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Sanity, Competence, And The Latest Washington Crock About Iraq.

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
Message Lawrence Velvel
December 11, 2006

Re: Sanity, Competence, And The Latest Washington Crock About Iraq.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

To my surprise, the recent post raising the issue of George Bush's sanity received a reasonable amount of response. The posting questioned his sanity on the ground that he is in denial about Iraq -- that he is living in an Iraqian dreamworld that exists only in his head, not in the real world. Much of the response went much further. Responses simply said Bush is nuts, had been for a long time, and had long been thought to be by the responders. One response called attention to two, three and four year old articles and books by people with training in psychiatric or psychological matters. Those writers pointed to several reasons for doubting Bush's sanity. Most interesting perhaps was the idea that he suffers from a condition called '"dry drunk.'" Essentially, this means that even if one eventually stops drinking, as Bush did, years of alcoholism cause irreversible damage to brain chemistry. Results of this damage include such Bushian traits as rigid judgmentalism, irritability, impatience, grandiosity, obsessive thought patterns, incoherent speech and other unlovely characteristics. Bush also seems to have characteristics that, whether or not they are characteristic of "dry drunks," are symptomatic of people who don't fully have a grip. These include immense anger, exploitativeness, arrogance, lack of empathy, and difficulties arising from relationships with one's father.

Aside from writings in former years questioning Bush's sanity, it was fortuitous that, a few days after my posting, Frank Rich wrote a long piece in the Sunday New York Times in which he said that Bush is not merely in denial about Iraq, but is "untethered from reality" regarding it.

Now, this writer doesn't know much about psychiatry, so I can't opine on the correctness of those who wrote two, three and four years ago that Bush has symptoms associated with lack of sanity. Their points do seem to make common sense, at least to one who is uninitiated, and one does know that living in a dream world disconnected from the actual world is not usually regarded as the quintessence of sanity. Frankly, if legislators, the press, or doctors had any guts -- which they usually don't -- they would be discussing the question of Bush's sanity. Naturally, such discussion would be blasted by Bushian supporters as being opinions arrived at without personal examinations of or conversations with the subject, and sometimes by mere laymen. But these days, with the vast amount of information available or attainable about persons, doctors, at least, do opine in lots of medical areas even without personal examinations. And it's not as if the subject is unimportant, you know. On the contrary, it is entirely possible, maybe even very likely, (1) that what has gone on with regard to Iraq has been driven by psychological factors far more than by anything rational; and (2) that citizens and legislators would more readily curb our government's wacked out actions if they began to understand them to be the product of (misshapen) psychological characteristics, not of fact and logic. Indeed, one suspects that, 50 or 75 or 100 years from now, historians will see the last four years in terms of psychological phenomena regarding Bush, other leaders and the general body politic, not in terms of alleged imperatives of fact and reason. Today, after all, we think there was a certain amount of insanity -- a certain amount of psychological malfunction and malformation -- that drove characters like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other evildoers. Why can't the same be true of Bush and his crowd -- and of some of their followers too?

To one trained in arts of thought, the amazing thing was that a man like this could become President. One wondered how he could have been picked as the nominee and then elected. After all, it was clear early-on that he not only had been a long time drunk, but had failed at every business venture, so that time and again he had to be rescued by Daddy's friends and wanna be friends. Recently, I read a claim that conservative Republicans, desperate to win in 2000, picked him to be the nominee early-on because they thought him a good salesman. This could make some sense, especially given his family background and his good ol' boy personality, a type of personality Americans love even when divorced from brains, about which Americans usually care very little. (Bush's good ol' boy, salesman persona stood him in particularly good stead four years later against the unlovely Kerry.) But better knowledge of why and how Bush got to be the nominee in 2000 will have to await future research by historians. It is an interesting question, though.

Less amazing than Bush's selection, but remarkable nevertheless was that in mid 2004 an academic, an apparently very well known sociologist at the prestigious Northwestern University, wrote a piece expressing puzzlement that persons he called "progressives" despise Bush, puzzlement at why "a fair population of these bright and articulate Americans hate" him and why "so many thoughtful people hold a belief that is surprising - - and troubling - - to the vast majority of Americans." The professor then answered his own puzzlement thusly:

. . . George Bush is Forrest Gump. He has led a charmed life, in which mediocrity, error and failure have had no consequences other than to produce success. An indifferent student, Bush attended both Yale and Harvard, escaped service in Vietnam, escaped disgrace despite drunken driving, failed as an oil magnate only to be promoted to head the Texas Rangers baseball team, and lacking political experience, became governor of Texas. His family and mentors paved the way for this untalented scion of privilege. Bush was the frat boy who never grew up.

