Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 24, 2007

Iraq is George Bush’s World

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cartoon by Mike Luckovich - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Josh Marshall, who has been appropriately incredulous of George Bush’s VFW speech earlier this week, uses today’s Jim Hoagland Washington Post column as a jumping off point for a devastating critique of Bush – one that summarizes the peril we face for another 17 months with this incompetent, deluded man at the helm.

First, Hoagland. I think a lot of people thought that using Vietnam as an analogy to Iraq was foolish at best. Hoagland lays out several reasons why:

It is not just that Bush’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Wednesday drew on a shaky grasp of history, spotlighted once again his own decision to sit out the Vietnam conflict, and played straight into his critics’ most emotive arguments against him and the Republican Party.

More important, Bush has called attention to the elephant that will be sitting in the room when his administration makes its politically vital report on Iraq to the nation next month. For Americans, the most important comparison will be this one: As Vietnam did, Iraq has become a failure even on its own terms — whatever those terms are at any given moment.

That is, the administration has constantly shifted its goals in Iraq to avoid accepting failure and blame — only to see the new goals drift beyond reach each time. Liberation of Iraqis became occupation by Americans, democracy became an unattainable centralized “national unity” government and this year’s military surge has become a device for achieving political reconciliation among people who do not want to reconcile.

Bush’s appeal to Americans to turn away from “the allure of retreat” centered on the indisputably horrific consequences for the people of Vietnam and Cambodia of defeat in 1975. But his analogy also summons the historical reality that U.S. involvement in Indochina became untenable when that engagement itself became a threat to America’s social fabric and national cohesion — and then to the very institutions that had responsibility for the war, the U.S. military and intelligence services, as well as the presidency and Congress.

But other than that, of course, the analogy was perfect.

Marshall starts there and then points out what we seem to forget (and may seem callous to point out): that whatever happens in Iraq is not critical to the future of the United States.

We are bigger than Iraq.

By that I do not mean we, as America, are bigger or better than Iraq as a country. I mean that that sum of our national existence is not bound up in what happens there. The country will go on. Whatever happens, we’ll recover from it. And whatever might happen, there are things that matter much more to this country’s future — like whether we have a functioning military any more, whether our economy is wrecked, whether this country tears itself apart over this catastrophe. But we’ll go on and look back at this and judge what happened.

Not so for the president. For him, this is it. He’s not bigger than this. His entire legacy as president is bound up in Iraq. Which is another way of saying that his legacy is pretty clearly an irrecoverable shambles. That is why, as the folly of the enterprise becomes more clear, he must continually puff it up into more and more melodramatic and world-historical dimensions. A century long ideological struggle and the like. For the president a one in a thousand shot at some better outcome is well worth it, no matter what the cost. Because at least that’s a one in a thousand shot at not ending his presidency with the crushing verdict history now has in store. It’s also worth just letting things keep on going as they are forever because, like Micawber, something better might turn up. Going double or nothing by expanding the war into Iran might be worth it too for the same reason. For him, how can it get worse?

And when you boil all this down what it comes down to is that the president now has very different interests than the country he purports to lead.

It’s going to be a long 17 months.

At this point, as folks in the left netroots vent on Congress for not getting us out of a war that they literally can’t, given the political realities in Washington, and for not pursuing a wholly justified impeachment process, even thought (a) the GOP cheapened impeachment for a generation in 1998 and (b) you would never get a conviction, I live with one hope for this Congress.

As best you can, keep George Bush and Dick Cheney from making our problems worse.

So kudos to Hoagland, for laying it out so well. And to Marshall, who convincingly rebuts the notion that George Bush is at peace with his decision to invade Iraq and is happy to wait for history to judge him.

Sometimes, you just have to hand it to those Brown University PhD’s in history. And happy birthday to my sister today, who also spent much time on Angell Street many years ago.

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