Right-wing talk radio is giving big play to what New Republic editor Martin Peretz said recently about Iraq and President Bush. Admitting he was wrong about Bush, here’s how Peretz described his current position:
“Bush, it now seems safe to say, is one of the great surprises in modern U.S. history. Nothing about his past suggested that he harbored these ideals nor the qualities of character required for their realization. Right up to the moment Bush became president, I was convinced that his mind, at least on matters Levantine, belonged to his father and to James Baker III, whose worldview seemed to be defined by the pecuniary prejudice of oil and Texas: Keep the ruling Arabs happy.”
With things looking up in Iraq, Peretz explained that he’s not unhappy about being wrong, unlike most liberals:
“But I was wrong, and, in light of what has already been achieved in the Middle East, I am glad to say so. Most American liberals, alas, enjoy no similar gladness. They are not exactly pleased by the positive results of Bush’s campaign in the Middle East. They deny and resent and begrudge and snipe. They are trapped in the politics of churlishness.”
It’s an odd bird who says he’s glad he was wrong. More common is the guy who hopes things will turn out just as awful as he’d predicted. Better to stay in a morose rut than let in some evidence that might shake up the established paradigm of gloom.
It’s within this rigid framework, explains Peretz, that Bush can get no credit:
“If George W. Bush were to discover a cure for cancer, his critics would denounce him for having done it unilaterally, without adequate consultation, with a crude disregard for the sensibilities of others. He pursued his goal obstinately, they would say, without filtering his thoughts through the medical research establishment. And he didn’t share his research with competing labs and thus caused resentment among other scientists who didn’t have the resources or the bold — perhaps even somewhat reckless — instincts to pursue the task as he did. And he completely ignored the World Health Organization, showing his contempt for international institutions. Anyway, a cure for cancer is all fine and nice, but what about AIDS?”
The cancer analogy connects to what Peretz calls the “historical pathology” of the Middle East, the disease of perpetual hatred and dysfunction that Bush attacked with “unprecedented vigor and with unprecedented success.”
And the result: “I refer, of course, to the political culture of the Middle East, which the president may actually have changed. And he has accomplished this genuinely momentous transformation in ways that virtually the entire foreign affairs clerisy — the cold-blooded Brent Scowcroft realist Republicans and almost all the Democrats — never thought possible.”
Not everyone on the left, of course, is so happy. Pulitzer-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, rather than seeing liberals trapped in churlishness, sees Bush trapped in a deadly pipe dream. It would be easier to cut our losses and get out of Iraq, argues Hersh, if the war were about something as clear-cut as Israel or oil. But make it bigger and more fuzzy, make it faith-based and about God-given rights, and we’re heading for waist deep again in the big muddy.
Explains Hersh in the April 2005 issue of the Progressive, regarding the Bush policy in Iraq and the alleged quagmire:
“What’s frightening is that he did it for ideological reasons, and therefore he’s not going to get out. So it isn’t ultimately about oil or about Israel; it’s about belief. I don’t know whether God talks to him or whether he’s trying to undo what his father did. But he believes in a mission. The body bags aren’t going to deter him. Public dissent isn’t going to deter him. He’s going to go ahead. And that’s more frightening.”
Either way, whether Peretz or Hersh has it right, the key issue is still the level of competency in the U.S. government — the question of whether any vision or mission, no matter if it’s more war or less, can be successfully realized by the current assemblage of federal agencies and bureaucracies. As a case in point, it was six months to the day after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that Rudi Dekkers received a letter from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service at the flight school he operates in Venice, Florida, regarding the student visa for Mohammed Atta. Everything with Mr. Atta, said the INS, was shipshape, ready to fly.
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