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Does Anybody Believe The White House Doublespeak Anymore?
Is George Bush completely unhinged from reality or just determined to talk like everything's A-O.K.? Frank Rich compares Bush to Nixon -- the Nixon in Woodward and Bernstein's "The Final Days," talking to paintings on the White House walls while Watergate demolished his presidency -- in Bush's misuse of language as a Band-Aid:

The most startling example was his insistence that Al Qaeda is primarily responsible for Iraq's spiraling violence. Only a week before Bush said this, the American military spokesman on the scene, Major General William Caldwell, called Al Qaeda "extremely disorganized" in Iraq, adding that "I would question at this point how effective they are at all at the state level." Military intelligence estimates that Al Qaeda makes up only 2 percent to 3 percent of the enemy forces in Iraq, according to Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News. The bottom line: The United States has a commander in chief who can't even identify 97 percent to 98 percent of the combatants in a war that has gone on longer than America's involvement in World War II.

But that's not the half of it. Bush relentlessly refers to Iraq's "unity government" though it is not unified and can only nominally govern. (In Henry Kissinger's accurate recent formulation, Iraq is not even a nation "in the historic sense.") After that pseudo-government's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, brushed him off in Amman, the president nonetheless declared him "the right guy for Iraq" the morning after. This came only a day after The New York Times's revelation of a secret memo by Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, judging Maliki either "ignorant of what is going on" in his own country or disingenuous or insufficiently capable of running a government. Not that it matters what Hadley writes when his boss is impervious to facts.

In truth the president is so out of it he wasn't even meeting with the right guy. No one doubts that the most powerful political leader in Iraq is the anti-American, pro-Hezbollah cleric Moktada al- Sadr, without whom Maliki would be on the scrap heap next to his short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Sadr's militia is far more powerful than the official Iraqi army that America has been helping to "stand up" at hideous cost all these years. If America is not going to take him out, as John McCain proposed this month, we might as well deal with him directly rather than with Maliki, his puppet. But Bush shows few signs of recognizing Sadr's existence.

In his classic study, "The Great War and Modern Memory," Paul Fussell wrote of how World War I shattered and remade literature, for only a new language of irony could convey the trauma and waste. Under the auspices of Bush, the Iraq war is having a comparable, if different, linguistic impact: The more he loses his hold on reality, the more language is severed from its meaning altogether.

When the president persists in talking about staying until "the mission is complete" even though there is no definable military mission, let alone one that can be completed, he is indulging in pure absurdity. The same goes for his talk of "victory," another concept robbed of any definition when the prime minister America is trying to prop up is allied with Sadr, a man who wants Americans dead and has many scalps to prove it. The newest hollowed- out Bush word to mask the endgame in Iraq is "phase," as if the increasing violence were as transitional as the growing pains of a surly teenager. "Phase" is meant to drown out all the unsettling debate about two words the president doesn't want to hear, "civil war."

When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive - but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect Bush's subversion of language has had on America's larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over "civil war" at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Bush's lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.

Okay, right-wingers...how many of you are still behind George Wrong-War Bush these days? How could any real conservative -- not the phony religious right kind -- have been behind him from the start? Remember "no nation building"?

If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, you know I was never a "dove" about going after Bin Laden. I lived blocks from the World Trade Center just a few years before 9/11, and, like a true conservative (not a phony George Bush "conservative"), I was always for going in and flattening Afghanistan -- at least the part where Bin Laden and his merry band of of murderers were found.

But what of the mess in Iraq? And what will we do -- what will we ever do -- to fix it, now that we've broken it?

Oh, democracy in the Middle East? Except for Israel, unlikely-to-impossible at the moment...if ever. And if we had a Condoleeza Rice who understood that -- as opposed to an expert on the ended Cold War, who seemed to have no notion of the perma-hatred between sects in the region -- and other advisors who had more on their minds than what, payouts for their friends at giant corporations (was that what it was?), maybe we wouldn't be there.

And sorry, Crid, but I still can't understand why we went into Iraq. I still really wish somebody would explain it to me.

Posted by aalkon at December 4, 2006 10:35 AM

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Comments

One of the things that we, Europeans, can blame on GWB is that this Iraq war is spilling over here.

Once he finishes whatever he can achieve in Iraq, once the boys safely home, he can put it all behind him and think about another brilliant scheme to save the world.

But we, in France and other countries, will be left with some ugly consequences. Too many of these young moslems that we have in a rather inconsiderate way accepted among us, have been attracted by islamic fundamentalism. Some have gone over to Iraq to fight the Jihad and are coming back with training and criminal intentions.

