Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I channel Goldberg and make useless historical analogies

This quote is really inexcusable for a Democrat: "Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience, I have a lifetime of experience, Sen. Obama has one speech in 2002." Way to go a-kneecapping, people.

Anyway, that quote comes from James Fallows who has an interesting post about the Obama campaign's effective strategy, and (citing Chuck Spinney) specifically the concept of the "OODA loop." In Spinney's analysis, Obama has gotten "inside Hillary's OODA loop", meaning that he is observing, orienting, deciding, and acting faster than her (or rather, his campaign is faster than hers) in ways that have limited her choices and put her (in Spinney's telling) in a position to lose.

Given that the classic example of 20th-century military that repeatedly managed to "get inside" their enemy's OODA loop is the German Wehrmacht of World War II, I offer the following two interpretations, which you can adopt based on your favoured candidate:

1) Ohio is Stalingrad:

Neither the Germans nor the Soviets wanted to fight over Stalingrad -- it was a battle that began and escalated unexpectedly. By the time it was in full swing, the Germans were supposed to have won. The Wehrmacht had successfully outwitted and outfought the Soviet army at every turn, pushing the Red Army back over thousands of miles of frontier. The Soviet leadership, meanwhile, had been totally surprised by the invasion itself (oops) and spent the period leading up to Stalingrad trying to keep the entire country from being eaten alive by the Nazis. By Stalingrad, the Soviets managed to grind the Nazi offensive to a halt largely by winning ugly: an incredibly high body count halted the Soviet retreat, but just barely and at an unsustainable cost. If the Red Army had fought the rest of the war like they fought Stalingrad, they'd have lost by depopulating Russia in their attempt to stop the Germans.

Sen. Clinton never expected a fight over Texas or Ohio -- this was supposed to be over a month ago, on Super Tuesday. And more broadly, she never expected the Obama campaign to come close to even in the national polls -- this was supposed to be a cakewalk. And, after a month of defeats, the Clinton campaign has managed to win, but win ugly: constant negative campaigning designed to destroy Obama's positive sheen, and working the press with (fair) accusations of unbalanced coverage. She can win this primary, and maybe even a few more, but she probably still can't win the nomination, and in trying to she'll actually hurt the party's chances in November.

2) Ohio is Kursk:

While Stalingrad gets movies made about it, Kursk is really the turning point of the war -- the Soviets not only stop a Russian advance, but with a combination of preparation, good intelligence, and rapid counterattacks make Operation Citadel the last German offensive of the Eastern Front, pushing the Germans back and setting up for the great southern counter-offensives of later in 1943, which themselves led to Operation Bagration, the final destruction of Nazi power in eastern Europe, and the Soviet occupation of Poland. The point here is less about Kursk (which, at the time, had a pretty murky outcome) than it is about the rapidly-increasing skill of the Soviet Army: while Stalingrad was a bloodbath, by the time Bagration comes around, the Soviets are inflicting the same casualties on the Germans as they did at Stalingrad, but at a fraction of the cost. By the end of the war, the Soviet Army is at least as good as any other land force in Europe, and considerably better than most. The point being that it is possible for the OODA loop to go the other way, too.

So what if the Clinton campaign uses hardball tactics -- this is Presidential politics, it's supposed to be hardball. That's how she'll win in November. If she can do it to the golden boy Obama, she can do it to McCain, too. What we're seeing, the analogy goes, is Clinton learning from her mistakes and Obama's successes and responding by knocking Obama back on his heels for the first real time. If we see the polls start to move back in her direction, and if she can rack up some really big wins from here on out, this will be seen as the turning point.

I'm resisting prediction, but I think you can read this one of two ways, but we have to leave the military analogies behind. First off, the facts are that in neither Ohio or Texas are the results as clear as they are on the battlefields of history: the delegate count has shifted barely, if at all, and Clinton still has a lot of ground to make up. And the most likely outcome is still that she won't be able to do it. But I agree with some people who say that if the momentum shifts decisively in Clinton's favour over the next two months, it's not improper for the supers to step in and throw their weight behind Clinton, just as I don't think it's improper for them to do so for Obama under similar circumstances.

Or it's possible that I've got the roles wrong -- maybe Obama's actually the Soviets, and Hillary's strong attacks will help him against McCain later. No doubt Jonah Goldberg would love to compare Hillary to Hitler -- oh wait, he already did. But what worries me is that we're not watching a replay of the eastern front at all, but the Russian Civil War. In this analogy, Dean is Trotsky, and in the real world when Trotsky's rival took over, he effectively destroyed the Red Army, leaving the USSR vulnerable to the invasion of 1942. So rumours that Hillary and co. are trying to push Dean out when he's had such a success in turning the Democratic Party around, and when Obama has clearly shown the effectiveness of Dean's strategies and organization, concern me a great deal. Read that Clinton quote above and then tell me it's an irrational concern. This is the Democratic Party -- fratricidal infighting is what they do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed useless historical analogies.

Hitler had been planning war in the East since the '20s. Trotsy built the Red Army, but Stalin- far from wreaking it- through forced industrialization made it a modern force that could actually stand up to the Germans. The purge of officers may have had some short-term costs, but in fact it allowed a whole generation of skilled leaders to arise during the war.

If you are going to reach, cast Hillary as the Third Reich and last tuesday as a kind of Battle of the Bulge in the East- she threw everything she had into the battle, and bought some time, but the result was no change in the strategic balance and more determination for anti-Hillary forces (as if it was needed) to grind her down to the end game.

She is fighting on two-fronts, and like the dying regime, wants to make peace with one of them- in this case, the GOP for now, because Obama is the nearest mortal threat and cannot be bargained with.