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And a child shall lead us

There are lots of people in this world who only think of themselves. They need to be told to by an authority figure before they will think about other people's concerns. They only see the world from their own perspective, so much so that some of these people, in fact, can't even understand that other people have different perspectives at all; studies have shown that if they know, for example, that a cookie has been moved from one jar to a different jar while another person was out of the room, they will be surprised to see that person come back and look for the cookie in the first jar. These are people who simply have no genuine comprehension of responsibility to anyone but themselves, or, you could say, maturity.

We have a very useful word for this kind of person, of course: child. And in many cases their behavior is perfectly natural; it's just part of growing up. A child's job, in a sense, is to focus on himself and his own needs; his main responsibility is to learn and grow — to mature. It's when he's an adult that he becomes responsible not just to himself, but to others as well.

So it's not that there's anything wrong with children being childish — just the opposite. (And I love kids, myself.) But I have to say there is one thing I just don't get, that's been bugging me, about children. Namely, why — why? — did we elect one president?

Because if there's any word for what kind of "leader" our president is, that's it — and I'm not just thinking of him being some other president's son, or being personally wounded or betrayed if someone in the media or politics or whatever is unkind to him, or him giving people nicknames and being jovial and childlike, none of which is exclusive of considering other matters more seriously or responsibly. No, I don't mean just him as a person, in private; I mean him specifically as a public statesman, as a leader. As the dang-blasted president of the United States of America.

The classic example of Bush the child came, I think, when he was on vacation (which of course he goes on a lot, but this one was early last August, I believe), and some reporters were asking him questions while he was golfing. You could say they were pitching him softballs; he was swinging away at them like it was his birthday party, smiling knowingly, cheerfully reciting lines he seemed proud to know so well. Last question, finally. What about Iraq, Mr. President?

So here's George W., out in the sun, surrounded by reporters he evidently knows and is rather comfortable with, wearing his golf clothes and no doubt feeling stylish yet at home, and he's made it through another session with that legendary tamed beast, the U.S. media, and he's about to get in some time whacking at sparkling white dimpled balls on lush green grass (as is the right of every blue-blooded American prince (and not least a prince of industry and government combined!)), and here comes the last question, and not only does he know the answer to this one, too, and not only does he like this answer and seem glad for the opportunity to tell it to the American people — his people — yet again, he even seems, to this television viewer at least, just a little bit proud that he knows the answer and that it is so good. And so, he adds a flourish. A flourish — you know, like any kid who's feeling good about himself does, when he wants his buddies to feel good about him and be impressed by just how terrific he is, too. Iraq, he informs us, represents (of course) a terrorist threat, and of course we have to act against all terrorist threats now. And he concludes, moving over to his golf bag and removing a golf club, "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive." And he takes his club, approaches a dimpled white ball, and whacks it. It was a seamless transition; I saw it on The Daily Show and the next day was convinced it couldn't have been real, they had to have doctored the tape, it doesn't happen like that in real life — until I read about the same event in a Thomas Friedman column a short while later. But, no, make no mistake — George W. took the same childish glee in pitching his "war on terror" as he did in stroking his tee shot.

And his whole presidency, it seems to me, has been managed as if it were all a game to him. He seems like he's playing to "win" something. He's willing to say anything if it'll get him something he wants. He wants his tax cut at all costs, regardless of how much sense it makes for the country. If he doesn't need those pesky Europeans, then he doesn't care what they think (hence, not only going against the Kyoto agreement, but actually telling them to their faces he doesn't care if they mind). He buddied up with the Saudi princes, on the other hand — poster-children for "my mandate is my daddy said I could have everything in the whole wide world" if ever there was one. If his "economic forum" turns out to be a transparent farce and he decides he'll look better if he announces the government's going to save $5.1 billion, sure, he'll cancel a few billion dollars of seemingly rather sensible anti-terrorism protections just so he can say he's doing something about a budget deficit his other policies have done far more (and far less sensibly) to exacerbate. And if simplistic but strong imagery will help him politically in his now vitally important war on terror, you can be sure he'll use it, no matter the diplomatic consquences.

