Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MacArthur in the White House

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have now informed us that -- despite the results of last November's election, the consistent results of polls for the last two years, the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group and congressional opposition from both parties -- they will go ahead with their troop surge.

In the face of such opposition, Mr. Bush likes to see himself as another Harry Truman -- someone reviled in his own day but admired by historians after the dust has settled. In that regard, it is instructive to read what Truman wrote about Douglas MacArthur in his diary on June 17th, 1945, long before Truman fired him on April 11, 1951: "Mr. Prima Dona, Brass Hat, Five Star MacArthur. He's worse than the Cabots and the Lodges -- at least they talked with one another before they told God what to do. Mac tells God right off."

Mr. Bush has told the people, who clearly disdain his war, that -- as long as he is "the decider" -- their opinions will not influence his policies. The problem is that instead of working for the White House, MacArthur now sits in the Oval Office; and he knows that he and Mr. Cheney cannot be fired. Now, with the hubris one is accustomed to see in a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, they insist that they know better than the people who elected them -- and, who most recently, passed judgment on their policies.

Clearly, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney's judgment has been appalling. Consider the record: They were wrong about Iraq sponsoring the 911 attacks; they were wrong about Saddam possessing chemical and biological weapons; they were wrong about Saddam having a nuclear weapons program; they were wrong about sending enough troops to Iraq; they were wrong about Iraqi oil money paying for the war; they were wrong about being greeted as liberators; they were wrong when they insisted that Iraq was a secular society; and, therefore, there would be no fracturing of the country along religious lines; they were wrong about de -Baathification; they were wrong when they disbanded the Iraqi army; and they were wrong when they proclaimed that there would be no insurgency.

They readily admit that their surge is a gamble. But, they insist, there will be a bloodbath and global instability if they do not make one last attempt to impose a military solution before the Iraqis get down to the business of finding a political solution. However, even their surge is a mere shadow of what was originally recommended. In their original proposal, Fred Kagan and retired General Jack Keene suggested that, to be successful, their proposal would require at least thirty to fifty thousand troops. Bush claims that those other troops will come from the Iraqis.

But three months ago, Bush's own head of the Security Council, Stephen Hadley, wrote a memo to his boss claiming that Mr. Maliki was an unreliable partner because he will not do what he has promised to do. When the memo leaked, Mr. Maliki stiffed Mr. Bush and did not show up for their dinner meeting in Jordan. Mr. Bush has decided to sit down at the roulette table and put all his chips on number 21, 500 and on a guy who Bush can't trust to keep a dinner appointment.

The question is, with the track record Mr. Bush has racked up over the last four years, would you put your life's savings in his hands? And, even if you told him you wanted out of the game, what would you do if his response was, "You're in. . .?"

Much fanfare has been made of the fact that Mr. Bush is the first MBA president. And, in homage to his alma mater, Mr. Bush has made much of the fact that Mr. Maliki and his government will now be held to strict performance appraisal standards; or else, "they will lose the support of the American people." It seems to me that what is fair for Mr. Maliki is only fair for Mr. Bush. The only difference should be that, instead of Mr. Bush holding Mr. Maliki accountable, the American Congress should hold Mr. Bush accountable.

There is precedent. On September 1, 1970, Democratic Senator George McGovern and Republican Senator Mark Hatfield offered an amendment which would have cut off funding for the Vietnam War in fifteen months if the situation did not improve measurably. The amendment was defeated that day; but eventually funding for the war ended after Nixon was told by a bipartisan delegation that unless he resigned he would be impeached. Nixon resigned and the war ended when the senior senator from Arizona led a delegation to Nixon which told him his time was up.

Today the senior Senator from Arizona favours the surge. And no one is suggesting that Mr. Bush resign. But congress ultimately has the power to shut Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney's operation down. However, that will only happen if Democratic and Republican statesmen with the gravitas of Barry Goldwater have the courage to bring the Iraq war to an end.

Those who say that such action is folly have it backwards. Bush's policies are not the solution to the chaos in Iraq; they are the cause of the chaos. There is a conflagration ahead. But Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney only know how to start a fire. Other --wiser-- men (or women) will have to find a way to put it out.

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