Friday, April 27, 2007

Great Moments in Punditry: 4 Years Later

From the inimitable Tom Tomorrow:

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hiring Bush

I thought this was an interesting set of notes on the qualifications for president. Sadly, with every political office I can think of, the skills and requirements to get elected have only some overlap with the qualifications necessary to lead successfully... but that's, apparently, human nature (popularity contests writ large).

The article: Hiring a President. This was obviously written before November 2004, but is still interesting. (Software engineers might be interested in checking out some of the rest of the site, BTW.) Some excerpts:
Bush's campaign is centered around denying reality and choosing actions despite reality.
This campaign ideology of igorance has sustained throughout his presidency; to the shame of the American people, it was present in spades even during his first term.
Bush highlights his "resolve", while Kerry combats charges that he "waffles". It was only in the first debate that Kerry raised the obvious point that "you can be certain and be wrong." Bush, it seems, prefers to be certain, because he can not believe he could be wrong. This is the opposite of adaptive capacity, and it is a dangerous thing to have in a leader at any level, but especially in the president.
Bush's behavior and rhetoric (if it can be called that) will reflect badly on the GOP for some time; however bad a candidate Kerry was, the GOP deserves its shame for having regurgitated forth such a specimen as Bush Jr.
... Bruce Bartlett says that Bush "dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts" because "He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."
No wonder Bush is the darling of the religious right; clearly, examining the positions of the die-hard red states in economic and educational statistics, God continues to bless them with ignorance. To quote Katha Pollitt: "... fundamentalism is exactly the thing to manage decline: It schools the downwardly mobile in making the best of their lot while teaching them to be grateful for the food pantry and daycare over at the church."
In a CNN interview, Bush supporter Pat Robertson described his meeting with Bush on the eve of the Iraq war: "I warned him about the war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, `Mr. President, you had better prepare the American people for casualties.'" Robertson said that Bush told him "Oh no, we're not going to have any casualties."
Not that I trust Robertson any farther than I can throw Venezuela at him, but this quote isn't difficult to believe.
Similarly (according to the Suskind article), Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) warned Bush about growing problems of winning the peace a few months before the war, but Bush was unconcerned. Biden finally said "How can you be so sure when you don't know the facts?" and Bush replied "My instincts." Suskind describes a White House senior advisor explaining all this by pointing out that relying on facts and an analysis of the world is for the "reality-based community", which the president has gone beyond. He is part of a new reality-creating community: if he doesn't like the facts, he can ignore them, change them, or create a new reality. This is an astonishing way to do politics, but a disastrous approach to leading the world.
Nothing incorrect here; this administration truly has gone "beyond reality." If only that were a good thing.

Now, the cause of all this:
On a wide variety of issues, his supporters hold incorrect views, either because they believe what Bush has told them, or because they would have to give up their support for Bush if they didn't believe them.
This [the table of statistics in the article] shows that Bush supporters are extremely ill-informed, or that Bush has successfully mislead them on these issues.

In each case, Bush supporters tend to agree with Kerry's viewpoint (numbers not shown here) but falsely believe that Bush agrees with them. In each case Kerry supporters are accurate in assessing Kerry.
Some quotes from an American Conservative magazine endorsement of Kerry:
Bush has behaved like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be, and his continuation in office will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations. ... few have paid attention to how much the Bush presidency has degraded the image of the United States in the world. Of course there has always been anti-Americanism. ... But Bush has somehow managed to take all these sentiments and turbo-charge them...

