Monday, January 19, 2009

Prepare to be Chastened

You remember Bruce Anderson from his ethnically sensitive column on Hurricane Katrina (Don't blame Bush - Blame black people!), or perhaps from his "carbon emissions, schmarbon emissions" column about global warming (Yes, The real leader on climate change is Mr Bush ). Watch out, Bush critics - he's coming for you.
It is not difficult to make the case against George Bush.
There have been mistakes.
Mistakes, plural? My how the world has changed following Bush's final press conference... Bush sort of admits to three mistakes,
Clearly putting a "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.

* * *

I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform.
Back to Anderson:
But in their abuse of him, many of his liberal critics demonstrate their own weak hold on reality.
You mean, like crazily being concerned about carbon emissions, or not blaming the Katrina disaster on African Americans? Or what? (Sorry, Bruce - I'm not even sure G.W. is on your side on those points.)
In trying to belittle him, they merely reveal their own littleness.
Yes, yes. Tiny little liberals. We get it.
George Bush is a much more considerable figure than the caricature version.
Er, Bruce, that's not a defense... you're damning him with faint praise.
As he has set great events in motion, it will be impossible to judge his Presidency for many years.
Another presentation of the "You can't judge Bush by his decisions, but must wait a few decades or generations to see what comes next. If you parked a feces flinging monkey in front of a fan, Anderson would likely assure us that "You have to wait to see if a verdant tomorrow grows out of the monkey's newly fertilized surroundings." Had Bush initiated a nuclear war, Anderson would probably be telling us that we have to wait and see if the benefits of reduced world population and possible beneficial mutations of the human genome lead future generations to regard him as a great man. Or, as Anderson so aptly puts it,
It is not impossible that history will offer a partial vindication.
Partial vindication is not impossible? Does praise get any fainter than that?

Okay, that was Anderson's first paragraph and there's a lot more... of similar quality. Read it and weep, you tiny little liberals. Anderson continues to make sweeping, unsubstantiated statements (e.g., "Although some of George Bush junior's speeches will rank high in the annals of political oratory, once he was without a text, he often went adrift." - er, which speeches?), and presents a second-hand depiction of Bush's astonishing leadership behind closed doors that's worthy of a SNL skit. For eight years we've been told that Bush is brilliant, witty, smart and commanding, until a camera lens hits him at which time his brain seems to turn to mush. Maybe there's some hidden camera footage? An audio recording? Because as much as I want to give Bush the benefit of the doubt, you would think by now we wouldn't have to take people like Anderson's apocryphal friend at their (purported) word.

Typical of Bush's defenders, Anderson wants to reinvent the Iraq war.
After 11 September, the US Administration asked itself one repeated and agonised question. Why do these people hate us? The Bush team came up with their answer: because they live in failed states, which offer their young no hope in this world and thus leave them open to the temptations of fanaticism and a better deal in another world.
Well, not quite. What Bush actually said was,
They hate what we see right here in this chamber - a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
That's not quite the same thing, is it.... Anderson apparently didn't convince even himself, as he carries on about Hussein's desire for WMD's and suggests that choosing not to invade Iraq and topple Hussein would have been tantamount to waiting "until the certainty of a mushroom cloud".
It seemed that all the routes to progress in the Middle East and safety in the West led to Iraq.
Talk about your hyperbole.... But "seemed"? His defense of the entire Iraq debacle is "Appearances were deceiving"?

But in moving forward with the war, "There was one problem." Just one, mind you. Wanna guess? I'll give you three tries.
Largely because of the malign influence of that fraud and tautology, international law, we have grown squeamish about regime change.
I bet that was at the top of your list. I mean, think of all the leaders who weren't toppled due to American squeamishness about regime change and fear of international law. Manuel Noriega, Bernard Coard, Slobodan Milosevic, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras... all happily ruling their countries. Squeamishness like that almost assuredly was why the U.S. would never have backed a coup attempt in Venezuela before not invading Iraq.
As a result, the overwhelming desirability of regime change in Iraq had to be downplayed, and there was a further difficulty: the most unfortunate un-meeting of minds in recent public policy. After 2001, in both Washington and London, there was a split between those who knew Iraq, who were generally hostile to the War, and those who wanted war but usually knew nothing about Iraq.
Oh, this is too good. Here's Bush, downplaying regime change in a joint press conference with Blair, April 6, 2002:
THE PRESIDENT: Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced, and say we support regime change.

