B After The Fact

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Paul Berman's "Silence and Cruelty" from The New Republic, facing my dilemma --- how do you support the war against Saddam, as I do, and continue to do, and hate Bush, as I also do, at the same time.

"We could have applied the lessons of Kosovo, which would have meant dispatching a suitable number of soldiers. We could have protected the government buildings and the National Museum, and we could have co-opted Saddam's army--further lessons from Kosovo. We could have believed Saddam when he threatened to wage a guerrilla war in Baghdad. We could have prepared in advance to broadcast TV shows that Iraqis wanted to watch. We could have observed the Geneva Conventions. (What humiliation in having to write such a sentence!) We could have--but I will stop, in order to ask: What if, in mulling these thoughts, you find that angry emotions toward George W. Bush are seeping upward from your own patriotic gut?"


For me (for B-), the one big issue in favor of Bush -- is that I believe that at the end of the day, American voters will feel that going into Iraq was better than not going into Iraq, even after we all understand that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, that there are no WMDs, etc. Bush's port-mortem rewriting of history will work, because on the big point -- the destruction of Saddam --- he was on the right side.

The one big issue against Bush -- is that everything Bush has done is meant to make it easier for him to be king. Bush'sreal rationalization for going into Iraq was nothing that he has admitted to, and it wasn't even about the oil -- he went into Iraq because he had to go somewhere, he went into Iraq because it is easier for a wartime President to increase his personal domestic power than it is for a peacetime President. Bush's so-far successful attempts to so increase his power, and the template he sets for future leaders, has to be checked, and it is more important to check this power than it is to agree or disagree with the politics of the person attempting to be the next leader.

This, incidentally, is the point that Al Gore makes, especially if you read his speeches, both the December one, and the late May one, rather than listen to him scream them out into the wind. Gore makes the point that since any army could have gone in and destroyed Iraq at any time, even if Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, the big question regarding Iraq is not what kind of Iraq do we want to see, but what kind of imperial power do we want to be. What kind of leadership do we want leading that power? People who say that Al Gore is crazy, or they are lucky that he wasn't President (including my new friend John Podhoretz and David Brooks) are missing the point. The most important thing happening in Iraq is not as important as someone blowing their nose in America. The war is not about Iraq, it is only America, and what we are willing to do to ourselves to meet the challenges we face.

Some people want to give up all their liberty for an incremental increase in their security. I say that the big thing about George Bush is that he (and I mean he, W. the Bushes, George, Barbara, Jed; --- not Karl Rove, not Dick Cheney -- but the Bushes) understood this all along, and is trying to ride it to more personal power, even at the price of American freedom. Therefore, John Kerry, typical liberal, should be a perfectly acceptable alternative to Bush. As would Al Sharpton. As would Rick Santorum. As would anyone who does not want to be king (rather who is not actively seeking to change the system so that he can become king). Anyone is a better vote for President than Bush. Provided of course, the votes will be counted.

In that light, I will do a quick paragraph on Ronald Reagan. Even living in a suburb of New York City, even spending the year leading up to the 1980 election in the supposedly most liberal place in the world (Cambridge, Massachusetts), one could see that the hopes and aspirations of half the population were not being reflected in the government. Ronald Reagan reclaimed a stake for those people in the government. He implemented some of their good ideas about limiting the power of government. He implemented some of their bad ideas concerning the more primitive yearnings of man to abdicate responsibility to the alpha man -- be it the church, the corporation or the king. The fact that the right wing claimed their stake and are trying to claim our stake as well is just human nature. They don't feel obligated to play fair, and neither should we. Since that's human nature as well.

To sum up Iran-Contra in one sentence, the sentence that is most attractive to George W. Bush: In order to make Iran-Contra work, in order to have a secret foreign policy slush fund to buy arms for the contras, the President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, had to essentially overthrow the foreign policy apparatus and related parts of the Constitution and set up a shadow government. Reagan engineered a coup against the President, and replaced President Reagan with Ronald Reagan. At that time, Reagan was at that time President in some areas and dictator in others.

You can defend Reagan, and even I might, when you consider that in my liberal domestic, imperial foreign policy mindset, he was right on the overall issue, his "overthrow" was very limited, that Reagan never intended to use more power than he needed, that he was dealing with exigent circumstances, etc.

However, the fact is that Reagan's Iran-Contra actions gave Bush a blueprint for how to override the Constitution, and set the President up as the leader of a parallel kingdom. I cannot shake the feeling that Bush is trying to do that very thing.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen some conservatives complain that Bush should try to seek a mandate for his domestic policy agenda. These conservatives who read the news for a living, should all be fired. Bush's plan is to impose his domestic policy on the country as part of a national defense emergency. Bush is not one for debate.