The Troubled State of Those Who Support Bush

Greg Djerejian has a great post up at the Belgravia Dispatch that pretty well sums up my views on the state of play in Iraq and on my posture toward the Administration.

I think I have broader domestic-policy differences with Bush and his crowd than Greg does, but that’s kind of a given given that I’m a liberal. But he speaks for me when he says that

Back in October of 2004, I wrote a a long post in this blog supporting the re-election of George W. Bush largely based on the central importance of Iraq. Then and now, I believe to my core that the stakes in Iraq are immense, and could well determine America’s standing on the global stage for score years or more. Despite my revulsion at Abu Ghraib, my contempt for hubris-ridden, reckless Administration officials like Donald Rumsfeld, and my fear that George Bush’s lack of foreign policy expertise could have him proving an emperor with no clothes–I calculated that the alternative would be materially worse.

I’ll offer a cavil about a few things, and then sit back and try and figure out how I can do nearly as good a job as he is of making concrete suggestions.But let me start with the cavils.

I’ve read a ton of history, and I have a fondness for reading contemporary sources where such exist. All of them – from Thucydides onward – talk about war as the province of error, of chaos, of the worst in human nature – and they’re not just talking about the killing part.

I really do think that one product of the centrality of television and movies to our generation’s learning; the ‘closedness’ of experience in television and films – the neat way that events interact with intentions, and the way that the experiences on screen end as the closing credits come up.

We just flat don’t understand how messy the real world is, and when we’re presented with that mess – errors, misjudgments, the bad judgement and dishonesty that are inescapably part of human action, we throw up our hands and react like a Hollywood star who sees an imperfection in the paint on our new Ferrari and just walks away from it.

This doesn’t excuse errors, and don’t for a moment think that I believe that those who make them should not have to bear the consequences. In fact the thing I like the most about our system is that people bear the consequences – even if it is at times one that seems just but unfair. And no, I don’t think this Administration should escape consequences either.

But the really sad thing is that people like me have no choice but to support the Administration, because the alternatives – as much as I’ve tried to look for them – look as doltish as John Kerry. I’ve got – we’ve all got – the choice between someone who is trying to do the right thing for what appears to be the right reasons, but is both feckless and mulishly stubborn; and those who neither convince me that they know what the right thing to do is, and certainly offer little evidence that they would do better.

27 thoughts on “The Troubled State of Those Who Support Bush”

  1. >>But the really sad thing is that people like me have no choice but to support the Administration, because the alternatives – as much as I’ve tried to look for them – look as doltish as John Kerry.

    You have a superior alternative.

    You could support _yourself_. You can take direct action using your own resources to hack away at these problems in limited ways. You don’t need the “great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else” to fix these problems.

  2. Very well said AL. Part of being an American is assuming we are qualified to speak on any subject regardless of experience or expertise. Our media doesnt know a brigade from a bugle (many hold it as a point of pride doubtless) and probably think Austerlitz was a Nazi ski resort. That is a problem that has yet to be addressed, aside from people turning to New Media.
    And it certainly does not excuse some of the blunders. There are people in the administration that _have_ read history. It doesnt take a master general to tell you its a clever idea to stiffen each IA unit with American NCOs, but it took us a couple years to relearn what any Roman Prefect could have told you. Not launching a top priority crash course in rebuilding the Iraqi infastructure cost as dearly as well. Paul Bremer was a disaster in nearly every way.
    Its acceptable for circumstances to surprise you, its disasterous not to have the flexibility to correct mistakes immediately. We have made corrections, but we have worked in Washington time, not Baghdad time. Things that need to be corrected in days or hours take months and years. That we are still winning has as much to do with the ineptness and stupidity of our enemies as anything. My biggest concern is that we as a people learn from this. We likely will walk away from Iraq with most of our goals reached. But it will have been costlier than it needed to be, and we should consider that next time our enemies may not be so self-defeating.

  3. Pretty much. I was so unhappy with the Bush nomination that for the first time I considered voting for a Democrat in Al Gore. I didn’t, and Al Gore’s subsequent behavior confirmed to me the rightness of that decision, but that doesn’t mean I’ve ever been happy with George Bush.

