WE'RE not exactly up-to-the-minute at Chez Riley--damn! I meant to warn you to sit down and swallow your coffee first before unleashing the news--so when I get not one but two emails mentioning Bush's remarkable
And Still Acting President Bush used the same argument yesterday (I caught a few excerpts this AM), though considering the shambles he's left of himself, his party, the Presidency, the country, and the Christian religion I'm not willing to elevate it to the level of Talking Point anymore. It's just one of the few remaining soggy straws still afloat. People don't remember what it was like after 9/11! To which I suppose the immediate reply is "I guess that's lucky for you, since if they did you wouldn't have anything to grasp at at all."
Which is followed by "who was stoking the fucking fires? Who turned it into electoral lemonade?" You cannot pretend that this was some mob action you sadly were forced to join. At this point you're reduced to defending yourself on the grounds that you weren't really in charge, followed by blithering about the absence of metaphysical certainty and plain Bad Luck. If people really did remember "what it was like" the first thing they'd recall is all the assertions that you were in charge, and all the declarations of metaphysical certainty and Divine Blessing for our noble revenge plan. That Events may overtake even the most vigilant and best prepared of Men does not make you one of them just because they got you too. On the contrary. How different would your Presidency have turned out had you been able to counsel some small degree of reflection, some sense of perspective, instead of fanning the flames of fear and hatred? Of course, you'd be a different man, but then that's the point.
Let's do look back, shall we? It turns out, right off the bat, that there was no still-smoldering emotional or philosophical obstruction to a simple understanding that what you were urging in the aftermath of 9/11 was an unlimited, interminable "war" on a tactic. And that there was no real shortage of people saying so, only a shortage of teevee face time for anyone who did. People who on 9/11 had no idea who Susan Sontag was may have been throwing rocks at her a week later, but if the President of the United States had chosen to frame the attacks as acts of homicidal insanity, and demanded--with, remember?, practically the whole of the international community behind him--the extradition of those responsible, it might have worked, or it might have failed, but what's certain is it couldn't have failed as spectacularly, nor as expensively, as giving the Taliban until sundown to get out of town, 'les'n George W. Bush get all John Wayne on their ass. And don't get me wrong; you certainly did pretty much exactly what I expected you'd do. Let's just not pretend it was your only option.
So, no sale, Mr. MBA President. If people remembered 9/11, they'd remember that not only did you shoot first and ask questions never, but that the invasion of Afghanistan was a near-perfect exemplar for the war you really intended to fight, the one you fucked up beyond all measure. Our rhetoric framed it as The Battle for a Civilized World, but in reality we were afraid to take casualties; we had no plan in place for the aftermath, or none beyond the cheery illiteracy that supposes the entire population of the world to be eager suburban burgher wannabees, anxious to wash worm burgers down with corn beer while watching American Idol for Wogs. The domestic PR campaign which turned al-Qaeda into SPECTRE succeeded in hiding what we were up to from us, permitting you to substitute military hardware for thought.
The jury may still be out on whether the primary motivation was political--Bob Woodward's risible defense, in Slate, of the idea that we invaded Iraq as a response to 9/11, and the even more risible notion that the decision wasn't made until January, 2003, merely reminds us that we license barbers but not "pundits"--or just True Belief informed by a political decision reached, most likely, in 1999. But we know for sure that we quick-kicked Afghanistan in late '01 or early '02--removing key personnel, leaving the dirty work to hired local thugs--to jump-start Iraq. We know that 2002 was spent promoting the next war, and promoting the idea that questioning the next war and the administration who loved it was treasonable at best. 2002 went from the Axis of Evil to Gloves Off at Guantanamo, with stops along the way to sucker a pathetic Democratic leadership into scheduling a one-time, Olly-Olly-Oxen Free authorization for any conceivable lethality your administration chose to pursue--no further questions, no declaration of war--and scheduling it astonishingly, disgracefully, three weeks before a national election. And as if "unprecedented abdication of legal responsibility, ethical responsibility, the fundamentals of democracy, and higher cortical function" wasn't enough, to do so immediately before an election they would have, historically, been expected to win. I grant you are not responsible for the sorry aggregation of moral cowardice on the other side of the aisle, but you are responsible for the attempt--make that successful attempt--to maneuver Congress into authorizing a war without declaring one, in the heat of a political season instead of with due diligence, and for threatening to do as you damn well pleased anyway, regardless of the outcome.
And if you imagine some future historian will absolve you, let's note that he or she will be required to overlook, not just that, but a year-long, concerted disinformation campaign culminating, on September 8, 2002, with the breathtaking--and no more so than in the incredible distain for its near-total transparency--collusion of the Vice President, the front page of the New York Times, and a host of Meet the Press and major network political chief who, in life, preferred being known as an incompetent fame whore to admitting there could possibly have been anything hinky about the deal he might have been expected to notice. This postulates, I think, the accumulation of more gullibility than there is in the entire history profession in a single theoretical future entity.
But hey, hope, like stupid, springs eternal.
And 2002 wasn't just the Year of Ignoring Hans Blix, Disgracing Scott Ritter, and mushrooming a nonexistent threat. Future historians, if any, might wonder at the first US Presidential proclamation of the right of presumtive self-defense; the first administration in history sued by the Government Accounting Office; the ongoing Enron scandal; the Downing Street Memo; the cashiering of Eric Shinseki; Mitch "I Played RISK™ Once" Daniels reducing $100 billion dollar estimates of the Iraq war's cost to less than half that; the Clear Skies Initiative, which relaxed controls on air pollution; the Healthy Forests Initiative, which relaxed controls on logging; the suppression of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts as urged by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, otherwise known as Exxon-Mobil; John Ashcroft's, well, unholy obsession with "The American Taliban", John Walker Lindh; Ashcroft's, well, questionable Operation TIPS, which would have organized mailmen, meter readers, and our strategic Fuller Brush Salesman reserve into a sort of American Sturmabteilung, except with more unintentional homoeroticism; and the President's urging patriotic Americans to get back to shopping full time, lest the terrorists win. Which, as we now know, they did anyway.