Saletan on Bush’s No-Lose Scenario

Slate’s William Saletan posted a great piece the other day on the profound unseriousness of Bush’s public response to, well, everything. But in particular these days, to the expanding insurgency in Iraq: Catastrophic success – The worse Iraq gets, the more we must be winning.

Polls say that more than half the voters in this country (well, barely) currently intend to vote for Bush. Some of them can read, and a few (okay; a very few) read So my question to them — both of them — is this: How do you respond to this? How do you justify voting for a president who is so profoundly dishonest, so willing to cloak abject failure in the trappings of success?

12 Responses to “Saletan on Bush’s No-Lose Scenario”

  1. Thom Says:

    I will ignore the childish sarcasm and confrontational language of your post to provide an honest answer. Whether you accept it in the spirit in which it is given or choose to use it as a springboard for the biased pontification that too often colors discourse on this site is entirely your affair.

    Because, as tough things have gotten over there, I won’t concede that the war is an “abject failure” until it actually is. Abject failure occurs when the Viet Cong take Saigon, not when a few terrorists behead some hostages.

    Do I believe that everything that has happened in Iraq has been completely positive? No, no more than I believe everything that has happened has been a blunder. Certainly, it is going to take years to see the real worth or toll of this war, and I see little outside the political ambitions of others to convince me that we should throw our hands in the air after as short a time as it has been. Granted, George Bush is far too willing to cloak immediate setback in the trappings of success , but certainly no more than his opponents have proven themselves willing to cloak any immediate success in the trappings of abject failure.

  2. John Callender Says:

    Thanks for the response. Failure to ignore childish sarcasm couched as ignoring of same maturely ignored — well, mostly :-).

    Your fall-of-Saigon example is interesting. Saigon didn’t fall until after the US had pulled out nearly all its forces — that’s _why_ it fell. If we hadn’t been willing to recognize US policy in Vietnam as a failure well before that, Saigon need never have fallen. We could hold Saigon to this day — assuming we were willing to continue allowing soldiers to die so that politicians could avoid acknowledging the failure of US policy in Vietnam. But we weren’t, because that wasn’t rational. It isn’t in this case, either.

    I’m not talking about a few terrorists beheading hostages. I’m talking about widespread and increasing violence. I’m talking about negative progress according to any reaonable metric for plotting the achievement of US goals in Iraq.

    I’m gratified by your acknowledgement that Bush has been too willing to characterize his failures as success. For you to claim that his opponents are at least as willing to characterize his successes as failures, though, is to descend into schoolyard taunting over motives. Let’s not go there. I’m willing to stipulate that Kerry is every bit the political opportunist Bush is. But that has nothing to do with whether or not Bush’s policies are succeeding.

    If Bush has achieved successes in Iraq that his opponents are mischaracterizing as failures, name them. I don’t think you can, because I don’t think he actually has any. Which brings me back to my original question: How can you justify voting for the guy?

  3. David Says:

    Thom, I want to thank you for your candor in the face of such an unfriendly question, but the point I think John wants addressed, that you didn’t address in your answer, is; how has your guy left things in better shape than when he found them?

    Iraqis are, with exceptions but certainly on the whole, worse off today than before we came in. Is the situation going to get better? And if so, when?

    A certain degree of chaos was to be expected, but since major combat operations ended a year ago, Iraq has gotten worse, not better. The point is merely this: you need to be making the case that this is temporary, and the future is bright. Saying “this is temporary and the future is bright” isn’t making the case. What is happening? How are we going to change things?

    You won’t concede that the war is an “abject failure”, yet Bush supporters fail to quantify the way the war is going. Those who don’t support him (and I’m not talking about Democrats, I’m talking about the Jon Stewart contingent, those who don’t get involved in day-to-day politics, but see everything in Iraq as a big fuckup) see all this and can only think the worst.

    Do I believe that everything that has happened in Iraq has been completely positive? No, no more than I believe everything that has happened has been a blunder

    The grey area you acknowledge we’re in encompasses the entire breadth of possibilities but two. Is that’s the best you can characterize the way the war is going? Or are you afraid to analyze it to try to predict a trend, and compare that trend to our goals in that country? We need to take honest stock of where we are, set solid goals (elections, order, electricity, jobs), and re-evaluate where we are in relation to those goals every so often.

    I honestly, truly think Iraq is going badly. So many others see eye to eye with me. The ongoing violence is evidence of this. What is the solution? It’s a tough question, but when you’re going into a war, you have to know what kind of peace you want to come out the other end.

