Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Iraqi Wacky: Bush Bequeaths Insanity “Beyond My Presidency”

It would be nice to be able to say something insightful or conclusive or constructive about last week’s national effort to assess where we stand in Iraq. But after wildly divergent reactions from several recognized experts—some at odds with their own previous selves—maybe all we can say with any certainty is that Iraq has made us wacky. In the last seven days, we have witnessed:

George Will, generally an apologist for conservative causes and Bush’s military adventures in Iraq, saying that by conspicuously snubbing Baghdad and visiting only Anbar on his recent Iraq stopover, Bush underscored that the surge failed (as measured by his own and General Petraeus’ standards of success)—leaving no credible military mission there for the United States. Will added that the already-planned troop rotations (back to pre-surge levels + 7,000), a draw-down which Petraeus labeled significant, was way too puny to satisfy the Democrats’ anti-war base.

E.J. Dionne, usually an apologist for liberal causes and the Democrats’ efforts to bring the troops home sooner, saying that the congressional testimony of Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made enough of a case for progress to give teetering Republicans political cover and prevent most of them from abandoning Bush. Dionne added that House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton was astute to grasp how Bush had boxed the Democrats in, by denying them Republican votes to cut off war-funding. As Skelton saw, the Democrats’ only hope was for other generals to shout out their fear that the Iraq war is “breaking our Army” and leaving us “unable to deal with other risks to our nation.”

Ellen Goodman, predictably an apologist for liberal causes and the Democrats’ efforts to bring the troops home sooner, saying that Petraeus and Crocker had managed to reduce five years of war to “the tale of two catastrophes”: the war proponents’ vision that things will get horrifically worse if we leave Iraq, vs. the war opponents’ vision that staying the course will only stay the disaster—causing more American warriors to give their lives for a deficient objective—replacing mission creep with “mission shrink.”

Charles Krauthammer, normally an apologist for conservative causes and Bush’s military adventures in Iraq, saying that “Petraeus’ withdrawal recommendations have prevented a revolt of the generals,” by showing them that if he can win over enough Iraqi Sunnis, the U.S. can replace defeat of the original objective, to establish a unified democratic Iraq, with an important replacement objective, tactical victory over “al-Qaida in Iraq.” But never did he acknowledge that there was no “al-Qaida in Iraq” until Bush challenged them to a high-noon duel for the Sunnis’ allegiance, and that now even if we win the duel, al-Qaida can gloat about how many years they bogged us down.

Thomas Friedman, one of the few columnists who can be counted on to remain genuinely moderate and carefully adjust his Iraq position in response to actual facts on the ground, agreeing with David Rothkopf, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, that in his speech last Thursday evening “In one fell swoop, George Bush abdicated to Petraeus, Maliki and the Democrats.” And so, Rothkopf added: “Bush left it to Petraeus to handle the war, Maliki to handle our timetable and … our checkbook, and the Democrats to ultimately figure out how to end this.”

It seemed no columnist wanted to touch the controversy over the “General Betray Us” ad by MoveOn.org. Questioning the general’s honesty was tacky, and pointless. Instead, MoveOn should have asked if Petraeus, once he got his marching orders in person from the Commander in Chief, could really be expected not to report that the orders had been carried out. The answer was obvious, and it was naïve for anyone to expect otherwise.

If they agree on nothing else, just about everyone fears that Bush has now succeeded in prolonging the war “beyond my presidency.” And if it is the Democrats who extract us from Iraq in 2009, the Republicans can spend the next few decades blaming them for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They learned that trick after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger followed the country’s will and withdrew from Vietnam. They have no reason to think it won’t work again.

Speaking of the president’s stubborn drive to mitigate his Iraq failure any way he can, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said over the weekend that Bush “must think we’re all idiots.” Perhaps. But so far history is proving him right: so long as we allow him to continue as idiot-in-chief, we give the world every reason to doubt our competence, and our sanity.

Bush did not look well yesterday, nominating former judge Michael Mukasey as attorney general, to replace the disgraced Alberto Gonzales. I have found no references to it on Google or several blog search engines. But the president’s voice sounded weak, he slurred more words than he has in years, and he looked physically ill. His manner could also be read as mentally unbalanced, even paranoid. Maybe he was just choking on too much crow, swallowing a nominee the Democrats can live with instead of spitting yet another conservative ideologue in their faces.

Of course, it might be that six years of duplicity and deception have finally taken their toll. But having a president paralyzed by guilt to the point of disability is really not in our best interests. The best option would still be for him to face reality, and move on. Today. Things will only get wackier if he makes us wait until 2009.

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