January 24, 2007

The Pondman Wrote Us about the POTUS Giving his SOTUS

I still don't quite believe it. It's a bad dream, isn't it? George W. Bush must be the strangest political occurrence in the history of the American republic. Whenever I see him behind the podium, his thin lips pursed in that simian pout, struggling to explain how he will clear all nukular weapons from the Korean peninchula, half of me wants to believe this is all some sort of collective hallucination. This man cannot be the President of the United States of America. The system cannot be so basically flawed that it could come to this, a genuine mental defective ruling over the mightiest nation on Earth. It would be only slightly less startling if Lonny, the inbred boy banjo player in "Deliverance," were to mount the dais and deliver the same speech. Although Lonny would be a genuinely sympathetic character, and one with actual talent.

No, we've got George. It must be true, because he was on TV last night. By a fortuitous juxtaposition, I picked up Peter Galbraith's essential "The End of Iraq" the other evening at Borders, and I was halfway through it when the speech began. The book had impressed upon me the deep complexity of the political situation in Iraq. It also described the context (an Oval Office meeting between Bush and leaders of the Kurds) in which Bush betrayed, two months before the invasion he ordered, his complete ignorance about the two Muslim sects vying for power in Iraq. Yet there was Bush, struggling to pronounce words, fumbling through the text of a speech written by someone else, reducing the entire world to a Manichean duality of "us" and the "enemy," and reiterating that the "enemy" in Iraq must be defeated to complete the "mission." Willfully or haphazardly, Bush conflated the 9/11 attackers with this same "enemy," lumping them all together as terrorists who must be defeated in the "defining struggle of our age." The Congressional house went stone quiet as Bush described the dark world of his fearful imagining, one haunted every moment by an unseen, mononlithic enemy comprised of "killers" and "freedom haters."

He's so deeply weird. Taken to its logical extreme (as one must with Bush's "analysis"), Bush simply proposes to keep killing until no one is left to challenge us. We'll never be safe, no victory will ever be final, not in Iraq, not anywhere. On whose side are we fighting in Iraq? The good guys, presumably. A fussbudget like Galbraith unhelpfully points out that the "good guys" in Iraq are members of parties with names like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), spawned and supported by Shiites in Iran, or the Dawa Party of Nouri al-Maliki, organized and strengthened during the days of exile in Syria. Presumably, the "good guys" are to be propped up and supported only by Iraqi regular army and police, Sunnis and Shiites who have risen above their sectarian identification (or who desperately need a job), cooperating with the Americans. The task of this mythical alliance is to defeat all the "bad guys," who must be Sunni insurgents, Shiite death squads, Shiite militia, the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Syrian and Iranian infiltrators, freelance Arab mercenaries and anyone else who causes trouble, such as the Kurdish separatists in the north, who have a de facto separate country already in operation. Victory will be complete when none of these groups causes any trouble anymore, and the coalition government elected by the purple-fingered masses, those who have not already fled Iraq (as 40% of the former middle class have already done) rules a serene, prosperous, democratic country.

That's the plan. It doesn't matter how long it will take. At some point, al-Maliki or some other prime minister will actually venture outside the Green Zone and take control of a united country where Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds live in tranquil harmony. Would you ever grasp the slightest hint of the complexity of the undertaking from Bush's speech last night? Looked at in all its daunting ramifications, why on Earth would 20,000 more American troops (which Bush allocated to specific zones of Iraq in his speech, I suppose to save the "enemy" time in figuring out the deployment) make any difference?

Still, he must really be up there, behind the podium, his simple, vacuous mind struggling with huge, complex problems involving many layers and many moving parts which interact, one with the other to produce a kaleidoscopic mess. Congress looks on, horrified, yet politically too timid to do what they really ought to do: Use the Constitution to move Bush and Cheney out. Stop pretending anything about this is normal. Seize control before it's too late.

January 23, 2007

FAQ About Tonight's State of the Union

As a public service, the Blogmeister at the Pond addresses some of the common questions about Bush's speech:

Q: Does Bush have any idea what in the hell he's doing anymore?
A: None whatsoever, but thanks for asking.

Q: Why is he dumber than a sack full of lug nuts?
A: Theories abound, but the most common idea is that (a) he's pretty stupid to begin with, and (b) he's systematically eliminated everyone around him who tells him anything he doesn't want to hear, no matter how good their ideas are. Thus, Richard Clarke, Colin Powell, Gen. Shinseki, etc. are all gone, and we're left with the Spelling Bee Champ as Sec. of State and Richard Hadley, whose pallor and effete demeanor strongly suggest he was brought back to life with a shot of green potion from the Reanimator.

Q: Can we get our money back from the Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group?
A: I see what you mean, but probably not.

