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17 March 2006

why has this man stopped smiling?

Stress shows -- George Bush has aged visibly since the start of the war. (Reuters photo)

Through the Magicke of the International Date Line, Agence-Vleeptron Presse is pleased to bring its readers


~ ~ ~

The American presidency is an emotionally crushing job. Though Franklin Delano Roosevelt had lifted America out of the Great Depression, and had nearly reached the Promised Land of victory in World War Two, the job killed him.

With just one four-year term before voters replaced him with Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter aged visibly and unmistakably, not just four years older, but he looked twenty years older by the time he left office. The Iran hostage crisis had forced him to retreat into the White House.

Biographers and contemporary memoirs say pretty bluntly that Nixon had descended into heavy drinking and severe depression by the time he agreed to resign. He could barely muster a little smile and feeble wave when he climbed aboard the Marine helicopter and flew away for the last time.

Only Reagan seemed able to escape the crushing emotional weight of things screwing up left and right with his presidency; he always looked like he'd slept like a baby the night before and was eager for eighteen holes of golf and a fancy evening reception. Of course his earlier training was as a B-List Hollywood movie and TV star, so Looking Great for the Camera was his lifelong profession.

One of the famous men Alistair Cooke profiled in "Six Men" was King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in 1936 and went into lifelong exile as the Duke of Windsor after he was unable to survive a constitutional crisis over his wish to marry a divorced American. But before the crisis, in the brief year he was King of England (and lots of other places), he'd been very popular with the British people, drew huge, appreciative crowds wherever he traveled, and always looked young, happy, fit and confident. Cooke liked him, but was not very charitable in summing him up:

"The most damning epitaph you can compose about Edward --
as a Prince, as a King, as a man -- is one that all comfortable
people should cower from deserving:

he was at his best only when the going was good."

No one could be more unfriendly to the Bush presidency than I, but as disasters, scandals, embarrassments and screwups have filled the White House up to his nipples, I confess to a certain grudging pity for him. When a cabal of right-wing billionaires and neoconservative ideologues found him grinning and shaking hands at fund-raising barbecues in Texas, they talked him into running for president and convinced him it would be an easy job for a guy like him.

They told him competent professionals would take care of all the details of government for him, and all he'd have to do was to keep grinning and shaking hands and playing golf and listening to bands play "Hail to the Chief." He would get Ronald Reagan's old job of reassuring Kindergarten America that Everything's Okay, and with his smile and grin, would easily stroll through it as triumphantly as Reagan had.

Then those airplanes vaporized the World Trade Center and crashed into the Pentagon. And the personal shock for Bush was that suddenly all Americans expected him to Do Things, and do them very well, do them free of politics and corruption, and do them in a hurry.

Before winning (?) the presidency in 2000, he'd only won one political campaign, Texas governor. His father had been a longtime Congressman, then head of the CIA, then America's first diplomatic representative after the Nixon rapprochement with Communist China. Bush Pere had a long track record of competent (or at least scandal-free) accomplishments in national government service.

Bush Fils pretty much only knew how to raise money at big fancy barbecues. (There's still that unsettled question of whether he'd ever travelled abroad before he became president. I wish somebody could answer it definitively; my personal suspicion is that he'd never been abroad, though he probably took a few trips to Mexico, a necessary ritual for every Texas governor.)

Now everyone -- those who voted for him and supported him, and those who voted for Gore and Kerry and Nader and Anybody But Bush -- expects that while he's President, he'll do important things successfully.

And he never learned how. Before being governor, he'd failed at every business endeavor he'd tried.

It wouldn't be so disastrous if his Handlers were competent professionals at the business of governance. But they're pretty much a sealed cult of rabid neocon ideologues using their White House once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform America into The New Rome, the Terror of the World. They'll all drink the KoolAid before they admit their policies have been catastrophic failures for America.

Of just the War in Iraq alone, it must be worse for Bush than Vietnam was for Johnson and Nixon. Johnson inherited the war from the blunders and miscalculations of Eisenhower and Kennedy, and Nixon inherited the war from Johnson. Both could relieve some of their frustration by saying, honestly: This wasn't my idea, this wasn't my fault.

Bush invented this war.

To end it, he would have to tell the American people it was a mistake. His mistake.

Wherever the dubious presidency of Bill Clinton left America on the board of the World Game, Bush's presidency has seen America's playing piece slide six, eight, twelve spaces backwards. (China has moved steadily forward, and even India has become an unexpected economic powerhouse -- but not an American ally -- on Bush's watch.)

