"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"
Sunday, 7 December 2003
Topic: Bush George Bush: The Manicheism Candidiate? Manichian? Whatever. Trust me. This will make sense. Notes on the Mentality of the Conservative Evangelicals Manicheism: This ancient heresy divides all of reality in two: Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. The Christian church rejected Manicheism as heretical many centuries ago. But on the day after 9/11, the President first stated the position he would continue to maintain: "This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil, but good will prevail." Later Bush defined his enemies as the "axis of evil," a term that is theologically and morally loaded.
I came across this in the December 22, 2003 issue of The Nation and found it helpful. Bush's Religious Language by Juan Stam, translated by Thomas E. Ambrogi. The longer version, in Spanish, is available at Signos de Vida if you'd like. Juan Stam is a theologian and structural linguistics fellow from Costa Rica. He's one of those guys who talks about religious history and about metalanguage.
Stam sets the issue like this:
George W. Bush began to take part in a Bible study group in 1985, after two decades of binge drinking. For two years he studied the Scriptures and put his heavy drinking behind him. In that same process, he succeeded in refocusing his life, which had been diffused and confused, into a coherent cosmic vision - or ideology - which corresponded to the mentality of the conservative evangelicals of his country.
When Bush decided to run for office, political strategist Karl Rove helped him make the link with the evangelical sector. While other candidates were discussing polemical themes, Rove advised him that it was much better for him to simply speak about his faith. Bush presented himself as "a man with Jesus in his heart." When a reporter asked him who his favorite philosopher was, Bush replied: "Christ, because he changed my heart." That corresponded perfectly to the extreme individualism of fundamentalism, and it constituted what in the metalanguage of evangelical code words is called "personal witness."
Politically, Bush's discourse has been very effective, but theologically the results have been more problematic, as evident in particular in three areas.
Well, Stam ponders how, given that "state of sublime innocence in his own country, like Adam and Eve in paradise," Bush can muster only one explanation for the terrorists' hatred of his nation: "There are people who hate freedom." In other words, they are so evil that they abhor the good because it is good.
And Stam asks if the terrorists hate freedom, why have they not attacked Canada, which he says in some respects is "more democratic" than the United States? Why is there not the same hatred for Switzerland, Holland or his own Costa Rica? Ah yep. Good questions.
And Stam observes this:
Bush does not seem to have much hesitation in identifying God with his own project. In a speech in September 2002, Bush cited a Christological text in reference to his war project: "And the light [America] has shone in the darkness [the enemies of America], and the darkness will not overcome it [America shall conquer its enemies]." When he appeared in a flight suit aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, he said to the troops: "And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope--a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, come out! to those who are in darkness, be free!'"
Well, we're all used to this.
And Stam's other gripe?
Manipulation of Prayer: True prayer does not pretend to tell God what we want Him to do but rather asks that God tell us what He wishes us to do. We do not pray in order to enlist God in our ranks but to examine ourselves, to change and to do God's will. Therefore, the confession of sin and repentance are crucial moments in prayer and worship. Prayer has played a role without precedent in the Bush presidency and in the propaganda of the evangelicals who support him. Photos of Bush at prayer are common. Great publicity was given to the fact that during a prime-time news conference shortly before his speech giving the ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, Bush asked his advisers to leave him alone for ten minutes. In evangelical symbolism, that meant that a man of prayer was going to commune with God, somewhat like Moses on Mount Sinai.
It is remarkable how closely Bush's discourse coincides with that of the false prophets of the Old Testament. While the true prophets proclaimed the sovereignty of Yahweh, the God of justice and love who judges nations and persons, the false prophets served Baal, who could be manipulated by the powerful. Karl Marx concluded that religion is "the opium of the people." But Marx never knew committed Christians like Camilo Torres of Colombia, Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador, Frank Pais of Cuba, Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany or Martin Luther King Jr. of the United States. How paradoxical, and how sad, that the President of the United States, with his heretical manipulation of religious language, insists on proving Karl Marx right.
