The Immutable President
By MAUREEN DOWD
It’s too bad President Bush spurns evolution — both in his view of the universe and his view of himself.
Scientists see more and more evidence that human evolution not only exists but is ongoing, as people adapt to changing circumstances with shifts in everything from skin color to the protein structure of sperm.
But with W., it’s more a matter of survival of the stubbornist.
If you turn on TV, you see missiles flying, bodies lying, nuclear missiles unleashed and a slaughterhouse in Iraq. But don’t despair, because yesterday President Bush announced the establishment of “a joint committee to achieve Iraqi self-reliance.” He called it a “new partnership,” as if it were some small business.
Isn’t it a little late, in July 2006, to be launching a new partnership for such an old mess? Isn’t it a little late to realize that Baghdad, a city where 300 garbage collectors have been killed in the last six months, according to press reports, has spun out of control?
In a press conference at the White House with his rogue puppet, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Mr. Bush explained that “our strategy is to remain on the offense, including in Baghdad.” Then why, after three and a half years, does our offense look so much like a defense?
The president sounded like a Jon Stewart imitation of himself when he assured reporters that Mr. Maliki had “a comprehensive plan” to pacify Iraq. “That’s what leaders do,” W. lectured, in a familiar refrain. “They see problems, they address problems, and they lay out a plan to solve the problems.”
If only the plan were a little less robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul, and a little more road-to-Damascus epiphany. Taking troops out of Anbar Province, where the insurgency is thriving, to quell violence in Baghdad doesn’t inspire confidence that the plan is truly “comprehensive.”
And despite W.’s praise of Mr. Maliki’s leadership, the plan to start from scratch, in essence, stabilizing neighborhood by neighborhood in Baghdad is, as The Times’s Michael Gordon writes, “an implicit acknowledgment of what every Iraqi in Baghdad already knows”: the prime minister’s “original Baghdad security plan has failed. In the past two weeks, more Iraqi civilians have been killed than have died in Lebanon and Israel.”
Mr. Bush also sent Condi Rice to lay out a plan to the Arabs and Europeans about the destruction and refugee flight in Lebanon, but the plan turns out to be a plan to do nothing until Israel has more time to kick the Hezb out of Hezbollah.
W. says he supports more diplomacy, but it’s the diplomacy of sanctimony. He now grudgingly notes that “the violence in Baghdad is still terrible,” but doesn’t seem to grasp the tragic enormity of an occupation that is sliding into civil war and constricting his leverage to deal with all the other crises crackling around the world. The U.N. reported last week that in May and June no less than 5,818 Iraqi civilians were killed.
Although he talked about whether America could be “facile” and “nimble” enough to change with the circumstances in the Middle East, in fundamental ways, he has not changed his attitude at all.
Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe says he conducted four “freewheeling” interviews with the president last week, and concluded: “Bush thinks the new war vindicates his early vision of the region’s struggle: of good versus evil, civilization versus terrorism, freedom versus Islamic fascism. He still believes that when it comes to war and terror, leaders need to decide whose side they are on.”
The president sees Lebanon as a test of macho mettle rather than the latest chapter in a fratricidal free-for-all that’s been going on for centuries. “I view this as the forces of instability probing weakness,” he said. “I think they’re testing resolve.”
The more things get complicated, the more W. feels vindicated in his own simplified vision. The more people try to tell him that it’s not easy, that this is a region of shifting alliances and interests, the less he seems inclined to develop an adroit policy to win people over to our side instead of trying to annihilate them.
Bill Clinton, the Mutable Man par excellence, evolved four times a day; he had a tactical and even recreational attitude toward personal change. But W. prides himself on his changelessness and regards his immutability as the surest sign of his virtue. Facing a map on fire, he sees any inkling of change as the slippery slope to failure.
That’s what’s so frustrating about watching him deal — or not deal — with Iraq and Lebanon. There’s almost nothing to watch.
It’s not even like watching paint dry, since that, too, is a passage from one state to another. It’s like watching dry paint.