In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably friendly pundits â€” amazingly, they still exist â€” to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.
What I donâ€™t understand is why weâ€™re supposed to consider Mr. Bushâ€™s continuing confidence a good thing.
Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.
Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administrationâ€™s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bushâ€™s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.
What I donâ€™t understand is why weâ€™re supposed to consider Mr. Bushâ€™s continuing confidence a good thing. Well, let’s think about that. I don’t think most Americans are all that confident in Mr. Bush’s “confidence.” But he’s still got his base. And that would be the pseudo conservatives who have mired the nation in the bog of their many social pathologies. The game he’s playing is to contrast himself with the “defeatists” targeted to be scapegoats.
If you missed Keith Olbermann’s special comment last night, you can see the video and read the transcript at Crooks and Liars. In brief, the White House blames the Iraq War’s opponents for the failures of the war.
The fault, brought down â€” as if a sermon from this mount of hypocrisy and slaughter, by a nearly anonymous Under-Secretary of Defense â€” the fault has tonight been laid on the doorstep of Senator Hillary Clinton and, by extension, at the doorstep of every American â€” the now vast majority of us â€” who have dared to criticize this war, or protest it, or merely ask questions about it, or simply, plaintively, innocently, honestly, plead, â€œdonâ€™t take my son; donâ€™t take my daughter.â€
Senator Clinton has been sent â€” and someone has leaked to the Associated Press â€” a letter, sent in reply to hers, asking if there exists, an actual plan for evacuating U.S. troops from Iraq.
This extraordinary document was written by an Under-Secretary of Defense named Eric Edelman.
â€œPremature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq,â€ Edelman writes, â€œreinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.â€ Edelman adds: â€œsuch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.â€
After that Keith gets a tad miffed. Don’t miss it.
In today’s Washington Post, Eugene Robinson also takes note of Bush’s boundless optimism. Robinson points to the Oval Office pep talk given to nine conservative pundits last week. The pundits described Bush’s demeanor as “sunny,” “upbeat,” “energized,” and “good-humored.” Robinson comments,
Excuse me? I guess he must be in an even better mood since the feckless Iraqi government announced its decision to take the whole month of August off while U.S. troops continue fighting and dying in Baghdad’s 130-degree summer heat.
It’s almost as if Bush were trying to apply the principles of cognitive therapy, the system psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck developed in the 1960s. Beck found that getting patients to banish negative thoughts and develop patterns of positive thinking was helpful in pulling them out of depression. However, Beck was trying to get the patients to see themselves and the world realistically, whereas Bush has left realism far behind.
Beside scapegoating lefties, the other explanation for Bush’s confidence goes back to the subject of the first Wisdom of Doubt post. Our culture has developed a pathological aversion to doubt. Being without doubt is celebrated as a virtue, a strength, a source of moral character. Our President, for example, is a man without doubt, and he seems to think this is what makes him a great president.
Recently Peter Birkenhead wrote a piece for Salon called “Better to Be Hamlet Than King George.” We have created a culture, he said, that confuses leadership with â€œan almost psychotic form of false optimism.â€ Iâ€™d leave out the â€œalmost.â€ The Bush Administration, Birkenhead continued, is riddled with people who lack the wisdom of doubt, the grace of humility, and the simple ability to learn from mistakes.
Let’s face it, George Bush doesn’t have to doubt himself, any more than Donald Trump or Tom Cruise or Mitt Romney do. We live in a culture where they will never be forced to examine their prejudices or flaws. Of course, they have been denied the true confidence of people who are brave enough to face their doubts and who know there are worse things than feeling insecure. Like, say, feeling too secure. Pumped up by steroidic pseudo-confidence and anesthetized by doubt-free sentimentality, they are incapable of feeling anything authentic and experiencing the world. But that hasn’t stopped them, and won’t stop others, from succeeding in a society that is more enamored of a non-reality-based conception of leadership than previous generations were.
So here we have Mr. Bush, at the nadir (so far) of his presidency, putting on a demonstration of absolute doubtlessness in front of the faithful scribes. This makes perfect sense, if you understand how they think. To most of us, of course, it’s insanity.
“Bush gives the impression that he is more steadfast on the war than many in his own administration and that, if need be, he’ll be the last hawk standing,” wrote Lowry. The president says the results of his recent troop escalation will be evaluated by Gen. David Petraeus, wrote Barone, and not by “the polls.”
Translation: Everybody’s out of step but me.
One of the more unnerving reports out of the president’s seminar with the pundits came from Brooks, who quoted Bush as saying: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
Those last couple of sentences are doozies, huh? Although the American invasion brought many things to Iraq, so far “freedom” seems in short supply. But (as I’ve argued elsewhere) what Bush is talking about is more an idea of freedom than freedom itself.
