Thursday, April 10, 2008

Watching Bush With a Political Scientist

In our Iraq-War discussion-group today, we started by playing about half of Bush's 17-minute speech on Iraq. Lately, I've found Bush almost unwatchable, but today I was fascinated by the look on his face, which suggested that even he might be having trouble getting the lies out. He simply looked like a teenager lying to his parents. Sometimes he seemed repulsed by his own language. However, I was determined not to share my views with the group because I'd much rather facilitate the conversation. I already know what I think, and I'd rather listen, in hopes that someone might change my mind.

But then the political scientist in our group--a moderate in both politics and temperament--said essentially that he didn't believe a word Bush said. That is: Things are not "better" in Iraq. A majority of Iraqis want us out. The Iraqi army is in no sense trained or ready. The "Surge" did very little to affect things "on the ground"; rather, Sadr's decision to pull back his militia was the main factor. There will be no real troop-decline. Al Qaeda is not the main problem. Shi'ite militias are. Our military is close to exhaustion, and our economy is broken. And on and on. This political scientist is so moderate that although he agrees with much of what Juan Cole writes on his blog, he doesn't like Cole's "Bush-bashing." The political scientist also thinks William Polk is a person worth listening to and reading.

Oddly enough, before class, a student was fiddling with a camera that turned out to be an infra-red one, so that if you look at the screen of the camera, and the camera is pointing at a black shirt, the shirt looks white. It was a great emblem for Bush's speech. Make everything he said the opposite, and you'll have the truth.

I had to ask the political scientist this question: "Then, assuming Bush is lying and knows he's lying, should we assume that his strategy is to stall (keeping the military in Iraq) until he's out of office." "Yes," my colleague said, "and then when things go badly, and if Obama or Clinton are indeed in the White House, the Republicans can and will blame the debacle on the Democrats." --Not that the Democrats don't have it coming. They've done almost nothing to oppose Bush on war, torture, the economy, and the erosion of civil liberties. And if McCain is in office, he's a one-term president anyway.

As Helen Thomas told me when I had the privilege of chatting with her in a hotel lobby in D.C. some three years ago: "Bush is the worst president in U.S. history."

A student in class asked, "Assuming Bush is lying, I have to ask: is it common for presidents to lie to this extent and in connection with such serious matters." The American historian then walked us through all of Johnson's lies leading up to and during the Viet Nam War--as a way of saying, "Yes, it's common."

I wish there were a poem I could read tonight that would make me feel better about the country of which I'm a citizen, its awful foreign policy, its widespread use of torture, its failure to do right by the environment and working people, and all the rest. Maybe it's the one I just posted--"The Vanity of Human Wishes." I vow solemnly to write something hopeful tomorrow. It will probably have something to do with my faith in many younger American citizens--their smarts, their will to do well and good.
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