  4. Thom Says:

    Successes in a Iraq, as I see them, whether they are explicitly stated by our government are as follows:

    1. The removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

    2. The removal of Iraqi money from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Before the war, the Hussien government was paying $25,000 dollars to the families of suicide bombers, which is no longer the case.

    3. The removal of Iraq as a safe haven for terrorists, such as Abu Nidal, who was harbored in Iraq for years and Al Qaeda, an organization which the 9 11 commission has linked to the Iraqi government. 911 Commission member John Lehman has said on Meet the Press that seized Iraqi documents indicate that at least one of Hussein’s Fedayeen officers was a significant al-Qaeda member who is believed to have attended a meeting with two of the Sept. 11 hijackers in Malaysia in early 2000. Additional evidence points to Hussein supplying medical treatment to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, an extremely influential al-Qaeda associate who beheaded Nicholas Berg and is believed to have been behind the Madrid train bombing in March.

    (I know this the point where I’ll get jumped, so let me admit the obvios, that the 911 commission did not connect Iraq directly with 911 or any specific terrorist attack. However, the instances I cite above show a clear pattern of connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and go a long way towards answering the question of why so many Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers have rallied against the US in Iraq.)

    Moreover, we have set concrete goals and are at least making strides towards meeting them. We have set the goal of iraqi soverenty and are working towards it, just as we are working towards free elections. I will grant you that our progress fluctuates by reasonable standards, but I don’t think we can reasonably be said to have failed yet.

    I view all of this within the context of an ongoing war. During a war, violence will, of course, be widespread and will increase and or decrease as the situation develops until that war is over.

  5. John Callender Says:

    Point #3 is dishonest. I’m not going to bother jumping you on it, except to point out that if you have to mischaracterize things that extensively in order to make your case, maybe you should consider whether the case itself is a weak one, and doesn’t deserve to be made.

    Points #1 and #2 are more valid. But with those points, I’d argue that achieving them in the way Bush has amounts to a horrifically bad bargain for the United States. Bush likes to make the argument that if you oppose his policies it means you are pro-terror and pro-Saddam. Which is, frankly, bullshit. Adults realize that people can share common goals while differing on how to achieve those goals.

    It would be really nice to have the country run by grown-ups for a change.

  6. a_stupid_box Says:

    Thom — you’re right. There will be spikes of violence during any conflict. To look at a spike and cry that the war is lost is foolishness.

    However, there should also be spikes in support, with a gradual increase in overall support as the “just side” wins the conflict. Look at Daddy Bush’s war in Iraq.

    We lack the support spikes. On both an international and national level, support for the war in Iraq has been steadily decreasing, not increasing. Even the people we’ve “liberated” want us out.

    The similarities between this current and ongoing decrease in support and the same trend during the Vietnam conflict is obvious. The military simply cannot win a war in the face of a growing majority of the world becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their methods and lack of results.

    I’m all for removing a sicko asshole murdering fuckhead from power, but if it comes at the price of thousands of both our military and their civilian lives — and their civilization crumbling into crime and violence — the question begs to be asked; what problems were solved, and were they worth the problems which were created?

  7. James Emerson Says:

    I disagree with both 1 & 2.

    As to #1, it would be interesting to see a comparison between the number of innocent Iraqis whose deaths were directly attributable to SH in the 18 months before the onslaught of ‘Iraqi Freedom,’ and the number of innocent Iraqis who have dies at our hands in the 18 months since the beginning of the invasion. I wonder if the totals are even close?

    My general sense is that SH was indeed a brutal dictator (but in a historical sort of way per Condi Rice?), especially in the years where he was consolidating power (with a little help from his Republican friends running the government at the time), but in 2003 he was already firmly in power, and had little need to kill innocent Iraqis to maintain his hold. He did of course kill anyone who he considered a rival, but most of those guys were cut from the same cloth as was SH, and shouldn’t be considered so innocent.

    How many American lives is SH worth? I’m guessing the Neoconservative calculus comes in between 1,000 and 10,000. My personal calulus is that he wasn’t worth one American life.

    as to #2, the Israelis can take care of themselves. They actually have WMDs of the nuclear kind, and have, in the not so distant past, proved to the world that they could take out any targets in Iraq they considered important. They certainly could have done so again, but, instead, they got the neoconservatives in this administration to do it for them. Does anyone else wonder if the operating definition of neoconservative includes the phrase ‘dual loyalies?’

  8. David Says:

    I’m curious as to why Isreal wasn’t a part of the coalition? We’ve done so much for them it seems that they should send a token troop or two and have themselves added to the list. Perhaps because of racial tensions?

