majority of Americans wanted the war in Iraq. They wanted it for
the usual reasons: (1) it’s always fun to prove that you’re the
toughest guy on the block by beating up weak people; (2) it’s
easy to make weak people look strong briefly, for public relations
purposes; (3) wogs, having no trees, are a suitable substitute
for gooks, who can inflict damage on us (e.g. North Korea) and
have in the past (North Vietnam); (4) Americans were lied to by
the President — a fact common to every war this country has
entered ever since 1812; (5) this nation is an empire, and has
been ever since 1803. (If you doubt this, compare Jefferson’s
First Inaugural Address —
pre-Louisiana Purchase — with his Second
irony is this: in their private affairs, Americans have two over-riding
slogans, both of which are anti-war and anti-empire. Eight words
summarize the American philosophy of life.
and let live.
Let’s make a deal.
This is why
Americans are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Deal-searching
is legitimate here — a way of life.
as soon as Americans think of themselves as members of a nation
in a world of nations, they experience a Jekyll-Hyde transformation.
They adopt rival slogans. Eight words summarize American foreign
better than you.
Do it our way.
fever, Americans enthusiastically embrace the second pair of slogans.
But, within months of the victory — or, in the case of Vietnam,
the defeat — Americans revert back to the former pair of
slogans. They think, “Well, that’s over. Now let’s get back to
transformation produces a reaction against the Presidential Administration
that fanned the flames of war. Woodrow Wilson was abandoned by
the public in 1919. His party was abandoned by voters in 1920.
In 1946, the Republicans ran the post-war, off-year election with
the slogan, “Had Enough?” and won back Congress. Nixon won in
1968 because Johnson had surrendered the Presidency the previous
March, having been hammered by the February Tet offensive. Ford
was tossed out in large part because he was on duty in 1975, when
the last helicopter left Saigon. Bush Sr. lost the Presidency
in 1992, having won a splendid little war in Iraq.
war begins, Americans sing “Over There.” When the war ends, they
sing “She Got the Goldmine; I Got the Shaft.” And why not? They
are told by the Administration that they must pick up the bills,
not just for America’s expenditures, but for the losers’ expenditures.
This is Marshall Plan Syndrome, and every President contracts
it immediately after the losers surrender. Peter Sellers’ movie,
The Mouse That Roared, is the model. (Vietnam was the exception:
It is time
to make a brief assessment of the war in Iraq. I call this list
George W. Bush’s no-no’s.
of mass destruction
No Osama bin Laden-Saddam Hussein connection
No Saddam Hussein
No Osama bin Laden
No oil revenues to pay us back
No welcoming committees with open arms
No end to the daily death toll
No troops home by Christmas — any Christmas
No end in sight to the rebuilding expenses
No payback to France and Germany
No victory parades
No winning general
list add this:
in Bush’s victory speeches
going on television to assure us that the terrorists are upset
with our success in Iraq. But we aren’t leaving, he assures us.
So did Paul Wolfowitz, immediately after the bombing of the hotel
where he was staying.
leaving,” says the Lone Ranger. “What you mean ‘we,’ white man?”
a broken man. Johnson left, a broken man. Ford left. Bush Sr.
left. All the rhetoric of “we aren’t leaving” fails on the day
“we” have an opportunity to get out by removing the rhetorical
hard-liners who refuse to get us out.
transformation is now in progress. How the Democrats will be able
to distance themselves from the Jekyll-Hyde phase is a matter
for the poll-takers, focus group specialists, and spin-doctors
to sort out. The problem with playing, “we, too” when war fever
is running high is that, when the fever has waned, card-carrying
members of the “we, too” brigade find it difficult to gain support
from the voters. That’s why political outsiders, who were not
visible in the “we, too” phase, have an advantage: Harding, a
tenth-ballot dark horse, in 1920 (he had not been a visible “player”
during World War I, and had opposed the League of Nations), Nixon
in 1968 (defeated by Pat Brown in 1962), Carter in 1976 (Georgia),
and Clinton in 1992 (Arkansas). This is why Dean and Clark are
the front-runners today.
bet his political future on the war on terrorism. There has not
been a President in my lifetime who is more obviously a one-trick
pony, a Johnny One-note. Bush briefly had the war on terrorism
going for him politically, but he has not won it. At best, he
has temporarily contained it geographically. He verbally challenged
the terrorists to kill our troops: “Bring ‘em on!” They
are now bringing it on, day after day, in Iraq.
