The Twilight Zone II

Jonathan Chait begins his Los Angeles Times column this way:

THERE IS a famous “Twilight Zone” episode about a little boy in a small town who has fantastical powers. Through the misuse of his powers, the little boy has ruined the lives of everybody in the town — for instance, teleporting them into a cornfield, or summoning a snowstorm that destroys their crops. Because anyone who thinks an unhappy thought will be banished, the adults around him can do nothing but cheerfully praise his decisions while they try to nudge him in a less destructive direction.

This episode kept popping into my head when I was reading about President Bush and the Baker-Hamilton commission. Bush is the president of the United States, which therefore gives him enormous power, but he is treated by everybody around him as if he were a child.

I’ve been thinking of that same episode. I think a lot of people are thinking about that same episode.

Chait continues,

Consider a story in the latest Time magazine, recounting the efforts — before the commission was approved by Congress — of three supporters to enlist Condoleezza Rice to win the administration’s approval for the panel. Here is how Time reports it:

“As the trio departed, a Rice aide asked one of her suitors not to inform anyone at the Pentagon that chairmen had been chosen and the study group was moving forward. If Rumsfeld was alerted to the study group’s potential impact, the aide said, he would quickly tell Cheney, who could, with a few words, scuttle the whole thing. Rice got through to Bush the next day, arguing that the thing was going to happen anyway, so he might as well get on board. To his credit, the President agreed.”

The article treats this exchange in a matter-of-fact way, but, what it suggests is completely horrifying. Rice apparently believed that Bush would simply follow the advice of whoever he spoke with. Therefore the one factor determining whether Bush would support the commission was whether Cheney or Rice managed to get to him first.

The GOP still has plenty of apparatchiks to appear on the cable television politics talk shows and explain to us solemnly that this president is thinking this or considering that or wants some other thing, blah blah blah, and you know it’s a farce, and I assume they know it’s a farce, yet the GOP propaganda machine continues to play pretend that this president is actually doing the job of president and is not, in effect, spending his days in search of a missing quart of strawberries.

Chait continues,

And now that the Baker-Hamilton report is out, the commissioners are carefully patronizing the commander in chief. As this newspaper reported, “Members of the commission said they were pleased that Bush gave them as much attention as he did, a full hour’s worth. ‘He could have scheduled us for 20 minutes plus 10 minutes for the cameras,’ said former Atty. Gen. Edwin M. Meese III.” Wow, a commission devoted hundreds or thousands of man-hours to addressing the central conundrum of U.S. foreign policy, and the president gave them a whole hour of his time!

Buried near the bottom of Dana Milbank’s account of the meeting —

Leon Panetta counseled Bush to “look at the realities of what’s taking place.” Eagleburger said after the event that when the group met with Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions.”

No questions?

For a moment let’s skip over to a Eleanor Clift web commentary at Newsweek. She writes (emphasis added),

It’s a statement of the obvious, but when you have a collection of Washington wise men, plus retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor (perhaps doing penance for her vote that put Bush in the White House during the disputed 2000 race), it’s the equivalent of last rites for Bush’s Iraq policy, along with his presidency. It’s not a plan for victory because that doesn’t exist except in Bush’s fantasy. The recommendations Baker and company offer—of more international engagement and shifting U.S. troops to a backup role to Iraqi forces—may help the administration manage and mask defeat. Even so, that may be hard for Bush to accept. His body language when receiving the report, while polite, was dismissive, thanking the eminences assembled for breakfast at the White House for dropping off a copy.

This president has lost all capacity to lead. Eleven American servicemen died in Iraq on the day Bush was presented the report, which calls the situation there “grave and deteriorating.” Events on the ground threaten to overtake even this grim assessment. And we’re left to analyze Bush’s tender ego and whether he can reverse course on the folly that is killing and maiming countless Iraqis along with U.S. troops.

My only quibble with Clift is that when she says “This president has lost all capacity to lead,” she implies that he had a capacity to lead at some point in the past.

This is from William Douglas and Margaret Talev of McClatchy Newspapers (emphasis added):

Bush said he talked about “the need for a new way forward in Iraq” in his morning session with leaders from both parties and chambers of Congress, “and we talked about the need to work together on this important subject.”

But some Democrats came away unconvinced that major changes were coming.

“I just didn’t feel there today, the president in his words or his demeanor, that he is going to do anything right away to change things drastically,” Senate Majority Leader-elect Harry Reid, D-Nev., said following the Oval Office meeting. “He is tepid in what he talks about doing. Someone has to get the message to this man that there have to be significant changes.”

Instead, Bush began his talk by comparing himself to President Harry S Truman, who launched the Truman Doctrine to fight communism, got bogged down in the Korean War and left office unpopular.

