Monday, August 14, 2006

Bush + Iraq = Quagmire

I’ve been reading George Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq (2005), which is about as infuriating a book as I’ve ever read. Packer begins by making a surprisingly strong case that the invasion of Iraq might have been justifiable simply on humanitarian grounds, and that it might, with careful planning, lots of luck, and clear-eyed realism, have been possible to prosecute successfully. It was an extremely long shot, and even Packer's case at its strongest doesn't convince me. But it was possible.

However, Packer follows that case with example after example of how the Bush administration, through its fecklessness, hubris, and incompetence, managed instead to more or less guarantee failure, with all the death, destruction, and instability that has accompanied it. Packer’s been everywhere, it seems, and talked to everyone—former Baathists, Defense Department officials, U.S. Army Captains on patrol, and ordinary Iraqis. Many of the ordinary Iraqis and most of the U.S. soldiers come across as real heroes—working incredibly hard in terrible conditions to attempt to rein in chaos, improve the country, and stay alive.

By the end of The Assassins’ Gate, it’s hard not to conclude that the Bush administration has failed on nearly every front. I started with what I thought was the lowest possible opinion of the administration; what I’ve learned reminds me that Brad DeLong has yet to be proved wrong when he says, “The Bush administration is worse than you think, even after you’ve taken into account that the Bush administration is always worse than you think.”

All of which has me thinking about a particular word—here’s The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary’s take on it:
Treason: 1 The action of betraying a person, etc., betrayal of trust, treachery. 2 Law Violation by a subject of allegiance to the sovereign or the State, esp. by attempting or plotting to kill or overthrow the Government. Formerly also high treason 3 An act or kind of treason. Now rare.

Hmm. That doesn’t seem quite right. I don’t think anyone in the Bush administration is actually trying to overthrow the government,; in fact, I’m sure they think they’re working on behalf of the government. They’re just disastrously, criminally incompetent.

That gives me an idea. How about:
Dereliction 1 The state of being abandoned or forsaken, dilapidation, neglect. 2 The act of deliberate abandonment. Now rare exc. Law, of a chattel or movable. 3 Failure, cessation; esp. sudden failure of the bodily or mental powers. 4 Reprehensible abandonment; wilful neglect. Chiefly in dereliction of duty.

Here’s just one of the countless examples. I could almost have picked this at random—seriously. See what you think:
By the end of the summer [of 2003, Paul] Bremer understood the extent of the problem and its political urgency. He went to Washington and let the White House know that Iraq was going to cost America tens of billions of dollars. Iraqi oil money and seized assets wouldn’t come close to covering it. The reassuring forecasts of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz went into the dustbin of history.

President Bush broke the news to the country on September 7, 2003, and Congress quickly passed an $87 billion appropriation bill that included $18.4 billion for Iraq’s reconstruction. Much of the money was earmarked for the huge infrastructure projects—power plants, water and sewage treatment, telecommunications—that only large multinationals could carry out. . . . By August 2004, ten months after the appropriation, only $400 million of the $18.4 billion—barely two percent—had been spent. By the time Iraqi subcontractors saw any of the money, all but a small fraction had been lopped off in overhead, security (as much as 40 percent of any contract), corruption, and profits. The CPA kept promising Iraqis that the spigot was about to be turned on and the country was going to be flooded with lifesaving cash that would put tens of thousands of people to work. It never happened.

Part of the problem lay in the business-as-usual attitude back in Washington. Rumsfeld, still technically in charge of the postwar, set the tone: In mid-September, just a few days after Bush’s televised speech, the defense secretary said, “I don’t believe it’s our job to reconstruct the country. The Iraqi people will have to reconstruct that country over a period of time. “ He even offered the Iraqi people a reconstruction plan of sorts: “Tourism is going to be something important in that country as soon as the security situation is resolved, and I think that will be resolved as soon as the Iraqis take over more and more responsibility for their own government.”

Let's look at "Dereliction," sense four again:
4 Reprehensible abandonment; wilful neglect. Chiefly in dereliction of duty.
I think we have our winner. It’s time to jail Donald Rumsfeld on a charge of dereliction of duty and criminal negligence.

But let’s not forget his bosses, who through all of this have found no reason to fire—or even publically reprimand—him.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Do it now.

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