And yet in Bush's latest round of speeches (always to friendly cherry-picked audiences, a hallmark of his synthetic public appearances and hatred for press conferences), he announces proudly and loudly that America is on track toward Victory in Iraq.

Last month, for a solid week, he threatened to use his veto for the first time (both houses of Congress are Republican) to force America to accept the Dubai government's management takeover at six of the USA's biggest seaports. Dubai saved him a humiliating defeat by abandoning the deal, and selling the port management to a US company. Powerful Republicans in Congress smell the blood of a severely unpopular lame-duck president, and are turning against him. They face re-election in November, and being perceived as a Bush stooge won't help.

Consistently Bush backs up his pre-Iraq foreign policy by threatening a growing list of Asian "Axis of Evil" nations with military action: Syria, North Korea, Iran.

Suggestions that America's military is already stretched to the snapping point fall on bizarrely deaf ears and don't seem to restrain the sabre-rattling rhetoric of the Bush team. This week senior administration officials are adding the accusation that Iran is fueling the civil war in Iraq to the nuclear fuel crisis. (The proof of Iran's interference in Iraq will have been provided by the same intelligence machine that provided proof of Sadaam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction.)

And so we return to the classic American political question: Is the guy just lying, or is the guy profoundly stupid, or is the guy crazy?

If you know of a fourth possibility, please Leave A Comment.

But he is growing very old very quickly. And he never even learned movie acting. His smile is failing. The nifty job hasn't been Fun for a very long time, because he never knew what the job really demands or how to do it. He thought it was a much simpler Job, all Air Force One and stretch limos.

In what follows, note that Australia chose to be a staunch military ally of the United States in Iraq.

~ ~ ~

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Saturday 18 March, 2006

Hostility on all sides

American are blaming their President
for the country's tarnished image
on the world stage, writes Michael Gawenda.

'AMERICA is at war. This is a wartime national security strategy required by the grave challenges we face ... This strategy reflects our most solemn obligation: to protect the security of the American people."

George Bush, on the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, now looks and sounds like a president who goes to bed at night and wakes wondering whether, in the face of yet another crisis in Iraq -- more sectarian violence, more atrocities, more dead US soldiers -- the patience he has asked for from Americans will be forthcoming.

The Bush swagger -- that strange stiff-shouldered walk, chest out, arms by his side -- is now rarely seen. Bush looks more gaunt, his hair greyer than it was a year ago, the easy banter with the media and with the carefully selected audiences for his speeches, mostly gone. There is little to joke about.

But the war that Bush was referring to in those first stark sentences of the Administration's 2006 National Security Strategy released this week was not the war in Iraq. It was the war on terrorism that began with the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

The war, according to Bush, that is about spreading freedom and democracy around the world and "because free nations tend towards peace, the advance of liberty will make Americans more secure."

The politics of this is clear: the best, perhaps the only, hope that Bush has of keeping some modicum of real support among Americans for the involvement in Iraq is to link it to the wider war on terrorism.

Bush's poll numbers are appalling on Iraq but on keeping America safe he still polls just over 50 per cent -- and crucially, still does better than the Democrats.

That doesn't say all that much. Isolationism, protectionism, even nativism are on the march. That's what the Dubai ports controversy was all about. That's what the great debate about illegal immigrants is all about. That's what you often hear when you talk to Americans of all political persuasions, and they say that all America gets for its efforts to spread democracy and liberty is hostility. That's why Bush, in virtually all his recent speeches, including his statement explaining the national security strategy, warns against Americans "choosing the path of fear."

"The path of fear -- isolationism and protectionism, retreat and retrenchment -- appeals to those who find our challenges too great and fail to see our opportunities," he says.

THE war in Iraq, three years on, has resulted in approval ratings for Bush that are about at the level of Richard Nixon's just before he resigned in disgrace in 1974, and more than any other issue, will determine how history views his presidency.

More than that, it has left most Americans deeply concerned about where the country is headed and with no great faith that Bush -- or, for that matter, Congress -- can turn things around any time soon.

With the release of the national security strategy, Bush Administration officials were at pains to say that it did not represent any major change from the controversial 2002 strategy which spelt out the new, post-September 11 US foreign policy, based on America's pre-eminent military might which would be used for pre-emptive strikes against rogue states and states that harboured terrorists.

But US foreign policy has shifted significantly. What has gone from the 2006 document is the confidence in America's unparalleled influence in the world and the faith that America's pre-eminent military strength can be used to deal with the terrorist threat and with the dangers posed by rogue states.

In 2006, the US still has "enormous power and influence but it must recognise the limits to what even a nation as powerful as the US can achieve by itself."