Arrests have been made already and I am sure that we haven't seen the end of it yet.

Posted by: Alain Q. at December 4, 2006 2:56 AM

> the corrosive effect Bush's subversion of language

No greater sin to a Gotham wordsmith. But those people regard any disagreement with their own impulses as 'subversion.' All White Houses, even Abe Lincoln's, practiced such "doublespeak", and the complaints from perpetually violated virgins are starting to grow tiresome. Bush is accused of being an illiterate doorknob... In the same breath, he's the evil, cunning master of perception.

> we, Europeans, can blame on GWB is that
> this Iraq war is spilling over here.

Poor puppies. Europe gets a lot more of it's oil from the Middle East the the USA does. If Europe had wanted to make some thoughtful sacrifices and investments to solve this before 2003, they could have... Instead, we got Oil for Food, the biggest financial scandal of all time. Of all time. (I love typing that.) Of all time.

> I still can't understand why we went into Iraq.

Regime change. It didn't work out. Instead, we got regime annihilation. History may still judge this as an important step forward.

I've burned through entire computers writing about this. If you weren't paying attention, I'll take your incomprehension at face value. Bush, despite his many faults, wasn't the cynic.

Posted by: Crid at December 4, 2006 4:38 AM

I count myself a libertarian who supports the war, and I'm beginning to get the feeling of a storeowner who sold the arsonist some gasoline.

I'll run a standard explanation, if it will help.

The USA is facing a growing threat from autocratic countries that have/are acquiring nuclear weapons, e.g. North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq. A preemptive strike is justified to deal with the weapons program directly, and to show such countries that we aren't afraid to act.

A strategy in the martial arts, when under attack from multiple opponents, is to pick out the weakest adversary and pummel him soundly, thus sowing doubt in your opponents and encouraging yourself. Iraq was weak and isolated, and a good prospect for this sort of example.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 4, 2006 4:58 AM

Alain Q, if any place has distanced itself from US policy in the Middle East, it is Europe, and France in particular. That there are spillover problems in Europe from the Iraq war speaks more to the problem of islamic fundamentalism, which is basically a liesure activity funded by petro dollars and euros.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 4, 2006 5:08 AM

i reiterate: a war on "terror" was declared because it's vague enough to go on forever, ensuring lasting dominance of one political party with the aid of diminished constitutional restrictions. the war in iraq will have no end.

Posted by: kittie at December 4, 2006 5:45 AM

Kittie, That's just what Rove *wants* you to think! Don't you understand? The political parties are just sheeple! Can't you see what's really going on here?

Lock your doors! Leave your phone off the hook! Trust no one! The CIA is watching you through your TV set again! Stay in bed under your blankets!

FEAR!

Posted by: Crdi at December 4, 2006 6:41 AM

> attracted by islamic fundamentalism. Some
> have gone over to Iraq to fight the Jihad and
> are coming back

So don't let them in. Be a grownup nation and manage your own borders, or assimilate them into your society. The American taxpayer grows tired of straining your carrots and straightening your bib. The troops that have kept peace in Europe for two or three generations are needed elsewhere now. If American values are such a vulgar and unsophisticated affront to your sensibilities, then the nations of Europe should form their own armies to defend themselves... Let's all try to imagine the EU forming an effective fighting force.

Short term, Muslim integration is your problem and not ours. We got our own immigration problems... Except that the Mexicans come here to, y' know, *work*.

Posted by: Crid at December 4, 2006 6:56 AM

Crid, I do respect American values.
Problem is that I don't believe, and I am not alone, that what's going on in Iraq has nothing to do with American values.

And furthermore you are trying to kill "the wrong pig". Who is abundantly funding fundamentalism all over the world ? who is providing shelter and assistance to the Talibans the US and Europe are fighting in Afghanistan?

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan , two so-called American allies !

Don't you feel some perplexity sometimes, or are you just happy the way things are ?

Posted by: Alain Q. at December 4, 2006 8:36 AM

> I don't believe, and I
> am not alone...

Last week Tim Blair's blog offered this shorthand for a powerful principle: "Consensus is not evidence."

> what's going on in Iraq has nothing
> to do with American values.

Well, policy's taken a turn back toward the Kissingerian. Make of that what you will.

> Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

Both nations resisted our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and for their own good reasons. Neither allowed us handy access to the geography from their soil. No administration has been as challenging to Saudi 'interests' as Dubya's. His father must be dumbfounded.

> two so-called American allies !

We paid them off, if that's what you mean. As noted above, we did that in Europe too. There's a bumper sticker in Tennessee: 'Get in the truck, buckle your seatbelt, and shut the fuck up.'

