Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Iraq, Hume, and Casual Humors

Gloomy reports about Iraq inundate us everyday. President Bush added his piece of gloom at a press conference this morning. He is definitely a beleaguered man. I do not doubt he suffers from his poor and failed decisions as to how to protect the US from terrorism, and the Iraq disaster in particular. That being said, the President needs to understand that presenting more sobering reports about Iraq shortly before election time rings hollow in several respects.

The Republican strategy for communicating about Iraq this election cycle has been entirely the same as in previous elections. Republican strategists announced this at the beginning of the campaign. The Bush Administration has tried to convince people that Iraq is the cornerstone in the war on terror and that we should, “stay the course, not cut, and run.” The poll numbers show this a failed political strategy. Now, these same political strategists are scrambling to convince the public that the Bush Administration has a nimble and flexible strategy to manage the Iraq occupation.

The news media has finally noticed that the number one issue this election is the Iraq occupation. The pictures and analyses coming from big media tell another story than that presented by the Bush Administration. Multiple enemies have the US troops in their crosshairs. The civilian death toll is about as horrendous as it gets. The Iraqi government and security forces are completely impotent to do anything resembling securing a cease-fire between bewildering arrays of militias. Thank you, big media, for finally running the Iraq story.

The question remains open as to how we really got ourselves into the Iraq disaster. I will hazard a clue as to part of it.

I was rereading David Hume’s excellent essay, That Politics may be Reduced to a Science, yesterday. Here is the first paragraph of Hume’s essay.
It is a question with several, whether there be any essential difference between one form of government and another and, whether every form may not become good or bad, according as it is well or ill administered? Were it once admitted, that all governments are alike, and that the only difference consists in the character and conduct of the governors, most political disputes would be at an end, and all Zeal for one constitution above another must be esteemed mere bigotry and folly. But, though a friend to moderation, I cannot forbear condemning this sentiment, and should be sorry to think, that human affairs admit of no greater stability, than what they receive from the casual humours and characters of particular men.

However, when I look back at the beginning of the Iraq invasion I recall a government and public that cast aside their constitution and institutions in deference to “the casual humour and character” of President Bush. The United States Senate, as they did during the Vietnam War, abdicated their war making responsibilities to a President. The far greater share of the American public deferred their judgment about a risky enterprise to the President. They did not bother to distinguish or discriminate between those who assaulted the World Trade Center and Saddam Hussein. Blank stares greeted any mention of civil war and sectarian violence, or costs in human lives and livelihood, as high probability consequences of the Iraq invasion.

Since the beginning of the Iraq invasion, a hard core Bush Cult has eschewed digesting any information contrary to their beliefs about Iraq or the infallibility of President Bush. Each day millions engage in apologetics either publicly or privately. This is merely a symptom though of what has happened.

People have radically broken with Constitutional principles, laws, checks and balances, and prudent public policy decisions. The fear factor has been part of it, but indolent gullibility has played the greater part in the breakdown in the institutions that should serve us better. I recall the lyric from the Alan Jackson song about 9/11: I’m not sure if I know the difference between Iraq and Iran. Yes, I have taken that out of context, but it does reflect a casual disregard and laziness about whom your enemies really are. That laziness persists to this day.

The polls show that more people have changed their minds about Iraq. The question is whether the real lesson has sunk in. Presidents are not music or movie stars. I recall the famous line delivered by J. R. Ewing in the Dallas TV show: once you give up your principles, everything else is easy. I would also add that once you give up your principles to follow the casual humor and character of a leader, you had better hope he wakes up on the right side of the bed each morning, and has his head and ass wired together before going to work.

The United States is a country where tough talk comes cheap. Support the troops is an idle phrase when you read the horror stories about how we treat the troops when their tours of duty are completed. The homeless person you see on the street just might be the man or woman you stuck the yellow ribbon on your SUV to support. Lamentably, much of this talk comes from our elected officials.

I know I will never vote for a candidate who supported the Iraq debacle, and has not made a true act of contrition to make up for it. A true act of contrition might be something like restoring the principles and institutions that serve the country well in many cases, proving that they know how to govern prudently in times of crisis, and accounting for their bad decisions.

Until then, and as far as their casual humors and characters go, they all look damned ugly to me.

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