The Self Made Pundit
Friday, August 08, 2003
A BUCK NAKED BUSH GETS GORED: If this country has ever had an emperor with no clothes, it’s President Bush.
With much of the news media and too many timid Democrats barely whispering whether Bush’s pronouncements are dressed in any facts, it was an absolute delight to read Gore’s speech to MoveOn.org, the "online grassroots democracy group," yesterday in which he shouted that Bush is buck naked when it comes to honesty.
While I shudder to think of the type of people who may now hit this website after searching for “Bush+naked” (there goes the neighborhood), I consider the metaphor appropriate.
As I’ve discussed in my recent posts (pick almost any post from the past four weeks), when Bush discusses his policies, he either lies with impunity or he lies with the rest of his dishonest administration. Even a statement as blatantly untrue as Bush’s whopper that the United States went to war because Saddam Hussein would not let U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq barely gets noticed by the national news media. It seems as if only when the White House admits telling untruths – as it half-heartedly did with respect to Bush’s use of the claim that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa – does the media feel it has permission to note how scantily clad Bush is.
In contrast, Gore forthrightly discussed the fundamental dishonesty of this administration in selling its policies to the American people. As the Washington Post reports today, Gore pulled no punches:
Former vice president Al Gore issued a broad indictment of President Bush yesterday, accusing the man who narrowly defeated him in 2000 of leading a “systematic effort” to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq, the state of the economy and the future of the global environment.
In a speech at New York University, Gore said Bush threatened to undermine the fundamental workings of American democracy by ignoring “the mandates of basic honesty” in the pursuit of a “totalistic ideology” that will benefit only his wealthy friends and supporters.
“The very idea of self-government depends upon honest and open debate as the preferred method for pursuing the truth,” Gore said, “and a shared respect for the rule of reason is the best way to establish the truth. The Bush administration routinely shows disrespect for that whole process, and I think it's partly because they feel as if they already know the truth and aren't very curious to learn about any facts that might contradict it. They and the members of groups that belong to their ideological coalition are true believers in each other's agenda.”
Gore stitched together his criticism of Bush on several issues with a common thread: That in each case, deeply flawed policies were based on “false impressions” that Bush deliberately fostered in public opinion to get what he wanted.
“Here is the pattern that I see,” Gore said. “The president's mishandling of and selective use of the best evidence available on the threat posed by Iraq is pretty much the same as the way he intentionally distorted the best available evidence on climate change, and rejected the best available evidence on the threat posed to America's economy by his tax and budget proposals.
“In each case,” he said, “the president seems to have been pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts – policies designed to benefit friends and supporters – and has used tactics that deprived the American people of any opportunity to effectively subject his arguments to the kind of informed scrutiny that is essential in our system of checks and balances.”
Gore’s speech was excellent and sharply contrasts with the forays into fantasyland we regularly get from our unclothed emperor.
The United States can hardly be considered a robust democracy if deceitful arguments from our leaders drown out attempts to openly and honestly debate the most important issues facing the nation. This point needs to be made forcefully by all political leaders and commentators that care about the health of our democratic republic.
While I was glad to see Gore saying things that need to be said, I was also saddened to hear Gore reiterate his decision not to enter the 2004 race for president.
Back in December I wrote that the republic was a little poorer with Gore’s announcement that he would not run for president in 2004. After reading Gore’s speech yesterday, I have to admit that I was wrong. The nation is lot poorer without Gore in the race.
Let’s hope that Gore continues speaking out and that the Democrats running for president speak out just as forcefully and truthfully.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
BUSH’S DEADLY WISHFUL THINKING: President Bush has demonstrated time and again that his preferred method of policy analysis is to avoid any honest discussion of issues and to engage in wishful thinking. Unfortunately, this combination of dishonesty and wishful thinking can have deadly consequences when applied to war and its aftermath.
From Afghanistan to Iraq, the Bush administration has been pretending that America has devoted sufficient troops and money to get the job done. In reality, our efforts in both countries are in jeopardy because the administration has been the embodiment of the old adage penny wise, pound foolish.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration has been determined from the start to battle Al Qaeda and the Taliban with the minimum number of American troops possible. The folly of this approach has been apparent since at least late 2001, when Osama Bin Laden escaped from the mountains of Tora Bora at least partially because America relied on local Afghan fighters instead of committing sufficient American troops to finally get the butcher of 9/11. The Bush administration had decided to fight war on the cheap and this was one of the consequences.
