Picture, if you will, the following scenario:
- Faced with a terrorist threat against his country’s citizens, a deeply conservative president scornfully dismisses calls – mainly from the left – to address the poverty, inequality, ignorance and desperation that helped to nurture the threat in the first place.
- With patriotism and "democracy" at the center of his rhetoric, the president instead chooses to respond by launching and escalating a military campaign, limiting civil liberties, and rejecting dialogue.
- While the gap between rich and poor increases, the president proves reluctant to require the wealthiest citizens to sacrifice either money or lives for his military campaign.
- The president makes almost no effort to improve socioeconomic conditions in the ungoverned areas where the enemy thrives. Winning the support of local populations is given a far lower priority than the ongoing military offensive. Poverty rates refuse to budge.
- The military campaign nonetheless brings citizens a tenuous sense of security, and a sense that the government has regained the offensive.
- This greatly increases the president’s popularity, making his re-election likely. Much of the congressional opposition cautiously decides to tone down its criticism and avoid controversy.
- Liberals, with their complaints about human rights abuses, concerns about a "quagmire," and exhortations to address the "root causes" of the violence, end up despised in much of the mainstream media – especially much-viewed networks with a conservative bent – and in popular opinion.
- Though its leadership is far more conservative than most of society, the military becomes the most respected institution in the country.
- However, the refusal to demand that wealthy citizens sacrifice soon plunges the national budget into a deficit so deep that it threatens the likelihood of further progress.
- Concerns about human rights abuses damage the country’s worldwide reputation.
- Meanwhile, the terrorist group – though wounded – remains intact, with its top leadership unharmed, financing mechanisms largely in place, and recruitment unaffected.
Does this sound familiar? It should if you live in George W. Bush’s United States or Álvaro Uribe’s Colombia.
What comes next? Will the sense of security be sustained? Does the president further solidify his grip on power? Will civil liberties be preserved? Does the terrorist group strike back? Does the congressional opposition recover? Do the liberals’ proposals get a fair hearing?