Iraq and Target Fixation
I take a weekend off to go to a conference and, while I am gone, both the Obama and the McCain campaigns decide to throw aside all respect for truth. Both are currently attempting to score political points by making claims about the other that are entirely false. They are both making several claims that fit this description, but I want to focus on two of them (one per candidate).
I wish to start with McCain’s representation of Obama’s strategy with respect to Iraq. McCain is attempting to cast as ‘surrender’ a type of strategy that can perhaps best be described as a redeployment – the way that a general on the battlefield might move a regiment from one part of the line to another as a part of a strategy for winning the battle.
(Tomorrow I will write about Obama’s representation of McCain’s strategy with respect to health care.)
I want to look at the way McCain (and Palin) are trying to describe Obama’s position with respect to Iraq by looking at a syndrome that the military is familiar with called ‘target fixation’.
Target fixation is a state (which I have most often seen in reference to combat pilots) in which the soldier becomes so fixated on a target that he is trying to destroy that it attracts all of his attention. He loses what is known as ‘situational awareness’.
For example, a fighter pilot picks out an enemy plane as his target. He tries to get on the enemy’s tail, or to get a lock for his radar. The enemy plane jinxes and twists in order to get out of (or reverse) the situation. The attacker then becomes so focused on fighting this one enemy that he loses track of everything going on around him. He does not see the enemy’s wingman line him up for a kill until it is too late.
An intelligent target can take advantage of an attacker’s target fixation. He can use it to lead the enemy attacking him into a trap. The fixated attacker does not see the trap until it is too late, because he is not watching what is going on around him.
However, target fixation can kill pilots without the intelligent intervention of the enemy. Pilots in the grip of target fixation can hit the ground or some other obstacle, simply by having their attention focused too heavily on a single target.
I am not going to stick to my position on the Iraq War – that I am not going to say which strategy is best until after I have attended all of the top secret military briefings on the conflict. Until that time, I do not have sufficient evidence on which to make a decision. And if I can offer a moral note, anybody who does offer that they know what to do in Iraq in spite of their substantially incomplete knowledge should be smacked down (verbally) for the moral crime of arrogance.
However, even though I can offer no intelligent guidance on how to conduct the war, I can still assess the logic that the McCain campaign is using to attack Obama’s position on the war. That language is the language of target fixation. As such, it is preventing the people of the United States from having an intelligent debate on these issues (as intelligent as it could b given the possibility of error).
In the Vice Presidential debate, Governor Sarah Palin said to Senator Biden:
Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq.
When I heard this, a scene as if from a movie popped into my mind. In this scene, a lead fighter pilot has become fixated on a particular target. His wingman, who has preserved situational awareness, sees that the lead pilot is getting himself into a dangerous situation. He yells at the lead pilot, “Break off! Break off!” However, the lead pilot, who sees breaking off as surrender, refuses to do so.
Breaking off in this type of situation is not the same as surrender. It is simply a matter of using sound strategy against a determined enemy. The attacker will sometimes have to redeploy his forces, moving forces from one area where they are doing no good into another area where they can strike with greater effectiveness.
Similarly, there is nothing about the Obama strategy that is like surrendering to the enemy. The strategy is to pull resources away from one section of the battle where they are (allegedly) doing little good, and moving them to other sections of the battle that are crumbling. Over the past five years, Bush has allowed the Afghan/Pakistan front and the Domestic front in the war on terror to crumble to point that they seem nearly ready to collapse. We need to shore up those fronts – the Afghanistan/Pakistan front because that is where the terrorists really are hiding, and the domestic front because a powerful economy gives us strength.
I am not saying that this is the best strategy. It may well be that the Iraq front is the most important front in this conflict, and it would be foolish to weaken ourselves there in order to strengthen these other areas.
I am saying that the rhetoric that the McCain campaign is using against Obama is inaccurate – that Obama’s stated strategy does not involve surrender in any way. It involves the type of strategic redeployment that springs from situational awareness, recognizing that the war against terrorists has to be fought on a wide front that includes attacking their headquarters (which are on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border) and maintaining a strong economy/
We should clearly understand that the current economic crisis is a part of the war on terror. It represents a substantial deterioration of our economic ability to fight the war efficiently. Money that goes into preventing this economic collapse is money that cannot go into fighting military operations. It is also money that cannot go into education, technology development, infrastructure repairs, and similar investments. It is a multi-trillion-dollar blow against the war (probably arranged by Allah who has decided to ally Himself with the Jihadists who are fighting in His name).
McCain should at least be honest enough to describe Obama’s suggestion accurately. To the degree that we can do so, we should be discussing whether this redeployment of resources away from the Iraq front and into the Afghanistan/Pakistan and domestic fronts actually make sense. To the degree that we cannot do so (because we cannot attend the intelligence briefings that would be necessary to give us the important pieces of information) the candidates should at least have the integrity to present the options honestly.
Or, where the candidates refuse to be honest, we should seek an honest understanding from other sources.