The Bush administration is foolishly continuing to shortchange Afghanistan. As a result of America’s half-hearted efforts at rebuilding Afghanistan, not only warlords – but also the Taliban – are reportedly making comebacks in regions of that country.
Depressingly, the Bush administration is turning Iraq into another laboratory experiment of what can go wrong when you fight a war – and try to rebuild a society – on the cheap. The approximately 150,000 troops in Iraq is a woefully inadequate number to pacify a country the size of California.
As Fred Kaplan discusses in a must-read article in Slate, the number of troops America has committed to Iraq are far below the number of troops we have previously committed on a per capita basis in successful efforts at nation building. Kaplan eviscerates Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz for his foolish congressional testimony last February that he found it hard to conceive that it could take more troops to stabilize Iraq than it would to defeat Iraq in war. Citing James Dobbins, Bush’s special envoy to post-Taliban Afghanistan and currently a policy director at the Rand Corporation, Kaplan gives us the history lesson that Wolfowitz apparently skipped:
One pertinent lesson Dobbins uncovered is that the key ingredient – the “most important determinant,” as he puts it – of successful democratic nation-building in a country after wartime is not the country's history of Westernization, middle-class values, or experience with democracy, but rather the “level of effort” made by the foreign nation-builders, as measured in their troops, time, and money.
To see just how wrong Wolfowitz was, look at Dobbins' account of how many troops have been needed to create stability in previous postwar occupations. Kosovo is widely considered the most successful exercise in recent nation-building. Dobbins calculates that establishing a Kosovo-level occupation-force in Iraq (in terms of troops per capita) would require 526,000 troops through the year 2005. A Bosnia-level occupation would require 258,000 troops – which could be reduced to 145,000 by 2008. Yet there are currently only about 150,000 foreign (mainly American) troops in Iraq – about the same as the number that fought the war.
To match the stabilization effort in Kosovo, Iraq should also be protected by an international police force numbering 53,000. Yet those 150,000 soldiers now in Iraq are also doing double-duty as cops.
In other words, had Wolfowitz talked with Dobbins (or any other high-ranking officials who'd been involved in nation-building), he would have learned that stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq would take at least twice the number of forces that were being amassed to defeat Saddam's army.
Bringing in more troops and at least some police after the war would also have meant fewer American and Iraqi casualties. Dobbins is categorical on this point: “The highest levels of casualties have occurred in the operations with the lowest levels of U.S. troops.” In fact, he adds, “Only when the number of stabilization troops has been low in comparison to the population” – such as in Somalia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq – “have U.S. forces suffered or inflicted significant casualties.” By contrast, in Germany, Japan, Bosnia, and Kosovo – where troop levels were high – Americans suffered no postwar combat deaths.
The Bush administration’s continuing failure to devote the necessary resources to pacifying Iraq is yet another example of the negative consequences of its policy of leading America to war with lies and half-truths.
Rather than honestly debate the level of threat posed by Iraq, the Bush administration cherry-picked the most dire intelligence reports and warned that America itself faced an imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction that have yet to be found in Iraq. Bush and his crew claimed or implied that Iraq and Al Qaeda had close ties, despite the lack of evidence supporting that allegation.
Bush’s prevarications about the threat posed by Iraq were not the only lies in the administration’s brief in support of the war. The whole administration strategy for convincing America to invade Iraq was based on a conscious decision not to engage in an open and honest discussion of the pros and cons of going to war.
Bush’s policy of mendacity also meant not engaging in an honest discussion of the costs of war – either in money or manpower. The Bush administration did not want to weaken its case for war by admitting the high costs – in both money and manpower – that would be required for a successful conclusion. So the administration engaged in its preferred mode of analysis – wishful thinking tempered by dishonesty – and pretended that American troops could quickly come home as Iraq peacefully embraced democracy.
Not only does this wishful thinking now endanger the attempt to transform Iraq, but it also means that more American troops are likely to die than if the Bush administration had honestly discussed the efforts that would be required to achieve its goals in Iraq.
Monday, August 04, 2003
THE MADNESS OF PRESIDENT GEORGE: It must be nice to be President Bush and live in your own protective fantasy world.
No matter how badly things go in the real world, Bush remains protected in a fantasy world of his own making, where every action of his is fully justified and he is never to blame.
In his fantasy world, Bush is not to blame for hyping the reasons to go to war with Iraq. The war with Iraq was fully justified by Iraqi intransigence. Thus, according, to Bush, the United States invaded Iraq only after the United States gave Saddam Hussein “a chance to allow the [U.N.] inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.” In the real world, however, Iraq did let the U.N. inspectors back in.
