Monday, August 21, 2006

Does George Bush Dream in Color?

Take up the White Man's burden —
Send forth the best ye breed —
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild —
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

While reading the piece by Seymour Hersh in last week’s New Yorker magazine, I was struck by an absurd contradiction in the thinking of White House “strategists.” It seems like those responsible for planning military action against Iran are still harboring this idea that if and when the US attacks—theoretically with “targeted” air strikes against Iranian government nuclear facilities—the Iranian people will somehow realize that they were put in an untoward situation by President Ahmadinejad, and then rise up to topple their elected leader.

Now, first off, everyone might recognize this thinking as something much like the “Iraqi people will welcome us with flowers” prediction made in the run up to the Bush-Iraq war three-and-a-half years ago. We all know how that one turned out, and it is hard to imagine that a few of America’s war planners don’t share this knowledge.

Second, according to Hersh, the recent Israeli strategy in Lebanon was similar: already tired of Hezbollah, the Lebanese people will abandon them once and for all when they see the damage caused after Nasrallah picked a fight with Israel. Bush Administration officials were—again, if we are to believe Hersh—apparently looking at Lebanon as a test case, a practice run, for the US raid on Iran. A month later, all but the most unhinged see the prophecy of popular revolt to, again, be a ridiculous construct.

But neither of those is the absurd contradiction I refer to up top. No, rather, what hit me is that the Bush/Cheney/Rove strategy at home relies on the very opposite reaction from the American people than that which is constantly being predicted abroad.

The domestic assumption is that in the face of an attack, or threatened attack, from a foreign entity, people will come together and defend their President. Even many who had their doubts, the strategy goes, will put those doubts aside to present a strong and unified front to the enemy.

On many past occasions, that thinking has served the Bush Administration well, and they continue to act accordingly. They tie everything to 9/11, conflate disparate events under the banner of the “war on terror,” go to orange and red alert at will, manipulate intelligence, and even undermine criminal investigations in an effort to stage-manage public discourse. The recent behavior by the likes of Cheney and Bush following the Lamont victory in Connecticut and the arrests in the London bomb plot show that administration political strategists still think this is the best plan of attack.

So, why is it that they don’t apply their domestic model to the peoples of other lands? Why is it that they think Iranians, Iraqis, or Lebanese are so different from Americans? Is it a convenient compartmentalization in the service of more sinister goals? The obdurate stupidity of spoiled children? Magical thinking hatched at some American madrasa? Or is it the arrogance that comes from power and privilege?

These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, of course, so “all of the above” is not out of the question. Nor should we ignore naked greed and ambition, I suppose.

But, I also wonder: when President Bush talks of “Islamic fascists,” or “jihadists,” or “suiciders,” for that matter, what images run through his hollow head? Does he see a pale-skinned Persian in business attire (or a kid from the Midlands in a track suit, for that matter)? Somehow, I doubt it.

Rather, as he has made clear since just after 9/11, George’s world is an “us” vs. “them” world. And the “us” that stands for—and by—God and country when attacked look and act remarkably like Bush, himself, while the “them” that would turn on their own leaders flesh out like the supporting cast from a Kipling poem.

The difference being that Rudyard Kipling knew something about the costs of war.


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