Wednesday, December 08, 2004

War like invasive surgery

One of the major problems Democrats have at this point is our perceived weakness on defense. There are a number of reasons for this appearance, but one thing I want to discuss here is that we regularly describe war as an option of 'last resort'. Kerry used that phrase regularly in the campaign. Now most of us democrats understand what is meant by this, but our opponents have been very successful at portraying this as meaning that we will avoid war at all costs, we are afraid to go to war, we are weak at protecting the country, etc. So, I've been trying to come up with a better way to describe our position that might speak to a wider group of people.

My attitude toward the use of war is similar to my attitude toward invasive surgery. I am certainly willing to undergo, or have family members undergo, surgery if needed, I am not in favor of returning to 19th century medicine. On the other hand, before I have my 11-year old go under the knife, I want to make sure that:

a) All other non-surgical therapies that could treat the problem have been tried

b) This is indeed needed and the problem the surgery is intended to solve is serious

c) The surgery has a high probability of success and a low probability of failure

Similar standards should be applied to our country going to war.

Also, the reason for this caution is not personal fear, but my understanding as to what is the best way to maintain security. One of the most valuable assets we can have for maintaining our security is control over the international situation. Control is very hard to maintain once shooting starts. One of the clearest lessons from history is that once the fighting starts events take on a life of their own, and no one can have much control of the situation. That is true at all levels from the squad to the entire nation. The grand-daddy of all such situations is, of course, the decision in 1914 by Austria to settle some problems of Serbian nationalism by military means. That got out of control. I think that here too the analogy holds. Simply being put under anesthesia for surgery is a huge risk.

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