Q: What new initiatives can we expect in tonight's speech?
A: Bush can only propose things that no one else thought of first, such as his unique idea of increasing American troop strength in Iraq by about 14%, thus increasing the ratio of U.S. troops from 140,000/25,000,000 to 160,000/25,000,000, or a net increase from .0056 of the population all the way up to .0064 of the Iraqi population.

Q: That sounds really dumb.
A.: It wasn't my idea.

Q: What about the environment? Anything new there?
A: Bush will propose a greatly enhanced use of ethanol to deal with global warming.

Q: So he's into the whole biofuel thing now? That seems like progress.
A: It's a breakthrough in the sense that Bush is acknowledging climate change. However, his idea is that Americans drink it as a way of dealing with the coming catastrophe.

Q: Is he like the worst President ever?
A: Probably, and I hedge my answer only because Bush probably has set the stage for tremendous problems in the future, and his hapless successors may look worse just because of what they're dealing with.

Q: How did it come to this?
A: A lot of people ask that. One clue is that Grand Canyon federal employees are now discouraged from talking about how old the Canyon is so they won't offend religious tourists.

Q: So who still supports him? Who are these 30% or whatever?
A: The glib answer is people just like him. Pay attention to his single veto, of stem cell research, and his position on abortion recently announced, which is that it should be limited to Carmelite nuns raped by HIV-positive psychopaths, provided the Sister seeks the procedure during the first trimester.

Q: Just how messed up is this country?
A: I'm sorry, we're out of time now. The speech is about to begin.

January 22, 2007

The Iraq Obsession

As we near George W. Bush's next-to-last State of the Union address (yes! that's an accurate statement), I have to wonder about a curious phenomenon of contemporary American life. Namely, do you ever consider just how weird it is that this country's fate appears symbiotically connected to...Iraq? Do you ever ponder how something so strange ever came about? We devote an enormous part of the American "disposable" treasury (exclusive of entitlement spending) to the project. The national debate seems to be about nothing but Iraq. The last election was decided because of Iraq, and nothing but Iraq. The front pages are all about Iraq. The Sunday talk shows talk about Iraq. Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. All Iraq, all the time.

What is Iraq? Before we invaded, it was an artificial country stitched together out of 3 disparate parts by Winston Churchill in 1921, who later called it the "biggest mistake of my political life." In 2002, it was held together, as it had been for about 23 years, by the iron, despotic rule of Saddam Hussein. Sometimes the United States liked Saddam so much we helped him target the Iranian army for poison gas bombardment (this set a precedent for our casual dismissal of Geneva Conventions, such as the protocol against poison gas of 1925). Sometimes we didn't like him, such as when we needed to sell military spare parts to the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 to raise illegal money for the Contras.

We always liked the oil under the sands and and under the northern hills, the second largest reserves in the world. Without the oil, and without the perceived threat to Israel, Iraq is simply a Middle Eastern version of Darfur. Bad things happened there, but who gave a shit? Enter the Neo-conservatives, with their wistful theory of social engineering. At heart they were hawkish liberals armed with a reverse domino theory; if Iraq could be transformed, the rest of the Middle East would follow suit. Huh? you might say. No, that was actually the theory. They recognized it might seem implausible, so it was necessary to sell the Iraq invasion as a war of defense. The authorization for use of military force against Iraq in the fall of 2002 was easily passed by a compliant and lazy Congress, a Pass-Go card given to Bush by some of his current vociferous critics, such as Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, all those Democratic Senators running for President on an anti-war platform.

Saddam was no threat. At the time of the invasion 4 years ago, it had been 13 years since he had raised a belligerent paw against anyone. He had settled into a kind of senescent self-indulgence, building palaces and monuments to himself instead of offensive weapons. He still had all that oil, which he sold for cash to fund his own aggrandizement. He starved his people. He was an evil, rotten despot, but as evil, rotten despots go, he was relatively harmless.

Iraq has 25 million people, about one-third the size of Iran, about one-fourth the size of Egypt. The Kurds don't want to be part of Iraq, the Shiites want to establish an Islamic theocracy in alliance with Iran, and the Sunnis don't want to be ruled by the Shia. Our occupation simply delays the day when such centrifugal forces will split Iraq asunder.

Meanwhile, this weird monomania paralyzes the United States. Our politics, our budget, the national attention is held hostage to Iraq. There are so many interesting, helpful, fun things we could have been doing with all that time and money. We could have built a national railroad. We could have developed alternative fuels to make the oil of the Middle East irrelevant. We could have instituted universal health care. We could have used that last critical window of opportunity to deal with global warming. The opportunity cost of the Iraq War is staggeringly incalculable. It is not too much to say that it may be difficult for the United States to recover from this blunder. We have borrowed so much money from potentially hostile countries in order to keep the game afloat. That foreign debt casts a long shadow over the future, and right at a time when all serious bureaucratic adults recognize that the Medicare and Social Security funding crises are right around the corner. We could run out of money. We might default on our debt.

