Comments: A Failure of Democratic Intelligence

I think that, while during the first two paragraphs it sounds like you had some kind of brain transplant, once you got to your thesis I agreed with you: it is not only entirely possible, but entirely probable, that Bush was acting in perfectly good faith when he decided that the "liberation" of Iraq was a project for his administration to undertake--and yet good faith is not good *enough* if the resulting belief of righteousness leads to a pick-and-choose strategy when vetting intelligence, which, by its very nature, is rarely a matter of certainty.

I think that two important topics need to be toggled onto your piece, one of which you do gesture toward and the other of which seems largely absent--perhaps outside the purview of the argument about Bush himself. However, if I may take a glance at Sir Ronald Syme's Roman Revolution, the "great man" can't do it alone. Even the President of the United States is surrounded by a cadre of advisers, and although the President is under scrutiny largely because he is the highest elected official in the country, I can only assume that he is by no means alone when he makes decisions and vets data, including intelligence, upon which he then sets or advocates policy.

That group mediates between the President and the intelligence community, and although it's not as "sexy" in an election year to widen our focus to consider these individuals, the fact of the matter is that the President does need to be judged as much on the basis of his friends as by his own actions--case in point, John Ashcroft. It says a lot to me that Colin Powell "plans to leave" the Secretary of State post ("Racing the Clock in Iraq", Newsweek 2/9/04, p35; I assume this would happen should Bush win re-election). He has a history in this administration of holding differing opinions from the rest of the President & Co. on numerous matters of foreign policy (cf on North Korea, as long ago as perhaps two years--reported on in the Village Voice, I believe either by James Ridgeway or by Cynthia Cotts)--and it is equally significant that the Secretary of State, whose job it is to advise on matters of foreign policy, and a bona fide military leader to boot, does not toe the
line of unconditional loyalty and public conformism that has been such a hallmark of this administration.

So while I am perfectly willing to believe that Bush did have the best intentions, based on his own beliefs, the question still remains, how did he arrive at these beliefs, and on what basis? And here his choice of friends, the circle within which he has isolated himself, should be a matter that cannot simply be dismissed as "well, that's his choice"--which was exactly the argument that I recall reading when the Democrats rolled over and approved John Ashcroft.

The mention of "the other white meat" party leads me to the topic that you did reference, which is the increasing and disturbingly hysterical factionalism that leads otherwise potentially independently thinking, intelligent individuals to bludgeon and defend without nuance, since the President is not only himself, GWB, but stands for more than that, especially now that his post is up for grabs. Because just as those advisers I referred to above tell us a lot about Bush and why he decided to pull us into this war, so too they tell us about where the country is being pulled in a general way--and I believe that this, as much or more than the war itself, is what gives rise to the extreme reactions we are seeing now. The war policy is but the tip of the iceberg in a shift in national identity that is, Augustus-like, claiming to be a return to the mos maiorum while systematically destroying the very institutions and philosophy that has made this country the greatest and most pow
erful nation on earth. And so while I am all for a more charitable view on Bush's intentions, I am (I think justifiably) afraid that if we continue on the present path that there will be no permissible charity unless I add a religious qualifier to it, and that I will be increasingly surveilled to make sure that I do it--and my membership in the "intellectual" class will only make me more vulnerable and more subject to cultural invidia than I (and anyone who reads this site) already am.

I realize that I am stretching beyond the scope of your posting, but this is part of a larger conversation that I think we must have about not just the current debate over did-he-or-didn't-he lie, but what are the further implications of even being in this situation in the first place. This is about the election, this is about the direction not just of the USA but of the world that we impact every time we collectively sneeze, and while perhaps Bush alone can't be pilloried for a probably good-faith action, it's more Cheney, Wolfowicz, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the crew that I am worried about. And the fact that Halliburton notes in a recent SEC filing that even its *former* association with Cheney is a "risk factor" ("Cheney--A 'Risk Factor'", Newsweek 2/9/04, p8, cf demonstrates that others are, too.

Thanks for taking up this very important topic--unless we can reclaim some degree of rationality, we ourselves can't claim to be doing any better than those without whom we reactively disagree.



Posted by Meredith at February 7, 2004 02:06 PM

Since Rob asked for feedback, I'll provide, albeit that I feel a little uneducated by comparison to Rob and Meredith, given the level of detail of their posts, and of course my need for a thesaurus every other sentence with Rob.

I too had to scratch my head a few times before I figured out what your thesis was. I agree that one should not automatically assume that someone else is lying just because they are from the "other" political party, and that if we all acted this way, we'd get along better.

However, I give Bush no benefit of doubt. We know that Rove, Wolfowitz, et. al., have been searching for a way to democratize the Middle East since before 9/11. We know that administrations of both parties play with, manufacture, cover up, and/or color intelligence information in order to achieve their desired objectives. (see Daniel Ellsberg's "Secrets", which Rob recommends reading and I give a hearty second).

Words that came forth from Bush and his administration were carefully crafted (as they should be) to convince the American people that Saddam was an iminent threat and that there were Al-Qaeda connections to Iraq. They were repeated over and over again, until, as you know 70% or so of the US thought that the 9/11 attackers were Iraqi. The point is that facts were overlooked, colored, ignored, or put in certain contexts that were meant to get people to support the war. Perhaps Bush really DID think that we would find weapons, and thought he was doing the best thing for the country. But, that is irrelevant, given his arrogant attitude. It takes someone who is human to admit a mistake. I would rather hear "You know, we were wrong about the weapons, but we did get rid of a dictator who committed atrocities" Instead, there is no admission, only a further wall of arrogance and self-righteousness and removal from reality (see Meet the Press yesterday: Q: "Did you anticipate the negative and violent reception to the US in Iraq?" A: I think we've been well-received in Iraq". Reminds me of South Park's Cartman saying to his mom that he is fat, and she says, "No you're just big-boned").

Thanks for starting the dialogue. Allow the reader to know where you're going earlier. My .02

Posted by Otis at February 10, 2004 12:37 PM