It’s also a long-established cornerstone of Wingnutism that liberty comes from God, not government, and for years wingnuts predictably would throw a fit if one argued for the government’s role in the protection of civil liberty. (Of course, if they really believed that they wouldn’t have seen a need for sending armies here and there to effect “regime change” and install “freedom,” or at least an idea of it.) The notion that liberty is a moral entitlement for being human is mostly a legacy of the Enlightenment, which was not a happy era for religious conservatives of the time. But today’s religious conservatives are not above using government to impose their notions of “liberty” — namely, the liberty to oppress the rest of us. They just don’t like government’s protection of civil liberty when government protects other people from them.
Eugene Robinson continues,
It’s bad enough that Osama bin Laden is still out there plotting bloody acts of terrorism, convinced that God wants him to slay the infidels. Now we know that the president of the United States believes God has chosen him to bring freedom to the world, that he refuses to acknowledge setbacks in his crusade and that he flat-out doesn’t care what “the polls” — meaning the American people — might think. I’m having trouble seeing the bright side. I think I need cognitive therapy.
You and me both, Eugene. But in today’s Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks argues that Bush has imposed his idea of reality on the world, in spite of his blunders.
In a much-quoted 2004 New York Times Magazine article, journalist Ron Suskind described a 2002 conversation with a senior Bush advisor â€” widely assumed to be Karl Rove â€” who added an extra gloss to Kristol’s aphorism, making it clear that “reality” can mean different things to different people.
As Suskind relates the story: “The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality â€” judiciously, as you will â€” we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors â€¦ and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’ ” …
… If empires can choose to create their own realities, why hasn’t Bush’s American Empire created a stable, more peaceful world? Why aren’t we safer than we were before 9/11? The neocons deluded themselves into imagining they could control reality, but in the end, aren’t they the ones who’ve just been mugged? But it’s not that simple.
In a very real sense, Suskind’s “senior Bush advisor” has been proved more right than wrong. The administration did create realities to match its darkest visions, reshaping the world with remarkable speed and thoroughness.
In 2001, administration stalwarts suggested that Osama bin Laden rivaled Hitler in the danger he posed to U.S. security and insisted that Al Qaeda’s power was so great that nothing short of a “global war on terror” was required.
At that time, most experts say, this description of Al Qaeda simply wasn’t true. It was little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs, well financed and intermittently lethal but relatively limited in their global and regional political pull. On 9/11, they got lucky â€” but despite the unexpected success of their attack on the U.S., they did not pose an imminent mortal threat to the nation.
Today, things are different. Thanks to U.S. policies, Al Qaeda has become the vast global threat the administration imagined it to be in 2001. Our ham-handed detention and interrogation tactics and our ill-advised invasion of Iraq have alienated vast swathes of the Islamic world, fueling extremism and anti-Americanism. Today, Al Qaeda is no longer a single organization. Now it’s a franchise, with new gangs of terrorists around the world proudly seizing the “Al Qaeda” affiliation.
Other neocon fantasies have also come true. In 2003, there was no alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and no Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in Iraq. Today, thanks to the administration’s actions, Iraq has become a prime training and recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, and the NIE has declared Al Qaeda in Iraq one of the greatest threats to U.S. peace and security.
Welcome to the neocons’ reality.
Suskind’s senior Bush aide was right all along. When an empire acts, it creates new realities â€” for better or for worse â€” and all the rest us are left to study those new realities. And, unfortunately, to live with them.
Be sure to read Michael Hirsch’s most recent Newsweek.com column, “Letâ€™s Not Kid Ourselves.” I don’t think most of us are, actually. Unfortunately, those in charge of government are still living in La La Land.
Update: See also Glenn Greenwald —
Speaking of which, in a post almost immediately preceding Kudlow’s, Jonah Goldberg laid down his Lofty Principles of American Warfare: namely, we must favor democracy in the world because it “is morally preferable to tyranny”; our wars must keep in mind “America’s sense of decency”; “Americans want to feel good about their wars, particularly their wars of choice”; to beat terrorism, we need “something,” and “Our something must be freedom”; and when waging war, Americans “need to be reassured they are the good guys.”
And with these inspiring principals in mind, what does Jonah think we should now in Iraq?
As a matter of analysis and prescription, I’m all in favor of the war in Iraq becoming less “liberal” — as you folks are using the term around here — and more realistic, i.e. ruthless. No fan of “liberalizing” Iraq can be against winning there first.
Absolutely. The problem we have in the Muslim world is that we have not been sufficiently “ruthless” in our wars. We need to make sure that we are the good guys and on the side of freedom and maintain our sense of decency. And to do this, we must — after four straight years of decimating that country — increase our ruthlessness.