This last is particularly painful now. It sounds great to say America has an "Axis of Evil" to combat. Rally the troops, resurrect that old patriotic spirit, rah rah rah. Do we care what kind of message that sends to the members of this so-called Axis? Nah, who cares about them? They don't have any electoral college votes. And now, after the administration has done all this work to villify Iraq in particular, we have a situation where Iraq has acceded to every diplomatic pressure we've asserted, and another country, North Korea, has already developed nuclear weapons and is actively and openly expanding its nuclear weapons program and expelling U.N. inspectors from the country — and we're stuck saying Iraq is the greater threat. Even though failing to act against North Korea means blatantly failing to back up the warnings and aggressive (deliberately non-diplomatic) posturing Bush & Co. have been making the entire time — a posture that may very well have pushed North Korea just that much further toward their current, antagonistic position. And this is all because ... ?

The New York Times reported today that a "senior diplomat" has this to say about it: "We will be facing considerable skepticism on the question of how we can justify confrontation with Saddam when he is letting inspectors into the country, and a diplomatic solution with [North Korea leader] Kim [Jong Il] when he's just thrown them out. And we're working on the answer."

It's sadly typical — the question isn't what policy makes the slightest bit of sense, it's, How do you pitch it so it sounds that way?

But that's not the only sad thing about that Times article. It appeared on the paper's front page today, accompanied by an AP photo with the caption, "After recent rains around his ranch in Crawford, Tex., President Bush showed off a waterfall and talked to reporters about the nuclear standoff with North Korea, strongly criticizing its leader, Kim Jong Il." I remember reading some time ago about how politicians who'd had some exposure to the wilderness and to nature almost universally became more sympathetic toward environmental issues. But Bush's administration, of course, is in the process of undoing years of environmentally progressive legislation; the environment will probably be paying the price for his presidency (in the form of greater industrial pollution, increased logging (for lumber we don't even need), possibly drilling in northern Alaska, and who knows what else I'm forgetting) for decades to come.

And yet here he is, obviously delighting in his own little corner of the natural world, showing it off to his journalist pals. Isn't it beautiful, George. And it's all yours, and you're the president — no one can take it away from you. Yes, it must be just wonderful for you.

January 3, 2003 1:49 PM

Comments (and TrackBacks)

Although no fan of Bush's social, environmental or economic agenda, on the foreign policy front he has done a particularly excellent, shining job --- thank G-d --- literally undoing years of mismanagement in world affairs. But, the job has only begun and needs to be rapidly sped up.

"Saddam & Kim are Twins"
This argument is a sad testament to the present Euro/NAmerican Left's poor grasp of international affairs. These two personalities and their respective methods of rule, are, well, anything but similar. History, psych profiles, and a balance sheet of fiscal and arm assets says it all. Poisons come in all sorts of flavours.

"Why don't we treat both situations the same?"
Cause they ain't the same. Iraq and NKorea are very, very different threats. One has nukes and the means to launch them (to possibly Alaska, even, never mind Tokyo), the other has neither. Neither. Call me a fool, but i approach a maniac with a gun very differently from one attempting to build a gun but who only has a knife.

Sometimes i sit and read articles or editorials from otherwise brilliant humans, only to see them fail to recognise one contemporary, fundamental fact: the long-term existence of America is in question.

To be fair, Americans have not dealt with existential questions for awhile. Not since a fairly big smallpox epidemic was mixed together with our Revolution have we been so mortally challenged as a State and as a culture. But, our collective failure to see our current circumstance for what it is (lethal) is verging on ignorance, if not blatant cultural denial.

Verging? I take that back. One need only travel on an (insecure) train ride or enter an (unguarded) mall to see just how "we're safe!" The shrill affirmations of just how "safe" we are has long ago become sickening to me. We're not safe, we're just being better targeted.

Targeted.

The America of hardwork and the City On The Hill has faded fast since the advent of sun glasses. We've failed to grasp just how different things have become, and how deadly serious.

.rob

Posted by rob adams on January 3, 2003 3:49 PM

the long-term existence of America is in question.

A+ for drama, C- for accuracy. Calm down, brother, the sky ain't falling. Things could be better, I agree, but I don't see how Bush's ignorant belligerence is going to help.

Posted by senn on January 4, 2003 11:32 AM

Cause they ain't the same. Iraq and NKorea are very, very different threats

But isn't that Matt's point? Yes, they are, but Bush has chosen to portray them as a unified threat, until now when it becomes obvious even to the most uninformed observer that his Axis rhetoric of the past year is a bunch of bunk he made up to sound good. And even now, his advisers are working their hardest to find an eloquent way out of it.

the long-term existence of America is in question.

I agree with this statement, but it's not due to Iraq or Al-Qaeda. Our own government has long been sabotaging the ideals of America, and the freedoms it represents. Bush is more dangerous to America than any terrorist, because his position of power allows him to cause real damage to the liberty we should be holding dearer than ever.

Posted by Dave A on January 5, 2003 10:54 PM

"Saddam & Kim are Twins"
"Why don't we treat both situations the same?"

Oh yeah, nice straw man, by the way. You could have at least actually quoted from Matt's post instead of making quotes up.

Posted by Dave A on January 5, 2003 10:56 PM

I confess, Rob, I'm not sure what you're getting at, with respect to what I've written above. It's not my intention to debate foreign policy; I simply wish to remark on G.W.'s stunningly consistent failure to take responsibility for his words and actions.

That some of the current administration's foreign policy decisions have been laudable isn't necessarily a reflection on G.W.'s management relative to his predecessors', either. The fact is the political circumstances have changed dramatically, and he is the first U.S. president to be given a strong foreign policy mandate in quite some time.

And, it seems to me, he's played foreign policy almost exclusively as a political game — i.e., self-servingly. His primary motivation in Iraq isn't the greater good of the country, it's his own political future. In one sense, that's perfectly OK — it's a politician's job to heed the will of the people. But it's a leader's job to know better. And if Bush ever knows better, he surely doesn't show it; for all the "tough" decisions he's made, they've all very conveniently gone in lock-step with the polls.

The situation in North Korea is a perfect demonstration of this. The Bush policy is, If there's no political support, then do nothing. NK wasn't exactly top on the political agenda, what with Al-Qaeda and Iraq and Palestine. Mixing NK into a supposed "Axis of Evil" is brilliant, politically — it fosters political support in case you do decide to do something about it, but without forcing you to do anything so long as you seem to be addressing the Axis somehow. But it's dumb, dumb, dumb from a diplomatic standpoint. It forces your hand, because, already being part of this locus of malevolence, NK has that much less remaining cause to pretend otherwise. What did NK have to lose by forcing the issue? Nothing from the United States, at least. And why? Because George wanted to be able to make a good-sounding speech, and push the ol' approval rating that much higher?

This isn't to say that Bush is responsible for NK's nuclear weapons program, which he clearly isn't. But his empty posturing has made the situation far worse, and threatens to expose his entire foreign policy scheme as the furthest thing from visionary. If it turns out that all his rhetoric about fighting terrorism because of the threat it represents to the free world is truly nothing but just that — rhetoric, intended to get him something he wants, not something he actually thinks is important to the world — and if the rest of the world discovers that, then where will we be?

Bush is trying to handle North Korea by doing absolutely as little as possible. He doesn't even want to negotiate with them; do you suppose that's because experts believe the best way to handle a maniac with a gun is to ignore him while he forges a longer barrel? Of course not; it's because the political risks far outweigh the likely benefits, and he'll make the political calculation every time.

Which, as I say, has its place. I just don't believe that that place is the Oval Office.

Posted by M on January 5, 2003 11:55 PM

My point is quite simple.
[Pushing all that straw and confusion aside...]

Political motivations exist, that's the nature of the human heart. But, it's a simple thing to believe (or assert) those types of motivations are all that ever exist. I'm simple arguing that you(p) embrace a slightly more realistic, and total concept of present US politics, something a little more substantive.

Ideas of what i call "tribal survival" supersede personal causes when one is (very publicly) mandated with that responsability. Your critique pivots on the idea that US politics is the same of 2 years ago. It isn't. Your critique of Bush and the administration, when considering foriegn policy (FP), doesn't take this monumental shift into consideration; It ignore it, which is currently intellectually popular -- akin to the homeless' predilection of sniffing glue to escape there dire circumstance.

