I’ve written before about our president’s poor understanding of history. I’ve noted repeatedly that he will often use a historical reference that not only doesn’t actually support the point he thinks he’s making, but makes the opposite point instead.
But today he’s just gone too far. It actually hurts my brain. It’s not merely egoistic grandiosity anymore, it’s frankly aggressive, abusive treatment. It’s like he is actually trying to damage the minds of anyone who knows their 20th Century American history, or is old enough to have lived through it themselves.
How is it possible to withstand such an elemental force of bizarre rhetoric? How are we, who are limited by a lingering memory of sanity, a habit of believing in consensual reality, and an inability to wake each day and accept that everything we knew previously is wrong, to confront such an assault?
For years, Vietnam has served as the icon of American military failure. In fact, as long as Bush has been talking about invading Iraq, critics have been comparing it to Vietnam as an example of a misguided, strategically questionable, poorly planned, expensive military misadventure, where thousands of lives were lost and billions wasted for no apparent long-term value. So, what did Mr. Bush do today?
He alluded to Vietnam to support his war in Iraq.
No. Really. He did.
Sit down, it’ll begin to pass in a few moments.
Sputtering? Good, good. That’s a sign. You’re recovering. (Some can’t get over the initial catatonic shock and just dissociate.)
‘How?’ ‘Wha?’ Indeed.
The collision of the concepts ‘George W. Bush’ and ‘Vietnam’ might lure you into recalling that Bush avoided service in Vietnam, choosing to defend the skies and bars of Alabama when his generation was called to war. Some particle of an obsolete sense of decency might make you wonder how he could dare to stand before the Veterans of Foreign Wars and make a reference to his own cowardice, and Deferment Dick’s, that way.
But before your mind can fully process that conundrum, it gets buffeted by other absurdities.
Starting at the beginning of his speech, the pummeling begins. Did he really draw an equivalence between the militarists of WWII Japan, the Communists in Korea, the Communists in Vietnam, and “the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afhanistan”? Yes, yes he did. Did he actually say that the “lesson of Asia’s development is that the heart’s desire for liberty will not be denied?” Yes. (He does know that North Korea is still in Asia, right? And China? Are you sure?)
Wait, what? He’s seriously suggesting the experiences of two culturally and ethnically homogeneous nations like Japan and Korea, both of whom experienced American troops in completely different contexts, hold an example for what we can expect in diverse Iraq after an unprovoked invasion? Ow. Ow. Ow. Headache!
No. He didn’t just refer to the culturally-sensitive actions of the post-war occupation forces in Japan as an example. He did. He really did. He’s going for it: he’s actually suggesting that the way the US handled Japan and Korea are comparable to the way we handled and are handling Iraq.
Wait, our sticking by South Korea taught the Communists that aggression didn’t pay? (Then what the hell was Vietnam about?)
The mind reels. He is skillful, this Bush. All this about Japan and Korea, how American involvement spread the seeds of liberty and led to the growth of vibrant Asian economies (like China? no. shut up.), it’s just a warm-up, softening the mind for the coup de grace: Vietnam.
— See, there were doubters about Vietnam, just like there are now about Iraq. You know, there were even people way back when who said we should never get involved there in the first place? And there were even people saying we were making things worse, not better. —
Then, just as reasonable minds are about to proceed to the next rational thought “And they were right”, comes the bomb: The “one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like “boat people,” “re-education camps,” and “killing fields.””
Yup. That’s right. The big mistake in Vietnam wasn’t getting into a stupid, pointless war, and staying in it until the American people had finally had all they could stand. The big mistake in Vietnam was ending it. (Just like Iraq presumably. It wasn’t a mistake going in, it hasn’t been a long string of mistakes since, the mistake would be leaving.)
Brilliant. Vietnam, the war he himself wouldn’t fight, is the very war we should have continued to fight, but didn’t. We must not make that mistake again, huh?
Just before you have a moment to think things like “Wait, weren’t the killing fields in Cambodia, which was thrown into chaos by our bombing and incursions before the Khmer Rouge took power?”, there comes yet another blow, perhaps the most brutal, to the very fabric of a rational universe.
There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today’s struggle — those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that “the American people had risen against their government’s war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today.”
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda’s chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to “the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents.”
Ai-yiii! There it is, our great failure as a nation.
If only our leaders in the 70s had understood that decades later, very bad men would take the lesson that the American people will not continue to support expensive, pointless wars for vague objectives indefinitely! And that they would taunt us after we’d gotten ourselves involved in just such a war!