The hatred Bush has generated has helped immeasurably those trying to recruit anti-American terrorists - indeed his policies are the gift to terrorism that keeps on giving, as the sons and brothers of slain Iraqis think how they may eventually take their own revenge. ... Making yourself into the world's most hated country is not an obvious way to secure that help. ... George W. Bush has come to embody a politics that is antithetical to almost any kind of thoughtful conservatism.
Then again, Bush isn't a conservative. He's not even typically right-wing. Just as he's gone "beyond reality," he's well beyond conservatism. And again, if only that were a good thing. I have disagreements with conservatism, but I have conservative friends whose opinions I respect. Bush isn't conservative - he's a radical of an ilk that defies conventional definitions, even in political spectra richer than the shallow and deceiving liberal-conservative line:
  • Conservatives tend towards isolationism or at least multilateral policy, as H. W. Bush in the first Gulf War - hardly the sort to institute and act on policies of preemptive war sans allies.
  • How would you characterize a president who introduced the largest new entitlement program in U.S. history?
  • How about creating the largest new department ever in the federal government (Homeland Security, a shambling bureaucracy)?
  • Spending like a gambler, refusing to cut spending while incurring massive deficits and pressing for progressive tax cuts, rather than regressive ones which would benefit the working class.
Nothing conservative there, other than perhaps invoking Jesus periodically for some credibility among some circles.
The astounding thing is how well Bush's "reality-creating" approach has stood up to this criticism. With any president in my lifetime (with the possible exception of Reagan), any one of these thoughtful criticisms would be enough to cause serious questioning of the president's competency. But Bush seems to be skilled at deflecting the criticism by pretending it doesn't exist.
So certainly Bush wouldn't care about any of this, even if he heard it. He would perhaps label it as "criticism," acknowledging existence but none of its particular content. My hope is that we, as a voting body, learn how to identify similar creatures in the future, and send them back to the dustbin of history to which they belong. Sadly, Bush's legacy will be part of our history forever.

For newly anti-Bush converts

It seems that despite being a year old, this article is even more relevant today, as W. Bush continues to corrode the reputation of the GOP, the hopes of Americans, and the influence of conservatism. And if it seems like I'm kicking a lame duck, I am. If I actually believed that events and consequences in the world affected Bush's mental state in any way, I'd wish for a complete mental breakdown... after leaving office, of course, lest Cheney be left in command. Why so cruel? As an object lesson to every other U.S. politician.

(Side note: I have disagreements with conservatism, but I have conservative friends whose opinions I respect. Bush isn't conservative - he's a radical of an ilk that defies conventional definitions, even in political spectra richer than the traditional liberal-conservative line.
  • Conservatives tend towards isolationism - hardly the sort to institute and act on policies of preemptive war.
  • How would you characterize a president who introduced the largest new entitlement program in U.S. history?
  • How about creating the largest new department ever in the federal government?
  • Spending like a gambler, refusing to cut spending while incurring massive deficits and pressing for progressive tax cuts, rather than regressive ones which would benefit the working class.
Nothing conservative there, other than perhaps invoking Jesus periodically for knee-jerk credibility in some circles.

Anyway - from Jane Smiley: Notes for Converts. Some notes and comments from the article:
1. Bush doesn't know you disagree with him. Nothing about you makes you of interest to George W. Bush once you no longer agree with and support him.

2. Bush doesn't care whether you disagree with him. As a man who has dispensed with the reality-based world, and is entirely protected by his handlers from feeling the effects of that world, he is indifferent to what you now think is real.

3. Bush does what he feels like doing and he deeply resents being told, even politely, that he ought to do anything else. Bush is a man who has never been anywhere and never done anything, and yet he has been flattered and cajoled into being president of the United States through his connections, all of whom thought they could use him for their own purposes. ... From his point of view, he is perfectly entitled by his own experience to a sense of entitlement. Why would he ever feel the need to reciprocate? He's never had to before this.

5. Tyranny is your creation. What we have today is the natural and inevitable outcome of ideas and policies you have promoted for the last generation. I once knew a guy who was still a Marxist in 1980. Whenever I asked him why Communism had failed in Russia and China, he said "Mistakes were made". He could not believe that Marxism itself was at fault, just as you cannot believe that the ideology of the unregulated free market has created the world we live in today.
...
No successful company in the history of capitalism has ever favored open competition.
...
The US could have become a moderating force in what seems now to be an inevitable battle among the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions, but you have made that impossible by flattering and empowering our own violent and intolerant Christian right.
...
You have created an imperium, heedless of the most basic wisdom of the Founding Fathers - that at the very least, no man is competent enough or far-seeing enough to rule imperially. Checks and balances were instituted by Madison, Jefferson, Franklin, and the rest of them not because of some abstract distrust of power, but because they had witnessed the screw-ups and idiocies of unchecked power.
...
At one time, our bureaucracy was full of people who had gone into government service or scientific research for altruistic reasons--I knew, because I knew some of them. You have driven them out and replaced them with vindictive ignoramuses.
...
You have increased the powers of corporations at the expense of every other sector in the nation and actively defied any sort of regulation that would require these corporations to treat our world with care and respect. You have made economic growth your deity, and in doing so, you have accelerated the power of the corporations to destroy the atmosphere, the oceans, the ice caps, the rainforests, and the climate. You have produced CEOs in charge of lots of resources and lots of people who have no more sense of reciprocity or connection or responsibility than George W. Bush.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Iraq and Japan

