February 14, 2007

When Bush is less than clear about dangerous things

The daily atrocities which Bush inflicts upon the English language should probably be the subject of an Amnesty International probe. He smiles idiotically while he's doing it, but I've never found it all that funny that the President of the United States has so much trouble with his native tongue. In his press conference today, Bush again reiterated our goal of removing nukular weapons from the Korean peninchula. I double-checked just to make sure, but the American Heritage Dictionary lists two acceptable pronunciations, peninsula and (sort of) peninsyula, but no peninchula. I've never heard anyone say peninchula besides Bush. We were always going to be stuck with nukular, but peninchula now also looks like a permanent fixture. It's unfortunate, therefore, not only that North Korea has nukular aspirations but that it's located on a peninchula. A double whammy which we don't encounter with landlocked Iran.

Whenever Bush can be the least bit technical, he's apt to reiterate the point over and over in a self-satisfied attempt to impress. He did that today with "Chapter VII resolutions" from the UN. I don't know how many times he said that, but it was a lot. Chapter VII resolutions are issued out of the Security Council in cases where a threat to world peace exists, as by an act of international aggression. Bush did not explain the reference to the assembled stenographers of the Fourth Estate; I think he enjoyed keeping them in the dark while he showcased his peerless mastery of the arcana of foreign relations. He got going once on "casus belli" in the same way; everything, for a while, was a casus belli. An impertinent question from the docile press corps might have been a casus belli in the dark days before the Iraq invasion.

Anyway, he preens when he can use this kind of insider lingo. Sometimes, however, I think he and Rove make something up just before Bush takes the podium and then the effects are less felicitous. To wit,
And I’d like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of the government. But my point is, what’s worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and its happening?” I'm not sure how a question which he doesn't answer can qualify as a "point," especially since it doesn't make any sense. I do know why he and Rove cooked this one up; a day before, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, admitted the military had no evidence the Iranian government was involved in arming the Shiite militia with IEDs. Bush, who had been busy pounding the war drums, skipped a couple of beats with that one. He needed some kind of recovery, and back in the Oval Office, just before Bush made his irritated way to the podium, they came up with that beauty.

I wish I'd been there, because I know the answer. It's much worse if the top echelons of the Iranian government are ordering the Quds force to cooperate with Iraq's Shiite militias. Much worse, since that might indicate a coordinated, officially directed act of war against U.S. forces. Gen. Pace knows that, which is why he said what he said. If we're dealing with rogue elements in the Quds force, or just Iranian sympathizers (using, for example, all the Iraqi and American ordnance we left lying around unguarded after the mission was accomplished in May, 2003), then Bush should (though he won't) rethink the position. For such "rogue elements" in Iran might be analogized to the 15 Saudi hijackers of 9-11, and if I recall correctly, the national provenance of those anti-American terrorists was deemed immaterial in our subsequent dealings with Saudi Arabia. So that even though the Kingdom is located on a peninchula, we left them alone, even as we leave them alone now, although we're aware that Saudi financiers send money and materiel to Sunni insurgents in Iraq who attack American forces.

Bush is not big on what you might call logical consistency, however. If he were, he'd be more concerned than he is about the close ties between Maliki's government and Iran, which came about because of Bush's overthrow of Saddam. So Bush is trying to work up a casus belli against the non-peninchula and so far non-nukular country which most strongly supports the very same government in Iraq which Bush is bankrupting the United States and breaking the U.S. military to defend. Iran, actually, might be seen as more of an ally than a nemesis at this point, but then the 2002 SOTU speech named the starting roster for the Axis of Evil, and Bush just can't let that go. Once you're on The List, you're on The List. That was before, of course, Bush was aware that the Muslims in Iraq were overwhelmingly Shiite, just like the Iranians, and it was fairly predictable that Iran's hand would be strengthened in the region by bringing 15 million Shiites to power in Baghdad.

This may account for why Bush is lapsing more than ever into incoherence, and has taken to posing rhetorical questions which could only be meaningful if he answered them, but he doesn't because he doesn't know what the right answer is. It must make General Pace a little nervous about his new job. The only guy smiling, maniacally as always, there in the front row with his nimbus of baby hair and lunar countenance, is Rove himself, fascinated as Dr. Frankenstein must have been. Just how weird can my monster get?

The Obtuse American

I am indebted to James Kunstler, whose Clusterfuck website is linked on this page, for the observation that 80% of everything which has ever been built in the United States was thrown up in the last 50 years (The Geography of Nowhere, Knopf, 1993). My generation's sojourn through life is marked definitively by this transfiguration of the American landscape. It hardly needs mentioning that the vast majority of the stuff built is crud: ugly, inhuman, alienating, anti-nature, insane.

