Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sane Mutiny: The Coming Populist Revolt

By Ausseigirl

The author is correct -- only a bottom-up revolution can help us now. The present ruling elite is hopelessly out of touch with the populace, and I'm beginning to suspect that is a matter of choice and not a matter of blindness. They have chosen to reign rather than to lead. They have sold their loyalty to the highest bidder -- for votes, for money, for the short-term political advantage. Both parties are culpable in this dereliction of duty. And the American people are getting pretty fed up with it. Until we have a wholesale revolt in this country, until we unseat every incumbent who isn't doing his job properly, and until we seize control of the parties from the hacks and elites we will remain adrift in a rudderless world of short-sighted politicians. There is no lack of common sense in the population at large. Only the politicians have fallen victim to the PC mentality -- as Michael Savage so correctly states -- it is now political cowardice not political correctness anymore.

TCS Daily - Sane Mutiny: The Coming Populist Revolt

I am not a pollster, but my sense is that there has been a shift in the popular mood in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel as a result of events this summer in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and London. I suspect that this is one of those eras where the political elites are out of touch with mass opinion. In this case, I think that the elites are mostly wrong, and I hope that they adjust.

Regarding the "mutiny" of the British airplane passengers, no doubt the elites are thinking, "Oh, what awful behavior on the part of passengers. They are ruining our effort to reassure Muslims that they face no discrimination."

Meanwhile, the people are thinking, "Look, the fact that you subject all passengers to the same humiliating searching and restrictions says that you have no idea who is dangerous and who is not. If you are that incompetent, then don't expect us to trust you when you tell us that a plane is safe."

The elites focused on hair gels and other liquids that were supposed tools of the plot. Everyone else noticed the ethnicity of the plotters. As James Joyner put it recently on TCS,

"Keeping passengers from taking nail clippers, toothpaste, and hair gel with them causes an inconvenience disproportionate to the infinitesimal gain in safety provided. Likewise, forcing people to arrive at the airport three hours early so they may stand in line to have their shoes checked for explosives is plainly silly.

It makes far more sense to harden targets and screen for likely terrorists than to treat all citizens as potential terrorists."

I suspect that the popular frustration is widespread. My guess is that popular sentiment is turning against elite opinions like these:

The world's Muslims share our desire for peace and democracy.
Equal-opportunity passenger screening at airports is a better policy than profiling.
The United Nations is the world's conscience and policeman.
The "international community" will deal with Iran's quest for nuclear weapons.
It is possible for the United States to bring about a constructive transformation of Middle East politics, either through diplomatic or military initiatives.

There are other ways in which elites have lost credibility. President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert are both guilty of exaggerating the success of military operations.

Excess partisanship in a time of war is very frustrating to the public. How can it be that essentially all Republican officials agree with the Bush Administration policies and procedures for monitoring phone conversations and essentially all Democrats disagree? Would a Democratic President really be following policies that are very different?

Finally, anyone who believes that "French co-operation" is anything but an oxymoron is an incurably senseless elitist. French peacekeeping forces in Lebanon were decimated without firing a shot. (Actually, it's worse than that. To be decimated is to lose ten percent of one's soldiers. France's expected contribution of 2000 soldiers was reduced by ninety percent; in addition, the French proceeded to deny that the UN resolution means what it says when it calls for the disarming of uniformed militias.)

Elite Theory vs. Popular Reality

One illustration of how elite theory can conflict with popular perceptions is the cover story on the September issue of The Atlantic, by James Fallows. The thesis of the article, which was written before the Lebanon war and the failure of the plot to blow up British airliners, is that the war on terror is over, and that we won. Despite the occasional plot or successful attack, we should declare victory, tone down the war rhetoric, and go about dealing with the world's trouble spots using conventional diplomacy. In a follow-up, Fallows argues that the break-up of the plot to blow up airliners shows that "it was police work, surveillance, and patient cultivation of sources that broke the airline bombing ring -- not speeches about a state of war."

A populist definition of victory would mean that governments that fund terror groups or use them as instruments of their foreign policy are brought down. A populist definition of victory might mean that Muslim clerics who urge young men to join the jihad are given the opportunity to experience the ecstasy of martyrdom themselves.

Failing to accept James Fallows' nuanced analysis, most people will not want to declare victory until they can once again board a plane without taking their shoes off. In fact, one might argue that we can really declare victory only when you can board a plane that has several dark-skinned male passengers speaking Arabic and not think twice about it.

Mobilize Social Scientists?

It is not just journalists who play the elitist game. In the Armed Forces Journal, retired major general Robert H. Scales says that in order to win modern war we need to mobilize social scientists.

"The military of the future must be able to go to war with enough cultural knowledge to thrive in an alien environment. Empathy will become a weapon. Soldiers must gain the ability to move comfortably among alien cultures, to establish trust and cement relationships that can be exploited in battle...

We are in for decades of psycho-social warfare. We must begin now to harness the potential of the social sciences in a manner not dissimilar to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project. Perhaps we will need to assemble an A team and build social science institutions similar to Los Alamos or the Kennedy Space Center."

I can hear Donald Rumsfeld saying, "You go to war with the social scientists you have." I am reminded of a neighborhood football game when I was in fourth grade, where all the neighborhood brainy kids were on one team, and the other team had Gary Bemis, my next-door neighbor who was big and tough. After Gary scored touchdowns the first five or six times he carried the ball, the parents declared the game over. My guess is that social scientists fighting Islamofascists would be like the brainy kids trying to stop Gary Bemis.

The elitist view is that we need to be more sensitive to other cultures and we must deal delicately with civilians whose hearts and minds we need to win over. I think that popular opinion is swinging toward the opposite conclusion.

Populist Responses

My sense is that popular opinion is likely to gravitate toward one of two positions.

The Middle East is a hopeless cauldron of hatred. We should focus on homeland security, stay out of the Middle East, and have as little interaction with the Muslim world as possible; or
A major war is inevitable, so that we need to get ready for it. Nothing else will stop Iranian aggression, and nothing else will stifle the funding, sponsoring, and glorification of terrorists.

In 2008, I believe that either a Republican running on (1) as a platform or a Democrat running on (2) as a platform could win broad bipartisan support. However, my guess is that the Democrats are likely to come closer to representing (1) in 2008, and as of now my sense is that (1) is more popular than (2).

In my own thinking, I tend to vacillate between (1) and (2). The advantage of (2) is that it helps align our interests with the UK and Israel, which are not in a position to adopt (1). The UK, with its larger and more radical Muslim population, necessarily is affected by international Muslim belligerence. For Israel, staying out of the Middle East is not an option.

The main prediction from this essay is that we will see an outbreak of popular frustration in the next few years. I think that many people are tired of political spin machines, diplomatic "solutions," and fancy intellectual models of the world that fail in practice. They long for a leader who talks straight and who can make the plays work on the field the way they were designed to work on the chalkboard.

The failures of elitist thinking will create an adverse environment for haughty, cerebral politicians such as Tony Blair or Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead, I expect more populist figures to emerge, which gives me considerable misgivings. I think that populist economics is mostly bad. If voters turn to populists on the issue of national security, my guess is that the economy will suffer for it.

But I think that the popular instinct is that the elites so far have not gotten it right on security and Islamic militancy. And in that regard, the popular instinct is right.


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