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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 22 September 2004

Topic: For policy wonks...

Policy: A slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power...

Exactly one year ago today, September 22, 2003, Richard Perle, who at that time chaired the Defense Advisory Board helping Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld make all the right decisions about the war in Iraq, said this -
And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush. There is no doubt that, with the exception of a very small number of people close to a vicious regime, the people of Iraq have been liberated and they understand that they've been liberated. And it is getting easier every day for Iraqis to express that sense of liberation.
Today was the day. A grand square in Baghdad named after President Bush? Not today.

Last I heard Perle was at his vacation home in the south of France, near Aix, fending off questions from reporters about his role in the looting of Hollinger - Conrad Black's press empire that fell apart. Perle ran the Jerusalem Post for Black and was still on the board of directors. There are tens of millions of dollars gone. Perle is mum. I guess we should cut him some slack. He's been having a bad summer.

Should we cut George Bush some slack for that speech yesterday at the United Nations?

The New York Times doesn't, and sort of says that the speech represented the antithesis of diplomacy -
We did not expect President Bush to come before the United Nations in the middle of his re-election campaign and acknowledge the serious mistakes his administration has made on Iraq. But that still left plenty of room for him to take advantage of this one last chance to appeal to an increasingly antagonistic world to help the Iraqis secure and rebuild their shattered nation and prepare for elections in just four months. Instead, Mr. Bush delivered an inexplicably defiant campaign speech in which he glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place.

... Mr. Bush might have done better at wooing broader international support if he had spent less time on self-justification and scolding and more on praising the importance of international cooperation and a strengthened United Nations. Instead, his tone-deaf speechwriters achieved a perverse kind of alchemy, transforming a golden opportunity into a lead balloon."
Scolding the effete snobs who don't even speak English like normal people does play well in the current election here. Assume folks here ate it up - he really shamed them. Unfortunately, the General Assembly didn't seem inclined to hang their heads in shame and say, well, Bush is right, we have all been naughty children.

Was it effective? That depends on your point of view.

Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post provides a roundup.

See Bush Speech: Resolute or Clueless?
Wednesday, September 22, 2004; 12:04 PM
In a soaring, eloquent, upbeat speech from the marble podium at the United Nations, President Bush yesterday put forth the purest distillation yet of his foreign policy views.

And depending on your own world view, I'm betting you either loved it or hated it.

Was he strong, resolute, unyielding, unapologetic? Undeniably so. And in the view of his supporters, enough said.

But viewed in the context of how things have worked out, particularly in Iraq, his critics -- including many in the audience of world leaders yesterday -- found him misguided, simplistic, imperious and trigger-happy.

If the whole speech was a litmus test, this one sentence was the clincher:

"We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace," Bush said.

Some people see irony there. Others don't.
Well, it is there.

Froomkin then quotes from all the coverage.

Dana Milbank and Colum Lynch also in the Post say this - "Bush's upbeat assessment of world affairs in general and Iraq in particular contrasted sharply with assessments of diplomats and world leaders gathered for the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. While others lamented spreading violence and a breakdown of the rule of law, Bush asserted that times have improved."

Okay. That's one way of looking at things.

And Bush took three questions from reporters during his subsequent photo opportunity with Ayad Allawi, the man we allow to run Iraq at the moment. One of the questions was about the recent CIA report predicting serious troubles ahead for Iraq, that National Security Estimate he has had since July and surfaced last week. It said that there are only three possible scenarios now. The best? That would be "a tenuous stability" - but that's unlikely. The second? That would be where "increased extremism and fragmentation in Iraqi society impede efforts to build a central government and adversely affect efforts to democratize the country." The third is an all out civil war in Iraq by 2005, where the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds have it out and we have to deal with that. (Discussed in these pages here.) Bush said the CIA was "just guessing" and things were just fine.

Here's the text of that exchange - and the second American hostage was beheaded within a day of that exchange.

Well, we here at home will buy anything and we believe Bush, because we want to believe him, or have to believe him or think there's something mighty wrong in the White House. And if you think that you are unpatriotic - you obviously hate America.

But UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was not impressed with the Bush speech, or its underlying assumptions. As the Los Angeles Times summarizes - "Annan insisted that `every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad.' Although the secretary-general did not name the United States, to the scores of world leaders listening in the vaulted chamber, the target of his comments was obvious... `Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it,' he said, `and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.' "

That was probably a bit too low-key and subtle for Bush. He probably didn't get it. The man not only, as he says, doesn't do nuance, he no doubt is just puzzled by irony. George, he was talking about you, big guy.

John Kerry said the expected about the Bush UN speech - "After lecturing them, instead of leading them to understand how we are all together with a stake in the outcome of Iraq, I believe the president missed an opportunity of enormous importance for our nation and for the world. He does not have the credibility to lead the world. And he did not and will not offer the leadership in order to do what we need to do to protect our troops, to be successful, and win the war on terror in an effective way."

As usual, no one listening to Kerry, who seems to think we should treat others as adults, with common interests we can discover and build on. Boring. And it doesn't play well to America's growing sense that we are only adults in this world, and all others or children who need to be slapped around.

