Monday, March 17, 2008

Lessons of History?

The first two episodes of the HBO series about John Adams last night led me to ponder where we, as a country, started and where we have arrived.

As this show and a mountain of scholarship show, the men we call the "Founding Fathers" were a flawed lot: they were vain, petty, and contentious, and many of them saw nothing wrong with owning and exploiting other human beings as chattel slaves.

But they were also serious thinkers, who agonized over their decisions, thought deeply about such matters as liberty and justice, and were willing to risk everything they had, including their lives, for what they considered a noble cause. One feature of the drama of the Declaration of Independence that we often forget is that if the Revolution had failed--and it easily could have--every one of the signers would have been hanged for treason.

Compare them to the current president. Where they were serious, he is a fool, a capering clown who launched--exactly five years ago, with a rationale based equally on incompetence and deceit--an absurd and costly war at no risk to himself or his family. Our economy is in chaos, with the dollar and financial markets sinking, while the deficit swells like an over-inflated balloon. Yet the president indulges in sophomoric jokes, blandly assures us that all is well, and demands further tax cuts for the rich. He is a man who evinces no curiosity, cannot express himself coherently, shows little interest in science or the arts, and wouldn't recognize a complex idea if it bit him on the nose.

The explanations for how we accomplished this decline are legion: an irresponsible press, a relentlessly self-serving plutocracy, a political system based on lobbying and favors, and an electorate often more interested in celebrity sex than in our constitution or our military misadventures. However it happened, we've gone from George Washington, who could not tell a lie, to George Bush, who cannot tell--and doesn't even have a passing acquaintance with--the truth.

Monday, March 03, 2008

McCain's War

For the next seven months, our airwaves, our TVs, our computer screens, and our newspapers and magazines will be overflowing with republican claims about al Qaeda in Iraq. John McCain has already begun using a formula he will return to obsessively; he will endlessly accuse Obama (or Clinton if she should happen to pull off an upset and win the nomination) of willingness to "surrender" to al Qaeda in Iraq. This is illogical and ahistorical, but it will resonate with some voters, and the election may well turn on our ability to counter it.

Here is what we must say, repeatedly:

* Al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the Bush-Cheney invasion.

* The small but vicious group calling itself "al Qaeda in Iraq" consists almost entirely of foreign fanatics who easily entered Iraq to take advantage of the chaos following the ineptly executed American invasion and occupation.

* There is no evidence that "al Qaeda in Iraq" follows orders from bin Laden or others in the inner circle of the real al Qaeda.

* "Al Qaeda in Iraq" has been responsible for a relatively minor percentage of the sectarian carnage in Iraq since 2003.

* "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is exclusively a Sunni movement and as such will be quickly rounded up and either slaughtered or expelled by the majority Shi'ites when American troops leave.

* The real threat of al Qaeda comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it has been reorganizing and gaining strength ever since the Bush-Cheney team insanely shifted our strategic focus to Iraq.

Al Qaeda, I believe, is indeed a threat to world peace and security, and the Bush-Cheney invasion of Iraq was precisely the worst thing this country could do in addressing the real horrors of al Qaeda. John McCain has been a cheerleader of the Iraq occupation since its onset (with some minor quibbles about strategy). The Iraq debacle should be McCain's to defend and explain. But we can't expect the mainstream media--inept, lazy, often corrupt, always subject to herd behavior--to force McCain to answer the hard questions, let alone show how his rhetoric is confused and incomplete, just another Rovian con, rewriting history and substituting republican talking points for reality.

If the American electorate buys McCain's claims about Iraq, he's the next President.