    In fact, the first few months of GWB’s term, I really came to like the guy. The tax cut was grant. The stance on the Kyoto treaty was great. I actually started liking the guy. But my opinion of him has been going downhill ever since 9/11. Not for any of the reasons he’s been widely criticized by the Left necessarily (most which I find ridiculous and unjust), but simply because it confirms to me that he is just a mediocre intellect and a mediocre charisma (and a poor statesman) in a time that calls for greatness like few times in our history. His heart is I believe in the right place, but he’s obviously in over his head.

    GWB settles for me once and for all the question of whether the US has been fortunate in finding great men during trying times, or whether it is merely the case that the times make men great. Clearly the US has been blessed with great men at the right times, because the times are not making GWB great.

    But where are we to turn to find such a man (or woman)? I see noone in either party who possesses even a glimmer of the qualities of greatness. The political system is becoming sicker and sicker on both sides. Neither side is saying the right things, or seems to understand the urgency of the times. The blogosphere is really my last hope. If the New Media can’t correct the system, then I’m afraid that the prediction I made in 1998 that the government of the United States would collapse by 2020 will likely come true. (I think we came really darn close in 2000.)

    I do not want to live in interesting times. Yet the leadership of the US on both sides seems ready to ram the ship of state into a veritable iceberg rather than adopt a new course.

  4. Celebrim, you can find reams of the same sentiment written about Lincoln by his contemporaries, almost to the word (he was considered unintelligent and a bumpkin as well). The Bull Runs and Cold Harbors and draft riots simply add to the legend of Lincoln’s steadfastness. History illuminates greatness, and the jury is still out on Bush. If the Middle East is transformed into the next Eastern Europe, that is all that will be remembered about Bush, everything else is small time, historically speaking. If not, he goes down as Calvin Coolidge.

  5. The problem you are facing can be summed up here:
    But worse, far worse, was the tendency of the White House—particularly Karl Rove’s message apparatus—to see the war as part of the Permanent Campaign, as a political opportunity at first and then, as the news turned bad, as merely another issue to be massaged. There is something quite obscene about the existence of the White House Iraq Group (whig). Its job had nothing to do with the military or political situation in Iraq; it was created to market the war and to smear the President’s opponents. Rove and Libby were at the heart of this group. Their decision to ask Congress for a war resolution in September 2002, two months before the congressional elections, seemed an obvious marketing ploy. Rove told Republicans that they could “go to the country with this issue,” that it would reinforce the party’s image as strong on defense(Joe Klein @ Time).

    The problem cited above comes down to this. Bush believes the Big P political, i.e. that is STATESMEN, issue for him is to establish a conservative court. Like a military campaign there are losses in this case Miers but the long struggle will be accomplished if Alito is confirmed.

    For Liberals and Progressives whom recognize that the GWOT should be the big P issue, because the court will not matter if the Terrorists win, there is nothing but chagrin and dismay to see it is being run as a small “p” political issue, ie POLITICIAN. Some of the chagrin and dismay is because you have to take s@#$ which is no longer good natured ribbing from people whom disagree with you about the President. Most of it is because when you examine the thought and process that went into the court nominations you are wondering these processes and thought was not applied to the GWOT and Iraq in particular. and recognizing that it is all small “p” politics makes you sick to your stomach. Worse, your party is not providing, stating and even hinting out a viable alternative you have lost your lunch.

    The only thing to do is work both sides. Keep screaming, blogging or state your views as positively as possible to the President about this issue. B@#$%, moan and implore your own party to find a viable solution. The one hope you have is that the indictment of Libby will focus the President on making his big P legacy is a successful outcome in Iraq.

  6. Robert, simple question: is it more likely that we will lose this war on the battlefield, or in the minds of the American people? In war, you dedicate your energy and resources where they are needed most, right? Ignoring politics (particularly considering there are certain faction here that would be quite happy to see us fail in Iraq) would guarantee our defeat in Iraq no matter the brilliance of the campaign.

  7. “Celebrim, you can find reams of the same sentiment written about Lincoln by his contemporaries, almost to the word (he was considered unintelligent and a bumpkin as well).”

