Saturday, March 08, 2008

Popularity


His editorial deserves greater ridicule, but I don't have time to keep up with all of Gerson's nonsense. Let's focus on this:
The real lesson in the years since Sept. 11 is different from what the Democratic candidates imagine: It is easy to be loved when you are a victim. It is harder to be popular when you act decisively to protect yourself and others.
Well, first of all we have a false dichotomy - our choices are either to "be a victim" or to "act decisively to protect yourself and others". Obviously, between the two, people are going to choose the flattering depiction - "Of course we want to be decisive! Of course we want to defend ourselves! Of course we defend others as well." Never mind that Gerson's "lesson" is not even close to reflecting reality. If Gerson were writing about the two World Wars and adhered to this style, he would elide the gratitude received by the nations the U.S. helped liberate, and would write something along the lines of, "Twice now, we have fought to free Europe, and both times Germany hated us for it."

If anybody has been playing the "victim" card since 9/11, it would be the Bush Administration. Being a "victim" is its excuse for everything, from secret detentions, to torture, to limiting habeas corpus, to warrantless spying, to entering into a massive war of choice despite the doubts and, in some cases, opposition of our allies. And the rift with the world did not start with a war in the defense of ourselves or others - it came by virtue of Bush's war of choice with Iraq. His decision that he was going to reinvent the region by war, whatever the doubts of our allies. What happened? He proved to be wrong in his professed rationale for the invasion and, despite an extremely competent invasion by the U.S. military, he proved to be beyond incompetent in the aftermath of the invasion.

Had Bush listened to "old Europe", he may well have learned within months that there were no "WMD's" in Iraq. But then, that was a pretext - he didn't want confirmation that Iraq had abandoned its weapons programs before the war, as it might have cost him the opportunity to start the war. Had he listened to "old Europe", or even to experienced voices within his own Administration, the military, or the State Department, he would have heard that successful occupation is difficult, requires a massive troop commitment, and that democratizing a nation and introducing market principles into a controlled economy is a touch more complicated than, say, growing a Chia Pet. Instead he sent in a band of incompetents like L. Paul Bremer to reinvent the nation, whatever the will of the people. And he decided to disband the Iraqi military, sending hundreds of thousands of armed, unemployed young men off to joblessness (i.e., to engage in street crime, join the "insurgency", or both.) What's not to love?

You can argue that once he got past his "The Pet Goat" moment, Bush started to act "decisively", sure. But decisive or not, you don't earn anybody's respect when every major decision you make is wrong. (I know that some people will choose to give him respect despite his incompetence, but let's not pretend that he earned it.) A half-competent President could have used his post-9/11 popularity boost, combined with the enormous "benefit of the doubt" initially afforded by the rest of the world, and could have embarked on a plan to eliminate Al Qaeda and to press for reforms in the Middle East. Bush had other plans.

Gerson follows his standard mendacious line that when the Democrats speak of improving our reputation in the world, it can only mean that we want to make this nation's enemies like us more. He is contemptuous of "old Europe" - "pacifists" (like the French in Chad?) who fought alongside us in the First Gulf War and Afghanistan.... er., I mean, who thought invading Iraq was a really bad idea. Gerson illustrates this idea by arguing that even when we're popular in other countries, they still may oppose our policies and pursue their own self-interest... well, duh. And even more idiotic, his notion that improving our international reputation will inevitably mean rolling over and giving our enemies everything they want. While this type of idiocy may be mistaken for brilliance during Bush Administration speechwriting sessions, it's unfortunate that Gerson's White House experience has apparently left him unable to write anything more than bad fiction.

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