To the professor all this was not reason enough for progressives to dislike Bush. Rather, they should make judgments based on Bush's policies. But the professor seems to have ignored the policies. As said here in a blog, dated August 23, 2004, on the professor's view:

Saying that "political animus" should not be "tied to issues that are removed from policy" and that "bitterness toward the follies of youth" should not "determine our politics," [the professor] says there is enough to argue about by considering a president's successes, failures, misdeeds. But Bush's failures and misdeeds are matters that have contributed - - mightily - - to "progressives" disliking him intensely. In particular, his defense and foreign policies have outraged them. From telling the rest of the world to lump it, to spurning international courts, to incredible misjudgments about Iraq from start to finish, to untruths and total unwillingness to admit mistakes about such matters, Bush has outraged those who now deeply, viscerally dislike him.

To my mind, it is remarkable that an apparently renowned professor of sociology (no less) at an eminent school should have had so little appreciation of the distaste intelligent people have for the fact that Bush's life refutes fundamental values we grew up with: hard work, competence, intelligence, modesty. His life, with its drunkenness, serial failures, lack of competence repeated salvation via Daddy and Daddy's friends, all followed by the presidency no less, and by disastrous ill-considered policies, makes a joke of the values we absorbed as youths and still try to live by. That "the vast majority of Americans" may have been "trouble[ed]" by our distaste for Bush two and a half years ago is, if true, simply symptomatic of a point made earlier; they don't care about brains. Nor are they put off by the spectre of the brainless advancing via family rather than talent, work, and honesty.

Of course, today, with the situation in Iraq having descended to where it now is, even "the vast majority of Americans" may now by troubled by the idea that the brainless can advance by privilege alone, or at least that this one example of the mentally inept could do so. Academics are perhaps no longer alone in their contempt for the man these days. And one wonders what the Northwestern professor himself thinks now. It would be a cheap shot, I suppose, to say that one has seen or heard of no more op eds by him.

Now, the fact that we've seen the harm that can be wrought by the unintelligent and the incompetent ought to have a bearing on our politics in the future. (Although whether it will or not is unknowable.) We should in future make it a sine qua non for high office that a candidate have shown intelligence and judgment at something, somewhere. Maybe high intelligence could be suitably shown by great academic success, at least if unencumbered by failure in the practical world. Or perhaps high success in the practical world in a position that truly requires brains for success, not just a pleasant personality, could be a sufficient talisman. However a judgment may suitably be made, intelligence, coupled with judgment, should affirmatively be an object of inquiry and assessment. And so should honesty, because dishonesty has produced as much disaster as sheer stupidity and incompetence (with a combination of them being deadly, viz. Bush).
Naturally one might object that a requirement of intelligence, judgment and honesty would eliminate most politicians from running for high office. That could easily be true today given the way the political game is now played. If so, the answer is to demand that the game be played differently, not to elect the dumb or dishonest out of despair over the possibility of doing better.

* * * *

Questions of honesty and intelligence, and of the need to do better, are, one notes, implicated by the report of the Iraq Study Group, the report which has been the focus of so much hype and discussion, so much sturm und drang, in the last few days. Much as one may despise George Bush, one has to say that the ISG's report seems absurd in some ways. At this point it has become pretty clear that the report is nothing but a political document cobbled together politically in the image of James Baker, the first George Bush's Mr. Fixit. The report is merely the latest Washington crock about Iraq.

Admitting that it could come to nothing and that Iran's statements are contrary to their recommendations, ISG members say we should talk to Iran and Syria in order to try to solve the Iraq problem. Well, unlike George Bush, I'm not against talking to anyone, and I agree with Baker that you can't accomplish anything without talking to people. And we and the British do owe Iran a major apology for what we did to Mossadegh, which is the foundation act of Iran's hatred for us. But to think that Iran and Syria - - these former members of the axis of evil - - will help us out of the Iraq mess? And will help create an overall Middle East settlement? What world is Baker living in? Iran and Syria are making out very nicely from the Iraq mess, thank you. Why would they want it to stop, especially since it is causing immense difficulty for what they or their buddies call The Great Satan and, with regard to Iran, is preventing us from giving more focus to its drive for nukes.

Indeed, if I were George Bush I would point out - - it might be nasty but it's the fact - - that the ISG wants us to talk to the country, Iran, which will shortly be holding an international conference, of so called experts, dedicated to showing that the holocaust never happened. And Baker wants us to talk to that country in order to make peace?

