Come back, George: All could be forgiven

President Bush made clear in the wake of the November elections his disappointment that American voters are clueless when he remarked that “I thought when it was all said and done, the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security.” They didn’t, and it’s none of his concern; he had his “accountability moment” in 2004, he no longer has to answer to voters on his own behalf or his party’s — to the limited extent he ever did — and he won’t.

Why, then, after the president has explicitly said that he doesn’t hold himself accountable to anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear, does anyone in the pundit industry hold out any hope that he’ll change his policy on Iraq in any meaningful way under any conceivable circumstance?

John Dickerson isn’t the rube I once mistook him for, and he recognizes, if belatedly, that Bush is operating from a parallel universe, but he apparently thinks, or finds it necessary to pretend to think, that Bush is capable of change and that some among the public, 70% of whom favor a complete withdrawal from Iraq within a year and 30% of whom long ago bought a one-way ticket to BushWorld, might be willing “to give him one more chance” if he confesses his sins and does penance in the form of traveling back to the squalid universe most of us live in.

But how do you give one more chance to someone who isn’t, by sentiment or practicality, in need of one more chance? Bush believes, with considerable justification, that he can do — is obligated to do — whatever he wants no matter what Congress, the public or Mrs. Beasley think about it. Until someone stops him, he’s absolutely right if not about the obligation then surely about the capacity. And as I’ve said ad nauseum, the only way to restrain him on Iraq is to cut off the money, which is politically unfeasible and which Bush would in any event ignore in the name of national security, or impeach him and Cheney. That’s it. Nothing else.

More to the point, why in the name of anything or everything that’s holy should anyone give a habitual liar and fraud one more chance even were it possible to grant or withhold one? Why is Dickerson writing as if this is a game in which the stakes are Bush’s credibility, as if he has any, rather than another few thousand US lives and more tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqi ones?

Dickerson says that “to get people to buy into his solutions, the president has to put candor into his policy review.” He wants to know “who told [Bush] things during this round of meetings that he didn’t want to hear? Whom did he seek out at the State Department that he would not have in the past? Who yelled at him? Who talked him out of a bad idea?” and says that if those things didn’t happen, and if Bush retains his allergy to acknowledging mistakes, then “his speech in January will have the same dismal result as all the Big Iraq Speeches that came before it.”

Well, there will be little if any candor, and the dismal results will be the same whether or not anyone “buys into his solutions,” but they’re perhaps not the dismal results Dickerson has in mind, which are measured in public support: the real unit of measurement, the only one that matters, is in blood and corpses.

The war in Iraq is over. The occupation has failed. The only remaining questions are when we’ll leave, how many more people, Americans and Iraqis, will will be killed in the interval, and how badly we’ll botch the exit. It’s good that Dickerson has come around to criticizing Bush, echoing, in his too-subtle fashion, some of the complaints and even closing in on the tone of those who have railed against this war — who knew it was based on lies and other, darker immoralities — for nearly five years; in some ways, he’s pushing the institutional pundit envelope.

But goddamnit, where was he when that mattered? Why is he perpetuating what he surely knows to be the fictitious possibility that Bush will come within spitting distance of sanity with respect to the war?

As it happens, I know who Bush listened to, and why (and so does anyone who reads the newspapers). He listened to Frederick Kagan and John Keane, and he listened to them because they told him, using small words in big print with colorful illustrations (Acrobat document), that he can still win his precious war.

What we need now — what we needed years ago — are political analysts who are willing to describe unvarnished the state of affairs that Bush has created and will bequeath to his successor, and to make the case that we would all be far better off if that successor arrives sooner rather than later.

Put impeachment on the table, John. Don’t treat it like a leper in a Georgetown spa. Get out ahead of the rest of the press. Once you break the taboo, others will follow. Do it a half dozen times and there’s a Pulitzer for commentary with your name on it. Go for it. Please.

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