In place of unilateralism and a disdain for diplomacy and international institutions, the foreign policy is a great focus on diplomacy, the sort of diplomacy that the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, has described as "transformational."

The question is whether this change has come too late and whether it is an approach that can deal with the threat posed by Iran's determination to pursue nuclear weapons, a threat which Bush -- and for that matter most foreign policy analysts agree -- is the greatest challenge facing the US and the international community.

Richard Haas, the president of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, when asked about the impact of the Iraq war on US foreign policy, says that it has been "clearly negative."

"The war has absorbed a tremendous amount of US military capacity, the result being that the United States has far less spare or available capacity, not just in the active sense, but to exploit in the diplomatic sense," he says. "It has therefore weakened our position against both Iran and North Korea. For all that, a lot of the impact on US foreign policy still awaits how things turn out.

"It's a very different impact if Iraq implodes -- Obviously in such circumstances, the implications for US foreign policy would be both greater and more negative."

The Haas view is widely shared by foreign policy analysts in Washington, where even the most ardent supporters of the war and of the Bush Administration now agree that the serious blunders made both in the way the war was fought and during the occupation have called into question the Administration's competence.

David Brooks, the influential conservative columnist for The New York Times and a strong supporter of the war, this week described the Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, as just a "pathetic figure" who basically ignored his generals and expressed contempt for those who had different views than his and, as a result, got everything about the war wrong.

The debate about the war has moved beyond whether or not the Bush Administration selectively used intelligence about Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction to justify the war. It is about whether, in light of the mounting evidence of the Administration's incompetence, it can be trusted to deal with the looming foreign policy challenges, Iran in particular.

There are signs in Washington that even while the outcome of the war in Iraq hangs in the balance, even while, on this third anniversary of the start of the war, the suggestion that there will be major troop withdrawals this year seems far-fetched, there is increasing talk, usually from anonymous administration officials, that the diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear weapons program will inevitably fail.

And that when that becomes clear, the only option left to the US will be a military one. That may be, these officials say, still some time off, but there's little doubt that there's planning for this at the Pentagon.

But the legacy of Iraq is that a clear majority Americans, no matter what Bush said, would oppose military action against Iran. The polls make it clear that most Americans have little stomach for further US military action in the Middle East - not, anyway, by this Administration.

On this third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, what most Americans want is to get out of there as quickly as possible. They are not yet saying get out immediately, whatever the consequences, but unless things improve in Iraq, that may be coming some time soon.

- 30 -


Blogger Jim Olson said...

You'll forgive me if I do not share your charitable attitude towards our President. I know I am supposed to be in the forgiving business, but the most I can must for our Fearless Leader is the hope that he will see how badly he f#*%&#^ up and will truly repent. He is either so stupid that he has allowed himself to be manipulated into this (in which case he does earn a modicum of pity) or, he is not, (in which case he earns nothing.)

What he needs most is an indictment, prosectution, and a long, long jail sentence.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Yes, I will forgive you. This guy and his Psycho Klown Squad generate enormous anger, and that tends to evaporate everyone's best attempts to feel even the slightest amount of sympathy. If I express this slight (0.000000000000314 millipities) amount of sympathy, please forgive me. I think it's possible to send the bum and his scoundrel cronies to prison with or without a little bit of feeling sorry for him.

Here's what I feel about him. I'm on a huge Carnival Cruise Line, having a lovely Caribbean cruise. Suddenly a steward drags me to the bridge and tells me all the bridge officers dropped dead, and they need me to steer the ship, or it'll sink and 1200 people will drown.

I don't know shit about steering an ocean liner.

And even though Bush asked for it, he doesn't know shit about how to be president. And the ship sure seems to be sinking.

You bring up an interesting point: How long will the bum have to go to prison? The closest we ever got to this question was Nixon. He seems to have been terrified of going to jail. But as impeachment loomed and the question came up, there was a lot of opinion in the constitutional law community that you can remove a president from office, but you can't ever send a president to prison (unless you find a dead Girl Scout under his desk).

If a Bush impeachment ever reached conviction, that would be the first time the USA has ever faced this question. Constitutional guidance aside, it's very possible the Political Community (even the reasonably honest and comptetent ones) would decide it's a Really Bad Idea to imprison a president. As a lonely and rejected exile on his Texas ranch, Bush would be harmless for the rest of his life. But in a federal prison, a million whacko frootloops would shriek ceaselessly about The Living Martyr: FREE BUSH!

The idea of removal is to make the jerk stop bothering us. A long prison sentence would certainly taste delicious to some, but it would also give Bush and the Bushites the power to keep bothering us. I vote for Removal, followed by Oblivion.


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