FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: "HORROR VACUI" ON IRAQ

Addressing the American Enterprise Institute at the Mayflower Hotel, yesterday, President Bush invoked that old principle of physics: "nature abhors a vacuum" (horror vacui): People understand the consequences of failure. If we were to leave this young democracy before the...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 02/16/2007

Addressing the American Enterprise Institute at the Mayflower Hotel, yesterday, President Bush invoked that old principle of physics: "nature abhors a vacuum" (horror vacui):

People understand the consequences of failure. If we were to leave this young democracy before the job is done, there would be chaos, and out of chaos would become vacuums, and into those power vacuums would flow extremists who would be emboldened; extremists who want to find safe haven.

As we think about this important front in the war against extremists and terrorists, it's important for our fellow citizens to recognize this truth: If we were to leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy would follow us home.

I am no physics scholar, but it seems that Bush is flat out contradicting himself with this logic.

Initially he is saying that if U.S. troops redeploy out of Iraq, that will lead to chaos, which in turn leads to a vacuum.
By this definition,  he is claiming the following definition of a vacuum:

A vacuum is a context filled with chaos

In fact, a vacuum is precisely the opposite of what Bush is claiming.  According to my dictionary, a vacuum is:

a space entirely devoid of matter

If we translate this into a metaphor--giving Bush the benefit of the doubt--we get a formula that looks something like this:

[Iraq without U.S. forces] would be [devoid of matter]

Again, we would have a situation that still does not make sense.  IF U.S. forces leave Iraq, Iraq would still remain filled with "matter"--that being the various warring groups currently engaged in a multi-sided civil war that is killing American soldiers forced by the Bush policy to stay in the fray.

Moving right along, Bush reminds us that he is not actually talking about people and things, but is talking about power, such that this vacuum analogy would look something like this:

[Iraq without U.S. forces] would be [devoid of power]

Here we are on more solid ground or at least making sense in terms of the basics of physics.  But even if we clarify his definition of a vacuum, his argument still makes no sense.

If, for example, we were to test Bush's claim that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq was equivalent to the presence of enough power in Iraq to negate a vacuum, then we would expect Iraq to not exhibit either of the two conditions of a vacuum as defined by Bush. That is, if the U.S. presence in Iraq constitutes power enough to negate a vacuum, ergo Iraq should:

  1. Not currently be a chaotic system
  2. Be filled with enough content to achieve relative equilibrium (e.g., controlling power)

Without much investigation,  we can easily conclude that Iraq is a chaotic system in the extreme.  So, condition #1 is not met.  That leaves condition two:  enough content to achieve relative equilibrium.  Nope.

By the rules of physics, we would have to say that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is not in any way constituting "contents" leading to relative equilibrium.  If U.S. forces were indeed negating a power vacuum with their presence, then it would follow that the Iraqi system--vis-à-vis physics--would not exhibit characteristics of a power struggle.

In other words, both conditions fail and we are left with no alternative but to give President Bush a failing grade for his understanding and use of physics to describe the consequences of U.S. forces redeploying from Iraq.

But remember, Bush said two things in his Mayflower remarks:

  1. If we leave and create a vacuum, extremists will flow in to Iraq
  2. If we leave and create a vacuum, extremists will follow us home from Iraq

This brings us to another situation in physics:  static electrical attraction:

[Iraq without U.S. forces]  would lead to [terrorists following us home]

Here we see the President claiming that terrorists have properties equivalent to those pesky dryer sheets that cling to you no matter how much you try to pull them off your sweater (we call them "clingons" in my family). This is particularly a problem in winter months when the lower humidity increases the static attraction between ordinary clothing and dryer sheets charged with static electricity in a tumbler dryer.

Perhaps--in his desperate effort to convince Americans that U.S. forces pulling out of another country's civil war was a bad thing for America--President Bush is trying to tap into that most shocking of American experiences:  suddenly discovering, at the end of an important PowerPoint presentation that a Bounce sheet clingon is attached to the back of your pant leg.

Whatever principle of physics President Bush was invoking (and I'm still not entirely sure which one it was supposed to be), one thing seems clear:  none of it describes what will actually happen when U.S. forces redeploy from Iraq.

All this leads me to conclude that physics is altogether the wrong approach to take. 

Rather than using physics as a way of explaining the situation, it would be much wiser just to frame the situation in terms of what has actually happened on the ground.  Let's call this, for sake of argument, "reality."

The reality of Iraq, if simplified into several clear statements, reads something like this:

  1. The more American troops we send to Iraq, the more American troops die in Iraq
  2. The longer American troop occupy Iraq, the more civil war and chaos explodes in Iraq
  3. The more U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the more sophisticated hostile forces become
  4. The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the more distant former allies in the region become
  5. The longer U.S. forces remain in Iraq, the more dangerous the world becomes for America

We could go on, but all of this can be summed up with one overarching statement that sums up all the descriptions of reality in Iraq:

The danger to American security will increase so long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq

To posit the opposite, as President Bush has done, is to ask the American public to break from the rules of physics and--more egregiously---to break from the rules of common sense observations of reality on the ground.

American national security is not depend on our ability to stave off vacuums or chaos or dryer sheets.  It depends on our ability to restore a progressive vision of national security--a vision based on building trust through diplomacy.

©  2007 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2007, Frameshop

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