Wait a second! This guy just said Bush is a heretic who proves Karl Marx was right, at least about religion. Cool!
Topic: Iraq Two folks talking in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at MIT, on Friday, come up with "Instant History" - the stages of our Iraq policy all wrapped up nice and neat! Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan who publishes his musings at Juan Cole * Informed Comment * - Thoughts on the Middle East, History, Islam, and Religion and here you will find this: Stages of American Iraq, and Parallels - Sunday, December 07, 2003
I was on an Iraq panel at MIT on Friday with Ivo Daalder, co-author of the just-published America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. I found his views of how the policy in Iraq has developed very interesting, and I think I contributed something, too.
Okay, then. What are these views?
... we have three phases of American policy in Iraq and different analogies to other US imperial ventures, based on who was on top:
1. Jay Garner: Was planning to put Iraq on an even keel within 6 months and go home. This plan would have entailed putting Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in charge of the Iraqi Army and bureaucracy (both would have been retained). It resembled the policy toward France after the US victory in 1945, where the government was handed over to the Free French. This policy was favored by Cheney and Rumsfeld.
2. Paul Bremer, First Phase: Bremer displaces Garner by mid-May. Intends to rule Iraq himself by fiat for two or three years. He disbands the Iraqi army altogether and puts off re-instituting the ministries. This is a Japan sort of plan, with Bremer playing MacArthur. He initially does not plan to have an Interim Governing Council or early elections. This plan was probably favored by Wolfowitz and some other neocons. (Bremer first phase was modified July 13 when Bremer is forced to appoint an Interim Governing Council, because he simply did not have the legitimacy to rule Iraq by himself).
3. Paul Bremer, Second Phase: The Nov. 15 agreement is hastily hammered out calling for quick elections on a caucus basis, so that Bremer can hand over power to it by July 1, 2004. So, he would depart a year or two before scheduled. This is an Afghanistan model, complete with a US-invented Iraqi analogue to the manipulated Loya Jirga. Again, this model would be supported by Rumsfeld and Cheney and would raise anxieties among the neocons, who are dedicated to a Japan model of completely reshaping Iraq via direct US rule.
So, we've had three different models in less than 8 months, with the Washington infighting reinforced by the problem the US has had in getting control of the security situation
...these whipsaw movements in Iraq no doubt do reflect Washington power struggles to some extent, but I'm not sure we have a really clear idea of who played what role. That developments on the ground in Iraq were more influential could be argued.
And this is going to make us all feel better? Sounds like we're making things up as we go along. But that has been said quite a bit recently.
Well, these two are historians. I assume Juan and Ivo got out of Cambridge, Massachusetts before the blizzard.
Topic: Iraq More of his own supporters turn on George Bush? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Newt Gingrich speaks out. Two items below, in The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush I reviewed the cover story in the news issue of The American Conservative where Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, gets on George Bush's case. And now Newt Gingrich in Newsweek starts in.
See Dissent in the Bunker Newt Gingrich, a quiet Rumsfeld confidant, thinks the U.S. went `off a cliff' in Iraq. by John Barry and Evan Thomas, NEWSWEEK, December 15, 2003 issue
This is interesting. As these two point out, Gingrich sit on the Defense Policy Board, a collection of outside experts - mostly heavyweight conservatives - who regularly consult with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And they think disquiet in this quarter is particularly significant, since the Defense Policy Board pushed from the outset for the invasion of Iraq. And they got an exclusive interview with Gingrich.
And how does the conservative-of-conservatives think things are going over in Iraq? What does he say in the interview? Can you say "Vietnam"?
His basic point: where are the Iraqi faces in the New Iraq? "Americans can't win in Iraq," he says. "Only Iraqis can win in Iraq."