Our popular culture is pretty much sniffing glue. It's easy, and i would strongly say "superficial", to examine the administration's FP and conclude that:
"It's about oil."
"He's avenging his father's lack of clear victory."
"He's manipulating events/responses to better his position in '04."
... I hear this stuff all the time, and smell it strongly in your text (and others' comments).

Could it be, as Bush perpetually flew around middle America on the afternoon of 9/11, that Bush, Rice, Cheney, and even Powell wondered (seriously wondered) if this were "our turn" as a country?

American consumerists and those other citizens who consider their entertainment and gluttoney a primary-life goal just don't seem to see how truly life-threatening these days are.

Imagine an day like 9/11 without electricity.
How very different 12-Sept-02 would've been.

.rob

Posted by rob adams on January 6, 2003 1:00 PM

I'm simple arguing that you(p) embrace a slightly more realistic, and total concept of present US politics, something a little more substantive.

I'm afraid I don't see a single argument anywhere in what you write that in any way suggests my view isn't realistic. I've drawn my view from a number of specific examples. Can you provide some counterexamples, or demonstrate where I've gone wrong in my understanding of the ones I've provided?

Your critique of Bush and the administration, when considering foriegn policy (FP), doesn't take this monumental shift into consideration; It ignore it, which is currently intellectually popular

I don't understand how this is, either. Show me how Bush's priorities in any way reflect a willingness to do the right thing in the face of this monumental shift, despite political risk to him personally. Please. Give me one blasted example.

Because I don't know what in the world you are talking about. It's precisely because of this "monumental shift" of yours that this is so important. Bush has been incredibly lucky so far. Most of the right things to do have been politically sound. But perhaps not all -- we let much of Al-Qaeda's leadership get away, it seems, because we weren't willing to take the necessary risks. Was this wise? Time will tell. Is Iraq truly our greatest threat right now? I have no idea, and I do not trust the current administration to make an honest calculation there -- it's too obviously the best political enemy to target. Mabye they're getting lucky again, but maybe not; and, if not, you and I are going to be paying the price.

Could it be that Bush thinks it's "our turn" as a country? Sure. But you have given me absolutely no reason — none — to believe that that's how he thinks. He thinks about himself, and his own little waterfalls. He thinks it's his turn, not ours.

Posted by M on January 6, 2003 1:33 PM

Let's not ignore my text.

I put Bush's FP in a completely different rubric than the rest of the admin's policies (see my first comment in this string). I, too, would argue that his economic and environmental policies are politically self-serving at times. I guess that's what i meant by not being a fan of his environmental and economic policies. Anyone miss that this time around?

You might not have seen my argument of how his FP demonstrates a communal-concern (rather than a self-politic), but i'm not sure i can present any clearer an example than his, i admit, hawkish policy towards Iraq, NKorea and Afgahnistan. ==> Our hawkish attitude towards these countries eminates not from a primarily motivated political self-interest, but by national interest, by a real concern for our national survival. Specifics of this? Hmm... 9/11.

You say that his lack of a uniform, one-policy-fits-all handling of Iraq and NKorea is ample demo of self-interest-politic motivating the admin's formulation of FP ? I said (and say again) it isn't. It's a demonstration of two different situations. NKorea has nuclear weapons. Iraq does not. (remember that loaded gun vs. building a gun analogy? maybe not...) Or, being even more substantive, Saddam has demonstrated (repeatedly, btw) a penchant for breaking out of his current territory. NKorea has not, and the latest Kim certainly has not. Refutations? waiting....

So, while you see the lack of a blanket policy for both nations as being evidence of political self-interest, i'm saying that that is a very simplistic analysis. Note the mention of FP here (and my prior comments), not his other policies.

If you re-read my text (my text, mind you, not one's expectations of my text) you will see that i clearly separate domestic and FP. Clearly. And, i go on to further explain how his FP is motivated by concern for our national survival and well-being, not self-interest, and cite examples (Iraq, NKorea, 9/11). And, i even go on to refute the notion that a lack of uniformity of policy towards Iraq and NKorea is self-politic-motivated and is, rather, a result of these scenarios being fairly different.

It's easy to say an argument hasn't been addressed, rather than addressing the refutation.
My point is to bring attention to the very different nature of his FP from his domestic agenda.

You may not want to address that argument, but that doesn't mean i have not supported it (amply) with example.