By acting as if Bush had some vague idea what he was doing, in refusing to challenge him and to shut this stupid war down, Congress and a large percentage of the American people have taken us to the brink of catastrophe. We forget, sometimes, that Bush is entirely capable of massive failure; his resume is a categorization of such failures, over and over. His private enterprise efforts were case studies in fiscal exsanguination. He's taken the national debt to 9 trillion dollars, and still he keeps borrowing to finance this war. He "balances" the budget by the simple expedient of not counting the money the nation actually spends, such as when it raids the Social Security "trust fund" and "supplements" the defense budget with more money for Iraq.

Where will it all end? Why won't Congress impeach him and stop the Iraq War? What strange gods are they serving?

January 21, 2007

A Civics Lesson for the McLuhan Age

"With that vote, our hope, really our prayer, is that the president will finally listen, listen to the generals, listen to the Iraq Study Group, listen to the American people and listen to a bipartisan Congress,'' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday, bristling when a reporter asked whether the vote would be substantive or symbolic.

"I don't really know what you mean by 'symbolic.' I believe that a bipartisan resolution saying we don't want the escalation of the war in Iraq is the beginning of the end of the present policy in Iraq,'' Reid said. San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2007, Marc Sandalow reporting (a very good reporter, btw).

Mumbles, methinks thou doth protest too much. Nevertheless, I think I can help here, Harry. A "symbolic" vote is one which the President can legally and Constitutionally ignore, and then do whatever the hell he feels like doing. Let us apply this definition to your "bipartisan resolution." Okay, the answer's in already: your resolution is symbolic, and it is not the beginning of the end of anything, unless it is the beginning of the end of the American citizenry, who want this goddam war over, taking you seriously about anything at all. Let me give you a case in point: how successful was the bipartisan bill in the last Congress which restored federal spending to embryonic stem cell research? How well did the President listen?

I do think the idea of "praying" is a nice touch. That's your best shot if you want Bush to come around. What you don't seem to get, Mr. Mumbles (and it's a cluelessness shared by your counterpart in the House, La Diva Pelosi), is that you do not understand Bush by means of "policy analysis." If you want to figure out Bush, you need to begin reading books on Abnormal Psychology, with special attention to personality disorders, and then burrow down further to "histrionic personalities." It's all there, Mr. Majority Leader. If you want to know why absolutely everything you do in a precatory, placating manner fails to yield the desired result, you will find the answers therein (to use Bugs Bunny's favorite preposition). Bugs Bunny, by the way, could teach you a lot about how to deal with bad guys. He didn't mollify, plead or beg. He outsmarted them or used fiendishly clever force. I would encourage you to obtain a DVD of the Best of Bugs, especially one that contains "Racketeer Rabbit," where Bugs, bunking down one rainy night in an abandoned house, finds it taken over by gangsters Rocky & Hugo. Rocky is a lot like Edward G. Robinson, of course, and Bugs, beginning at a point of complete helplessness, uses guile and cunning to turn the tables on Rocky, and finally sends the gangster running panic-stricken down the road to escape another of the Rabbit's clever tricks. Bugs did not bother with "symbolic resolutions" to appeal to Rocky's better side, because Rocky didn't have one. Neither does Bush. Whatever label you choose to use after leafing through the DSM psychological tables (narcissist, anti-social personality) does not matter so much. The important thing is for you to recognize what you're dealing with.

Put Kurt Vonnegut on your reading list too, including his sort-of memoir A Man Without A Country. Despite the title, Vonnegut is a World War II vet who loves the United States and laments its hostile takeover by people he calls "PPs," short for Psychopathic Personalities. "PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts...They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive...Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next."

Kurt is describing people who lack a conscience. I suspect the Democratic leadership already knows the Bush High Command fits the diagnosis, and they don't need my reading and viewing list. So who are the Dems trying to fool with their "symbolic resolution?" The answer is simple: Us. By doing something that won't work, which appeals only to the Imaginary Focus Group which operates as a wind sock for each of Hillary Clinton's "evolving positions," the Dems can appear to do something without risking responsibility. It's not impressive. Their out, their excuse, is that they must "support the troops" (as La Diva so recently reiterated) by sending money to Iraq to keep the grunts riding around in their Humvees until they're blown sky high over Baghdad.

What a load of crap. They have the power; they just won't use what Lee Hamilton, at Indiana University's Center for Congress, calls their main leverage: "The power of the purse is the most important power of Congress. James Madison in the Federalist papers called it 'the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people'. It checks the power of the President and gives Congress vast influence over American society, because federal spending reaches into the life of every citizen." Refuse to approve any more spending requests from Bush in the form of his Iraq "supplementals." Tell him the money he now has is for the purpose of getting the troops home safely; after that, there will be no more money. As the Commander-in-Chief, that becomes his new and only duty, where the Iraq war is concerned: to oversee the withdrawal of a military force which no longer has Congressional funding to prosecute the "war." You figure it out, George; you put them there. Now get them home.