will not leave this alone. American blood gets high ratings. “If
it bleeds, it leads!” Night after night, the body bag of the day
will lead the evening news. There is nothing that Bush can do
about this. Even with southern California burning down, the lead
story is still shed American blood in Iraq. When the biggest brush
fire in California’s history can’t grab the lead, you know that
the media are not going to let loose of the body bags.
point — I think we have just about reached it — Bush’s
victory-is-certain speeches are going to produce this reaction:
“Why doesn’t this guy just shut up?” That reaction will be a prelude
to this one: “Why doesn’t this guy just go away?”
only one theme: his personal determination, in our name, to stamp
out terrorism, wherever it is hiding, no matter what this costs
us. He has no other persona. Soon, it will be persona not grata.
speeches, every body bag is evidence that America is winning the
war on terrorism. But no one is ever arrested for these attacks.
No one has been convicted in a court of law. Yet the body bags
keep getting flown home. “Taps” keeps getting played.
RETURN TO NORMALCY
Harding left as his legacy one word: normalcy. The word appeared
in a phrase: “a return to normalcy.” Maybe he meant “normality.”
Who knows? The word “normalcy” has replaced “normality.”
are content to let hundreds of men and three teenagers rot in an American concentration camp on the island of Cuba. These men
are not in the news. They aren’t bleeding, so they aren’t leading.
Out of sight, out of mind. (Or, as language translation
software would correctly translate this phrase: “blind, crazy.”)
Cuba has now become a concentration camp on both sides of the
fence at Guantanamo Bay.
is something else again. It is in the news. America’s visible
defeat, body bag by body bag, is broadcast every night. Bush makes
fewer and fewer appearances on-screen. When he does, he tells
us that we are winning. When a person tells us that he is winning
when he is visibly losing, we question his judgment. Substituting
“we” for “he” does not change our assessment.
no longer go on TV and not sound like a man suffering from cognitive
dissonance. Hearing his speeches is like reading a page in George
Eighty-Four: “Defeat is victory.”
are practical people. They vote their pocketbooks. The federal
deficit is rising so fast that the Republican Party’s age-old
slogan — ” we must balance the budget” — is now consigned
to the dustbin of history. I cannot imagine any Republican Presidential
candidate running on such a platform. Reagan’s huge deficits undermined
this slogan. Bush’s deficits have terminated it. What will Republicans
substitute for this now-dead slogan? “The Democrats are worse”
doesn’t have the same ring to it.
speaks in the name of the American people, he had better avoid
speaking obvious nonsense. Non-obvious nonsense still has lots
of constituencies, but obvious nonsense is not part of the American
political tradition. Herbert Hoover could pretend that the word
“depression” was better for his political future than “panic,”
but this did him no good in 1932. The Republicans in 1930 could
proclaim that recovery was just around the corner, but it did
them no good after the 1930 Congressional elections. When reality
hits the American electorate’s pocket books, they do not tolerate
nonsense. A President’s cognitive dissonance then becomes a political
want a return to normalcy. Normalcy for Americans means this:
“discount solutions to permanent problems.” Sweeping problems
under the rug is normal. It is politically acceptable. But the
problems must stay under the rug. Guantanamo is a perfectly acceptable
discount solution to 9/11 for most Americans: no bleeding, no
leading. Americans’ body bags in Iraq are not acceptable.
It is unlikely
that Bush can deliver normalcy. If the Democrats can field a candidate
along the lines of Carter or Clinton — an unknown who was
out of the spotlight after 9/11 — it is unlikely that Bush
will be re-elected. Whether the Republican majority in one or
more houses of Congress will retire along with him will be the
big question in 2004.
from Hyde to Jekyll is now in progress. Bush is America’s Hyde
persona. This fact is going to produce cognitive dissonance. Seeing
him on TV, Americans will be reminded of their most recent bout
with the bottle: the Jekyll-Hyde bottle. Like Rush Limbaugh, they
are now in de-tox.
Bush’s face is the face of Edward Hyde. I think American swing
voters will decide next year that they want the kindly Dr. Jekyll
back on the TV screen, someone who will declare victory in Iraq
and then bring the troops home. No more victory-is-just-around-the-corner.
It’s time for victory-is-behind-us. It won’t be, of course. There
is no victory for empires. There is only victory-is-just-around-the-corner.
But a declared victory, proved by the withdrawal of American troops,
will be acceptable nonsense, just as Guantanamo as restitution
for 9/11 is acceptable nonsense. Any nonsense that can be successfully
swept under the rug is acceptable. If you doubt me, think of Arnold
Schwarzenegger, holding a broom and promising to sweep away the
is truly the land of the rugs and the home of the brooms. I think
George W. Bush will learn this lesson, just as his father learned