Thursday, January 11, 2007

Surging into Madness

Bush Announces the commitment of 20,000 more troops to Iraq.

I'm not sure
how people are going to react to the speech President Bush gave last night--if CBS's coverage is indicative of anything, they'll call it historic and credit Bush for facing reality. Historic, yes. But although Bush faced immediate realities--the war is going badly and Americans hate it--he continued to express faith in the biggest, weirdest fantasy of all. Let's fast forward to the penultimate paragraph:
In these dangerous times, the United States is blessed to have extraordinary and selfless men and women willing to step forward and defend us. These young Americans understand that our cause in Iraq is noble and necessary ­ and that the advance of freedom is the calling of our time. They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table. They have watched their comrades give their lives to ensure our liberty. We mourn the loss of every fallen American ­ and we owe it to them to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
If I thought this was the usual Bush rhetoric, the ubiquitous war-as-domestic-politics, I might be able to credit him with an about-face. But there's no mistaking his genuine orientation. A large majority of the country, nearly every general and military strategist who will go on record, and the Iraq Study Group were all unanimous in their agreement that temporarily bumping up the troops will do nothing except kill more Americans and delay the inevitable. The Republican Party is running away from this insanity for their political lives. The only possible explanation for Bush to be pursuing this course is that he does, in fact, believe in its messianic-like import. He has not confronted the possibility that this thing was a botch. He's not accepting responsibility--far from it; he's attempting one, final heroic effort to stave off reality.

Let's move back to the top. He immediately got to the meat of his speech, no droning self-congratulation or faux-Churchillian grandeur. Instead, he ostensibly described how surprised he was that the Iraqi elections didn't result in the calm joy he anticipated. But listen to how he described it:
But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq ­ particularly in Baghdad ­ overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
Bush accepts what he sees on the television screen, but perverts it to fit his epic fantasy. A surprising turn of events, this civil war, but doesn't it verify his thesis that they were very bad, threatening people? It gets worse, sliding into exactly the same, doomed thinking of the neocons that led us into this mess in the first place:
The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities. For the safety of our people, America must succeed in Iraq.
Bush did take a rhetorical hard line against slacker Iraqis, promising he would "hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced." But given his unstinting support for Operation Iraqi Debacle, I don't know how this amounts to anything more than window dressing. When this surge meets its unavoidable conclusion, this man is going to be no more prepared to accept that reality than today, when, to put it mildly, the writing is on the wall.

Finally, there is in all of this madness a striking note of vanity which prevents me from feeling much pity for Bush.
Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world ­--a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them ­ and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and grandchildren.
If Bush can't let go of his meta-fantasy about the role of Iraq in the war on terror, he's also not willing to give up his fantasy about joining Roosevelt in the pantheon of American royalty. His vanity pollutes whatever purer intention he might have taken into the war, and it's indecent for him to imagine the rich reward of history now, when American kids and Iraqi civilians are dying for it.

It was a weird speech. I won't soon forget it. He achieved, if nothing else, a historic moment.

1 comment:

A little bird said...

All I could think while I was listening to the speech was, "...this is all his mess in the first place. Saddam wasn't harboring terrorists, now we've provided a place for them. Saddam hated Iran, we've given them access to Iraq. It's all a big clusterfu@k and now it's going to get even worse." And yet, for the sake of the lives we've lost and ruined, and the families that we've wrecked, I can't help but hope his plan actually works.