Bush said that “in years to come they realized he was right and then his doctrine became the standard for America,” recalled Senate Majority Whip-elect Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “He’s trying to position himself in history and to justify those who continue to stand by him, saying sometimes if you’re right you’re unpopular, and be prepared for criticism.”

Durbin said he challenged Bush’s analogy, reminding him that Truman had the NATO alliance behind him and negotiated with his enemies at the United Nations. Durbin said that’s what the Iraq Study Group is recommending that Bush do now – work more with allies and negotiate with adversaries on Iraq.

Bush, Durbin said, “reacted very strongly. He got very animated in his response” and emphasized that he is “the commander in chief.”

Let’s see — Bush is not interested enough in the ISG report to ask questions, but don’t you dare tell him he’s not Harry Truman or he goes postal. What does that tell us about this president’s priorities?

Most analysis of the ISG report that I’ve seen says pretty plainly that it gives the President about as much butt covering — a way to exit Iraq without looking like a flipflopper — as he is likely to get. In fact, it’s obvious that the report was crafted more as a political gift to Bush than an actual Best Possible Plan for getting out of Iraq (clearly, it isn’t). I can’t think of any president in American history who has been given such a gift when he’s been in trouble.

As Jonathan Chait explains,

In return for these considerations, the commission generously avoided revisiting the whole question of who got us into this fiasco and how. As the Washington Post put it, “The panel appeared to steer away from language that might inflame the Bush administration.” Of course, “inflame” is a word typically associated with street mobs or other irrational actors. The fact that the president can be “inflamed” is no longer considered surprising enough to merit comment.

If Bush had more smarts than he has narcissism he’d find a way to embrace the ISG report and work with what supporters in Congress he still has. Instead, it’s obvious he’s going to blow it off and continue to do whatever it is he’s doing.

A few days before the midterm elections I predicted that Bush would ignore the ISG report recommendations, whatever they were. I also predicted that Congress and the rest of the nation, including most Republicans, would not be willing to sit on their hands for two years while Bush continues his disastrous “course” in Iraq. Sure enough, John Broder and Robin Toner report in today’s New York Times that the Baker report has revealed a rift in the GOP over Iraq. I expect that, once the new Congress goes to work in January, more and more Republicans are going to be moving away from Bush and toward a plan for withdrawal.

In fact, I won’t be surprised if there’s a bipartisan congressional majority agreement on a withdrawal plan before May 1 (Mission Accomplished Day).

The federal government is facing a constitutional crisis. The original idea behind the separation of powers is that Congress sets war (and other) policy and the President executes it. The Founders worked out a plan for governance that was supposed to prevent any one individual from wielding the power that Bush has assumed. Now it’s up to Congress to take back the powers it rightly has.

And if he resists — impeach the bastard. And his veep, too.

16 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone II

  1. Bush is treating the ISG recommendations like a child playing a board game.. He’s fashioned it into a do-over. So what do we do now?, start over in Iraq?.. Bush is just stalling with his sudden need to gather up a series of assessments( one from the treasury dept, huh?) to understand his current situation. 4 years into a war and he needs clarification on his situation? The boy needs some serious help..not so watered down intervention by Jim Baker. HE NEEDS TO BE BAKER ACTED!*

    Congress has been Bush’s prime enabler, and they are for the most part too involved in themselves and their political security to take the actions necessary to end this travesty in governance that Bush has imposed on the American people. Bush’s past actions of lying and deception has locked him in to an unalterable course of foolishness necessitated by cover-up and fear of exposure. He’s driven by past lies, wisdom and good judgment are no longer options availible to him. We have to recognize that he’s a prisoner of his own deceptions, and we have to set the captive impeachment.


  2. You must have read my mind.
    I can’t help but think about 2- Baker and OConnor. 2 people who put the Bush-Cheney regime into power and now are trying to come up with a policy if you can call it that, to fix a piece of the mess Bush-Cheney created. It is instructive, as the British reporter the other day asked, to see that it takes a commission to make basic foreign policy for this administration. This administration is incapable of constructing basic policy and has instead relied on simple black and white pr phrases as a substitute for rational thought, and has also used many attack dogs( on many levels) but officially Bolton and Addington come to mind, to bully their way through 6 years, which has also been a knee jerk substitute for rational thought processes. It is their incompetence that this ISG report is highlighting so clearly. If they were competent it wouldn’t be necessary. Dilulio tried to tell this in Dec 2001 I believe. Punditburo still in denial.

  3. I agree…bush will not change course and spring will bring change. I thinks we will hear from the ret. generals again in jan. after which more rats will jump ship….maybe rice.

