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Throwing the Books at Them
Kakutani Does Bush

If there’s ever been any doubt that we’re being led by a junta of amateurs who confuse rashness with courage and hubris with gutsiness, the books written over the last four years by administration insiders and outsiders, by reporters, by ideologues and by reclining analysts, by detractors and supporters of the administration, should have been putting those doubts to rest. If it’s not Fred Barnes, an administration courtesan, admiring in Rebel-in-Chief how Bush “operates in Washington like the head of a small occupying army of insurgents” (is that really a wise simile when we’re mired in Iraqi time as it is?) or as a visionary who loves to “overturn major policies with scarcely a second thought,” it’s his former speechwriter David Frum boasting that Bush “discarded thirty-five years of American policy in the Middle East and repudiated the foreign policies of at least six of the previous seven U.S. presidents.”

No argument about the facts. But look at the results. The world is in shambles, the Middle East is either in flames or enflamed with hatred for all things American—draining the attention of Arab and Muslim populations from the repressive and backward regimes, where it ought to be, and redirecting it westward. It’s the mark of a good leader to detect a region’s latent energies, at least those that don’t have to do with fossil fuels, and direct them toward the right, hopefully progressive goal. Bush claimed to be doing just that by aiming, as he said in his second inaugural, for a sweep of Arab and Muslim regression in favor of liberty and democracy. Words. Just words. His method achieved the opposite result—in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Saudi Arabia, it’s the same old faces, the same old games. In Iraq and Iran, new faces, to be sure, but also more, not less lethally devoted to conflict, revenge, old-style repression. That’s what you get when you get a bunch of gut-worshipping amateurs dismissing anything deliberate, any constructive debate or dissent, ridiculing the slow-moving analyses that prepare such a thing as, say, an invasion, the occupation of a California-size nation, the re-acculturation of an entire people to less tyrannical modes.

As Michiko Kakutani writes in Thursday’s Times, summing up a slew of books on the Bush administration, “even the ultimate decision to go to war against Iraq — a war that has already resulted in, as of Tuesday, 2,416 (and counting) United States military deaths, and an estimated more than 35,000 Iraqi deaths (according to Iraq Body Count, an independent media-monitoring group) — seems to have been somewhat ad hoc. In The Assassins' Gate, [Geoerge] Packer quotes Richard Haass, the former director of policy planning in the State Department, saying that a real weighing of pros and cons about the war never took place: ‘It was an accretion, a tipping point,’ Mr. Haass says. ‘A decision was not made — a decision happened, and you can't say when or how.’ [… Bob] Woodward, who has a third book on the Bush administration in the works, also suggests that simple momentum — including a build-up of troops in the region — became a factor in the president's decision to go to war. Preparations for the occupation, by all accounts, were even more disorganized. ‘Planning efforts were undertaken in several different parts of the bureaucracy with little or no coordination,’ Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin write in The Next Attack, adding that many officials were ‘working 'out of channels,' issuing directives without ever having their plans scrubbed in the kind of tedious, iterative process that the government typically uses to make sure it is ready for any contingency.’” The Kakutani sum-up is 3,800 words long. In light of the latest scandal of the week out of this White House, which seems to be begging for impeachment, it’s worth the read.

 

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