Fareed Zakaria, "What Bush Got Right". August 9
WAS your answer "Things Fareed Zakaria already supported?" Wow. Mine, too. Wanna make out?
Now, your next question, which I forgot to ask you to place in a sealed envelope and hide, anywhere in the city, along with my paycheck, is "Th' fuck, Riley? Were you stuck in a doctor's office this morning with only one magazine to read?" And the answer is No. I was stuck in line at the grocery, when the cashier disappeared while I was still third in line (evidently, judging by the duration of his absence, to change drachmas into leks, which errand caused him to arrive at the office just as a passing customer went into premature labor), and somehow I looked down at the magazine rack, which is like scanning for Gorgons. And there was this sad little toric survivor looking back, waiting to be picked up and pulped, with some sort of Newsweek patented Soviet Heroic portrait of the Acting President on the front, converted to black and white, sliced off the neck, eyes and chin still skyward, as though some real citizens had managed to get at him, or vandals had broken into Peggy Noonan's secret Commander Codpiece altar and put the statuary to the guillotine. How could I not take it home? Okay, I didn't, but I came home and read the article.
And, since we're coming clean here, it wasn't with the intention of sitting at Professor Zakaria's feet, or engaging the question. More like seeing what the warflogging regular Daily Show guest was parading down the runway in this season.
The most obvious case is Iraq. For many people—a clear majority of those polled—the decision to go to war is now seen as a mistake. But wherever one stands on that issue, it is overwhelmingly clear that the administration made a series of massive blunders in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. It went in with too few troops, dismantled Iraq's Army, bureaucracy and state-owned factories, arrested tens of thousands of Iraqis, mistreated and tortured some of them, and used overwhelming military force against all perceived threats.
How convenient it is for the Church of the Reformed Warflogger that Bush and Rumsfeld "botched" "the job"! What prodigies of Error it manages to excuse! Reader, imagine yourself the driving instructor who hears the bells jingle over the storefront door, looks up to find a paid companion steering the dark-sunglassed and red-tipped cane-wielding Zakaria to the counter.
But then, you, Dear Reader, are merely one of the rash, uninformed Poll answerers to whom Zakaria now inclines his head, almost imperceptibly, in patrician recognition of your superior, if clumsy, numbers. Hell, you're not even right anymore (The Surge is working!), you just happen to be standing where Right might be located if someone were so unfair to Dr. Zakaria as to take a look.
So, by all means, leave us extend the same sort of fairness that the War's opponents famously received back in the Golden Days. We will refuse to question how anyone paying attention during the first two twelvemonths of what wags are now calling the Bush Administration would have trusted it to park his car, let alone sell him on the idea of Preemptive War. Let us politely avert our gaze should anyone mention the risible Festival of Hubris that preceded it, and primly raise our napkin to cover our mouth before we hawk up great gristly gobs of Imminent Threat from a tenth-rate military power, already exhausted by two wars and an embargo, which not even the fabulists in the administration could arm with ICBMs. Fair's fair. Just because all you bandwagon jumpers now see the war as a mistake does mean we can casually dismiss all the thinkers who were wrong about it all along.
Instead, let's ask Zakaria what the fucking hurry was. Let's ask him now, in 2008, where he proposed to raise the additional troops necessary to do the Job the Way he said he had wanted It done after the first method didn't work out so hot. A draft? Building a coalition by answering the objections of Germany, France, and Russia? Legos™? It's multiple choice, Professor, and there ain't that many choices. The Bush administration already selected "None of the Above". Many see that as a mistake.
Here's Zakaria, in the first of Slate's biennial Let's Cut a Check To People Who Were Dead Wrong About the War if They'll Agree To Excuse Themselves, Plus Hitchens, Roundtables, just after New Year's, 2004, the only one which he appears to have participated in:
Given the costs, was the war worth it? I think it was. Many of the costs (ruptured alliances, the postwar mess) can be alleviated (through better planning, diplomacy, etc.). I don't minimize these and have been vocal in pointing them out. But they do not invalidate the entire enterprise.
