Preemptive Engagement: Worked in Iraq-How About Manhattan?

Between the 9/11 hearings and the Bob Woodward book, your diarist has been thinking about the Bush doctrine of preemptive engagement.

Some might call it “gunship diplomacy” sans the “diplomacy” part.

But what I’ve been wondering about, more specifically, is how this policy works in real life. Particularly in New York, where one’s status is almost always subject to challenges and assaults, both real and imagined.

So consider the following scenarios:

-It’s long been established that sooner or later, everyone who lives in a co-op will get into a fight with the neighbors. So do you take the multilateral approach, appealing your grievances in front of the co-op board (where some of the members might be, well, French), or do you go the unilateral route and just whack ’em all?

-The doormen at Bungalow 8, the sales help at Barneys and the maître d’s at Spice Market have been giving you “attitude.” Do you call for neutral observers who will attempt to negotiate a “mutual understanding,” or do you define them all as the axis of evil and call in an air strike?

-You know it, I know it: The mooks in the parking garage are going to put a ding in the door of the 750i and then deny it. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Can you afford to wait? That’s right: whack ’em now.

-And so far as that “cute couple” goes-the Times man and the Vogue editor who are after your job, your kid’s spot at preschool and are about to outbid you by going $50k over the asking price on that two-bedroom apartment in a white brick building on East 79th Street …. Has anyone, anywhere, ever posed a more “imminent” threat? No. Whack ’em.

Now if you’re wondering where I’m going with this, the answer is simple: Who could have known that one day Bernie Goetz-the subway shooter-would be considered a man ahead of his time?

Yes, your diarist finds himself writing this dispatch in a particularly snarky mood. Maybe it’s the season; maybe it’s the weather. Or maybe it’s the fact that as absurd as the above-cited scenarios may be, they don’t come close to some of the real things we’ve learned about our government in the past few weeks:

·When Louis Freeh took over the F.B.I. in 1993, the first thing he did was have the computer removed from his desk. It’s not just that he didn’t believe in e-mail; as late as 1999, the F.B.I.’s computers still couldn’t be used to send images, and most of the files were still paper-based. Nice to know that while Al Qaeda had embraced the Internet, the F.B.I. still wasn’t too sure about it. (Allah has spoken: He went for the upgrade to Windows XP.)

·When 9/11 commissioner John Lehman asked Condoleezza Rice if she was aware that airlines could be fined if they had “more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that’s discriminatory,” this wasn’t some kind of fishing expedition: Apparently, presidents of both United and American Airlines testified this was a Department of Transportation policy that continued through the Bush administration. So if Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein himself had shown up at the same moment for the same flight out of Newark, at least two out of the three would have gotten through. (All praise to Allah: He’s always politically correct.)

·And when C.I.A. director George Tenet was handed a briefing paper in August 2001 labeled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly”-even with all the alarm bells going off in Washington about terrorist activity-he still didn’t pick up the phone and call Bush in Crawford about it. Sorry, but the only way you could put this into a screenplay and make it believable would be to incorporate a third-act plot reveal where it turns out that the head-of-the-C.I.A./Gene Hackman character is actually working for Al Qaeda. (Yes, Allah loves movies. But he still hasn’t seen The Passion of the Christ .)

And then, just to top all this off, there was George Bush’s press conference. Personally, I don’t belong to the crowd who believes Bush is I.Q.-challenged. But as he worked himself into a fervor about bringing democracy to “that part of the world,” I was suddenly stopped cold:

Is there a single nation in that part of the world-outside of Israel-that would actually like to see a democracy in its midst? Syria? Jordan? Iran? The Saudis? I think not. So let me ask the more pertinent question: Outside of Israel, how many nations in that part of the world are hoping we fail-if not covertly working to undermine us? Probably every single one of them.

All of which is why I suspect things are going to get a lot worse, before they get a lot worse still.

So what does all this mean for John Kerry’s campaign?

Alas, he’s still got a number of speed-bumps to avoid on the road to the White House:

1) Senatoritis. You’re getting hung by your own looping, overly nuanced, ultimately contradictory speechifying. Simple, declarative sentences, please.

2) Bob Shrum. Assuming a few things break right for Mr. Bush (the economy, Osama’s capture), this key Kerry campaign adviser knows only one song: populism-“I will fight for you against the rich forces of evil.” Among swing voters, it didn’t play for Al Gore; it’ll play even less well for the exceedingly well-off Mr. Kerry.

3) MoveOn.Org. Legally, Mr. Kerry can’t control the ads bought by these kinds of so-called 527 organizations; but as the race tightens and their messages become ever more incendiary, he’s going to be spending his time answering for them. Swat these flies now; with friends like these, you’re not going to need enemies.

4) Attack Fatigue. By continually demonizing Mr. Bush-blaming him for everything from hangnails to W.M.D.’s-Mr. Kerry runs the risk of having his message fall on deaf centrist ears. My advice to the candidate: Cut Mr. Bush some slack somewhere, if only to humanize yourself.

5) Michael Moore. In a particularly vile post on his Web site last week, Mr. Moore criticized Mr. Kerry’s proposal to bring the U.N. into Iraq. Mr. Moore doesn’t want any other country’s troops to be put at risk; he wants American “children” to die in Iraq-and only American children-in order to teach us a lesson. Attention, Senator Kerry: Forget the lunatic left. I think your Sister Souljah moment has arrived. Win votes by cutting him dead, today.

6) Teresa’s Tax Returns. Sorry, but you’re going to have to release them. The sooner, the better. Sure, she probably owns stock in Wal-Mart and Halliburton-but you can blame this on her financial advisers. And you’ll get to use the four words we’ll never hear from the Bush administration:

“We made a mistake.”

Preemptive Engagement: Worked in Iraq-How About Manhattan?