“Stay the course” is insane

On April 21, 2006 while pondering the Republican 2006 election strategy I predicted that in order to maintain control of Congress, the White House had no choice but to play the terrorism card one more time with the American people:

What will it be this time? Fear? Fear and rabid demagoguery? It will doubtless be some variation of the above.

Sadly, although this was an absurdly easy prediction to make, my prediction has come to pass. Yesterday, President Bush spoke before a Republican fundraiser. Rather than speak of a solution to the problem of terrorism that might actually work, he merely went back to his “stay the course” rhetoric. According to The Washington Post:

Bush offered an impassioned defense of his Iraq policy, linking the war to the battle against terrorists and once again rejecting the growing clamor from Democrats — and some Republicans — to begin setting a timetable for withdrawing the more than 130,000 U.S. troops. While acknowledging that many Americans are troubled by the violence in Iraq, he said “amazing progress” is being made and said defeating the insurgency in Iraq is essential to preventing terrorists from coming to America.

If America left Iraq “before the job is done,” he said, it would be a “major defeat” for the United States and would create a “terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East.”

A day earlier, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke before the American Legion:

Drawing parallels to efforts by some nations to appease Adolf Hitler before World War II, Rumsfeld said it would be “folly” for the United States to ignore the rising dangers posed by a new enemy that he called “serious, lethal and relentless.”

In a pointed attack on the news media and critics of President Bush’s war and national security policies, Rumsfeld declared: “Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.”

So here is what it has come down to: you are either with the Administration’s proven unworkable tactics in dealing with terrorism, or you are with the terrorists. By the logic advanced by his administration, apparently a majority of Americans now want the terrorists to win.

America to the Bush Administration: the debate is not over whether to end terrorism, but how to end it. While Bush sees “amazing progress”, the rest of us see a war gone grievously awry. Take this story in today’s Washington Post. Murder and mayhem like this in Iraq is so unspectacular it needs to be buried deep in the international news section of the Post.

Rescue crews pulled bodies from the rubble of bombed buildings Friday after a barrage of coordinated attacks across eastern Baghdad neighborhoods killed at least 64 people and wounded more than 280 within half an hour, police said.

It is ironic that Secretary Rumsfeld speaks of folly. For I am reading The March of Folly by the well-known author and historian Barbara W. Tuchman. She recounts examples of folly throughout the history of the world, starting with the Trojan Wars and continuing through Vietnam. The book was published in 1984, five years before her death. There is no doubt in my mind though that if she was still alive she would have to add a new chapter to her book to capture our grossly misdirected war on terrorism.

Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists of assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by facts. It is epitomized in a historian’s statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: “No experience in the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.”

Step aside, King Philip. Send George W. Bush to the front of the line.

From the moment it was planned, the War on Terrorism and the War in Iraq in particular became an exercise is extreme folly. Moreover, Secretary Rumsfeld was one of its chief planners. Since the War on Terrorism has devolved into folly and the administration has refused to change our counterproductive course, then arguably our administration is now insane. It is unfortunate that insanity does not amount to high crimes and misdemeanors. If so then we could at least impeach the president and vice president and perhaps put someone with a clue in charge. (Arguably, President Bush has violated U.S. laws against war crimes. This could be grounds for his impeachment and removal from office. Not surprisingly, he is promoting legislation that would, after the fact, exempt him and his administration from possible prosecution.)

The vast majority of Americans want a real solution to the problem of terrorism. It is clear to them that what we have done so far simply has not proven effective. They want new strategies and tactics to actually solve the problem, rather than pretend to solve it.

“Staying the course” is not leadership when it is counterproductive. A real leader will quickly discern when a strategy works against him and try a better approach. That President Bush cannot do this shows that he no longer leads this nation. He comes across as increasingly disconnected and more than a bit pathetic.

Of course, he is out hitting the road now because midterm elections are looming. He is far more worried about the Republican Party maintaining control than he is about solving the problem of terrorism. He should be afraid of the midterm elections because they will be a referendum on him. Many otherwise decent Republican candidates will bear the price of his folly.

Americans remain convinced that terrorism is a global problem that must be addressed. Our will is steady and no one, particularly the Democratic Party, wants to sweep terrorism under the rug. The only thing that has changed is that voters now have no-confidence in Bush’s leadership. By voting against Republicans, voters will demonstrate not just our patriotism, but our commitment to take effective steps to deal with terrorism. In other words, voters will say, “Well, at least we are sane.”

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