August 24, 2006

Taking Bush to School on the War in Iraq

W is a bullshitter from way back. We all know that. You can imagine how he handled final exams during high school and his 5 or 6 years of college education. He wouldn't have read a single book in the syllabus. On an American history final, his answer on the causes of the Civil War would have read something like, "The Civil War was an interesting war. In other words, it is worth knowing that there's reasons the two sides, who were the North and the South, went to war. One thing was slavery. Another was the different things they didn't share. In other words, differences in the two different parts of the country." Et cetera. His public explanations for all the stupid things he does as President have this quality of meandering vacuity. Doubtless, given the easy path afforded him by life, his privileged background, the guaranteed entrance to elite halls of learning, none of which he ever came close to actually earning, Bush couldn't help but form the opinion that he could get what he wanted simply because of who he was, and that any sort of disciplined mastery of the subject matter of a profession, for example, was for others who had to try hard to make money. People would simply give him money and grease his track to success. Thus, Bush was spared the arduous task of learning how to form and express opinions based on actual mastery of a factual record or evidence, as one does in law, medicine, science, teaching, or anything else humans do where you need to know your ass from a hole in the ground.

Naturally Bush carried this same know-nothing approach to his job as President, and fully expected, because he's George W. Bush, that the public would afford great deference to his inane utterances, however specious, illogical or even illegal. It is the reason his answers to questions at press conferences have the quality of term papers begun and finished at 2 am on the day they are due, copied from a World Book Encyclopedia, and probably from the wrong volume. As a specific example, the rationale for the war in Iraq, as given most recently in Monday's press conference:

"Now look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq, at the time, was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

"But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq. And I also saw the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my answer to your question is that -- imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens."

Here is what Congress in 2002 actually authorized Bush to do:


(a) AUTHORIZATION. The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.


In connection with the exercise of the authority granted in subsection (a) to use force the President shall, prior to such exercise or as soon thereafter as may be feasible, but no later than 48 hours after exercising such authority, make available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate his determination that

(1) reliance by the United States on further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone either (A) will not adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq or (B) is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq, and..."


The Resolution is noteworthy because the operative language of the Authorization refers specifically to United Nations resolutions regarding Iraq's obligations to cooperate in inspections and disclosure of WMD stockpiles, which we now know (for certain, but as strongly suggested at the time) did not exist in March, 2003. Elsewhere in the Authorization (in the Preambles), Congress does make reference to the "sense" of Congress that regime change in Iraq is desirable, based upon a 1998 Congressional Resolution to this effect. However, using a canon of statutory construction by which all parts of the legislation are consulted to determine its overall meaning, note that the Authorization further requires the President to report on the efficacy of negotiations to secure either the (a) security of the United States or (b) compliance with UN resolutions by Iraq. While at the very 11th hour, Bush (no doubt on the advice of counsel) "offered" to resolve the looming conflict through the immediate abdication of Saddam and his two sons, in fact the Authorization strongly suggests that force was not to be used if negotiations with Saddam (as the leader of a sovereign country) could succeed in achieving UN compliance, which ipso facto would also alleviate any "threat" posed by Iraq to the United States. Thus, "regime change" was not itself a sufficient condition for American military action against Iraq; it is not a realistic construction of the Authorization to imagine that Congress envisioned negotiations with Iraq which would effect regime change, and failing such voluntary abdication, that force was authorized. The UN Resolutions, of course, did not in any sense require Iraq to depose or replace its leader as a condition of compliance.

Therefore, the amelioration of "human suffering" in Iraq through regime change was not a basis for an authorized American invasion. With all of his official rationales in a shambles (WMD, ties to al-Qaeda), Bush, ever the undisciplined student, simply pulled this reason out of his ass and acted as if it justified the continuing American presence in Iraq. It "sounds good." He intends, in his shifty way, to put reporters and detractors on the defensive: are you for human suffering in Iraq?

Here is where we are: there simply is no Congressionally authorized basis (or authority from the United Nations) for the American military to remain in Iraq. Iraq does not have and did not have at the relevant time any weapons of mass destruction. It had no ties to al-Qaeda and was completely uninvolved in the attacks of 9-11, as even The Decider conceded categorically at the press conference. The present Iraqi "regime" cannot pose a credible threat to the United States homeland; the ability of any Iraqi to pose a serious and immediate threat to the United States depends completely on the military remaining in the country with a target painted on itself. If the standard now is that Iraqis who are pissed off at the USA because of the occupation pose such an enduring threat, then no rational basis for ever leaving Iraq can exist until every last Iraqi is dead. A project which probably has occurred to Bush.

