Saturday, October 02, 2004

The God of Public Opinion and The Unpredictability of War

VDH has an analysis of Kerry flip-flopping, comparing and contrasting his behavior to war leaders in history:

Almost no one compares the present disturbing costs to previous American sacrifices at the Argonne, Guadalcanal, or the Bulge, much less preventable American miscalculations at Pearl Harbor, the Kasserine Pass, Schwienfurt, and the Yalu River, all of which sent thousands of Americans to their deaths but nevertheless did not lead to strategic defeat. In our present folly, if we are not perfect, then we are failures — war being not the age-old tragic choice between bad and worse alternatives, but a therapeutic alternative of either achieving instant utopia at little cost or calling it quits forever.
The problem with Mr. Kerry's understandable mutability, however, is that real leaders are supposed to some degree to expect and then endure these bouts of public skepticism as the inevitable wage of seeing their vision through. Thucydides' famous encomium of Pericles centered on his ability to withstand the fury of the people — and through forbearance, unshakeable will, and patience allow his constituents to return to their senses.
The same steadfastness seems to have been central to Lincoln's and Churchill's successes. Neither blinked after disasters such as Antietam, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor, or descended into panic or depression following news of horrific losses at Singapore and Dunkirk. Pericles was fined; Lincoln faced defeat in 1864; and Churchill, after staving off early censure, was finally removed from office — but only after it was clear that his leadership had assured victory.
By contrast, Nicias, McClellan, and Chamberlain were slaves to public opinion. What vision they had was cobbled together from a sense of what the people wished in any given week — and thus constantly subject to modification and contradiction as the collective mood soared or plummeted, predicated on the people sensing that things were either going well or worsening. Such leaders are flip-floppers not simply because the god of public opinion is volatile, but because in war the battlefield itself is unpredictable and unfathomable — if one examines it in terms of hours, days, or weeks rather than months or years.

Read the entire piece for some historical perspective on the phenomenon of flip-flopping. What is encouraging is Mr. Hanson's conclusion:

So Kerry flip and flops like a fish out of water, suggesting that his heart is with Howard Dean while his mind concurs with George Bush — and thus his schizophrenia is on the verge of leading his party to a landslide defeat in the electoral college, and the loss of all branches of government with it. Americans simply have never voted for leaders who insult their allies on the battlefield, claim that their soldiers are losing, and shrug that the war is about lost. And they surely won't this time either.

I most certainly hope so.

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