Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mistakes by Any Other Name

Last week President Bush again made his case against withdrawing from Iraq, this time calling it analogous to America’s pull-out of Vietnam. Meanwhile we have been witness to a conspicuous administration evacuation of men trying to distance themselves from a White House that itself resembles a policy quagmire. Still the President puts on his game face and refuses to admit that his realm, both foreign and domestic, is a shambles due to the neoconservative credo that any admission of weakness only emboldens our enemies.

Unfortunately, such a strategy has very little grounding in realistic perception. Adhering to this core tenet helps explain why, for example, people (like Donald Rumsfeld) were allowed to languish while vital areas (like the war in Iraq) were slipping out of control. Indeed, Bush and Cheney and others, felt it was better policy to deny the truth that everyone else saw to be self evident while showing support for officials we all knew were in over their heads. When Rumsfeld finally did leave town Vice President Dick Cheney gushed at the farewell service, proclaiming him one of the greatest SecDefs in United States history. The rest of us watched on confused.

But even this was all part of the plan. The belief is that any acknowledgment of a prior mistake, or failure, only helps out those who are against us. One can also see how this thinking would lead to very little critical oversight, and an outright contempt for reasonable criticism and questioning. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this thinking could corrupt wartime operations. Neoconservatism's greatest product, Iraq, has been, for lack of a better term, a disaster. The situation has shown signs of improving over the past six months thanks to a new commander, General Patraeus, and a new strategy, to hold down Baghdad while buying the ineffective Iraqi government more time, but for five long years millions of Americans have overseen the war and deemed its execution a dreadful mess. They have watched as their tax dollars have vanished (sometimes literally, missing) somewhere in Iraq while the President voiced extreme optimism (declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq) and then stoicism (we will stay the course).

Back before the war started Americans were told that the oil revenues would pay for the entire operation. We were told that Iraq was an important threat to American security. We were told that once we sheered the top of the Iraqi power structure off that liberty and Democracy would rush in to fill the void. Just how that last part would occur no one could say because, well, we’d never done such a thing before. But to even ask such questions would be to break the first rule of neoconservativism, which may have been pulled from off a Hollywood script: show only strength and, if at all possible, some honor.

Americans didn’t really understand the full incompetence of the Bush administration until Hurricane Katrina shuffled it’s way up the Gulf of Mexico, landed at New Orleans as predicted, and flooded the city. The response was a microcosm of our Iraqi mess. We witnessed the bureaucratic nightmare of institutions stuffed with family friends trying to communicate with each other. Millions were stunned to watch as the vaunted Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Association were knocked off-guard and left all but completely ineffectual while thousands of homeland citizens were stranded and hundreds died.
It was then that people started to ask critical questions of an administration that had put on such a powerful show for the Republic. The outcome was an overturning of the house and Senate in the 2006 November elections that allowed the Democrats to begin seriously investigating entrenched politburo officials.

Still Bush refuses to budge on Iraq, lest we embolden our enemies. A military withdrawal is out of the question yet what are we to make of the political withdrawal we are witnessing from the President’s administration? First there was Rumsfeld, a day after the 2006 elections, followed by a score of other, lesser cabinet members. Then Bush’s key advisor, Karl Rove, stepped down, like a fatigued football coach, announcing he wanted to spend more time with his family. And now, barely a week later, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has announced his sudden resignation.

Both Rove and Gonzalez are very powerful members of the administration (Gonzalez, in theory, is supposed to be independent) whom Bush continually championed while the Democrats laid siege to and lobbed projectiles against administration walls. Those walls now appear to be crumbling. A true believer to the end, Bush “reluctantly” accepted Gonzales resignation referring to him affectionately as “Al.” And why not? The two men have been through a lot since then Texas Governor Bush plucked Al Gonzalez out of a Houston law firm and made him his legal advisor. Gonzalez gave insufficient counsel and did not second-guess convictions and failed appeals while the state of Texas executed more prisoners during his term than any other state. But more important than competency was his loyalty. He was rewarded by being appointed Texas’s Secretary of State and then to the state Supreme Court.
But it was as President Bush’s White House counsel that Gonzalez showed his usefulness by trying to limit The Freedom of Information Act, and helping the United States circumvent the “quaint” Geneva Convention and detain and torture prisoners without cause in camps around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He also authored the Presidential Order that authorized military tribunals to try terror suspects. As to whether or not Gonzalez was involved in the firing of nine US Attorneys, perhaps we will never know, thanks in no small part to his spotty memory before a Senate panel. Of this man Bush said, “It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person, like Alberto Gonzales, is impeded from doing important work, because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

One can only guess what “important work” remained for Al Gonzalez but two things are known. One, the Justice Department is another Bush administration victim, which makes quite a body count for a President who never admits a mistake. And two, the next Attorney General will have a much higher hill to climb to confirmation now that he or she has to go through the Democrats. No doubt some might consider it too audacious to expect the next Attorney General of the United States wont be a Bush family friend.

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