Gingrich argues that the administration has been putting far too much emphasis on a military solution and slighting the political element. "The real key here is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow," he says. "And that is a very important metric that they just don't get." He contends that the civilian-run CPA is fairly isolated and powerless, hunkered down inside its bunker in Baghdad. The military has the money and the daily contact with the locals. But it's using the same tactics in a guerrilla struggle that led to defeat in Vietnam.
"The Army's reaction to Vietnam was not to think about it," he says. Rather than absorb the lessons of counterinsurgency, Gingrich says, the Army adopted "a deliberate strategy of amnesia because people didn't want to ever do it again."
Well, Newt always has been a bit of a loose cannon - a few months ago he wanted Bush to fire the Secretary Of State (Powell) and dissolve that department. Something about how they were all traitors for talking to foreign heads of states and other diplomats who disagreed with us. Here Gingrich, the loose cannon, seems to be rolling to the other side of the gundeck.
The interviewers also give us this:
In essence, the Americans never did transfer power. They disbanded the Iraqi Army and the government, realized that was a mistake, and quickly tried to cobble together an Iraqi police force and military. But the Iraqis in uniform today are seen by too many Iraqi citizens as American collaborators. Gingrich faults the Americans for not quickly establishing some sort of Iraqi government, however imperfect. "The idea that we are going to have a corruption-free, pristine, League of Women Voters government in Iraq on Tuesday is beyond naivete," he scoffs. "It is a self-destructive fantasy." (The White House insists that it is paying close attention to local politics and has speeded up the timetable to turn over power to the Iraqis.)
The rumor mill in the Pentagon suggests that Bush's "exit strategy" is to get American troops coming home in waves by next November's election. Obliquely, Gingrich indicates that would be a huge mistake. The guerrillas cannot be allowed to believe that they only have to outlast the Americans to win. "The only exit strategy is victory," Gingrich says. But not by brute American force. "We are not the enforcers. We are the reinforcers," says Gingrich. "The distinction between these two words is central to the next year in Iraq."
Well. It seems these sorts of ideas from this sort of man indicate something is afoot in Washington. Rats jumping from the sinking ship?
More likely it's just interagency infighting. I don't think Newt will now jump on the Howard Dean bandwagon.
"It's not just the left that's angry any longer..."
The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. In the December 1, 2003 issue of The American Conservative he has a few things to say. In fact, he gets the cover story.
A word about the magazine. The American Conservative was started last year by Pat Buchanan. These guys want their conservative movement back, and they want their Republican Party back. And they're angry too. Very angry.
As Buchanan said last year, "The conservative movement has been hijacked and turned into a globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology, which is not the conservative movement I grew up with." (The New York Times, September 8, 2002)
Doug Bandow concludes:"George W. Bush enjoys neither royal nor religious status that would place him beyond criticism. Whether or not he is a real conservative, he is no friend of limited, constitutional government. And for that the American people should be very, very angry."
You can read the whole thing at the link, but here are some interesting excerpts:
Some liberals admit that they hate President George W. Bush. Many conservatives say they are appalled at this phenomenon. Indeed, some of them believe any criticism of the president to be akin to treason. So much for the political tone in Washington.
American politics have never been for the faint-hearted.
And to prove that point he reviews some history: George Washington taking abuse, the vitriolic John Adams and Thomas Jefferson campaigns, the Republicans excoriating Truman, the Democrats Goldwater - all that stuff. And he comments on how many Republicans were eager to claim Bill Clinton was in fact a drug-dealing murderer whose wife killed family friend Vincent Foster. I have a friend who argues that position to me repeatedly. And Bandow, of course, reviews the current "hatred" of Bush - Jonathan Chait in the New Republic saying, "You decide Bush is a dullard lacking any moral constraints in his pursuit of partisan gain, loyal to no principle save the comfort of the very rich, unburdened by any thoughtful consideration of the national interest, and a man who, on those occasions when he actually does make a correct decision, does so almost by accident."