The Interstate Highway Act of 1957 began the final linkage of suburban metroplexes, followed by the explosive growth of chain restaurants, motels, gas stations, and shopping malls, which finally reached its apotheosis in the development of big box stores driving all local commerce to extinction. We have, during this period, become a kind of Trailer Park Sparta, a nation with a huge military establishment but without national health care or much of a social safety net for its dwindling middle class. The God-obsessed citizenry is haunted by obscurantist ideas about the value of modern science and education. The destruction of the American Bill of Rights by the current neo-Fascist government goes largely unremarked. Things have gotten so bad that in the last two national elections for President, half the voting populace, (sick, obese, poorly educated), hung their chads for George W. Bush, the dimmest bulb in the history of the American Republic.

The working class struggles to support the old and the disabled through confiscatory taxes for retirement and Medicare. What's left over is mostly given to the defense industry, so the executive branch can invade one country after another in a series of endless wars. The wars now always include a phase of "nation building," which means that we still think of ourselves as some kind of model for another country's aspiration. Either that, or we might best analogize our foreign policy to Dadaist art: Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal on a pedestal and called it "Fountain." We build a Taco Bell in the middle of Iraq and call it "America."

February 12, 2007

The Problem with Hillary

In January, 2003, I boarded a Golden Gate ferry and sailed across the Bay to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I joined about 100,000 other demonstrators (the Chronicle, still under the sway of the general warmongering spirit of the times, estimated the crowd at about 732). Elaine, mother of my daughter's best childhood friends, went with me, and we marched all the way to Civic Center, where a diverse group of speakers on a variety of topics, both germane and irrelevant to the Iraq War, spoke to the crowd. On the way back, Elaine, understandably exhilarated by the show of solidarity, asked me if I thought the invasion would happen anyway.

"Of course," I said. "Nothing can stop it."

My confident prediction was based on little more than my opinion of George W. Bush. He had already demonstrated his penchant for pathological lying, and I didn't believe a word he said. He had begun his systematic shredding of the Bill of Rights with his jailing of Jose Padilla and establishment of his concentration camp on Cuba. Many experts had expressed their opinion that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including Scott Ritter (a former weapons inspector), William Arkin (a defense analyst) and, most notably, Hans Blix, who had been driving around Iraq for months without finding anything. The idea of a connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein was ridiculous on its face.

The war, therefore, was a stupid idea. Hillary Clinton, Senator from New York, voted in October, 2002, to authorize President Bush to do whatever the hell he wanted to do. This was prior to the invasion. Also prior to the invasion, I voted with my feet to oppose the invasion. Thus, our relative positions were clear and marked by overt indicators. There is no going back.

I was right and Hillary Clinton was wrong. How could I possibly vote for a politician, who is briefed by insiders all day long, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who knows less than I do? Her subsequent attempts to explain her way out of her cowardly vote have contorted her into positions that would be the envy of a Chinese acrobat troupe. She cannot say she was "wrong," although the milling throngs in New Hampshire have asked her to say just that. "Knowing what I know now," she says, "I certainly would not have authorized Bush to conduct his war." Not so fast, Hillary. A little glib. Under the War Powers Act, the Iraq War is YOUR war. You told Bush to go ahead. And as far as knowing then what you know now? You see, I knew then what you say you didn't know then.

So what the hell were you doing? You were caving in, that's all. And because it seems to you that a good offense is the best defense, you're attacking the "simplicity" of Barack Obama's get the hell out approach. "Anyone can say, 'just leave'," you sneer. But you see, Hill: Obama was against the damn thing to begin with. He doesn't think we should ever have been there.

I just love the way your handlers describe your highly nuanced position on phased withdrawal. They say your position more closely "reflects the political mainstream." So that's why you say what you do now? You looked around the Senate chamber, read the editorials in the Washington Post and New York Times, and figured out what was good to believe? Is that the same thing as the right thing to believe?

Here's a clue. The political mainstream is not the same as the opinion of the American people. That's why you're getting all those tough questions. Those rock-ribbed people in New Hampshire are on to you. They don't ask questions like Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert ask. They know you voted the way you did because your political calculations favored a "safe" approach of belligerence, and if the war was a success, whether it was the right thing to do or not, you would look like you made a smart call. When it went south, when it turned out there was no reason for the invasion at all, you started crabbing about Bush's incompetence in conducting this fiasco.

Nope, you still don't get it. You're going to have to admit you chickened out. You can't even say, "I made a mistake." When there are two boxes to check, and you know the right answer but check the other one because of your vaulting ambition, you didn't make a "mistake." You took the easy way out. That's what you have to say. You have to forgo your triangulating, calculating, outside-in approach to moral choosing. Or that vaulting ambition will not fall upon another, as the Bard said. It will fall on you.