In his fantasy world, Bush is not to blame for the gargantuan federal budget deficits that are primarily being caused by his massive tax cuts for the super rich. According to Bush, he warned voters during the 2000 presidential election that the U.S. government could go from surplus to deficit if we experienced a war, a national emergency or a recession. Bush claimed to recall making such a warning, leading him to make his tasteless joke “Lucky me, I hit the trifecta,” after the tragedy of 9/11. In the real world, Bush never made any such warning, and instead campaigned on the theme that the budget surplus was big enough to sustain a massive tax cut without worry.
In the past week, Bush has twice visited the fantasy world he has constructed around his failed economic policies.
Bush’s economic policies are not only giving rise to the biggest federal budget deficits in history – immediately after the biggest surplus – but are also making Bush’s administration likely to be the first presidential administration since Herbert Hoover’s – during the Great Depression – to experience a net loss of jobs in America. After compiling such a disastrous record, other presidents might rethink their economic policies. But not Bush. He knows what he believes, even if it is a fantasy.
In Bush’s fantasy world, he deserves credit – not blame – for the dismal state of the economy because he rejected nonexistent advice to let the economy get worse. When asked by a reporter at his press conference on Wednesday whether he should be rethinking his economic approach given the dismal results of this policies, Bush visited his fantasy world:
The '01 tax cuts affected the recession this way, it was a shallow recession. That's positive, because I care about people being able to find a job. Someone said, well, maybe the recession should have been deeper in order for the rebound to be quicker. My attitude is, a deeper recession means more people would have been hurt. And I view the actions we've taken as a jobs program, job creation program.
Bush, of course, never identified this phantom adviser that suggested the recession should have been deeper. Bush did, however, refer to this phantom adviser again on Friday in defending his administration economic record to reporters:
"Economic historians would say that the recession of 2001 was one of the more shallow recessions. Some would probably say, well, maybe you shouldn't have acted and let the recession go deeper, which would have made – may have made – for a more speedy recovery," Bush told reporters after meeting with his Cabinet.
Once again, Bush did not identify this phantom adviser with the Machiavellian bent who urged him to let the economy get worse so he could claim credit for a more impressive recovery. Perhaps Bush, like William Safire, is being haunted by the specter of an advice-dispensing Richard Nixon. Or perhaps Bush is reticent to identify this little Machiavelli because he is really a miniature Bush with horns who whispers into his ear when Karl Rove is otherwise occupied.
When reporters pressed White House Spokesman Scott McClellan as to whether Bush’s pixie of economic doom actually exists, McClellan instinctively began to cover for Bush, but then in mid-sentence apparently realized he lacked Ari Fleischer’s flair for obfuscation and gave up:
As to whether any particular individuals had actually urged Bush to deliberately let economic conditions worsen, McClellan said: "This goes back to conversations that people have said publicly and that – I don't know the specific person, though. I couldn't tell you."
It is highly unlikely that Bush's phantom adviser exists. Bush himself seems unsure whether his demonic adviser is more than a figment of his imagination, wavering from Wednesday’s claim that “someone said” such advice to Friday’s suggestion that “some would probably” offer such advice.
The strongest evidence that Bush’s phantom adviser is just a figment of his imagination is the sheer stupidity of the advice. Other than Bush, it is unlikely that there is anyone in the White House ignorant enough to believe that the best way to ensure a speedy recovery is to make sure that a recession is as severe as possible. The deepest economic downturn in American history was the Great Depression. And we all remember how speedy that recovery was. Recovery from the Great Depression only took the entire decade of the 1930s and America’s entry into World War II. ( Funny how any discussion of Bush’s economic record invariably leads back to Herbert Hoover.)
Bush’s many retreats to his fantasy world do raise the question of whether Bush is delusional. Does he actually believe the stuff that he tells us?
I doubt Bush is delusional since he puts so little effort into trying to discern reality. When Bush regales us with tales form his fantasy world, he does not appear to be describing some false memory of fictional events that he thinks really happened. Instead, he is blithely making things up and saying whatever he thinks will persuade people into agreeing with him. Bush is so supremely confident in his own beliefs, he just doesn’t give a rat’s rump about little things like reality.
So, while, there is certainly evidence pointing to the madness of President George, I doubt that Bush is truly delusional (at least in a clinical sense). When Bush is put on the defensive, he just makes stuff up to get his way. We can all be comforted in knowing that it is likely that Bush is merely a scheming sociopath and not a paranoid schizophrenic.
I wish Bush would tell the rest of us how we could live in our own protective fantasy worlds – at least until November 2004.