> Don't you feel some perplexity
> sometimes

Grrrr!

Posted by: Crid at December 4, 2006 9:46 AM

Doombuggy, we know this strategy of picking the weakest adversary and pummel him soundly to deter other opponents.

In the present case, do you see Iran being detered in their nuclear program ? Syria being detered from feeding the rebellion in Iraq and stiring trouble in Lebanon ? Iraqi shiites from killing all sunnis they can lay their hands on and Iraqi sunnis to kill as many shiites ?
Are the talibans detered in Afghanistan ? Are the Pakistanis refraining from helping them ? etc...etc..

and, sorry to say, who's taking the pumelling now ?

The whole thing is a tragedy.

Posted by: Alain Q. at December 4, 2006 10:03 AM

Should we throw the Kurds overboard again? Do you want the little girls kicked out of Kabul's grade schools again? Do you want Saddam's psychotic sons re-animated to fight for control of the disintegrating nation? Do you want the marshlands drained once more? Should we give Qaddafi his WMDs back?

> The whole thing is a tragedy.

It's not a new one.

Posted by: Crid at December 4, 2006 10:12 AM

Alain Q, the strategy yielded some results: Libya, direct Syrian involvement in Lebanon.

Pakistan did not lessen as an ally, feeble as they are.

Iran is no more defiant now than before the invasion.

I suggest one problem in Iraq is that the US is too nice. If I had my way, when one Allied soldier is killed, that neighborhood gets 48 hours of saturation bombing from B-52 bombers. Insurgents flare up in Sadr City, 48 hours of saturation bombing by B-52 bombers. Continue until violence is zero. It worked on Hanoi in 1972.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 4, 2006 4:29 PM

Alain Q, the strategy yielded some results: Libya, direct Syrian involvement in Lebanon.

Pakistan did not lessen as an ally, feeble as they are.

Iran is no more defiant now than before the invasion.

I suggest one problem in Iraq is that the US is too nice. If I had my way, when one Allied soldier is killed, that neighborhood gets 48 hours of saturation bombing from B-52 bombers. Insurgents flare up in Sadr City, 48 hours of saturation bombing by B-52 bombers. Continue until violence is zero. It worked on Hanoi in 1972.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 4, 2006 4:59 PM

Doombuggy, I can't believe that you describe the US policy in Viet Nam as an example of what should be done in Iraq !

Do you remember how it all ended ?
Are we going to see again that last helicopter leaving the American Embassy under fire ?

Posted by: Alain Q. at December 4, 2006 7:34 PM

Point to Alain Q.

Next!

Posted by: Crid at December 4, 2006 8:54 PM

Alain Q: don't get so hung up on a media image of Vietnam. Some military strategies in Vietnam worked.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 5, 2006 2:47 AM

This is how Saddam Hussein was able to keep the peace in Iraq for so long. With less lose of life than what we have brought. Of course we can't do this because that was one reason for taking him out of office and soon hanging him.

Posted by: x at December 5, 2006 7:35 AM

Doombuggy, we never had a 'bombing for every GI killed in Vietnam' policy, and if we had, it didn't work. Embassy image or not, we lost and we left.
No, I think you're thinking of what the Nazis did after Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of the Security Police and the deputy chief of the Gestapo was assasinated in his car. The Nazis killed 1300 Czechs in the village of Lidice, and razed the village to the ground. It still hasn't been rebuilt.
The Nazis lost, too. Doing this didn't help much.

Posted by: Cat brother at December 5, 2006 9:19 AM

From what I understand, Heydrich was killed by two agents the British parachuted into Czechoslovakia.

The Nazis were too brutal. One can be firm without being brutal.

My point was more metaphor than literal. There are ways to curb the violence in Iraq, but I don't think Americans will take the steps to do so. Our occupation of Germany and Japan was largely "hands off", and those two countries did fine. In Iraq, we have a people who would rather kill each other than pick up the trash off the street. What can one do with such a population? Not much.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 5, 2006 8:19 PM

Doombuggy, you wrote: *I suggest one problem in Iraq is that the US is too nice. If I had my way, when one Allied soldier is killed, that neighborhood gets 48 hours of saturation bombing from B-52 bombers. Insurgents flare up in Sadr City, 48 hours of saturation bombing by B-52 bombers. Continue until violence is zero. It worked on Hanoi in 1972.*

Then you added the following: *The Nazis were too brutal. One can be firm without being brutal.*


Do I understand correctly that what you suggest for Iraq is *firm without being brutal*?

Frania

Posted by: Frania W. at December 12, 2006 4:55 PM

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