I've often been associated with the "democratization spillover" argument, so let me point out that the elimination of Saddam Hussein has been a big plus for American national security. The most anti-American and expansionist regime in the Middle East has disappeared. An actual and potential threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Kuwait has been eliminated. A violent, rejectionist state has faced consequences. This has had a sobering effect on the region: See Syria and Libya's recent behavior. Given our interest in a stable Middle East, this is good.
The outcome? Chaos; an angry, dispossessed and armed Sunni community; a sullen and restless Shiite population; an insurgency; a jihadist terrorist movement, and spreading sectarian violence. In addition, foreign forces were destabilizing the country because both the invasion and the occupation were undertaken without first gaining support from neighboring Arab states or winning international legitimacy. The result was a perfect storm in international affairs, a failure that kept getting worse.
It's funny that "getting rid of Saddam Hussein" is now absent from the list of What The Fuck Did Bush Get Right? and that the 2004 litany of the Costs, which, surprisingly, turned out to go unalleviated, subsumes the War's Great Accomplishment, now that the public tells pollsters it doesn't believe the Middle East has erupted in a Jubilee of Democracy and America Respecting. 9/11 Changed Everything. Who knew the Dictates of Careerism would change it back?
Y'know, it's far from me to doubt the sincerity of anyone's penance over the Disastrous Iraq Adventure, but from my limited understanding of the genre one is supposed to actually wear the hair shirt, not open the closet door and show us where it hangs. "[We] went in with too few troops, dismantled Iraq's Army, bureaucracy and state-owned factories, arrested tens of thousands of Iraqis, mistreated and tortured some of them, and used overwhelming military force against all perceived threats". What gave you to imagine it would be any different? Especially since our mission there, as redefined by its public backers after Rationales 1-5 proved somewhat faulty, involved punishing the Middle East for a generalized anti-Americanism. Or when the Acting President (and much of the Congressional leadership) couldn't be bothered to learn the distinction between Shi'a and Sunni. What did you think was going to happen? We acknowledge torture and mistreatment because we cannot deny what photographic evidence got out before the lid was shut; we ignore the thousands of innocents killed by our own actions out of camera range. That is what war is, and it is reprehensible in every way to ignore it, or forget it, or treat it like a side effect. The women and men of the US military serve, overwhelmingly, honorably. But anyone who unleashed, or excused the unleashing, of a couple hundred thousand of them on a people we proclaimed culpable in a coordinated act of murder we knew they had nothing to do with must face a lifetime of consequences, not an obligation to re-tailor the story before he's allowed on with Jon Stewart again.
So, I'd come that far; let's briefly address Dr. Zakaria's main contention:
...blanket criticism of Bush misses an important reality. The administration that became the target of so much passion and anger—from Democrats, Republicans, independents, foreigners, Martians, everyone—is not quite the one in place today. The foreign policies that aroused the greatest anger and opposition were mostly pursued in Bush's first term: the invasion of Iraq, the rejection of treaties, diplomacy and multilateralism. In the past few years, many of these policies have been modified, abandoned or reversed. This has happened without acknowledgment—which is partly what drives critics crazy—and it's often been done surreptitiously. It doesn't reflect a change of heart so much as an admission of failure; the old way simply wasn't working. But for whatever reasons and through whichever path, the foreign policies in place now are more sensible, moderate and mainstream. In many cases the next president should follow rather than reverse them.
No. Let me say, both as a Crazy Critic and a Stander To The 'Failure' Side of the Iraq "Argument", that viscous liquid running out from underneath the Brick Wall of Reality where it collapsed on the Bush administration, its neo-con puppetmasters, and--collaterally, if you prefer--everyone foolish enough to have defended it, does not smell of moderation, admission of failure, nor a sadder-but-wiser realism. It's the result of their having trusted the Helmet of Stupidity to protect them in repeated crash testing. It's not the first Bush administration that promoted Alberto Gonzales, that eventually fired Donald Rumsfeld ("the finest Secretary of Defense this Nation has ever had"), or sought to make waterboarding legal. Bosh. This is like saying the twenty-seven-year-old man who impregnates his 13-year-old mentally retarded cousin has seen the light because he offers to marry her as the cops are hauling him away. Bush is, at best, the Horrible Example to end all Horrible Examples, and if he got anything right--inadvertently, of course--it was to make a growing number of Americans aware of the toadying know-nothingism that passes for their mainstream punditry.