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Why Varian Wrynn is a fool, part II

Allison Robert

2. Having had a free and conscious choice over whether to re-assume both the privileges and responsibilities of kingship, he does not have the right to pursue a personal grudge over the interests of the Stormwind kingdom.

Varian's antagonistic attitude would be more forgivable in a leader if he'd never had the opportunity to be anything other than a king. Hereditary leadership, for example, has been a plague on the government of most countries you could name, because historically a sizable percentage of people born to the job just weren't any good at it. It's reasonable to forgive a certain amount of angst and even incompetence in someone who didn't go looking for the job but was saddled with it permanently nonetheless. They didn't face an election process, nor did they earn it through honorable service or years of experience -- they just are who they are.

That both describes and doesn't describe Varian. Jumping forward to his period as a gladiator in goblin arenas, he finds himself in the position of being able to return to kingship -- or just walk away from it all. He finds the latter choice appealing, which is something he conveniently glosses over in his dialogue during the invasion of the Undercity. It's not the only bit of historical revisionism on his part; he also dumps all responsibility for the existence of the gladiatorial arenas on Thrall, which simply isn't true, on top of being a beautifully ironic accusation to level at someone who was forced to fight in human arenas.

With full knowledge of the life of a king and the life of a gladiator, with the dangers and responsibilities inherent to both, Varian chose to return to kingship. He chose to return to a life where his first priority at all times is the well-being and political interests of the Stormwind kingdom. If he's that determined to be running the Alliance's diplomatic efforts, his immediate secondary concern is the well-being and political interests of the Alliance as a whole.

And -- personal feelings concerning the Horde aside, which are mostly justified (though not always accurate) -- declaring war on a needless front when you're occupied with an existential threat elsewhere is a truly abysmal piece of statecraft.

Were the Dwarves consulted? The Night Elves? The Gnomes or the Draenei? Do any of these people want to be dragged into a fresh conflict with the Horde while Yogg-Saron and Arthas are wholly dedicated to the extermination or enslavement of all life on Azeroth? In the Dwarves' case we certainly have evidence that Varian's posturing is immensely counterproductive; Brann Bronzebeard (younger brother to Magni and head of the Explorer's League) is the instigator of the summit meeting concerning the threat from Ulduar, and I can't imagine he and Rhonin would have asked both Varian and Thrall to attend if they thought that Yogg-Saron could be handled without help from both factions.

Moreover, with both Yogg-Saron and Arthas being threats that necessarily affect both the Alliance and the Horde, it's unfair to expect only one of the two factions to respond. Ulduar is a big problem, and I trust that both Magni and Rhonin conveyed this. It's short-sighted of Varian to overlook the idiocy of a sole faction's involvement, and to ignore that asking only the Alliance to fight and die in Ulduar siphons military resources and personnel that he would not otherwise be forced to deploy (or re-deploy, given that so much of the Alliance is already committed to the war effort against the Scourge).

If his thought process extended beyond his revulsion at the idea of partnering with the Horde, he would recognize the value in splitting the effort more evenly between the two factions. A more crafty or simply Machiavellian leader would push for as much Horde involvement as possible. If you really want to wipe the Horde off the face of the planet, why not get as many of them as possible killed dealing with Yogg-Saron, and then attack? Assuming that Varian's planning on opening fresh hostilities with the Horde on a later date, it's tactically foolish to insist that your mortal enemies be excluded from the cost and casualties associated with Ulduar while you're losing troops.

I fully understand not wanting to work with Garrosh particularly (and Varian and Garrosh exemplify the worst diplomacy of their respective factions, with the tragedy being that each occupies a high-profile position that could accomplish real and lasting harm), but Varian was outraged at the Orcs' very presence before either had the opportunity to speak. Whatever else you might say about them, the Orcs showed up to the meeting per request, and they were prepared to deal with the problem at hand. If Varian is unable to disengage his personal hatred from the need to address a collective and serious threat, then he should acknowledge that he is more likely to act in service to an old grudge than to act in the interests of the Alliance as a whole.

Why none of this might matter

By this point, Thrall and the rest of the Horde leadership know they're dealing with someone who's just waiting (none too patiently) for a more opportune moment to pick a fight. While that's yet another of Varian's mistakes -- you don't telegraph your intentions to an enemy in advance of your ability to act on them -- it's one that leaves the Horde with an interesting, though equally ghastly, dilemma: do they resign themselves to the eventuality of a full-scale war with the Alliance and prepare to meet it, or do they work to head the conflict off before it even occurs? It's the sort of question that might be more properly asked of a Bronze Dragon if one were interested in a mystical and completely useless answer.

Most of this discussion is going to have to take place in a future article, but it's obvious that Thrall does not want war. Nor does the wider Horde leadership, and the Horde's diplomatic and economic relationship with Theramore (in addition to their remarkable self-restraint concerning the Daelin Proudmoore incident) is a strong argument for their ability to get along with the Alliance if circumstances allow it.

However, more reasonable Orcs now know that the Alliance will respond with violence if provoked, and that the definition of "provoked" has changed in a fashion that does not benefit them. The Horde/Alliance truce has existed in an uneasy gray area over the past several years that stopped well short of total war but allowed for minor conflicts between political sub-factions. The Warsong Outriders and the Silverwing Sentinels, for example, fight like junkyard dogs, but it's understood that they're not acting with the explicit consent of the wider Horde and Alliance governing bodies. There are plenty of people within their respective factions who don't agree with their purpose, or may agree with their views concerning the Ashenvale logging operation while disagreeing with their methods. When a player enters Warsong Gulch, they have essentially gone mercenary on behalf of a militant group.

Horde leadership is aware that the possibility of these smaller conflicts (or incidents like it) spiraling into an all-out war is that much greater with Varian's temper providing a new and unwelcome element. Thrall has a great deal on his plate and always has, but he's going to be incredibly sensitive to anything that might be judged by the Alliance as a hostile act. Garrosh's behavior is the most obvious example of an irritant which has to be removed (and it's my dearest hope that Saurfang makes good on his threat and cleaves the little bastard into an early grave**), but he's not the only thing that's been overlooked in the interests of getting a greater goal accomplished. The circumstances that led to the battle to retake the Undercity were a stunning blow to Thrall's confidence concerning the Horde's collective honor. He trusted Sylvanas, and he was betrayed. Depending on your point of view, Sylvanas was -- or wasn't -- a victim as well.

Thrall is the sort of person who, in the running of day-to-day concerns in Orgrimmar on top of running the Horde as a whole, grew accustomed to picking his battles, but he's going to be more vigilant than ever to anything that might undermine his moral authority. Varian wants a fight and has shown his willingess to abandon good sense in pursuit of it; Thrall's interested in avoiding one, is still smarting from a previous lapse in his normally good judgment, and is already aware of Varian's intentions.

Interesting times, as they say.

**Perhaps not surprisingly, Saurfang -- in his rather revealing Warsong Hold conversation with Garrosh -- is 100% correct about the logistics that make military victory possible. Garrosh's ignorance of and/or disregard for the need to establish reliable and efficient supply lines does not bode well for his prospects as a longterm commander. I like this conversation a lot. Not only is it a peek at the nuts and bolts of the Horde's war efforts in Northrend, but it's also rather subtle commentary on the true extent of both Saurfang and Garrosh's real experience in the field. Very nice bit of work there by Blizzard.

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