    You don’t have to tell me that. As far as I know, Bush and Lincoln share the distinction of being the only Presidents regularly portrayed as chimpanzees by cartoonists. Somewhere around here I have a post from before the election in which I compare Bush to Lincoln and Kerry to the dapper McClellen.

    “If not, he goes down as Calvin Coolidge.”

    I was thinking more along the lines of James Buchanan.

    In Bush’s defence, he’s facing off against not only a dangerous and cunning foreign enemy, but the entrenched institutions of political correctness, our own legacy of foreign policy ineptitude, and the unexploded memetic weapons left over from the Soviet’s cold war against us. So the task might be too much for anyone, and the fight would not be nearly finished after eight years whoever occupied the office. But Bush rarely gives me confidence that he actually could get the job down even were he not faced with such overwhelming obstacles.

  8. Re: “We just flat don’t understand how messy the real world is”;
    This is more than TV. I just finished reading Robert Sherrod’s “Tarawa”. The observations Sherrod made in his “Afterword” chapter about the public attitude towards the war in 1943-44 could have been written about Iraq today. People just don’t want to be inconvenienced. Period.

    The book is available used from http://www.powells.com

  9. celebrim: I was thinking more along the lines of James Buchanan.

    Now that is unjust. Not just to Bush, but to the country, which is nowhere near where it was in those days.

    Buchanan was a man whose loyalties were so confused that he couldn’t decide which side he on, or what he would do if he were on a side. He occupied himself with petty politics instead, so the major accomplishment of his administration was to prevent his hated enemy Stephen Douglas from becoming president.

    Bush’s enemies are more Buchananite than he is. In fact, Kerry would have made Buchanan look decisive.

  10. celebrim: “and the unexploded memetic weapons left over from the Soviet’s cold war against us”

    Perfect! Those mental ammo dumps, those mind fields left over from the Cold War still litter the West in ways that make Saddam’s scrappy metal weapons caches look insignificant by comparison. Propaganda wars take generations to win. Resistance can never be entirely eliminated.

  11. Glen: “Now that is unjust. Not just to Bush, but to the country, which is nowhere near where it was in those days.”

    I hope you are right, but I think my main point is more or less made by your conclusion.

    “Bush’s enemies are more Buchananite than he is. In fact, Kerry would have made Buchanan look decisive.”

    Is this supposed to give me solace? I’m I supposed to like voting for the lesser of two evils?

    Vote for the Republicans, now just two thirds as Buchananite as the Democrats? Is Bush’s greatest accomplishment to be that he kept Kerry out of office? History is I’m afraid, still out. The range of options is uncomfortably broad.

  12. Lesser of two evils is hardly inspiring, but it is worth taking a look at “KerryWorld”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/26/AR2005102602172.html and asking whether things could be worse. Kerry’s call for arbitrary withdrawals has gotten a lot of notice, but I haven’t seen much attention to his recent call for “a conference of nations led by the United States, Britain, Turkey, Russia and other NATO allies to forge a compromise between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions in Iraq.” Huh? The constituion is ratified, now its time for the “great powers” to broker a deal? Talk about arrogant imperialism.

  13. mulishly stubborn seems to me to be a good trait in a war leader. Sometimes hanging on in the face of a bad decisions ultimately leads to good results: Anzio.

    Just to get the html right.

  14. The other phenomenon is sesame street time. People these days seem to expect events to unfold in the span of a skit on that TV show which is designed to hold the attention of 3 year olds.

    In fact it takes several years for a war to be resolved. We are two years and change into Iraq. It will be a few more years before we can begin to assess success and failure.

    Personally, I am optimistic that the whole thing has gone tolerably well and that it will turn out to be a strategic victory for the United States. But, time will tell. Not sesame street time but real time counted in years not seconds.

  15. I’m not sure the reconstruction of Iraq could go any faster or better than it is, regardless of who is President.

    Good God, people, it’s only been two and a half years since we invaded. Not only physical infrastructure has to be rebuilt, but the mental infrastructure of the people who lived under an extremely oppressive police state and command-and-control economy for decades.

