islam" or "Muslim."

I disagree with this. Islam per se is not the enemy; the enemy is certain aspects of Islam which are intolerable to us. I think we would do well to get specific about that. "The war on feudalism", maybe? Or perhaps even "terror" is appropriate, since Islamic fundamentalism is perpetuated largely through terror – on a personal level within fundaMuslim families and communities. I don't disagree with the "terror" part of "The War on Terror", in any case.

It is our enemies who want to identify this as a war between Islam and the West. If we allow this to happen, we run the risk of achieving the worst of all possible outcomes: The unification of one or both of the great factions of worldwide Islam under a single banner.

Again, if we define the war in terms of those particular attributes of Islam that we find intolerable, we are less likely to cause this sort of unification. If we say "we must destroy Islam!", then all Muslims see themselves as threatened; if we say "we must destroy injustice, and the use of terror within families, and intolerance of people's differences, and abuse of women!" you'll still get a lot of Muslims feeling threatened, but they'll mainly be the hardliners.

President Bush and his administration have shown their grasp of our present danger by stoutly resisting all attempts to rename this war. We call it a "War on Terror" because that allows us to cast it, not as a war against the Muslim people, with all their frustrations and hopes, but a war in which most Muslims are not our enemies at all.

OSC slips in a Mickey here with the implication that the Democrats were trying to rename the war. Any sources for this? I certainly haven't seen anything along those lines.

That can be galling for many Americans. When, after the fall of the towers on 9/11, Palestinians and others poured into the streets, rejoicing, it was tempting to say, A plague on all of them!

But it is precisely those people – the common people of the Muslim world, most of whom hate us (or claim to hate us, when asked by pollsters in police states) – whom we must treat as if they were not our enemies. They are the ones we must win over for us to have any hope of victory without a bloodbath poured out on most of the nations of the world.

A very important point slips by almost unnoticed here: we must win over the common people. That is how this war is different. That is more or less the distinguishing characteristic of asymmetric warfare, which is what the War on Terror is.

Nation Building

Another charge against the Bush administration's conduct of the war is that they are engaged in the hopeless task of "nation-building." And this is true – except for the word "hopeless."

It is the Republicans who were traditionally critical of the concept of nation-building, and the Democrats who practiced it successfully (e.g. the Balkans); ironic that OSC is defending nation-building as a Republican trait.

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