.rob

Re. "allowing" alQaeda to "escape", which i think is a good argument of self-politic-motivated vs national interest motivated, but is still easy to refute...
Let's remember that, so far, we are the only nation on the planet that has managed to subjugate Afghanistan to the level the we have. The Soviets never managed to get this far geographically or politically in the country with the warlords, never mind the British. Fact. We've made amazing progress, mostly by a result of our diplomatic efforts, not military -- a huge contrast in our campaign when compared to the Brits or Soviets.

Also, the idea that we let these fellows "escape" auto-accepts the idea that we have the means to do otherwise. We do not, barring the construction of a wall. Without modern infrastructure (credit cards, highways, phones, etc.) it is not easy to track individuals, either by name or en masse. Let's remember that during the operation's initial phase that upward to a million humans were streaming out of the nation.

If we managed to find the likes of Eric Rudolph or Southie's Finest, then i too would be critical of our efforts to locate Omar or BinLaden.

But, let's remember, neither of these men have felt so confident in their survival to stand up and speak against us publicly, either in a crowd or just on a video. That says a *just* a little of their confidence in our skills to kill.

More than yours'.

.rob again

Posted by rob adams on January 7, 2003 11:29 AM

It's easy to say an argument hasn't been addressed, rather than addressing the refutation.

Naturally, I feel the same.

I'm not attacking Bush's foreign policy as a whole; your defense of it is unnecessary. As I said, many of his good decisions have also been politically sound decisions. Your argument, so far as I can tell, comes down to your belief that he has made some good decisions. Fine. I agree. My argument is, I do not think, should he have to choose between a good decision and a politically advantageous one — i.e., between making the right choice for the country and the right choice for himself — that he will make the right choice for the country.

Do you disagree? If so, why? Citing his hawkishness — which has propelled him to rather lofty approval ratings — doesn't cut it here, even if it does happen to also be good for the country.

Posted by M on January 7, 2003 12:42 PM

I argue that after 9/11, when it comes to FP, that his decisions have not been motivated by self-politic, but by national survival.

[] An Iraqi war may not be as jiffy-pop-esque as we hope, which is a real, strong probability. Anyone remember Bush-41's plight come re-election? This can, and is probable, to happen again in 2004. Our economy would not do well under such a prolongated war. Economically, this hold the potential to be a corrosive war on our economy. G-d forbid, i wonder if he would carry a state (or region) which has lost a city or experienced a significant population loss. (and, no, happy-go-lucky consumerist citizens, this ain't a sci-fi scenario, it's a scenario policy makers actively discuss given its very real probability -- time to buy precious metals)

[] The risk of a hawkish policy towards beligerent states is less than good for any administration come re-election. Environmentalists, internationalists, and otherwise world-savvy/world-business types tend to care what our largest trading partners think about how we act in their yard. I always call this tract the "Anti-Carter Way", as it achieves the same results in world-standing, but with polar-opposite methods; An admin. that doesn't mind our neighbors concerns, out of concern for our own survival, makes multilateral policy pretty much impossible, and that relates to big business in a BIG way.

While you see these type of policies as being politically beneficial to the Admin, i do not. They are pragmatic, necessary steps taken by an administration that recently became initiated in just how precarious our survival as a world power is.

.rob

Posted by rob adams on January 7, 2003 6:01 PM

While you see these type of policies as being politically beneficial to the Admin, i do not.

I guess we just see it differently, then. I agree there are large political risks involved, but it seems to me that the administration has done their best to minimize those particular risks (even at the expense of security risks, as it seems they did when they wouldn't commit ground forces to containing Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan) and to maximize the political gain, as they do every time they accuse any dissenting politician of being unpatriotic for not following in perfect lock-step with their security agenda.

(I do agree, however, that some (some) of these policies may very well be necessary, as you say. For what it's worth.)

Posted by M on January 7, 2003 9:50 PM

An addendum: Paul Krugman writes in the NYT today:

"But more broadly, they may have noticed something that is becoming apparent to more and more people here: the Bush administration's consistent unwillingness to take responsibility for solving difficult problems. When the going gets tough, it seems, Mr. Bush changes the subject."

Posted by M on February 11, 2003 8:53 PM


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