Patrick just came in to say that Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings put up a post about Bush’s rejection of the Iraq Study Group’s report that more or less duplicated the rant I delivered to him while cooking dinner this evening.* It’s a good post. Here’s a chunk of it:
A lot of us assume that people operate within certain normal parameters: we assume that someone who looks like a normal person won’t pull out a machine gun over lunch for no reason, and don’t worry about that possibility unless something suggests it, even though it would be pretty bad if it actually happened. Likewise, I assume that my friends won’t go out of their way to seriously harm me just for fun, and [I make] all the rest of those basic, unnoticed assumptions that allow life to go on.She notes that unlike the pundits, Atrios, Ezra Klein, and Atrios again knew that Bush would insist on continuing to fight his disastrous war, because that’s what he’s been saying he’d do all along.
I think that Bush violates those assumptions. He is more or less completely irresponsible. You can see this tripping people up over and over. For instance, when Colin Powell gives Bush his ‘hey, think really hard about Iraq; you break it, you own it’ speech: that seems to have been, for Powell, a big deal to do, and for him, assuming responsibility for a whole country would be a big deal as well. I don’t think Powell understood that he was dealing with someone to whom those words would mean nothing.
…[A]fter the ISG report came out, I heard a number of people say things like: “Bush can’t ignore this report.”
With normal people, they’d be right. (And normalcy here is pretty minimal.) Normal people would not be able to ignore a report like this, either because it would be flatly unreasonably to just ignore a report with these authors or because it would be imprudent. Similarly, normal people couldn’t possibly invade Iraq without making sure that someone had drawn up careful and detailed plans about what would happen after the fall of Baghdad. I mean, how could someone possibly overlook that?
The problem is that Bush is not, in this sense, a normal person. … [The] sense of “can’t” that’s at work in statements like “he can’t just ignore the combination of the ISG report, the election, his own unpopularity, and the unanimous advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” has no purchase on him whatsoever.
I’ve written about Bushspeak before, mostly to point out its unashamed lack of meaning. (Bush is to public discourse as Three Card Monte is to card game.) The other side of that is spotting the times Bush does mean something. Briefly: if he says it over and over again; if changing circumstances cause him to make changing arguments that nevertheless arrive at identical conclusions; and if it consistently commands his time and attention, odds are he actually means it. This yields a short list: going to war in Iraq, cutting taxes in the upper brackets, getting rid of the estate tax, privatizing Social Security, continuing to fight in Iraq … and not much else.
I keep telling Jim Macdonald, when he’s trying to figure out Bush’s Iraq policy, that he’s crediting the man with excessively complex and detailed thought processes. Why does Bush insist on staying the course, and/or making One Last Big Push? Because if he agrees to pull out, he doesn’t get what he wants. However, he might get what he wants if he keeps insisting that we keep fighting the war, no matter what the consequences. That’s all. This is a man who’s never paid the cost of anything in his life, and has no interest in the costs to others.
From a recent Bush/Blair joint press conference:
Q. Mr. President, the Iraq Study Group said that leaders must be candid and forthright with people. So let me test that. Are you capable of admitting your failures in the past, and perhaps much more importantly, are you capable of changing course, perhaps in the next few weeks?The correct answer would have been “No. I am not capable of admitting failure. I am also incapable of changing course, no matter how desperately it’s needed.”
BUSH: I think you’re probably going to have to pay attention to my speech coming up here when I get all the recommendations in, and you can answer that question, yourself. I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped. And therefore, it makes sense to analyze the situation and to devise a set of tactics and strategies to achieve the objective that I have stated.
There’s no assumption of responsibility in his statement. No admission of doubt. No regret. No acknowledgement that he’s presiding over one of the greatest military and foreign relations disasters in United States history. No acknowledgement that the cost of his proposed course of action will be unacceptably high in six different ways. Just “We have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed,” and a final admission that his objective has not changed.
Bush has of late been pushing the “We can only lose if we quit” line, and invoking analogies to Vietnam. That is: disaster can be turned into success, if only we try hard enough. There’s a very simple counter to that argument: Forget trying harder. We’ll try as hard as we need to. The real question is, what do we define as success, and how much are we willing to pay for it?
(That is, by the way, the response to assertions that we could have won in Vietnam if only we hadn’t been hamstrung by our own leaders: What do you mean by “win,” and how much would you have been willing to pay for it? The varieties of “winning” that were still possible were looking nastier and more pointless all the time, and the costs were running most unreasonably high.)
The Iraq Study Group’s recommendations were aimed at getting our troops out without having the situation around them collapse into civil war, chaos, and running guerrilla battles all the way to the sea. Also, without leaving behind every bit of military gear that’s too big to pick up and run with. Their estimate that this might be possible was based on the assumption that preparations for it would start soon, and be pursued in a determined and orderly fashion.
Do you imagine that if dumping more troops into Iraq and making One More Big Push were enough to win the war, the Iraq Study Group wouldn’t have mentioned it? Bush’s plan doesn’t address any of the actual, identifiable problems of the Iraq occupation. He’s just throwing good money after bad, only now he’s going to throw it harder, and use both hands.
A quote from Ingvar Kamprad:
A design without a pricetag is meaningless.And a last quote from Hilzoy:
Sometimes people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact that someone has no limits whatsoever.