    The Iraqis are volunteering for their police and military, talking and negotiating, publishing newspapers and creating political parties. The infrastructure is being rebuilt as fast as it could unless we spent billions more. And it’s better for them to take over rebuilding just as it is better for them to take over their military and government as soon as possible. And they want to. How much faster could they get up to speed than they are?

    In some ways they are in better shape after two years than Russia is after 20 years.

    Nation-building is very complex, a wicked problem. For each decision (when to hold elections, how many troops, de-Baathification, etc) the pros and cons of each path are almost equal, and there is no “one right solution.” Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  16. Mark,

    It is always a blessing in war to face stupid enemies.

    And the infrastructure stuff you mentioned takes time. A ~500MW electrical plant has been built in Baghdad. It took about two years from decision time to construction completed. A remarkably short time. For that size plant.

    As to American NCOs in IA units – It has been going on for at least 12 months, maybe 18, possibly somewhat longer. America has done the “advisor” thing for a very long time. Vietnam for example. If it wasn’t done immediately in this war I’d have to assume there was a reason.

    So far I’d have to say this war has been fought very well. Given that opposition and disaster are the essence of the beast.

  17. More on wicked problems. Every societal issue is a wicked problem. This is as good as it gets, and it’s not half bad.

    I mentioned Russia. But compare Iraq to any other democracy-transition/ nation-building project of the past 30 years. (South Africa, Poland, East Timor, the Balkans, etc.) Some have gone well and others haven’t, as we have learned more about what works and what doesn’t. I was impressed by the agility and learning capability of this administration, in being willing to try things and then change if something didn’t work. It hasn’t been that bureaucratic. Iraq is looking pretty good.

  18. Alfred Thayer Mahan was complaining about the anti-war NYT in 1898.

    My point? Domestic politics is still important to winning the war.

    The war will be won in Iraq or lost in America.

  19. celebrim: Vote for the Republicans, now just two thirds as Buchananite as the Democrats?

    Hey, I like that.

    Now with 30% less Buchanan than the other leading brand! Favored by those who want to limit their Carter intake. And to get as much Reagan, you’d have to eat four bowls of Total.

  20. mulishly stubborn seems to me to be a bad trait in a war leader. Sometimes hanging on in the face of a bad decisions ultimately leads to…
    bad results: The Somme

  21. “And the infrastructure stuff you mentioned takes time. A ~500MW electrical plant has been built in Baghdad. It took about two years from decision time to construction completed. A remarkably short time. For that size plant. ”

    Well, it depends on your POV. If you are building a Com-ed plant in Peoria, it might be a short time. If you are desperately trying to bring power to a desert nation that is in danger of turning into a terrorist state and sticking a potentially fatal dagger in your international standing, its not that impressive. Not from the nation that turned out a victory ship a day, built an entire floating harbor on the Normandy coast, and invented a nuclear weapon from pure theory to fielded weapon in 3 years, not once, but twice concurrently. And that was all before the computer was invented. No, im not impressed at all. The rebuilding of Iraq’s infastructure was treated like a highway buildint project in West Virginia, only if Robert Byrd was sponsering it it probably would have gotten more funding.

    I’ve in the past done a _bare minimum_ (believe that!) of research and just googling generators and power plants may actually shock you at how many power plant components are for sale around the country:

    “142MW Thermal Power Plant For Sale. 60Hz. HFO. Consists of 2x20MW STG units and 3x34MW STG units. This power plant is older, but it is in excellent condition. Will consider all reasonable offers. Located in the NE US. (Click here for more details and images.) Contact Milt Fyre 503-239-5157 or milt@rmaglobal.com
    http://www.utilitywarehouse.com/info1/powerplantc.html

    There’s 142MW for you and it took me less than a minute.

    Here’s a _1000+MW_ facility being built in Saudi Arabia that they expect to be running in less than 3 years.
    http://www.gulfoilandgas.com/webpro1/MAIN/Mainnews.asp?id=409
    Please explain to me how you can build a power plant in SA in barely more than we can do it in Iraq when the fate of that nation and possibly ours may depend on it. This rebuilding has been a disgrace, and had the potential to turn into a full blown debacle.

  22. Considering that today President Bush announced the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, most of his supporters probably feel pretty good about him now.

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