(Sorry in advance to everybody out there who is bored stiff with political posts. LI is, at the moment, swept up in the mad estrus of this campaign)
Mining the debate transcript for gold – or, in Bush’s case, fool’s gold – is easy.
From what we have read, little attention has been paid, so far, to this incredibly revealing exchange:
“LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes. You have said there was a "miscalculation" of what the conditions would be in postwar Iraq. What was the miscalculation, and how did it happen?
BUSH: No, what I said was that, because we achieved such a rapid victory, more of the Saddam loyalists were around. I mean, we thought we'd whip more of them going in.
But because [Gen.] Tommy Franks did such a great job in planning the operation, we moved rapidly, and a lot of the Baathists and Saddam loyalists laid down their arms and disappeared. I thought they would stay and fight, but they didn't.”
“I thought they would stay and fight”? Could this possibly be correct? Could Bush really have thought that an enemy force, exposed to the withering technological superiority that made any battle like stand against the Americans suicidal, would cheerfully fall into bowling pin formation and wait for us to knock them over? Apparently, yes. Apparently, the “bring em on” remark stems not from callousness but from a deep seated cluelessness about the nature of warfare. The only thing sillier than that remark – and it is one of the silliest remarks ever uttered by an American president – is the little lie in it about laying down their arms. This makes it seems like the American force was big enough to have received a traditional surrender. Of course, it wasn’t and they didn’t. The arms were kept, the soldiers didn’t ‘disappear” – they were never captured to begin with – the arms dumps from which the insurgents resourced their violence were unguarded, and are, basically still, and the situation, ripe for guerilla fighting, is now such that the American military is doing something no invading force has ever done before: bombing the cities that they occupy.
This says everything about Bush’s confusion between cheerleading, at which he is very good, and leading. LI is extremely dubious about the business literature re leading – actually, about all biz literature tout court, which we have, at one point in our life, had to review, discovering the seven efficient joys of management babble – but there is one principle that seems pretty well tested. While one hopes for the best case scenario, one plans to avoid the worst.
However, Bush’s administration has only one way to deal with the worst case scenario: denial. Optimism and denial seem to be the hallmarks of their failure in almost every department. Which isn’t odd – optimism and denial seem to be the hallmarks of Bush’s career up to the governorship. The leadership style that doomed his first company, and that doomed his Harkin oil role, is the same style, amplified, that has doomed his Iraq project.
The mindset of blind optimism was written all over Bush’s performance. For instance, he repeated, to a question about the future in the case that Kerry was elected, that he planned on being elected himself. Period. Well, the weave of American history through the numerous duds and dudes that have been our presidents has had one unifying note: every president who was succeeded by a candidate from the opposite party has made way, however ungracefully, for that candidate. There have been no scorched earth presidencies. Until now. How appropriate: a president who came in on a coup is basically running on a coup platform. Any military junta worth its salt guards its position by threatening to destroy the mechanisms of the state if it is overthrown.
As we have said before, the best way to look at the Bush presidency is not to find parallels with past American presidencies, but parallels with coups in third world states. That's the pattern of his patter.