eorge W. Bush has always been about a broad sense of things, what Italians call “un feeling.” Not about facts. Not about reason. Not about sophistication.
This is a president as learning curve: lesson one, respond to the world as a wounded American; two, crack a whip; three, eulogize restraint. There’s no halfway among the believers, only derring-do and evildoers, axes and no allies, and testosterone epithets for European ne’er-do-wells.
Four years into the fray and tough love is still how Bush does business with himself, his country, and his world.
Take it on faith, he says, or go away. Take Iraq on faith. Take resolve on faith. Take faith as resolve. Ask few questions. Suck it up. Condense the mission into love of country, of God, of abbreviation. It’s policy in bites: Luv ya. Hate ya. Back at ya.
“He’s telling Americans and the world that when the United States president says something, he means it,” said North Carolina Republican Elizabeth Dole, wife of Viagra, after Bush talked familiar trash in facing the press April 13.
“We’re changing the world,” is what he said.
Luv ya. Hate ya. Back at ya.
“Freedom is the Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom.”
Luv ya, or else.
Never mind that the planet could actually use more creative leadership (a JFK-style American University “Ask not…” speech, a non-battle fatigues visit to Riyadh, a global “what’s behind the terror” summit), or at the very least an exchange of views.
But no, Bush prefers vibrant cluelessness, almighty cluelessness, which from him is wholly believable. He’s a Little League manager barking down the kids.
Iraq? Stay the course, and when in doubt turn loose the bromides.
So what that the secular bad-man Saddam, now in custody, proved more sturmy than drangy; so what that hard-to-pronounce Sunnis and Shiites, riot-mongers in waiting, aren’t yet interested in founding Iraq’s NASDAQ.
Even enlightened hawks like Thomas L. Friedman have begun sounding taps. “You need some of your father’s wisdom now,” hags Friedman from the liberal citadel called The New York Times. According to TLF, Bush II (or “mini me,” according to Maureen Dowd’s feline charm) is short-selling Iraq’s “infant” reform process.
Reform process? That’s, like, so 90s.
Dad’s wisdom? Come again? Dad lost, dude, and in part because he didn’t decamp in Baghdad. Beyond his mandate, he piffled then, and what would the Syrians and Saudis say? Dad didn’t have a clue how to go about being clueless. He made coalitions, did the right thing, lost, and promptly turned his attention to golf.
He doesn’t have his son’s broad sense of things, which means avenging 9/11 in get-a-bad-guy terms, leaving Iraq with so-far faulty wiring. “If it is the world against the Iraqi street, we have a chance,” writes TLF.
“We”? And what kind of chance do “we” have when it’s middle class Stone Age vs. Islamic Stone Age? And just who is “we?” Internationalist America? Not likely.
In short, don’t bet the farm on globalization.
Truth is that a fair number of folks, some good, some cruel, just won’t see it our way, ever, and the Al Jazeera MTV coming from the bad-guy side is pure anti-Fox, pumped up with anti-colonial emotionalism, rage sired from poverty and streamed through dirt. The “hate ya’s,” the dark side of the moon-ers (human, though), are at peace with violence and hopeful of vainglory. They are less displaced by chaos than “we” are at home in Davos (where neo-cons and proto-cons get their two-car-garage benchmarks.)
This is bad news for TLF, but not for George, who hasn’t met a row he doesn’t cherish, including the Texas death aisle.
Remember (no, never forget) that Bush so isn’t a Davos man. Not even close. He’s a relentlessly upbeat zealot who speaks in clichés round enough to make Ronald Reagan look Kerryesque. He doesn’t talk in plans because there is no plan, not since Saddam crawled out of a hole looking like Moses. Saddam was the Iraq plan. Remember (no, never forget) Bush is a true reactionary; he reacts. You do to him; he does back, and ups the ante.
Conservatives finger Bill Clinton’s intelligence shortcomings, hawks want helicopters, and so on, and on. The TLFs seek a rope-bridge between “serious” nation-builders and Washington war-winners. Liberals, meanwhile, speak little and lay low (Kerry among them), hoping the blame-game will conjure up a November victory.
All the while “we” of the non-American planet, the “we” among the “them,” the silent mini-majority, try to figure out how the Washington mission fits in with the future, if at all (and whether to publicly challenge the church of democracy, let alone continue worshipping in it.)
The only path around so deliberate a shortfall in executive insight is to dream the office can unmake the man (as China bailed out pre-Gate Nixon, Camp David inculcated Carter, and Gorby softened Evil-think Reagan). The only response short of despair is to hope even George W. Bush can become the antidote to the prejudice he’s helped create, a virus with its own resident cure.
But it’s the top of the hour and here’s the breaking news: not a chance.
We’re still out to change the world, says Blunt-Man. Dissenters, please remain seated. Opponents, we are experience heavy call volume; your call will be answered in approximately… five years. Supporters, Luv Ya!
Which begs the question: If the world is to be changed, just how much for the worse?