26 February 2006

Worse than Bin Laden

Our newspaper ran a photo of a bumper sticker today: "Quagmire Accomplished!" My eight-year-old son wanted to know why Dad laughed until tears came. As I explained, he started backing away slowly -- clearly, as I ranted on and on, he was more than done and wanted to get back to reading the comics.

I rather surprised myself. I'm no fan of President Bush or the machine that made him, or the money politics that sustains him and his ilk on either side of the aisle. But I was taken aback by the depth of my anger.

Thinking about it, I came to a conclusion that sounds inflammatory, but is my considered, reasoned opinion: The man has done more damage to this country than Osama and all his evil crew. What's ironic is that Osama apparently would love nothing better than for our whole beautiful nation to burn, and Bush -- I choose to believe -- sincerely wants a sunny American future.

Which makes his blunders all the more painful to watch.

Just to take one example, let's look at the body count. The war in Iraq has killed 2,287 U.S. soldiers so far, while the official toll for the World Trade Center atrocity comes to 2,967 if you exclude their murderers. The latter number is only going to nudge up a fraction as toxic-dust victims and the like eventually succumb; our soldiers die every day. (As is customary in this country, I'm focusing only on American casualties, as if the tens of thousands of Iraqis civilians killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom never existed in the first place.) Have we accomplished any of our missions? No. Does it look likely that we ever will? No. The "insurgency" is boiling into a complete sectarian civil war, one from which a tolerant, democratic Iraq is the least likely outcome.

Well, that's not quite fair. We did get one thing done: Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. But a straightforward military assassination or tactical nuclear strike would have accomplished that, and I submit that even the latter would have done less lasting damage to our standing in the world.

Speaking of which, that's been crippled quite nicely, thank you. I'm no fan of Condoleeza Rice, either, but even I cringed for her as she stood next to successive Arab leaders announcing that, no, they would not join the Bush team's plan to boycott Hamas. Hamas, for crying out loud. You know, the kill-all-the-Jews guys? The noble slayers of birthday parties and weddings?

A less maladroit group of would-be world dominators maybe could have managed to come up with a plan the Arab leaders could sign on to, instead of one that they had to throw publicly back in our teeth. "Let's see, stand with the Americans, or support people who blow up babies...what to do..."

After all, Hamas won their election, and for some good reasons. It's not like they're the only ones doing the killing in that neck of the woods. And the Saudis and Egyptians have to look to their own seething masses--sooner or later the lid is going to blow off, and smacking Hamas in tandem with the United States right now might hasten that day. But if we hadn't been acting for the past five years with arrogant, cocksure disregard of the entire world's opinion...they might have found a way to work with us.

A storm has blown up over the Dubai ports deal. When I first saw the items, I had the typical reaction: They're handing our ports over to who? But on this one, having taken in some more information, I actually think that Bush and company have a point. It's a globalized world. Security would still be under the U.S. Coast Guard. No big deal. But between the President's previous howlers having so poisoned the well, and their petulant, stumbling atempts at damage control, hysteria took over. So even moderate Arabs probably find their worst suspicions of us confirmed: Israel-besotted racist Arab-haters. That'll play well down the road, the next time we need something from them.

Energy independence? Nah. Don't need it. Oil companies still making good money. No need to conserve, or invest in alternative-energy research. Why mess up a good thing? I'm no expert, but their attitude of sunny optimism on this one completely floors me. My God, didn't the Bushes make their money in oil? Does the phrase "world production peak" mean nothing to them? It does to Princeton's Kenneth Deffeyes, who calculates that we've already passed the peak--world oil production is going down from here on out, as demand in China and India burgeons. Meanwhile, more and more nations acquire nuclear arms with which to dispute the issue. Our leverage to control proliferation is weaker than ever, thanks to our increasingly isolated stance in the world, thanks to...yep, him again.

Climate change? Never. It'd impact the economy if we tried to control carbon emisions. Deny. Stall. Heck, rip language out of your own administration's science reports. It's not happening, it's not happening, it's...whoops. Where'd those hurricanes come from? What do you mean it's too late to control the emissions? Do something -- what do we pay you scientists for?!

They have to be in power to further their agenda--any dilution of that power would pollute the message and the mission--so the politics of lies, smears, and jingoism continues. Just a price of doing business, at the cost of so wrecking the machinery of real political discourse in this country that we may never recover. If you don't support the war, you're aiding terrorists. If you aren't doing anything wrong, you needn't fear wiretaps. If you need a few weeks' worth of oil, drill the ANWR for it.

I reiterate that I don't believe Bush and his team have evil intent. It's just that their world view is a fatally simple one, and accommodates little diversity, dissent, or cultural difference. As anyone who studies ecosystems can tell you, overconstrained, simplified systems tend to be brittle, while richer, diverse ones are more robust. Bush and company are betting it all on drawing to an inside straight--they have to be right on every call, pull off every miracle, to make their vision succeed. Blow one, and the whole stack of cards comes down. And--sorry to be a pessimist--they ain't gonna make it happen. God is not in the business of giving that kind of luck to anybody.

Ground Zero has been cleared, and a memorial will be built. We can move on from Bin Laden's murders. But my children will be dealing with Bush's catastrophic blunders for the rest of their lives.

03 February 2006

The Meaning of Life

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