Of course the rest of the world is unhappy with our assumption that that is just the way things are. Patrick E. Tyler at the New York Times provides a summary of European and world reaction -
European newspapers, including some that supported the American military campaign in Iraq, were largely critical of Mr. Bush's address on Tuesday to the United Nations.

The Financial Times contended in its lead editorial that the Bush administration "systematically refused to engage with what actually has happened in Iraq" namely, in its view, that American policy "mistakes" have "handed the initiative to jihadi terrorists" who "now have a new base from which to challenge the West and moderate Islam."

The paper said that Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, "after being evasive, long-winded and sometimes contradictory," was beginning to speak more realistically than Mr. Bush about deterioration in Iraq. And, the newspaper asserted, that Mr. Bush's "disengagement from the reality of a sinking Iraq is alarming."

The left-leaning Independent newspaper carried an editorial cartoon of Osama bin Laden putting up a Bush campaign poster saying "4 More Years" on a shell-pocked bit of masonry in Iraq. The cartoon seemed to be inspired by a diplomatic spat over remarks attributed to the British ambassador to Rome, Sir Ivor Roberts. After a private discussion on policy that was deemed to be off the record, Sir Ivor was quoted by an Italian newspaper as saying that Mr. Bush had become "the best recruiting sergeant" for Al Qaeda.

In its editorial, the Independent said that Mr. Bush "gave little hint" in his speech of the "catastrophic war" under way in Iraq. "Instead of a measured account of reality in Iraq," the editorial said, "he treated the ranks of national leaders gathered at the U.N. to a portentous and self-justifying speech brimming with clich?s about `freedom' and `democracy' that glorified the American way."
Elsewhere? Tyler notes in Poland Gazeta Wyborcza ran a commentary by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz saying the Bush UN speech had to be considered in the context of an election campaign. Poles, and everyone else, shouldn't take it that seriously. Nasz Dzinnik ran an editorial that said the opposite - Bush, having "attacked Iraq in defiance" of those nations that called for United Nations authorization for invasion was now trying to convince the international community that it should pay for the "chaos" caused by "reckless policy."

Tyler does the French press too - Lib?ration saying Kerry has it right, not Bush, as Bush "showed that slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power." Le Figaro on the right had correspondent Philippe Gelie noting that Mr. Bush was "impervious to criticism" in the conduct of American foreign policy. His speech in New York was that of a "campaigning American president" who "lectured the rest of the world." And they like Bush.

The German daily Tagesspiegel ran the headline "US, UN, Iraq: the truth counts for nothing." In Italy, Corriere della Sera said Bush had "forgotten that his go-it-alone approach has alienated many sympathizers" with American goals in the Middle East. And they said it would take "more than an isolated appeal during an election campaign" to rebuild the consensus that once existed on Iraq.

Yeah, but who cares about the silly foreigners?

Take William Saletan...

See Bush the Liberal
The nobility and folly of democratizing Iraq.
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004, at 3:13 PM PT - SLATE.COM

You have love the opening -
I admit it. I have a soft spot for President Bush.

I love it when he goes to the United Nations--as he did two years ago and again today--and tells those lazy cynics to get off their duffs. They spend their days congratulating each other, passing toothless resolutions, and giving lip service to tired pet issues. Bush is just what they need. He pokes them in the ribs. He points out that scofflaws are treating them like a joke. He tells them to enforce their threats, or he'll do it for them. He preaches freedom and democracy. He vows to serve others, no matter who else joins in the cause. He refuses to back down, no matter what the price.
Ah, good strong, conservative xenophobic stuff. You have to love it.

But Saletan is off-balance because circumstances have reduced Bush's war to, well, a kind of liberal adventure to make the world a better place - a do-gooder effort you'd expect from a left winger. How did THAT happen?
... Bush didn't plan Iraq as an altruistic war. He thought Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to the United States. He thought there were weapons of mass destruction. He still thinks Saddam was al-Qaida's buddy. It's the evidence that has undercut these arguments. So Bush has fallen back on arguments that used to be peripheral to his case: We liberated Iraqis from a brutal dictator. We're building a model of democracy in the Middle East.

It's inspiring stuff. But don't tell me Americans would have tolerated going to war for these reasons. We thought we were heading off another 9/11.

In today's speech, Bush tried to sell the world on collective law enforcement. "Every nation that wants peace will share the benefits of a freer world," he observed. "Eventually, there is no safe isolation from terror networks, or failed states that shelter them, or outlaw regimes, or weapons of mass destruction. Eventually, there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others."

... Bush wants you to think that he's the America-first guy, and Kerry is the utopian internationalist. But take a closer look. Yesterday, Kerry asked, "Is [Bush] really saying to America that if we know there was no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer: resoundingly, no, because a commander in chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."
So who here is the change-the-world-and-make-it-better liberal and who the keep-the-status-quo-and-amass-wealth conservative? The world turned upside down?

The Bush speech and its underlying new doctrine? Saletan says that as a liberal, he admires it, and as a conservative, he wonders how it looks to the guy in Ohio who can't pay his bills.

It is all very curious.

Posted by Alan at 21:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 September 2004 08:36 PDT home

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