The "freedom agenda" which Bush first announced at his (ugh) 2nd Inaugural was never part of a UN Resolution or of Congress's Authorization. The actual premises for the invasion no longer exist because (1) the Hussein regime cannot be a threat to the United States if there is no Hussein regime, and (2) the question of compliance on WMD has become entirely moot.

What Bush is now arguing is that America should continue expending lives and $1.6 billion per week (money which the United States simply does not have and has to borrow from Asian creditors) until a certain type of government in Iraq appears (to Bush) sufficiently stable. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Authorization to Use Military Force, and is in fact light years away from the original rationale. American soldiers should not die, and America should not go broke, for a theory of social engineering concocted by a goof-off who didn't know the difference between Shia and Sunni until he began to awe himself with the shock of the first bombing runs.

Alice Finds the Tea Party in Full Swing

Wonderland had a curious quality, Alice had noted during the five and a half years she had wandered unhappily over its hills and dales, down its strange tunnels and rabbit holes, through its bizarre chambers and counting rooms. No matter where you went, you felt you had been there before, so it was of little surprise when Alice staggered up yet another ladder, crashed through the low brush at the edge of a forest and found herself again in a sunlit meadow on the far side of which stood the picnic table and its weird celebrants, shouting, throwing food and occasionally falling to the ground. Alice had no particular desire to join that party again, so she quietly turned left along the path, intending to resume her search for a way out.

But not quietly enough, it would seem, for the Mad Hatter presiding over the bacchanal was apparently possessed of exceptional hearing, an advantage, Alice mused, of his curious batwing ears and disquieting habit of jerking his head from side to side and shooting glances everywhere around him. "Hey, asshole!" he shouted across the meadow. "Come and have a drink!"

Alice was enticed neither by his manner nor his offer, but she was curious whether he might have something new to say about an exit strategy, so she disconsolately trudged through the high grass to the messy tableau beneath the oak tree. The Hatter was dressed as he was almost three and a half years ago, but his cutaway coat was now stained profusely with mustard and catsup and he was wearing a pair of wrap-around sunglasses. The silk top hat was pushed back from his low brow, and the ticket reading "9-11" was still stuck at a jaunty angle in his hat band. There were now only two others at the table, the troll-like character who spoke always from the corner of his mouth in a gravelly voice, and a dark woman with lacquered hair who had taken the precaution of donning foul weather gear and sat somewhat apart from the two others.

"I see your manners haven't changed at all," said Alice disapprovingly as she approached.

"I see you haven't changed that dress either," snickered the Mad Hatter. "Whatsa matter, you broke?"

He laughed heartily at this, and it may have been that the Troll laughed too, but whatever he did manifested itself only as a serie of snorting noises from his mouth corner.

"I have been lost," said Alice, "and I'm dreadfully hungry." She looked plaintively at the woman, who seemed to have replaced the Colon who was here on her last visit.

"Don't count on her," the Hatter jeered. "She ain't the maternal type. Anyway, nothin' to eat here. Things are a little bare in the cupboard."

"Yet winter's coming," said Alice. "Is it wise to plan so poorly?"

"What's a snot-nosed brat like you know about planning?" shouted the Hatter. Alice was about to repeat the question to him, but said instead:

"And why are things do drear?"

"The war, the war, the war," tooted the Troll from his mouth hole. "We must have the war, the war, the war."

"Surely you don't mean that same war," Alice said. "When last I dropped by, I thought you'd learned the Sadman was really no threat to Wonderland at all."

"Not the Sadman himself, but his aroused populace," the woman suddenly broke in, speaking in a monotone of great and practiced precision. "We remain in the Realm of Sadman because the populace resists our mission."

"The mission of removing his weapons?" said Alice.

"Nah, ya dummy," said the Hatter. "He's got no weapons. But imagine if we left now with that aroused populace of his, they'd be likely to come to Wonderland and mess up this place good."

Alice looked at the littered table, the empty bottles, the trash all around on the ground, and wondered how they ever would be able to tell.

"And why are they so aroused?"

"Because we're there, ya nitwit!" shouted the Mad Hatter.

"So that's why you needed to invade the Realm of Sadman, because they would have attacked here first?" Alice asked, acquiring again that sense of utter incomprehension that overtook her whenever she listened to the Hatter talk.

"Boy are you dense," said the Hatter. "They wouldn't have been aroused enough to do that until we invaded them."

"And your mission is?" said Alice.

"To make them happy," said the Troll. "Don't you even know that?"