  4. More on the Korea analogy.

    First, our present situation is unlike the Korean War in that the Korean War started with an overt act of aggression; N. Korea invaded over the 38th parallel into S. Korea. Obviously, in our present mess, the war was a preemptive strike.

    Second, our present situation is like the Korean War in that Korea was not considered to be of any strategic significance as late as 1949. Harry Truman had been under attack for “losing” China. The Soviets had the bomb. And Harry Truman, haunted by Munich and inspired by Kennan’s war against the ideology of communism, had decided to stand up to the Russians, not give in to aggression.

    Third, Iraq II is like Korea in that, once we pushed the NKA across the 38th parallel, we then got cocky and, despite several warnings from the Chinese that we should not get too close to their border, we invaded into North Korea. So, the first 3 months in Korea are like Iraq I–expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. Since, it’s been like MacArthur ignoring everyone but his own dreams of glory. 3 years later, with 33,000 Americans dead, and a couple million Koreans, I believe, and with no principle vindicated, we accepted a stalemate and got a truce that put us back where we were after Inchon.

  5. While I don’t dislike Truman, I only remember him for deciding to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unfortunately, I believe Bush is very capable of deciding to nuke some country; and, it has always worried me. In fact, it still scares the living daylights out of me. I felt so strongly about that that I remember yelling at someone who used to be a close friend, but was going to vote for Bush “because he was antiabortion.” I yelled at her that it was no benefit in saving fetuses if they were going to be nuked before they were 10. I also informed her that her vote was for death, destruction, war, not life; and, that because she was antiabortion gave her absolutely no moral authority over me. I always feel that the fetus people (to use Maha’s great term for them) always imply they have a superior moral authority over any one who is pro-choice.

    Also, Bush reminds me about those old “you’ve come along way” ads for cigarettes for women. In the 21st century, you would think the Americans would have come a long way. But, Bush and his cowboy rhetoric puts us back in the old west where the “only good Indian was a dead Indian.” Today, you just have to substitute “Iraqi” for “Indian.”

  6. Maha, I so much appreciate your blog. I had to fire the LATimes when they fired Scheer. (I went through serious withdrawal.) But between you and a few others I manage to get “all the news that’s fit to print.” Thanks alot.

    It has taken people an incredibly long time to wake up to Emperor Bush’s lack of clothes. There are still some – and there will always be some who see him in full regalia – yet the question remains why isn’t his “early retirement” at the head of Pelosi’s 100 hours come January? It has occured to me that Dems intend to keep him right where he is – in the role of executive scape goat as they pile up votes to win in ’08. I don’t know if our Republic can survive it.

  7. If the so-called “Liberal media” would go after Bush like they went after Clinton, there might be justice in America after all. I’d love to see major newspapers come out and ask him to “step-down” like they did with Clinton – who only screwed Monica and not millions of Americans and Iraqis. But, since the MSM isn’t liberal, I expect we’ll have more of the POTUS ass-kissing that we’ve had to endure to date. We’ll get to see report after report from conservative think tanks et al, and hand-wringing like we’ve never seen before along the lines of, “What do we do now?”, when everyone knows there isn’t anything we can do except get out of Iraq.

  8. The problem we have here is not a new one.The problem is that “we the people” , along with bush himself have forgotten that bush is our employee.

    Pretend for a moment that we own a business.We have this employee who is totally out of control.He puts his own agenda before that of the company he works for.HE tells us how things will be done and ignores our will.He insists that we do no oversight on his work.

    Thats where we are at.Our employee has never been told he works for the masters and now we are suprised he mis behaves.He refuses the will of the people he is suppose to work for and we put up with it, so we can count on more of the same.

    Someone needs to start by telling the boy he is suppose to serve as our puppet and it is time for him to start dancing for his supper.Someone should also tell that jack ass that he has a lot of nerve,after the “errors” he has made and he should show a little sorrow towards the American people.This is a bleep up on a major scale,perhaps the worst one a American president has ever made, for him to not even pretend to be sorry is putting a really bad taste in the mouths of the American people….

    Bush said soon he would speak to the nation about Iraq.The first thing he needs to say is “I am sorry”.He owes it to the families who have lost loved ones.He owes it to the Iraqi people who suffer worse now than they ever did under Saddam.He owes it to us all for lying to us,for putting us into debt,for pissing on the USA label that the whole world sees and for being nothing but wrong about the entire situation.

    The solution bush needs to give us is one that worries more about fixing georgies mess than saving georgies ass.In everything I hear all I seem to note concern for is “how it may affect georgie”.After the election it wasn’t “how will this affect America” it was “how will bush react?”It makes me want to puke that anyone could be more concerned about georgie than about ending the suffering taking place in Iraq.There seems to be a total disregard for the pain of the Iraqi people and for our troops how are stuck dying in a strange place….we seem to set that reality aside for bush’s political reality..How can it be that this is the worlds focus?Every troop who has died since the time that we all knew Iraq and their WMD was made up has died JUST to protect our employees ego.Every Iraqi who has died since then has done so to protect bush politically.And just wait till we get the bills for it.

