Thursday, October 24, 2002

You Can't Handle the Truth. Should Jack Nicholson ever visit the Bush White House, I would urge him to repeat this famous line to Bush's face. It's clear from this column by the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, that truth is not a particularly prized virtue when the relentless push for war is concerned. Someone, somewhere, needs to compile the constantly shifting rationales, the parade of "evidence" Bush has brought which has been debunked and withdrawn (or not) shortly thereafter, into one single source. The American people need to understand that the primary justification underlying the Bush Iraq policy is that the White House wants to go to war. They want it, whether or not they can give a good rationale for doing so (they can't), whether or not it will interfere with our continuing operations in Afghanistan, and against al Qaida (it certainly may), whether or not it will destroy international unity against terrorism (it certainly may), whether or not it is in the national interest (it isn't), whether or not it will cost American lives (it will, and if you think "Not many" is an effective rebuttal of that charge, I have no desire to know you). In spite of all of these factors, and for reasons I can only guess at, the White House wants war. And thanks to a pliant Congress and a public that just isn't paying attention, it may get it.

In light of all this, is it really so out of order to compare Bush to a petulant child? If the shoe fits....
Reelection Uber Alles. Does everyone remember Campaign 2000? Remember how it seemed like every major pundit had some sort of Gore-bashing quota which required them to mention, as often as possible, that he "would do anything to win"? I never bought into that, because I just didn't see any evidence of it. In fact, after reading Jeffrey Toobin's Too Close to Call, I know beyond any doubt that there was a hell of a lot that Gore could have done to win which he declined to do. A hell of a lot.

Fast-forward to the present, and read this article from the Washington Post about how the Bush administration is strong-arming the entire federal government (political appointees as well as "non-political" government workers) into aiding Republicans in the upcoming mid-term elections, and tell me what you think about that. The White House is desperate to win back the Senate and keep control of the House (the latter being far, far more likely than the former), and Bush is pulling out all the stops.

After you've thought about that for while, think about the current debate over the Homeland Security Department, and think about the fact that, without the standard civil service protections that all federal employees enjoy, which act as a barrier between politics and day-in-day-out government work, the White House would sole discretion to make hiring and firing decisions based on purely political assessments. In other words, "Hey, Joe, you really might want to support Bush if you like your job and want it to continue." Also, who do you think is more likely to be hired, a non-political vaguely liberal professional, or the incompetent ne'er-do-well second-cousin of a crucial "swing vote" Senator? Be honest, who's more likely to be hired?

Forgive the cliche, but this is an outrage. Clinton, he was a shrewd political cat, and no mistake. But Bush puts him to shame in almost every area that Republicans used to bitch about. Bush fundraises more. Bush is more beholden to opinion polls (arguably... it's a tough thing to quantify, but we can at least agree that he's not significantly less beholden). Bush is more beholden to special interests (Clinton "betrayed" labor, blacks, gays, and other key supporters on several occasions... Bush has never gone against oil, and his short-lived corporate-crime crusade is dead and buried). And with this, we can see that Bush is far more crass and cynical when it comes to hard-nosed politicking.

The wall separating career government workers, who have a job to do (whether it's protecting the environment, enforcing the tax code, or defending the nation), from the cut-throat world of politics is vitally important to any strong democratic nation. It protects the integrity of legitimate government research studies, it protects workers' ability to perform their duties competently, even when going against the ideological bent of their chief executive, and it is a barrier against cronyism (which is itself inimical to integrity and competency). The Bush Administration has found new and devious ways of getting around these vital protections, and is pressing full-steam to tear them down explicitly in what should be the most apolitical department of all, the Department of Homeland Security.

Somebody has to cry foul. Lots of somebodies have to cry foul. Loudly and repeatedly. TAPPED has done so (and thanks to them, incidentally, for bringing this story to my attention). I've thrown my two cents in. Who's next?

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Whoa There, Bucko! Check out this AP report for the latest on the United Nations Iraq resolution. It seems that some countries out there (specifically, Russia, France, and China) think that the United States is trying to put the cart before the horse. It's no wonder, really, since (to stretch the analogy to the breaking point) the Bush administration is pushing a different horse every other day, always with the same cart. The cart, of course, is war. The horse is the rationale of the week.

I'm not exactly sad to report that our impending war with Iraq has become trapped in the "quagmire" even before it has started. No one seems to know what the White House position is. Of course, liberals have been pointing out this fact literally for months now, but that hasn't changed anything. Take a look at this latest from Terminus-favorite Josh Marshall over at TPM. He quotes Bush as saying that "If [Saddam] were to meet all the conditions of the United Nations, the conditions that I've described very clearly in terms that everyone can understand, that in itself will signal [that] the regime has changed." Marshall has fun with this quote, as well he should. What struck me about it was that Bush claims that he has been clear on this issue, as if mere insistence of the point answers his critics who say that he has not. This wild display of logical contortion (or should I say "distortion") is belied by the fact that this quote represents a massive change in what mostly everybody thought the White House position was. Moreover, it doesn't take a very long memory to recall the days when the White House was openly dismissive of the United Nations on this issue. To say, now, that for Iraq to comply with the UN would be, in and of itself, an end to our dispute, is a radical departure from the heated rhetoric of just a few weeks ago. Marshall is more concerned with the radical redefinition of the term "regime change". It is no longer a euphemism for the violent removal of a head of state. It is now a euphemism for a non-violent change in national policy.

That is to say, the goal of United States foreign policy with regard to Iraq is no longer to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Rather, it is to induce him (through diplomacy and, as a last result, war) to alter his policy of weapons development. This is from the same crowd who is usually harping on the fact that Saddam is so untrustworthy that we cannot allow him to hide behind and manipulate UN weapons inspection procedures (an argument which has considerable weight, even if I disagree with the hawks the implications).

For the record, I am not so naive to believe that this quotation represents a real change in US policy toward Iraq. I do believe that it accurately reflects the now obvious and inescapable fact that the White House message machine is about as clear as a scrambled porn channel (though not half as entertaining). The upshot of this, and of the AP report about Russia, is that the war-hawks have something of an uphill climb in store for them. The domestic politics of the situation are well in hand. They've got their Congressional resolution (while not quite as strong as the White House wanted, plenty strong enough for their purposes), and the pliant public will, for the most part, follow them into war with little serious objection. The international politics of the situation are clearly not going well, and self-contradictory statements coming from the White House day after day are certainly not going to help things. Russia, France, and China seem to be very firm in the position that the weapons inspections must take place, and fail, before they will even consider backing an authorization of UN force against Iraq. Even then, from statements made by the Russians (quoted in the AP report linked above), it appears that they're looking for far more substantial evidence of WMDs in Iraq than the White House has been able to provide thus far. So, we've got two major barriers between us and war. First, we've got the procedural hurdle of the weapons inspections. Second, we've got the evidentiary hurdle. First, inspections must fail. Second, they must produce solid and irrefutable evidence that Hussein has WMDs. That is the path to war, and it's a far more circuitous, treacherous, and multilateral path than this White House appeared to be on just a short time ago. We'll see happens.