Sunday, June 26, 2005

Bush's Vietnam

In trying to appear reasonable and "balanced" the NY Times Week in Reivew surreptitiously slips in a few facts:

If democracy plants itself in Iraq and spreads throughout the Middle East, Bush will be remembered as a plain-speaking visionary. If Iraq fails, it will be his Vietnam, and nothing else will matter much about his time in office. For any president, it must be daunting to know already that his reputation depends on what Jefferson once called ''so inscrutable [an] arrangement of causes and consequences in this world.''

The consequences are more likely to be positive if the president begins to show some concern about the gap between his words and his administration's performance. For he runs an administration with the least care for consistency between what it says and does of any administration in modern times. The real money committed to the promotion of democracy in the Middle East is trifling. The president may have doubled the National Endowment for Democracy's budget, but it is still only $80 million a year. But even if there were more money, there is such doubt in the Middle East that the president actually means what he says -- in the wake of 60 years of American presidents cozying up to tyrants in the region -- that every dollar spent on democracy in the Middle East runs the risk of undermining the cause it supports. Actual Arab democrats recoil from the embrace of American good intentions. Just ask a community-affairs officer trying to give American dollars away for the promotion of democracy in Mosul, in northern Iraq, how easy it is to get anyone to even take the money, let alone spend it honestly.

And then there are the prisoners, the hooded man with the wires hanging from his body, the universal icon of the gap between the ideals of American freedom and the sordid -- and criminal -- realities of American detention and interrogation practice. The fetid example of these abuses makes American talk of democracy sound hollow. It will not be possible to encourage the rule of law in Egypt if America is sending Hosni Mubarak shackled prisoners to torture. It will be impossible to secure democratic change in Morocco or Afghanistan or anywhere else if Muslims believe that American guards desecrated the Koran. The failure to convict anybody higher than a sergeant for these crimes leaves many Americans and a lot of the world wondering whether Jefferson's vision of America hasn't degenerated into an ideology of self-congratulation, whose function is no longer to inspire but to lie.

Yeah, you can either kill 'em all, or you need other folks to win their hearts and minds, but if you want the former option, you really are nothing other than another Saddam, and if you want the latter, you've got to be opposed to Bush, Rumsfeld et al.

There are no other ways about it.

Update: Via Atrios, evidently we're now negotiating with the terrorists.

That's Bush for you.

No comments: