The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

10 May 2004

Hold the figs

Hardly anyone, even among his most enthusiastic fans, will characterize George W. Bush as an industrial-strength intellectual. And that's fine with W.; he has that distrust for "pointy-headed intellectuals" made famous by, among others, George Wallace.

Which is not to say that Mr Bush doesn't have a point. Dan Lovejoy has looked into the matter, and he sees a philosophical antecedent to the President's thinking:

Newton's laws of physics work so well we can do incredibly precise mathematical calculations with them. Are they 100% accurate? No. They are a highly accurate description of how bodies in motion work. But they are wrong. And the weirder the conditions, the wronger they are. If something goes too fast, or gets too small, Newton's laws break down completely. But for from molecule sized things to solar-system type things moving at a small fraction of c, Newton works pretty well.

In the real world, as opposed to the arcane conditions that are examined in the laboratory, we can do just fine with the simpler explanations. As with Isaac Newton, so too with George W. Bush:

Once we've mastered Newtonian physics, we might be able to touch Einstein. That leaves us with the Bush Doctrine. Is it a perfect understanding of the world? Far from it. But it is certainly useful for crafting wartime foreign policy. Not until we've made peace on our terms can we try to reach out and resolve the "root causes" problem. It's too complex to fix now, and we've gotta fix the problem of Islamist terrorism NOW. We can't wait for the UN to save us, or for programs to reverse the trend.

[S]ome would argue, I think rightly, that we didn't do enough research. We didn't plan well for the occupation, and we certainly didnít get our WMD intelligence right.

And I say — so what? We acted correctly on the intelligence we had at the time. We couldn't wait until the threat was imminent, and we didn't. The decision was sound — the implementation, flawed.

Applying Newton's laws of motion to the Middle East:

1. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Stagnation, of course, is as uniform a motion as you'll find; Bush obviously believes that things aren't going to change on their own.

2. The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors; in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.

Pushing the Middle East in a direction it would rather not go requires a different vector, and more force than it would require otherwise.

3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Obviously and fiercely so.

This analysis presumably fails at the quantum level — were you to ask Bush about string theory, he might well suggest that it would be a good idea to string 'em up — but for things that can be measured by ordinary benchmarks, Bush is as Newtonian as they get.

Posted at 9:22 AM to Political Science Fiction

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» Bush Doctrine Is Newtonian from Spacecraft
Hold the figs: [F]or things that can be measured by ordinary benchmarks, Bush is as Newtonian as they get.I like it, but then I'm fond of analogies involving mechanics. (via Ted)......[read more]

Bush doctrine: You car starts to make squeking noises, so you proclaim it "evil" and push it off a cliff. Others might have taken it to a mechanic and got the brakes fixed.

Bush doctrine ignores root causes, instead favoring idealogical caricatures of the situation. Its too simplistic to work, it will always cause long term problems.

Posted by: bruce at 12:16 PM on 10 May 2004

Bruce, I disagree. As for long-term problems, we already have plenty of those thanks to past policies from both parties. But the only recent workable solutions (China reapproachment, Cold War, Gulf War, etc) have come from the practical thinkers who act directly instead of in broad general ways. Root causes are nice to consider, but why should we chase our tails trying to placate a region that isn't doing anything to help themselves?

Posted by: Ted at 12:58 PM on 10 May 2004

Bush doctrine ignores root causes, instead favoring idealogical caricatures of the situation.

Bruce, did you set your irony detector to "Silent" before posting that comment?

Posted by: McGehee at 2:53 PM on 10 May 2004

Its too simplistic to work.

So if a robber breaks into my house, is shooting him too simplistic to work, or do I have to take him to a therapist?

I don't believe that the Bush doctrine is perfect, but it's a very useful way to look at the world in war time. This war is "kill or be killed" not "Let's all talk about our feelings.."

Posted by: Dan at 5:41 PM on 10 May 2004

Worrying about root causes is okay if we have time and energy to expend on long term goals.

And we have time to worry about root causes, as long as the terrorists aren't a threat. We have all the time in the world to worry about all the different problems that contributed to root causes.

However, when the wolf is at the door, you shoot the wolf, then worry about what caused him to be there in the first place. Maybe environment, maybe economics, maybe any number of things. We don't want any more wolves showing up at the door, so we try to address root causes.

We are the greatest military and economic power on this earth. The United States has proven time and time again that we are slow to anger and willing to go the extra mile to help people who want our help. We'll get to the root causes after the wolf is dead.

Posted by: Dennis at 6:43 PM on 10 May 2004

I would submit that Bush has a better plan than most would give him credit for. Look at a map of the area, and see who is isolated now. Syria and Iran now have pro-democratic governments on at least two borders, and Saudi is isolated as well.

Posted by: John Cross at 8:30 PM on 10 May 2004

Better analogy, a robber breaks into your house, so instead of trying to catch that robber you burn down the house of a neighbor that never returned your weedeater...

I dont buy the "we're at war through reason out the window" argument.

Posted by: bruce at 12:26 AM on 11 May 2004

Why is it that debate over Bush's judgement regarding the War on Terror revolves around Iraq and not Afghanistan? Our handling of the Taliban was overwhelmingly respected by not only Americans, but the entire global community. And met Newton's third law - opposite and equal reaction. We obviously must all agree on that.

Except that we didn't complete that mission. Bush followed in his father's footsteps and failed to finish the job he started. We should have let Saddam cower in his palaces while watching us bring Osama to justice. We already controlled Iraqi air space and delivered some missiles occasionally for good measure. What was the big rush? Liberty for Iraqis? First we had another job to do.

When Bush exhausted his short attention span for Osama and the Al Queda scum is when he lost me on his military War on Terror strategy.

Posted by: Mike at 1:48 AM on 11 May 2004

You can't confuse sales with delivery...

Posted by: JJ at 9:02 AM on 11 May 2004

How come "wars" on poverty, illiteracy, kleptocracies, etc., can dwell in many nuacned ways on "root causes" for generations with no improvement or resolution in sight? And what practioners recommend is greater attention to root causes?

Yet "too simplistic" solutions gain us quick and demonstrable benefit, and must be derided?

I buy a car, it's under warranty for a while and maybe it develops problems while under warranty. I as the owner, don't give a hoot about root causes, I want it fixed. The dealer and/or manufacturer MAY want to investigate root causes, if they experience a lot of pain (cost) associated with the repair.

But once out of warranty, notice: as owner, my interest is the same, I just want it fixed. But now, the dealer and manufacturer have no interest whatever in root causes for my car's complaint.

U.S. Foreign policy has for too long dwelled on root causes long after the warrantees on policy initiatives have long expired. As taxpayers, I would argue that we never cared much one way or another as long as we fix the problem at hand.

Posted by: dadmanly at 2:01 PM on 11 May 2004