    Here is an idea, and it is the right one, so it will never happen.How about if bush and America admitted to the world we were wrong about Iraq and WMD and we plead for help from the world in Iraq.How about we say we are sorry things went bad, no matter what our intentions were.How about we act in good faith for a change?How about we really help to make things better.Painting schools while cooking a civil war only works out well if you intend to let the Iraqis all kill each other so they don’t ever ask for a cut of the oil profits American “interests” now feel THEY own.

    How about they actually see to the will of the people they are suppose to serve, rather then trying to play father knows best? And if they refuse damn right IMPEACH THEM!

    Oh and since no one asked how this ISG report will affect our troops and the Iraqi people let me be the first to ask and answer…their suffering will continue so as to protect king georgie.

  9. Any amateur historian has a few – ‘wonder what would have happened if..’. The ISG suggestions will be relegated to a spot on that list because none of the policy suggestions on the diplomatic front will be adopted, and a fundamental reality-based precept of the report is that a military answer is not possible.

    The news from Iraq will only get worse over the next couple of years. If a hawk like McCain gets the nod, the Democrats will sweep the WH. The Democrats could control the House, Senate and WH and shut this mess down. In 2 years – maybe 2000 more GI fatalities, 100 billion minimum under stay the course. It aint pretty.

    If we only impeach Bush, nothing changes for the better. It might bet a LOT worse with Cheney, because he does not listen to anyone else except God. Be afraid – be VERY afraid. Impeach both simultaniously – sounds great. For it to do anything significant, you have to win both trials in MUCH less than 2 years or you might have well have waited for the election.

    I am no fan of King George; he is worthy of impeachment. But Dems have control in Congress based on the UNPOPULARITY of Republicans. Voters are looking to see if things can get done; if the first thing they see from a Dem Congress is a partisan grab for the WH because they could not wait for the election in ’08, the voters may be as eager to turn out the Dems in ’08 as they did the Republicans in ’06. It’s not about justice; it’s about politics.

    There may be a smart political way to impeach and insulate the Democrats from the charge of trying to steal the WH by impeachment.. that’s if Republicans lead the charge for impeachment. That MAY be doable, becuase Bush is NOT following the principles of true conservatism; he’s actually closer to fascicm. Conservatives know the difference and his betrayal of THEIR cause will set the Republicans back 20 years unless they crucify the traitor.

    Politics makes strange bedfellows; the pro-impeachment Dems should make nice with the angriest Republicans.

  10. I just watched snippets of a CNN documentary called “Combat Hospital”. As I watched wounded soldiers screaming in pain and the doctors and nurses who gave more than 100% of themselves to save their patients (soldiers, insurgents and civilians alike), all I could think of was that Bush and his henchman are war criminals–pure and simple.

  11. Impeach and then send him and his entire ‘War Cabinet’ to the Hague.

    They are war criminals and so is every citizen of this country until we bring them to justice.

    That is, after all, the policy we implemented against Germany after WWII.


    If Iraq is not Poland then…

    What the fuck is?

  12. I was with Pelosi when she took impeachment off the table. But that was before the ISG report and Bush’s reaction to it. I used to comfort myself with the fact that Bush will only be in office for two more years and that time passes quickly. But that was before the ISG report and Bush’s reaction to it. Now I think that impeachment should be at the top of Pelosi’s 100 hours agenda – we can’t afford two more years with this idiot. But we have to start from the bottom up. I would like to see Cheney be first on the chopping block (not only because we can’t have him inheriting the top spot but because he is the more dangerous of the two). Knock him off his pedestal and the rest will fall.

  13. You know, the fabulous Miss Sunbeam, re-wrote that TZ ep in 2004 and she did a good job of it, too.


    Here’s a taste:

    Condoleeza Rice was out on the front porch, rocking back and forth in the high-backed chair and fanning herself, when Rudy Giuliani rode his bicycle up the road and stopped in front of the house.

    Perspiring under the afternoon “sun”, Rudy lifted the box of groceries out of the big basket over the front wheel of the bike, and came up the front walk.

    George W. was sitting on the lawn, playing with a senator from one of the Southern states. He had caught the senator out back of the White House — he had made it think that it smelled profit, the most rich-smelling and crumbly-delicious profit a senator had ever thought it smelled, and it had come over to the White House, and now George W. had hold of it with his mind and was making it do tricks.

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