All Aboard the 5:00 P.M. Choo Choo Out of DC

I suppose it is wishful thinking, but I am beginning to entertain a hunch that our dear President and his delightful chums (at the moment I have Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the neocon cohort in mind) are very likely to leave Washington at some time in the next few years on a train called the Nixon Special. (The tune accompanying their departure will be nowhere near as catchy as "The City of New Orleans," especially as sung by Willie Nelson, but I guaran-dog-tee you that to a lot of us it will sound like the best thing we've heard since Beethoven's Fifth. Dum, dum, dum DEEEEEE!)

I am factoring in our national fascination with the process of tearing down overinflated caudillos; our insatiable lust for excitement, novelty, and plain old, down-home scandal and gossip. (Oh, Clinton!) There is also the need among the elite financial fellows to get someone in there who has a little regard for costs; and, perhaps above all, the power of the people, whoever they are, who control our intelligence agencies. I mean the people who call all the shots and who have so far gone along with the neocons, but who may well decide to cut their losses, put a fresh face on things, and start over with a slightly subtler approach to running the world, one that's a little less likely to leave us so nakedly isolated as the prime bully in the schoolyard with nary a friend.

I suppose the foregoing paragraph is all baloney, and that all I really have is a plain old hunch: these guys have had much too long a run of luck. I mean on getting away with things, not least large bundles of federal cash. Their Iraq adventure is a bummer, a grade-A certified mess, no doubt of that. It is plain the only creative idea they have is to cover the Iraq balagan (lovely Hebrew term for the kind of mess we're talking about that I've used in this space before) with an even brassier shot at Iran or Syria or Egypt or all of them at once. Go for broke; maybe unlimber the nukes. After all, we've got 'em and crazy old Iran doesn't, so why not. Russia, India, Pakistan, China, North Korea? Pfui. Bring 'em on.

Desperate, crazy talk, but isn't it where we are? Does anything coming out of Washington make any more sense? Every sane adult in America (I'm not saying that's a whole lot of people) knows we have lost the Iraq war, never should have started it, and should get out as fast as we can. But every sane adult also knows that is not what is going to happen. It is not what has ever happened when "leaders" find themselves in a fix of their own devising and need to change course. What they do is throw in more divisions, crank up more billions, order full speed ahead, send the chaps on mad campaigns (into the valley of death rode the six hundred), and get tough with critics, ideally locking them up somewhere, Lincoln/Stalin-style, where they can't make any more trouble.

But there is an interesting pattern in American history, and it is not one that especially favors arrogant men. I watched that DVD, Fog of War, on Robert McNamara. It was an effort, very well done as a matter of fact, by this slick operator to get out from under Vietnam. He got a lot of the blame over onto LBJ, who no doubt richly deserved it, but McNamara did not come out looking great. He continued to look like a guy who took a dive for power and sent a lot of men to their deaths in far away fields and forests, while he sat, manicured and neat, at the control console in Rome-on-the-Potomac. A squeaky-clean man running a very dirty business, at the last concerned to get himself a good name. Not a chance. This is "McNamara of Vietnam," locked into history as just another well-tailored thug who served his time and got his reward. He needn't bother looking for another.

It seems to me there is one thing a U.S. President can do. There is lot he can't do, and shouldn't be blamed for. But he does not have to go to war. He can positively refuse to do it and make it stick. Lincoln, Teddy R., Wilson, FDR, Truman, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush II (have I missed any?) did not have to go to war, but they chose to, and latterly the choice has been made without bothering to implicate Congress, leaving it free, I guess, to pretend sanctity.

Of course it helps to be provided with, or provide, a Ft. Sumter, Maine, Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, or 9/11, and I suppose another one of those may be on the way to us now. Ugh.

As far as I am concerned it is a Presidential roll call of iniquity, malfeasance, violation of the Constitution (not that that matters anymore), and personal devil-may-care. Bush II looks like the most devil-may-care of the lot, but maybe that is just an effect of perspective: he is nearest us. If the Nixon Special comes for him, however, I will not be among the mourners.

You do rather wonder where the press is that broke Nixon, now that we have a worse in view. Evidently embedded in the regime.

October 25, 2004