And Bandow comments on the response from the right - screams that Bush is wonderful, liberals are irrational, and the whole thing is bad for America. He says these are rather hilarious arguments coming from conservatives. For instance, New York Times columnist David Brooks calls the phenomenon of the Bush haters a "core threat to democracy." Yet, as Brooks acknowledges, the Clinton years were also well-populated with haters. Brooks now regrets having not spoken out more clearly against the latter. Better late than never, perhaps...
I never understood why conservatives invested so much emotion in Clinton. He was a charming and bright but enormously flawed, highly ambitious man of few principles. That warranted criticism, not hatred. ... Similarly, though George W. Bush is very different from Bill Clinton, hatred makes no sense. But anger is appropriate.
Much of the liberal case against President Bush is barely short of silly. His election was not illegitimate. Whether or not the candidate with the most votes should win, that's not what the U.S. Constitution says. Blame the Founders, not George W. Bush.
Complaints about Bush's fabled inarticulateness and privileged background are superficial. More worrisome are his partisan focus, demand for personal loyalty, and tendency to keep score, but these are hardly characteristics warranting hatred.
The charge that he's a crazy right-winger is beyond silly. Other than tax cuts--which have benefited the rich only because the rich paid, and still pay, most of the taxes--virtually nothing of conservative substance has happened. Government is more expansive and expensive than ever before.
Indeed. So just what is the problem, Doug?
Here he lays it out (my emphases):
First, George W. Bush, despite laudable personal and family characteristics, is remarkably incurious and ill read. Gut instincts can carry even a gifted politician only so far. And a lack of knowledge leaves him vulnerable to simplistic remedies to complex problems, especially when it comes to turning America into the globe's governess.
Second, despite occasional exceptions, the Bush administration, backed by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been promoting larger government at almost every turn. Its spending policies have been irresponsible, and its trade strategies have been destructive. The president has been quite willing to sell out the national interest for perceived political gain, whether the votes sought are from seniors or farmers. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 encouraged the administration to push into law civil-liberties restrictions that should worry anyone, whether they are wielded by a Bush or a Clinton administration.
The president and his aides have given imperiousness new meaning. Officials are apparently incapable of acknowledging that their pre-war assertions about Iraq's WMD capabilities were incorrect; indeed, they resent that the president is being questioned about his administration's claims before the war. They are unwilling to accept a role for Congress in deciding how much aid money to spend.
Some of Bush's supporters have been even worse, charging critics with a lack of patriotism. Not to genuflect at the president's every decision is treason. In two decades of criticizing liberal politicians and positions, I have rarely endured the vitriol that was routinely spewed by conservatives when I argued against war with Iraq over the last year. Conservative papers stopped running my column; conservative Web sites removed it from their archives. That was their right, of course, but they demonstrated that it was not just the Clintons who were fair-weather friends.
Third, President George W. Bush has made Woodrow Wilson the guiding spirit of Republican foreign policy. A candidate who criticized nation building is now pursuing global social engineering. The representative of a party that once criticized foreign aid is now pushing lavish U.S. social spending abroad, demanding that it be a gift rather than a loan.
And the administration has advanced a doctrine of pre-emption that encourages war for allegedly humanitarian ends. Attempting to justify the Iraqi war retrospectively by pointing to Saddam Hussein's manifold crimes, the president apparently believes he may attack any nation to advance human rights. Ironically, the Bush administration has adopted as its policy the question posed by then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright to then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell: what's the use of having this fine military you keep talking about if we don't use it?
The negative practical consequences of this policy are all too evident. Ugly foreign governments from Iran to North Korea have an incentive to arm themselves, quickly, with WMD to deter a U.S. preventive assault. Iraq has become a magnet for terrorist attacks while becoming a long-term dependent under U.S. military occupation. Anger towards--indeed, hatred of--Washington is likely to continue growing, even in once friendly nations. It will be difficult to maintain an imperial foreign policy with a volunteer military.