August 11, 2006

Just Go, Joe

Am I the only one who sees the recently uncovered airline plot in Britain as yet more evidence of the poverty of our adminstration's strategy? And who sees, by the same light, Joe Lieberman's use of it to whip his victorious opponent in the Connecticut primary (and to threaten those who made that victory possible), as symptomatic of the disease that plagues American government?

We've heard it over and over: "Fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." It has a ring to it. Turns out, of course, that what we'll be doing is fighting them there and fighting them here. And there are more of them to fight — here, there, and everywhere in between — as a result of this adminstration's ignorance, its bumbling, and its inflexibility — to say nothing of messianic fervor and inability to grapple with facts. What's the motto? If at first — and second, and third — it doesn't succeed, tell everyone it did, and keep doing it anyway?

Plainly — and for most of us it has been plain for some time, but not for all — but plainly, whatever the strategy favored by Lieberman and the White House can be called, it has failed. We are in far greater danger today. If nothing else, are people not tired of failure? Even if they can stomach the disingenuity, the condescension, the nascent fascist tendencies. Even if they can tolerate the vituperative attack campaigning, the mudslinging, the namecalling and character assassination. Even if they can take the militarism and the scorn for cooperation in international arenas, and even if they can take the obvious, deepening disdain for actual democratic process, really democracy itself. The simple fact that nothing these clowns do in the realm of foreign policy is working. And that should be enough. That alone should get them jettisoned. People, they can't get it right.

They're worse than do-nothings. Do-nothings might at least keep the numbers of our enemies constant. These clowns fairly breed them. They've planted a crop of terrorists, and it's a bumper, and we'll all be doing the reaping: New Yorkers, Londoners, maybe Angelenos, maybe Parisians. They embrace incompetence. They give it medals and promotions. Shouldn't that tell us something? They don't see it as incompetence. When things don't work, they simply ignore it. Only the room for lies has been utterly exhausted, when disaster is not immanent but rather fully, bloodily upon us — only then does their story change. Iraq has been going very badly for more than two years now, yet only in the last two weeks have they appeared to have an inkling. Before that it was good news, good news, good news.

Listen up: I don't have a security clearance. I don't even live in Washington. I don't know anyone who works in government. I have no special access to privileged information. Everything I know or suspect comes to me from sources widely and in most cases freely available on the street, the tube, the radio, or the internet. And I have known for over two years now that Iraq was going very badly, and about to get much worse. If I can know, anyone can know. Certainly they can know. So why didn't they? There's only one explanation. They didn't want to. They do not care.

I accept the starve-the-beast, corrode-the-system-from-within explanation for why the administration handled Katrina the way they did. I accept it for their approach to environmental regulation, education, health care — anything that involves and actual service to actual Americans, an investment in the nation's human future. They have designed government to fail because they want it to fail. They wish its failure to be a lesson to us all, to convince us that government did not work because government cannot work. We lose faith in government, goes the logic, and then we don't much mind when they take it apart for real and good. Yeah, yeah, yeah. A lot of people think this is fantastic but I am not one of them. I believe it. They do not care. They do not care about democracy, they do not care about the public good, they do not care about your, our human future. Failure is in the game plan; it may even be the game plan. That is what I believe. They are revolutionaries. Revolutionaries are always prepared for collateral losses. Just remember that in this case you are the collateral loss.

Where I do not accept the failure-by-design argument is when it's applied to Iraq. These men may want America to fail, but they want Iraq to succeed. They did not want it badly enough to take political risks, such as the kind incurred by politicians who propose a draft — no, no. But they wanted it. They want it still. Iraq is their chesspiece in the struggle with Iran. Iraq is their hedge against volatile Saudi Arabia. Iraq is their linchpin for military presence in the region, to say nothing of access to that national heroin known as oil. They concocted this war because they believed it was easily winnable — nevermind why they believed this (read George Packer), but they did — and because it would give them exactly what they need. And failure was not a part of that plan.

They've failed anyway. So they fail when they want to, and they fail when they don't want to. Neither their best efforts nor their worst meet with success. So I don't for the life of me understand why anyone — in the Democratic party, in the media, in the blogosphere or in the electorate — does anything other than laugh at them when they pull this tough-on-terrorism shit. They are watering and feeding terrorists, for god's sake. They recruit terrorists better than bin Laden ever dreamed. Comments like Lieberman's and Cheney's should be met with universal scorn by anyone who actually does give a damn about security.

And yet it doesn't happen. Why doesn't it happen? Because people, I think, are confused. And maybe a little ignorant. They don't know what's really going on. Why don't they know? In part because the administration lies. And because the media tends to accept the administration's lies, and don't ask me why that happens because I haven't a clue. But people also don't know, in part, because they don't really look. They don't listen. They go to one of the few tried-and-true feedback loops and they hear the same old shit and they pick at it, nibble it, take a bite or two and then wander back to American Idol Land. They never trusted "those people" anyway, some of them — many of them; more than we'd like to admit — and it's really not that much of a stretch for them to believe that "those people" have evil in their hearts. That "those people" hate us, hate freedom; that it's part of their religion, inherent in the vast mystery that is Islam. It's an explanation that squares with what many already suspected. And thus confirmed, many look no further.

None of this, though, explains the tolerance for ineffectuality. I don't care how many beers you want to have with Bush, there is no measure by which he can be said to have succeeded in foreign policy. No measure. The middle east is six times the powderkeg now that it was five years ago; Al Qaeda and its branches, to say nothing of the Shiite radicals — Iran, Hizbollah — are larger, more dangerous, more determined, and frankly more respected, indeed beloved, throughout the Muslim world. At the same time, the US and Israel are more profoundly despised and moderates everywhere are in retreat. Even before this conflict, our influence in the region had nowhere to go but up. Yet they managed to make things worse. If you reject them for nothing else, why not for that? Where is your worship of competition? Where is the mercilessness of the marketplace? Where is perform or perish? Where is managerial enlightenment, outcomes assessment, milestones, markers, quantifiable goals? Where are consequences?

And yet worse — more cringing, more toadlike, more disgustingly unAmerican — much, much worse than his defense of Rumsfeld's idiocy in Iraq have been Lieberman's attacks on the administration's critics. These attacks have at times borne the tenor of threat, and not subtly. "We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril." Could he have put it more ominously, or more self-dramatically? And could he, by the way, have been more wrong? In this case, though, wrong is beside the point. We are defenders of dissent in this nation. We are not its executioners. There can be no greater betrayal than attempts like this to quash honest, thoughtful (and, it turns out, correct) criticism of our leadership and its policy.

The voters of Connecticut, I imagine, may have felt a need to remind Senator Lieberman and his allies in the White House that we do not have — and will not tolerate — kings and vassals in this nation. That we are governed by men and women whom we will treat like men and women and not like minor deities. We will question them (and expect answers), we will lampoon them, we will vote for their opponents. There is neither an ancient European-style court nor a modern Soviet-style politburo to which we are beholden, regardless of Cheney's fantasies. If there is a message in this primary upset, I suspect it may be this.

It's worth noting that meanwhile, as Lieberman and his cronies simultaneously hide from facts and fling dirt at those who would present them, facts march on. We ignore them at our nation's peril. Al Qaeda is alive and well and launching new plots as we speak, and not in distant deserts but in the streets and subways and airports of the west. North Korea builds fresh missile silos on its eastern coast, aiming at Japan and at American bases there. Such is the "success" of administration policy and its enablers. If we are to have any hope of rebuffing these threats and returning to stability, it seems we're going to have to follow the voters of Connecticut. The blind, the deceitful, and the incompetent must go.

We suffer them at our nation's peril.