"But they're obviously not happy," Alice pointed out, "or they wouldn't be planning to attack you."

"And I'm disappointed in that," said the Hatter. "because they should be happy."

"Because you invaded them?" Alice ventured.

"Because we toppled the Sadman," said the Troll.

"But if you toppled the Sadman, why can't you leave?" Alice persisted.

The Hatter sniggered derisively. "Like explaining things to a child! Oh, I'm sorry. You are a child. Just not a very attractive one."

"The country would descend into chaos if we left," said the Troll.

"If they're as aroused as you say, isn't it chaos now?" said Alice.

"Complete and utter chaos," growled the Troll, trying again to pour whiskey from an empty bottle into a greasy glass. "They attack us every day, all day long, and they kill each other by the bushel."

"My goodness," said Alice. "That sounds dreadful. Would it help matters if you left their Realm?"

"Maybe," chortled the Hatter. "But that's not completing the mission. That's cutting and running."

Alice thought about trying one more time, but just then the Troll seized a shotgun, shouted "Quail!" and fired both barrels at something in the meadow. His aim was a little off and he blew a stiff outcropping of black hair from the woman's head.

"Ol' Deadeye!" shouted the Hatter, and fell backwards off his chair. Alice took the moment to trot quickly away into the forest, vowing, if her luck should hold, never to be near these people again.

August 23, 2006

The Waking Nightmare of the Bush Presidency

Prison inmates "do time." If you've worked as a lawyer and come into contact with people who have actually spent time in a prison, and they have described their experience to you, you get a sense of what it means to endure punishment in the form of watching your life slip away while you rot in a stinking, noisy, brutal environment where most of the softer human emotions have vanished and you are left with one thing, and one thing only: the slow, inexorable ticking of a clock. Someday you may get out of there, if you survive, if luck is with you. You live only for that.

Being an American citizen has much of that quality for most sensitive and intelligent citizens these days. Life is a waking nightmare. We're waiting for morning, to wake up and find Bush gone. He continues to pile on horror upon horror from his seemingly inexhaustible trove of bad ideas. If you think through everything he says and does, you are left with the simple and inescapable conclusion -- he is opposed to human joy. He is a Destroyer, a Wrecker, a Disease. Every day I read the work of writers who fall all over themselves in attempts to capture the essential awfulness of the man, who resort to tactics which are really beneath them as intellectuals. They call him names, attack all of his personal qualities, employ ridicule, caricature, vicious satire. It is because you can't quite say it, you can't quite get at it. The frustration is palpable, soul-sickening. George W. Bush is still president. He's still there. It will be more than two years before our societal case is reviewed by the Great Parole Board.

Maybe we feel like prisoners at Auschwitz in 1945. We've heard the Allies are coming, from the East and from the West. We've seen the bombers overhead, the SS guards have intimated that the camp will be closing soon. Many of the Nazis have already left. You probably feel profoundly ill at ease. You sense liberation will be snatched from you somehow, you'll starve, or be shot, or led away at the last moment to some grisly death. So here in America in 2006 we're trying to hold it together long enough so we can thrive on the far side of the Bush presidency. Still, we're bitter that 8 years were not just wasted but squandered, that America was set on a retrograde course, that we have lost precious time on critical problems affecting human survival while an insufferable idiot who screws up everything he touches makes mistake after mistake after mistake, yet is so dense, so implacably incapable of recognition, so unaware, that he persists in insisting he has some faint idea what he's doing. Yet humans survive because they hope. If the democracy can be held together, if we can thwart the hacking of the electronic voting machines, maybe we can restore something of the Old America. It keeps us going. We know that Bush, when his time is up, will retreat to his "ranch" and essentially vegetate. No one will be interested in what he has to say. He won't write anything. He will not be "consulted," because his demoralizing mediocrity will foreclose consultation. He will be not so much forgotten as willfully suppressed by a relieved American collective memory.

So like many others, I'm trying to hold on, to hope America and the world survive Bush. I have noticed over the years that the e-mailing among the American dissident community has slowed, that our dispiritedness has become more a private affair. We feel powerless to change things, and we've already entertained each other with our zingers. We can fix things in our heads, but we can't fix them in real life. As another analogy, maybe we feel like the Eastern Bloc countries before the Berlin Wall fell. It's just the way it is. The powers that be. They own everything, the Congress, the media, the money. Most of that will be true when Bush is gone.

So that remains the point, the hope, the prismatic sheen of rainbow's end in the gray cloudiness of the horizon. At least Bush will be gone. After all those years. After all that sadness, that cruelty, that debasement. Bush, at least, will be gone.