Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Same as it ever was, but different


Were you hoping for a special announcement last night? An explanation, perhaps? Maybe even an admission of just a little culpability, even if it was handed off as understandable and minor error rather than as monumental hubris or intentional dishonesty?

C'mon. You knew better. You knew exactly how the President of the United States was going to describe the debacle in Iraq. You knew exactly what he was going to say.

He invoked 9/11 (although, of course, he offered no plausible link between 9/11 and Iraq, there being none to offer).

He told us how much the terrorists hate our freedom (although, of course, he offered no explanation as to why they don't hate us less as the government he heads persists in taking more and more of that freedom away, or why the birth of their hatred of our freedom so closely correlated in time with the US presence in the Middle East).

And then he laid down the Big Lie with the self-assurance of a man who's done so so many times that he's forgotten he's even lying: "Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists."

Hmmm ... two-and-a-half years and nearly 1,800 American lives ago, the mission in Iraq was clear, too. It's just that it was an entirely different mission. Anyone remember WMDs or regime change? Anyone want to guess what the mission will be next week?

I have to profess a certain grudging admiration for the President and his administration. I used to think that he was just out-Clintoning Bill Clinton, but I've come to understand that his approach is significantly different.

When Clinton stepped on his own crank, he followed up with a trench-warfare defensive strategy: Begin with a denial; wag the dog a bit (usually by bombing Iraq); slowly retreat to a "mistakes were made" position; and, finally, hole up in the impenetrable keep of "let's move on"ism and skulk there until everyone got tired enough of the whole thing to find another issue du jour.

Bush emulates Sherman instead: He begins with a denial, too, but then he cuts loose from his supply lines and moves forward past whatever's in the way, burning as he goes. It's never "mistakes were made." It's always "I never said that -- the media just has defective cameras and recorders -- and if you go back to look, there's nothing but smoke and destroyed crops back there now, so let's go ... this way." He sends out smaller raiding parties in different directions to sow confusion as to just where he's going (this last week, those raiding parties have been led by Dick "last throes" Cheney and Karl "liberals want therapy for terrorists" Rove). Instead of hunkering down and trying to blunt the assault, he moves ahead, fast, and never, ever ever admits that he's going in a different direction than he was five minutes ago.

Clinton was more than willing to make his stand behind a stack of rhetorical bodies -- to jettison appointees and bureaucrats as necessary, leading them out behind the barn for the bullet that he would otherwise have to take himself. Bush uses real bodies (and real bullets), but he doesn't stack them up and hide behind them -- while we're busy burying them, he deftly circles around the obstacles on the field (in the case of last night's speech, the Downing Street memos) and tries to ride far enough ahead of his pursuers to leave those obstacles out of visual range behind them when next they catch up. Out of sight, out of mind. When the terrain of the battlefield is not in his favor, he just finds better terrain.

This man is not stupid. Nobody, not even a scion of wealth and power, raises himself from coke-snorting deserter to drunk driving playboy to corporate welfare queen to President of the United States in thirty years flat without something on the ball.

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