Then we might have been spared our current fate, doomed to remain engaged in said expensive and pointless war, just to spite them and prove the taunts of the terrorists wrong. The American people will SO support expensive, pointless wars indefinitely! We’ll show YOU, Osama. So there!
— See, if we were to leave Iraq, the terrorists would be emboldened and gain new recruits. (Whereas, if we stay, they are emboldened and gain … oh, never mind.)
So, there you have it.
The lesson of our military involvements in Asia is that the seeds of liberty spread by American military forces grow into thriving economies. And the lesson of Vietnam is that the big mistake is to pull out of the killing too soon, because then lots of local people kill each other instead, and only after is there a thriving economy. And, just as importantly, you get a reputation as a country that’s not really up for years of pointless violence and killing in foreign lands.
Which I guess is a really bad thing, if you want the US to be involved in decades of pointless violence and killing in foreign lands.
Something like that. But he must know, since he’s like, a Vietnam veteran and all, right? Oh, yeah. Hmm.
Just to show he wasn’t at all tired, Bush wrapped up his speech with a claim that we’ve captured more al Qaeda guys in Iraq than there are al Qaeda guys in Iraq, a passage about how people across the Middle East are longing for freedom and to be treated with dignity and respect (which I guess, is why we are supporting a military ruler, several monarchies and ‘democracies’ like Egypt), and a reference to how the Japanese war machine was brought down by men who’d been ordinary folks just months before, (in case you’d forgotten that Japan attacked us, we have no draft and the Iraq war has dragged on longer than the entire war in the Pacific.)
It’s at times like this that I get most demoralized. How can such a raving loon be allowed not just to wander about his ranch in Texas, but to actually hold the reins of power in our country? I can’t take too much more of this. He’s only getting worse.
See Think Progress on the ad campaign that will sell the surge. It is sponsored by Freedom Watch, a right-wing front group for the White House headed by former press secretary Ari Fleischer.
The privately-funded ad campaign will run in 20 states, featuring Iraq war vets and families of fallen soldiers arguing that the war should continue. The four ads produced so far by Fleischerâ€™s Freedomâ€™s Watch group contain little more than fear-mongering about an Iraq pullout. â€œThey attacked us and they will again. They wonâ€™t stop in Iraq,â€ one ad says. â€œIt will mean more attacks in America,â€ says another. Yet another ad warns, â€œWeâ€™ve already had one 9/11, we donâ€™t need another.â€
Likening himself to a battlefield general, Fleischer said, â€œFor people who believe in peace through strength, the cavalry is coming.â€
Let me know if you see ’em. I doubt they’ll bother running the ads in New York.
At Salon, Tim Grieve documents that the mainstream media persists in misquoting Democrats to make them seem supportive of the surge.
As we noted Monday, Sens. Carl Levin and John Warner have returned from Iraq to report that while the “surge” may be producing “measurable results” in reducing violence, they are “not optimistic” that the Iraq government will use its newfound “breathing space” to make the compromises “essential for a political solution in Iraq.”
In a follow-up press conference call with reporters, Levin made it clear that his was no glass-half-full assessment. “The purpose of the surge, by its own terms, was to … give the opportunity to the Iraqi leaders to reach some political settlements,” Levin said. “They have failed to do that. They have totally and utterly failed.”
Fox News’ headline on Levin’s report? Think Progress caught it: “Sens. Warner and Levin Travel to Iraq, Praise Surge Results.”
Read the rest of Grieve’s post to see similar treatment given to a statement by Senator Clinton.
But now the MSM has taken up the narrative that Democrats have conceded the surge is a military success, even though they haven’t. A headline in today’s Washington Post: “Democrats Refocus Message on Iraq After Military Gains.”
Today President Bush will be addressing members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and news reports say he plans to argue in favor of his Iraq War by comparing it to Vietnam. If you don’t already realize how stupid that is, Josh Marshall explains it for you.
And if you didn’t already know that the surge isn’t working, R.J. Eskow explains that for you, too.
We’re in the latter half of August, which means we’re approaching the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Several prominent bloggers will be blogging about Katrina this week at The Campaign for America’s Future. For example, here is Rick Perlstein:
The second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming. We’ll be writing about it all week here at The Big Con. It’s the signal conservative failure, the sine qua non of all we warn about here at the blog. In fact, we could write about nothing else, and teach our lesson just as well: that conservatives can’t govern, because of their contempt for government.
It also allowed us to gauge our conservative fellow Americans’ moral level.
