Sunday, November 26, 2006

The President who lost a country

The horrific escalation of violence in Iraq strongly suggests that the end game is upon us, and that the denoument will be unambiguous: Iraq the country is no more.

There is an excellent long piece by Mark Danner in The New York Review of Books on the James Risen, Ron Suskind and Bob Woodward books laying out the stunning hubris and incompetence that brought us here. Money quote:

"It is unlikely that the Pentagon's vision of a rapid departure ever could have worked, Bremer or no Bremer. What is striking, however, is the way that the most momentous of decisions were taken in the most shockingly haphazard ways, with the power in the hands of a few Pentagon civilians who knew little of Iraq or the region, the expertise of the rest of the government almost wholly excluded, and the President and his highest officials looking on.

In the event, the Bush administration seems to have worked hard to turn Kennan's problem of knowing the facts on its head: the systemic failures in Iraq resulted in large part from an almost willful determination to cut off those in the government who knew anything from those who made the decisions."

Those of us who were against this tragic folly from the beginning will be sorely tempted by triumphalist I-told-you-so postures. We were indeed right, and they were indeed wrong. But the suffering and destruction unleashed will long outlast the peace-with-honor fiction that must be close at hand.

There is, I think, a sense in which Saddam was like Tito, ruthlessly holding together an artificial country. When Tito died, the Balkans erupted, and Yugoslavia ceased to exist. But that loss was (literally) organic, and our involvement was largely defensible and even perhaps laudable. It was also, by any measure, far more successful.

But George Bush has lost a country. I can think of no precedent. Vietnam was never really two countries, so Johnson/Nixon cannot be seen as having lost South Vietnam. Iraq was artificial, to be sure, but it functioned as a nation.

Saddam Hussein and the autocracy he ruled were the product of a dysfunctional politics, not the cause of it. Reform of such a politics was always going to be a task of incalculable complexity. Faced with such complexity, and determined to have their war and their democratic revolution, the President and his counselors looked away. Confronted with great difficulties, their answer was to blind themselves to them and put their faith in ideology and hopeā€”in the dream of a welcoming landscape, magically transformed. The evangelical vision may have made the sense of threat after September 11 easier to bear but it did not change the risks and the reality on the ground. The result is that the wave of change the President and his officials were so determined to set in course by unleashing American military power may well turn out to be precisely the wave of Islamic radicalism that they had hoped to prevent.

Whether Bush is impeached tomorrow or serves out his term, we -- meaning not just all Americans, but all the world -- will suffer the consequences for decades.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much damage can one person do? In this case, an unbelievable amount. Bush will never admit he's wrong, and that is a terrible quality to have.

5:40 PM  

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