Q That's a change though, isn't it, a change in policy?

THE PRESIDENT: No, it's really not. Regime change was the policy of my predecessor, as well.

Q And your father?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I can't remember that far back. (Laughter.) It's certainly the policy of my administration. I think regime change sounds a lot more civil, doesn't it? The world would be better off without him. Let me put it that way, though. And so will the future.
Talk about nuance. But what about Anderson's concern about the split of opinion on the Iraq invasion between, shall we say, those who knew what they were talking about and those who didn't?
George Bush had little confidence in his Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Unable to sack Mr Powell, he made up for it by not listening to the State Department. Tony Blair never took much notice of his foreign secretaries.

As a result, the Arabists' expertise was disregarded and ... the direction of events was left to the neo-conservatives, most of whom were dangerous idealists who believed that democracy was an infallible political antibiotic.
But enough about Fred Hiatt. No, in fairness to Hiatt, he at least recognized Bush's "commitment" to democratization for what it was. If the people Bush in fact allowed to lead him around by their nose were even half as informed as Hiatt, Anderson's account would fall apart. What's amazing to me is that Anderson's trying to defend Bush by arguing that Bush had a choice between going with knowledgeable experts and Colin Powell, and people who knew absolutely nothing about anything - and that Bush made the wrong choice. Anderson elaborates that, if Iraq hadn't been such an unmitigated disaster in the hands of the incompetents picked by Bush, "George Bush's ratings would be much higher". Well, yeah, but in that universe we might be talking about how Bush's record of good decision-making justifies calling him a good President, rather than how once the dust settles and future Presidents and people put Humpty Dumpty back together, it's "not impossible that history will offer a partial vindication".

The funny thing is, having just said that, Anderson tells us:
There was one unfortunate side effect of the war on terror: Guantanamo.
I guess Anderson sees the rest of the side-effects, including two years of chaos and lost opportunity in Iraq, the idiotic disbanding of the Iraqi military, loss of world respect, loss of respect as the world's preeminent military power, as fortunate side effects?
At the time, it seemed a good idea: a cunning means of preventing American lawyers from undermining America's security. But the US prides itself on being a nation founded upon laws. It follows that a legal vacuum is only tolerable for a brief period.
So it seemed like a good idea to ignore U.S. law and values, create a legal black hole where you could drop prisoners, many of whom were picked up by mistake, deny them due process, charges, access to lawyers, trial, smear anybody who tried to assert that we would be better off respecting our historic values and providing an example for the world of fairness and justice (the type of American values somebody like Anderson sees as "undermining America's security"), and engaging in treatment of some prisoners so atrocious that, despite their crimes, we may have virtually no evidence that we can use against them in court in anything resembling a fair trial. By now even Anderson's ready to bring the Guantanamo prisoners back into the light, but he adds,
That said, anyone who denies that there are some exceedingly dangerous men in Guantanamo should be forced to live among them.
No, in fact, it's the people who flouted American law, and people like Anderson who cheered them on, who should be forced to live among those we are unable to convict due to the Bush Administration's use of torture and contempt for the law.

Funny how only a couple of years ago Anderson saw Bush's Katrina failure as relevant to his legacy, but now... nary a mention. But there's a consistency with his prior piece - then, as now, every failure that occurs on Bush's watch is the fault of something that came before his Presidency:
The decisions which doomed New Orleans were taken years before he became President, including the one to build the city in the first place.
Yes, I'm sure that there were many times in the wee hours of the morning when Bush woke up screaming, "Darn you, French Mississippi Company! Darn you, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville! How could you do this to Brownie and me!" How could Bush possibly have foreseen a disaster that was a mere 287 years in the making. In fact, it's unfair to expect that Bush would have foreseen any disaster. Really:
On the economy, and like Gordon Brown, George Bush could be accused of failing to fix the roof while the sun was shining. But two years' ago, it all seemed to be working. ... George Bush did not foresee the crisis. Who did?
A lot of people saw disaster coming, actually. Sure, they were largely marginalized by the media, save most notably for Paul Krugman who hollered loud, clear warnings from the editorial page of the New York Times. If all of that flew below Bush's radar, it can fairly be said that as with Iraq, a large part of the fault lies with his natural tendency to surround himself with incompetents who tell him what he wants to hear, while marginalizing and ignoring anybody who knows anything about anything.

So there you go, Bush critics. Don't you feel small?

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