Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Situation Hopeless, But Not Serious

I wish it didn't have to be this way. My perennial political disillusionment, that is. I recall being keenly interested in state and national politics since the age of 12. Taking this stuff seriously has set me up, time and again, for disappointment after disappointment.

First, there was Jimmy Carter. Lord, help us. I was a true believer at the time--my first presidential race as a young adult. It didn't take long. My idealism was no match for the unbridled naivete and sanctimony, the malaise, Iran, the killer rabbit and all that was the Carter administration. I emerged from the Carter years a pure cynic. Reagan was an exception. I started off opposed, but warmed up to him over the 8 years. By the end of Bush, Sr.'s administration, however, I was convinced that his re-election would condemn the Republican Party to a quick extinction. I cannot now remember exactly what irked me so about Bush, Sr., but I'm sure it had to be something significant. And then there was Clinton. There wasn't any great mystery, here. But still, I expected better.

This brings me to George W. I have defended him far longer than I should have. Perhaps it was because he was a somewhat decent governor of Texas, known as a concensus-builder. And then my defense mechanisms kicked in after the 2000 election brouhaha, when the Democrats opted for their tried and true "we was robbed" response. Cries of election-stealing from the party that wrote the book on this sort of thing was too much to take. I defended the President in the early years against the knee-jerk Bush-haters both here and abroad. I remember arguing with my Turkish friends who contended, on the one hand that Bush was an evil, conspiratorial mastermind, and on the other hand that he was a doofus. I said you can't have it both ways--he's either one or the other. Actually, I think he is neither. In the aftermath of 9/11, I appreciated his resolve. And I initially supported our effort against Iraq. I never believed the "weapons of mass destruction" bit, thinking that merely a ploy to gain international support. But at the time, I saw it as--if not absolutely necessary--then certainly an understandable move in our on-going confrontation.

I was wrong. And I was wrong about Bush. What appeared to be resolve is looking more and more like pure pig-headedness. And now a week after his national address, I am of the mind that he is indeed a dangerous president, one who is both out-of-touch and out-of-control. I fear that in his attempt to obfuscate the current debacle, he is seeking to widen it. Last week, Paul Krugman noted in his Quagmire of the Vanities article:

...I began writing about the Bush administration's infallibility complex, the president's Captain Queeg-like inability to own up to mistakes, almost a year before the invasion of Iraq. When you put a man like that in a position of power--the kind of position where he can punish people who tell him what he doesn't want to hear, and base policy decisions on the advice of people who play to his vanity--it's a recipe for disaster.

I know, I know...Krugman, Rich, Kristoff and the NYTimes are reliably, consistantly anti-Bush. But what about commentators that should be in his corner, or are at least not doctrinaire in their opposition?

George Will likens our situation not only to Vietnam, but to Stalingrad, here.

Or Georgie Anne Geyer, here. In my view, Geyer has always been a voice to listen to. She writes:

The president, far from taking any guidance from the anti-war November elections or polls, has used them as another stepping-stone to his imperial dreams. Far from heeding the report of the James Baker III/Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group, with its exacting equations, he seems to have used those 79 recommendations to decide what NOT to do....In short, having left the American people, the Democratic Congress, the Iraq Study Group and even his own generals behind him, President Bush strikes out alone on a strategy that, rather than making a smaller American footprint in the world, is making it immensely larger.

Geyer worries about signs of a widening conflict, from Somalia to Iran, and involving Israel.

The point is that, despite warnings from the American people through their vote, despite the urgent cries from our best bipartisan elites in the Iraq Study Group, and despite the advice of his own generals, President Bush is himself surging ahead, and let the cards fall where they may when this foolish game is over.

Meanwhile, moderate Arab countries in the area see a "nightmare scenario," according to even the pro-war Wall Street Journal, that would be a "much larger regional conflict that pits Sunnis against Shiites and could engulf the entire region, sparking a wider war in the middle of the world's largest oil patch." Their fear is seeing Iraq looking "less and less like a buffer between these two axes of Middle East power and more of a no-man's land that is bringing them into conflict."

So there is our post-election scenario for the next two years, bare of any of its civilizing foliage. Essentially, the same gang is there, doing the same gang-like things. The neocons lurk in the curtains off-stage, whispering to W. from the American Enterprise Institute that he must not be the man to "lose Iraq" and urging him on to Tehran. The generals speak out, but nobody listens. The Congress may be a hope -- we'll have to see.

But as for us, the people, I think we've got a pretty good idea now of what our leaders think of us.

Even Peggy Noonan, Reagan's speechwriter, is appalled. She writes, here:

What a dreadful mistake the president made when he stiff-armed the Iraq Study Group report, which had bipartisan membership, an air of mutual party investment, the imprimatur of what remains of or is understood as the American establishment, and was inherently moderate in its proposals: move diplomatically, adjust the way we pursue the mission, realize abrupt withdrawal would yield chaos. There were enough good ideas, anodyne suggestions and blurry recommendations (blurriness is not always bad in foreign affairs--confusion can buy time!) that I thought the administration would see it as a life raft. Instead they pushed it away....We don't always recognize deliverance when it arrives.

Right now, in the deepest levels of the American government, intelligence and military planners should be ordered to draw up serious plans for an American withdrawal, and serious strategies for dealing with the realities withdrawal will bring. It would not be the worst thing if the Maliki government knew those plans were being drawn up. It might concentrate the mind.

What is paramount is a hard, cold-eyed and even brutal look at America's interests. We have them. I'm not sure they've been given sufficient attention the past few years. In fact, I am sorry to say I believe they have not.

The Democrats--jockeying for 2008 position--have been quite vocal in expressing their opposition, but less forth-coming with alternatives. I think it remains for the Republicans to save George W.--and our soldiers--from himself. A few GOP Senators such as Chuck Hagel are attempting to do so. More power to them.

I continue to remember a line from one of my favorite movies, the 1962 Cold War relic "One, Two, Three." The erstwhile Communist trying to pass himself off as a Capitalist, mangles his lines and blurts out "situation hopeless, but not serious." For those like myself who allow themselves to fret about these things, the situation is indeed "hopeless." Fortunately, this is only the sideshow to what is really going on.


Mimi said...

I really thought that he was stalling until the Iraq Study Group's recommendation came out - I am stunned that he isn't implementing any of it.

I don't know what is going on with Jimmy Carter - I am interested in reading his new book, though. Otherwise, I've not been paying much attention.

Steve Hayes said...

G.K. Chesterton had a similar experience.

"As much as I everdid, more than i ever did, I believe in Liberalism, but there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals."