Awake and Scream
By MAUREEN DOWD
I wish W. would let me help crystallize him.
But, alas, I’m not one of his chosen crystallizers, because he is loath to be exposed to anyone who doesn’t agree with him. He roams the country but never strays from Bushworld, going from military bases to conservative powwows to Republican Hill allies to sworn Bush supporters to sympathetic columnists.
“It helps crystallize my thought to answer your questions,” he told conservative columnists called to the Oval Office this week. But he made it clear that his thoughts were contentedly calcified: “Let me just first tell you that I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I made are the right decisions. I’m oftentimes asked about, well, you’re stubborn and all this. If you believe in a strategy, in Washington, D.C., you’ve got to stick to that strategy, see.”
Aside from Dick Cheney and Rummy, who don’t have all their buttons, we all long for W. to find better strategies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, pretty much the rest of the world and national security.
He’s facing a rebellion from big shots in his party who don’t want him to rip up the Geneva Conventions. Lindsey Graham calls it a fight over “who America is in 2006.” John McCain, who has been trying so hard to play nice with W. for the sake of his political future, said the president’s plan risks “our moral standing and the lives of those Americans who risk everything to defend our country.”
Colin Powell, his conscience about Iraq clearly stinging, agreed that “the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism” and that undermining the Geneva Conventions “would add to those doubts” and “put our own troops at risk.” (Tony Snow deemed Mr. Powell confused, which is how the Bushies dismiss those who don’t grasp their invisible genius.)
Whenever W. does something legally sketchy and morally ambiguous — from pre-emptive war to spying to torturing — he claims he’s doing it to protect Americans from terrorists. But there’s a more visceral agenda: Vice and Rummy have persuaded W. he will not carry a big stick if bound by Lilliputian legalities, tiresome checks and balances and Kumbaya international conventions. Rather than being alarmed at their battiness, the president naïvely admires what he sees as bravado.
Just as Vice lurked at Langley before the Iraq war, trying to bully reluctant C.I.A. analysts to come up with a Saddam-Osama link, now the White House has maneuvered reluctant J.A.G. lawyers into supporting its dream of undermining justice.
Catching terrorists and protecting Americans can be done without trashing American ideals. This is about throwing off laws to prove that W. is “the Man,” as Vice likes to say, not some wobbly, wavering, multilateral metrosexual.
His counselors have dulled W.’s sense of urgency by persuading him to take the long view and read about Washington and Lincoln, when it would be far better to focus on the Middle East and revise his backfiring policies.
“Ideological struggles take time,” he said, and the world expects “instant success.”
“Maybe it’s because there’s too many TV channels, I don’t know,” he told the columnists, noting that’s why a president must have patience.
Despite his history reading, Mr. Bush seems to have forgotten Vietnam. “It’s impossible for someone to have grown up in the 50’s and 60’s to envision a conflict with people that just kill mercilessly, using techniques that are kind of foreign to our — to modern warfare,” he said. “But it’s real.” Besides saying he’s in “a struggle between good and evil” — which inflames many Muslims — W. told the columnists he thought America might be experiencing “a Third Awakening,” a religious fervor, because people he meets in rope lines tell him they’re praying for him. That could also be because W.’s policies have led to so much global chaos and hatred for America, his supporters know he needs more prayers.
“I got into politics initially because I wanted to help change a culture,” he said. He wanted to banish the old 60’s “if it feels good, do it” culture and “help usher in an era of personal responsibility.”
He has changed American culture, for sure. Bustling under Bill Clinton, the nation is now insecure about its moral force and military force. The president should take responsibility for the hash he’s made, instead of insisting every decision was correct, and come up with more astute cultural and military analyses. The “awakening” should be W.’s.