  9. Thom Says:

    There is nothing dishonest about any of my responses, nor have I mischaracterized anything, John. Just because you and I have read the same document and you have chosen to downplay or omit details from your interpretation that I think are important and have pointed out here is no reason to call me dishonest. My facts are correct, according to the report, and my interpretation of them is my own. How is that dishonest? You deal from the facts as they are presented to you and as you are inclined to process them and so do I. In the adult world, people are frequently allowed to disagree in this fashion.

  10. John Callender Says:

    It’s a dishonest argument to say that Iraq and al Qaeda had any kind of close working relationship, and Bush has worked very hard to foster that impression by playing up things like al Zarqawi’s pre-war operation in the northern no-fly zone (an area where, thanks to US actions, Saddam had no power to hinder him).

    You’ve seen that map that the State Department put out shortly after the 9/11 attacks? The one titled, “Countries where al Qaeda has operated”? Take a look:

    Countries where al Qaeda has operated

    Prominent among the countries that are _not_ included in the global sphere of al Qaeda’s operations is Iraq. There are plenty of sources that confirm the truth of that characterization. And then there are the people willing to say pretty much anything to try to tie Iraq to al Qaeda in the minds of people who don’t actually distinguish between one muslim and another, because doing so helps Bush politically.

    The argument you are making in point #3 is a dishonest argument. If you are making it out of ignorance, then you aren’t guilty of being dishonest yourself. But the argument itself is still dishonest.

  11. Thom Says:

    Ignorant? Certainly no more than Bill Clinton, whose administration was the the first to claim an Iraq/Al Qaeda connection. Certainly no more than the Washington Times, who has reported (12-01-03) that Al Qaeda leaders were in fairly close contact with the Iraqi government from 1992 onward:

    I guess the British government is fairly un-informed as well, but they seem to think there might be some connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda:

    And there’s always the issue of the Salman Pak training base, which we champions of ignorance might conjecture to be a possible terrorist training camp, until the more enlightened prove it to be definitively otherwise:

    I trust that most of you here will at least follow these links and give them, and my view, a fair reading. You might too, John. I do not present them to change any minds. I simply throw them out to illustrate that, in the current climate of doubt, conflicting claims and warring parties, it is reasonable for an informed person to stand on either side of this issue. Or is everyone who doesn’t tow the John Callender line automatically a right wing hack?

  12. John Callender Says:

    Sorry about the delay in posting your comment; the anti-spam filter wanted to hold it for approval because it contained more than two hyperlinks, or something like that.

    I don’t think the Washington Times is a credible source on this. They’re very much part of the right-wing echo chamber. I read the two articles you linked to (actually remembered reading the first one when it appeared, too), and I’m not impressed. Yes, it is possible to find people willing to repeat as fact the self-serving political spin of senior members of the Bush administration. But the resulting writing isn’t really journalism, at least by my definition.

    Reading some of the Salman Pak links that Google offers reveals the following:

    * Saddam operated a training facility of some kind there.

    * Saddam claimed it was for training his security forces in counter-terrorism.

    * Two defectors from Saddam’s secret police claimed that part of the facility was used for training “Islamic terrorists” in things like hijacking.

    * To date, there is no independent confirmation that such terrorist training took place there.

    * There’s no mention of the alleged trained terrorists being affiliated with al Qaeda.

    In the context of the faulty WMD intelligence that people like Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress provided to the Bush people before the war, this kind of “evidence” has to be looked at with a very critical eye. We know for a fact that Iraqi defectors were gaming the Bush administration’s intelligence analysis process prior to the war in order to advance their own agenda. It has been demonstrated repeatedly, and even acknowledged by them.

    I’m not saying you’re a right wing hack. I’m saying that the argument that Saddam Hussein was somehow closely linked with Osama bin Laden is a fantasy designed to help Bush politically. There is plenty of objective, non-partisan evidence available to you to verify that — beginning with the 9/11 Commission’s actual report (not just the mischaracterization of it that John Lehman gave on Meet the Press).

    If you choose not to pay attention to the evidence, that’s your prerogative. It doesn’t make you a hack. But yeah, in my opinion it does make you ignorant, at least with respect to this one specific question.

    I’m aware that reality is murky, that uncertainty and doubt is unavoidable, and that reasonable people can come to different conclusions about things without being dishonest. But on this particular issue, I think the evidence is in. Saddam did not have any direct relationship with Osama bin Laden, and he wasn’t involved in attacking us on 9/11. Bush wants us all to squeeze our eyes tightly shut and pretend very, very hard that he was.

    You can pretend that if you want to. But I’m not going to.

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