There’s something funny or perhaps funny isn’t quite the word – – strange, wrong-headed, demented might better describe how this administration deals with complex issues.
The president says national security comes first and that we must fight terrorism pretty much for the rest of our natural lives and the lives of those who come after some of us older folk. But as he drifts from photo op to photo op and muses over what he will do when he leaves office, he seems to be oblivious or maybe just uncaring, about the mounting cost of our military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan where our presence has not assured fundamental political progress or helped establish sustainable governments.
And when it comes to homeland security he proposes to cut funds for some of our most vulnerable cities turning costly foreign-policy blunders into ill-advised domestic cost-cutting measures. New York, for example, isn’t just your average metropolis; it is the hub of the nation’s financial operations, a major port, the site of our national symbol, The Statue of Liberty, with a complicated underground transit system serving the metropolitan area and environs. In a lame attempt to pretend that states and municipalities could assume greater responsibility for operations that impact an entire nation he seems to be echoing the sentiments of people like Ron Paul who think the federal government should remain aloof from its state and local components – – a kind of states’ rights, states’ responsibility approach that, given the complicated interwoven nature of our society, borders on the irrational.
As an indication of the parallel universe he inhabits Mr. Bush celebrates the wonders of a people living free because we deposed a wicked tyrant despite the millions of displaced Iraqis, cordoned off, devastated neighborhoods and poorly-devised reconstruction projects. And he constantly points to the brilliance of the military surge despite its likely ephemeral nature as military units stand down in the coming months. Equally unsettling are John McCain’s comments when he says the troops tell him they want to be allowed “to win”, although reports indicate that if violence has abated in some quarters, there has been no political reconciliation, and no government structures exist to enable economic and social progress. As usual, what is meant by “winning” remains unclear.
In fact, a NY Times article on Sunday (12/2/07) depicts conditions on the ground that are far from encouraging in terms of job opportunities, law-enforcement and the amenities one expects in a civilized society. Bribes must be paid to officials for the privilege of joining the police force; everything from office supplies to medical equipment is stolen with impunity and described by lawbreakers as “survival tools.” Even a man trying to do an honest day’s work operating a car wash facility, does so by intercepting water from broken pipes meant to supply the general population. Thus has the lawlessness of random violence been replaced by lawlessness of a different sort – – theft and corruption at all levels of society – – if what exists there could be described as a social construct governed by competent, well-intentioned leaders operating within a system of enforceable laws.
Proponents of the war are fond of saying that Iraqis just aren’t used to governing having lived so long under a dictatorship and that their conversion to democratic institutions will take time to evolve. But as the present “unity government” continues to be anything but what its name implies it is hard to imagine when such a magical transformation is likely to occur. Meanwhile US financial support is squandered by the pilfering of locals or is otherwise filling the coffers of contractors who seem to be the biggest winners in Iraq.
What we’ve been doing certainly hasn’t diminished the forces of terrorism, developed stability in the Middle East or calmed the fears of the American people. In fact, if anything, threats of violence and an uncertain future have exacerbated a sense of national anxiety. There is a growing realization that our economy cannot withstand the cost of an open-ended occupation in Iraq nor is it likely to absorb easily the financial and emotional cost of the services returning troops will require for many years to come. It is becoming clear to most people that, while politicians wrangle about social programs and how to pay for them, the cost of the war is one of the greatest unfunded mandates of our time, propelling us into a future of growing debt and economic uncertainty.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the president conjures up visions of raking in millions from speaking engagements. He doesn’t seem to understand that people who make a lot of money on the lecture circuit usually have something to say and actually do things. ‘Speaker’ Bush is likely to address, in his usual garbled manner, groups of captive attendees at the base of his party who will fail to grasp that he really has nothing of import to say and says it badly while he attempts to reconstruct a failed presidency by spinning improbable rationales for disastrous policies.
But hopefully a new administration will structure the nation’s priorities to reflect the deepest concerns of the American people who have been so badly served for so long.