Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Symposium: A Question for Those Not Planning to Vote for Bush

I wrote the following essay on why I am voting for Bush and not for Kerry for Hugh Hewitt's Symposium. Having finished it, I see it exceeds his word limit. If he still chooses to link to it, and you are coming here from his website in a hurry to sample many other submissions, you may wish to read just the 250 words in bold.

Which candidate do you believe the terrorists would most like to see win, two weeks from today?

Notice that I am just asking you for your opinion. Reflect upon what you believe, not what you know. If you say you have no opinion, ask yourself a second question: what is the most important issue facing the American electorate? If you agree with me that terrorism is the most important issue, then it is likely you strongly agree that it is. Few think it a close call. Some who do not see terrorism as being of overriding importance think it an exaggerated threat or as transformable into a tolerable nuisance. I would venture to say that if this is your view, two weeks out, then you are unlikely to vote for Bush and unlikely to be persuaded to change your mind. You are welcome to stay, of course, but I would invite you to look at some of my other posts on terrorist activities or simply to reflect on your initial response to the events of September 11.

If you are still with me, then I will presume you think terrorism is the overriding issue this year. It follows from thinking terrorism is of overriding importance in this election that the question of whether the terrorists would prefer Kerry to Bush is a "live" one for you. You should care about forming an answer, and you cannot have an answer but think that your answer does not matter for your vote.

That your answer must matter follows from the nature of our conflict with the jihadists. Not all conflict is like this one. There can be conflicts in which one side can share some preferences with the other. In a friendly competition, for example, our interests overlap to some extent. Both football teams want to have a game of football, and thus want the game to be refereed competently. Even in unfriendly competitions, our interests can coincide to some extent. The Soviet Union and the United States shared an interest in avoiding the breakdown of nuclear deterrence, for neither side wanted to see the outcome of mutually assured destruction.

Game theorists call a strategic interaction in which interests are perfectly at odds a zero-sum game. In a zero-sum interaction, if one side prefers outcome A to outcome B, the other side will prefer outcome B to outcome A. This is because any gain for the one side is necessarily a loss for the other side. If we are in a zero-sum game with jihadists, then if it is in their interest to see Bush lose, it is in our interest to see him win.

Now, our conflict with the jihadists is as close to being zero-sum as any we have ever seen. They have no country, no property, no individuals that they feel compelled to protect. Do you doubt that the jihadists would use weapons of mass destruction if they acquired them? If you do not, then you see us as having little bargaining leverage over them. There is nothing we can offer them, save capitulation and unconditional surrender. Yet even surrender is unlikely to satisfy those who love to see us die. Since we prefer the survival of our civilization to its extinction, and they prefer their own death to settling for less than our extinction, our conflict with the jihadists is approximately zero-sum. Our preferences and theirs are absolutely opposed.

Back to my question. Do you think then that the jihadists prefer to see Kerry lose? I doubt you do. Those who say that Kerry would make America stronger usually quickly shift from talking about the future to talking about the past. They say that our invasion and occupation of Iraq have helped the radicals recruit more terrorists. If you are tempted to say that Bush has made the terrorists stronger, then are you also tempted to say that the jihadists prefer to see Kerry lose? I doubt you are. I suspect you believe that the terrorists really do hate Bush and fervently hope that he will lose. I suspect that you are just wishing my question is not a live one. You are wishing that the terrorists are so weak and we are so strong that it does not matter whether they get what they want. You wish that the terrorists shall turn out to be little more than a tolerable nuisance.

Wishes are easy; hope is hard. We cannot hope that our wishes will come true if we see that the world of the 1990s led to September 11 itself. Radical jihadists, if protected by friendly states, are capable of producing intolerable acts of terror. Given time, they will be capable of far more.

Some of us might be inclined toward fatalism. Some might despair that there is no hope for victory in a war against nihilistic fanatics. This is an overreaction. For the radicals to form cells that are sufficiently large to produce mass terror, they must be afforded protection by states friendly to their cause. Yet, we can deter the states that sponsor these groups. States share some of our interests in preserving some aspects of the status quo ante. Our conflicts with them are not zero-sum. There is hope that we can exploit some commonalities in our interests with these hostile states, for they do not have an interest in a direct war with the United States and its allies in the West.

So, our only hope of winning this war against the jihadists is to find and to kill as many of the radicals as we can and to deter those who can be deterred from protecting them. This is precisely the Bush strategy for dealing with terrorism. It makes sense, then, that the terrorists would oppose Bush and prefer that he loses. It makes little sense that those of us in the West who oppose terrorism should have the same preference.

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|| headland, 12:42 PM


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