Some interesting notes on the U.S. occupation of Iraq, compared with the post-WWII occupation of Japan. Source: http://www.bostonreview.net/BR28.1/dower.html. Note that this was written in March 9, 2003, more than a week prior to the Coalition invasion.
The problem is that few if any of the ingredients that made this success possible are present—or would be present—in the case of Iraq. The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned.

It [the postwar occupation of Japan] enjoyed virtually unquestioned legitimacy—moral as well as legal— in the eyes of not merely the victors but all of Japan’s Asian neighbors and most Japanese themselves.
In the case of Iraq, we had the support of none of Iraq's neighbors, and little of the rest of the world (despite the influential support of Micronesia - that might be sarcasm). In fact, Bush's infantile "Axis of Evil" reference to Iran (however apropos) probably did a little to undermine any genuine desires we had for support from the region.
The reforms that were introduced in the opening year and a half or so of the [Japanese] occupation were quite stunning. They amounted to a sweeping commitment to what we now call “nation-building” — the sort of hands-on commitment that George W. Bush explicitly repudiated in his presidential campaign.

The Americans introduced in Japan a major land reform... We introduced labor laws that guaranteed the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike... We revamped both the content and structure of the educational system...
While the U.S. has done some of this post-invasion, dismantling the entire Iraqi government and starting anew guaranteed a service vacuum, temporary in some areas and possibly permanent in others.
Apart from lacking the moral legitimacy and internal and global support that buttressed its occupation of Japan, the United States is not in the business of nation-building any more—just look at Afghanistan. And we certainly are not in the business of promoting radical democratic reform. Even liberal ideals are anathema in the conservative circles that shape U.S. policy today.

Put simply, one of the reasons the reformist agenda succeeded is that Japan was spared the type of fierce tribal, religious, and political factionalism that exists in countries like Iraq today.

But for all practical purposes the [Japanese] bureaucracy remained intact, top to bottom. And to a far greater extent than anyone really anticipated, bureaucrats and civil servants cooperated in implementing the early reformist agendas. “Democratization” of the structure and content of the educational system, to take but one example, required and received enormous input from bureaucrats and teachers at every level. The skills and education levels of the Iraqi people are substantial, but it is nonetheless difficult to imagine a comparably swift, smooth, and substantial redirection of existing administrative and institutional structures in a post-hostilities Iraq.
The Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, on the other hand, immediately banned the Ba'ath party and barred its members from participation in the new government; this, despite the fact that under Saddam Hussein's rule, the government was entirely Ba'ath, and therefore even those who may not have supported Hussein were required to join the party to do their jobs.
Japan is notoriously poor in natural resources ... the reformers—Americans and Japanese alike—had a brief breathing space in which to push their ambitious agendas without being hammered by special economic interests. Iraq, of course, with its great oil resources, will not be spared such interference.
And the economic interests are in addition to the multidimensional sectarian reasons that internal and external parties have for interfering in Iraq.

Finally, a tangential but important point from the article - something which, as the world's largest exporter of weapons (including to totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia), we tend to forget:
In the name of curbing weapons of mass destruction we have embarked on a massive program of producing new arsenals of mass destruction and have announced that we may resort to first-use of nuclear weapons. We express moral repulsion and horror at the terror-bombing of civilians, and rightly so; and then an endless stream of politicians and pundits explains how this is peculiar to Islamic fundamentalists who do not value human life as we do. But “terror-bombing” has been everyone’s game since World War II.