He recounts the many ways conservatives around the nation denied any responsibility for New Orleans, and concludes,
It was then that I was reconfirmed in a vague notion I’d been carrying in my mind for years. It concerns patriotism and its paradoxes. Conservatives, of course, claim to be patriotic. They claim to be the most patriotic souls of all. Sometimesâ€”say it ain’t so!â€”they’ve been known to say other kinds of Americans are not patriotic, because they don’t believe the right things about preventive war, theology, and uncritical worship of the President (if the President is a Republican).
But patriotism has a simple definition: love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it.
This is, of course, something progressives have no problem doing. Because it means, simply, that all Americans are every other American’s concern. It means always acknowledging a national community, one to which we owe a constant obligation, parallel to our more local networks. It means that there is a certain level below which no American should be allowed to fall: in rights, in services, in solicitude from Washington. That no one who lives under that flag can ever be left behind. Even if they have the misfortune to live in a city that was hurt more by a hurricane than your city; and even if one city proves tragically less prepared to cope with a hurricane than another. That being an American means: step up. Our nation will sacrifice for you. That is what patriotism means.
Conservatives, on the other hand, were glad to let a certain group of Americans flounder and rotâ€”to gloat that certain supposed local failings trumped national obligation, and use “clever” graphics and just-so stories to shirk that obligation.
It proves they aren’t patriots at all.
It’s like what Susan Sontag said about religion, Amrican style: It’s “more the idea of religion than religion itself.” American patriotism, rightie style, is more the idea of America than America itself. They love to wallow in an idea of America as glorious and righteous and rich and strong, but if America needs something from them — well, you know how that tune goes.
Digby also has a post up that documents how racist paranoia hindered rescue efforts.
The Associated Press reports today that more Gulf Coast residents are thinking seriously about suicide or showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as the recovery from Hurricane Katrina inches along. In a survey conducted six months after Katrina, only 3 percent of people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had contemplated suicide. That figure has now doubled, and is up to 8 percent in the New Orleans area.
In the past two years more than a million Americans have volunteered to work for Gulf Coast recovery. UPI reports,
A federal report estimates the work volunteers have contributed since Hurricane Katrina is worth $263 million to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
The Corporation for National and Community Service said about 550,000 people volunteered in the first year after the 20005 hurricane and 600,000 in the past year, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.
“The generosity of the American people has been overwhelming,” said Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
That’s grand, but it hasn’t been enough. More than a thousand Alabamans who lost their homes in Katrina are still waiting for help, to get out of unsafe trailors or damanged, patched over homes, for example.
A 14-year-old named Jamie Ambers describes a recent trip to the Gulf:
In July, I took a weeklong trip with my church down to Louisiana and Mississippi to help rebuild. Not much has been done, so most of these places are still untouched. It left us in silence as we drove and walked through the ruined towns and cities.
For the majority of our trip, we stayed in the little town of D’Iberville, Miss. One family really touched my heart â€” a couple and their 10-year-old daughter. Like many others, they were living out of a trailer because their home was unlivable. It was moldy and the daughter had asthma. Since we were young, we weren’t allowed to do heavy construction. So we started by scraping paint off the outside of the house so the wood could be preserved.
The family cried tears of joy because we were the first people to come and help them. The father is disabled, yet nothing was being done for them.
We drove down streets on the Gulf of Mexico, which had beautiful views. But for four or five blocks, there was nothing. All that remained were the white concrete slabs of foundation. The houses had been swept away.
I’m so glad all these church groups are volunteering to rebuild the coast, but at the current rate Jamie will be middle aged before the work is done. Providing another hurricane doesn’t wipe out the same area, of course. Which is probable, given the haphazard way the levees are being rebuilt. Michael Grunwald writes for Time magazine:
Many of the same coastal scientists and engineers who sounded alarms about the vulnerability of New Orleans long before Katrina are warning that the Army Corps is poised to repeat its mistakesâ€”and extend them along the entire Louisiana coast. If you liked Katrina, they say, you’ll love what’s coming next.
What happened to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf was a failure of government at all levels — local, state, federal. But if we’d had real leadership at the federal level, we wouldn’t be preparing to write anniversary stories about what a mess the Gulf Coast still is. Real leadership at the federal level could have marshaled the nation’s resources and overridden local political squabbles and ineptitude that continue to get in the way.
But, of course, we have no leadership at the federal level. We have Bushies. They won’t lead, they won’t follow, and they won’t get out of the way.