With regard to Syria, Baker & Co. suggest that we could get Syria on our side (so to speak) by persuading Israel to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria. Well, some have suggested that Syria may now be far more interested in controlling Lebanon, where it apparently arranges for the assassination of leaders, than in the Golan. But how about Israel: would it be willing, in exchange for a piece of paper called a peace treaty, to return the Golan, which cost it a bloody battle, to a once and perhaps still murderous regime that long sought its destruction, may still seek it, and could seek it again in the future so that Israel might then have to fight another horrible battle for the Golan, which would be a highway into Israel for the Syrians? Boy, I don't know about that. Nor do I think that an American guaranty of Israel's security could do the trick. Israel believes it must depend only on itself; as Jews the Israelis have a 2000 year history cautioning this. It also knows that the US didn't stick it out in Viet Nam and isn't going to in Iraq. (We shouldn't have stuck them out. But this doesn't alter the fact that we didn't and won't, which is all that is of concern to the Israelis. Charles de Gaulle wanted his own force de frappe (his own nuclear deterrent) because he knew it was foolish to trust us to ride to the rescue of France in a potentially nuclear war. He was right, and the Israelis will doubtless heed the example, which applies whether or not Iran, like the Soviets, becomes a nuclear power.)

Then there is the question of whether we can politically and militarily accomplish by early 2008 - - or for that matter by 2012 - - what the ISG hopes we can accomplish. Can a united Iraq arise by 2008? Can its military become capable by then of putting down an insurgency or a civil war? One gathers that even many of the commission's own military experts were dubious. Why shouldn't one be dubious? How can we do by 2008 - - do in a year - - what we couldn't do in three or four? How can we do it in a completely split, riven, violent tribal society? Baker's idea is silly.

Then there is the fact that the ISG asserted that Bush must follow all 79 of its recommendations. This is as out of touch with reality as Bush is. What in the world got into people who are supposed to be the wise men (and women)? Baker apparently wants to be defacto Secretary of State, and he got a bunch of other old men and women to go along with him and absurdly say that all 79 of their recommendations must be followed.

The ISG also made a huge deal out of the fact that its recommendations are bipartisan. Of course, this bipartisan consensus is in reality nothing other than a piece of Bakersque political engineering - - he got Democrats to go along with an absence of a timetable (and one Democrat, the disreputable Chuck Robb, wanted, like John McCain, to put more troops in Iraq). But aside from this, if the claimed consensus is wrong, why should we care that it is bipartisan? Why should we care even if all the Republicans and Democrats in Washington were to get behind it and make nice - - which already, of course, is failing to happen? For a long time Viet Nam was bipartisan. For quite a while Iraq was bipartisan. And they are probably the two greatest foreign relations disasters in the history of the United States.

There are those who say that, when nobody is disagreeing, when everybody is making nice to each other - - that is the time to worry, to watch out. That is a time when a big mistake is very likely. If some of the criticisms of the ISG report are right, as one thinks, especially because so much of the report seems precatory, seems based on hope rather than reality, then a bipartisan push behind the Baker report would likely be only another step on the road to an even bigger disaster. One or two years from now we would find ourselves with more dead Americans, more dead Iraqis, and an even bigger civil war, because it will be impossible to secure needed and effective help from Iran, Syria and others, the religious, tribal and other hatreds in Iraq will make a government of national unity impossible, and these hatreds and rivalries will make it impossible to have a unified, well trained military devoted to a central government and capable of putting down the militias.

So what to do? In regard to Iraq itself, I'll not tarry long over the best answer to this question because it has been presented here before on several occasions. Divide the country - - which never really was a country anyway, but in reality was only what I think Churchill called a geographical expression - - into three parts, Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. Give people a few months to move to "their" area if they want. (Two million have already left the country entirely and who knows how many others have already moved to "their" area.) Then get the hell out, post haste. If we can arrange some sort of sharing of oil revenues among regions in advance, that would be nice. If we can't, to hell with it.

If the Turks don't like it because they fear the example of an independent Kurdish nation, then bribe them. The Turks are susceptible to bribes - - military equipment, etc. If they can't be bribed, to hell with them. Give the Kurds weapons if the Turks are nuts enough to invade them - - the Turks will come to regret an invasion just as the British, the Russians and ourselves have come to regret invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Once each of the three religious groups has its own area, you can bet that there will be peace rather than insurgency or civil war within each area, since the people of each area will be ruled by their own.

This obvious political solution has been advanced here many times. Joe Biden has advanced it. Peter Galbraith has advanced it. But the fools in our government and media refuse to consider or talk about it.

So what, then, is the next best thing? That's pretty simple too. Congress should cut off all funds from any source for fighting in Iraq, except for funds needed to protect our forces as we withdraw them rapidly. This will leave the Iraqis to simply kill each other for awhile. But if it is not done they will still kill each other, and Americans too. American combat in the Viet Nam war finally ended with a whimper when Congress, over a Nixonian veto, cut off funds for the remaining bombing we were doing, and a cut off of funds should be used here too, with the cut off attached to one or the other of the many veto proof bills that go through Congress (e.g., defense appropriations).

This suggestion brings up a point about the Democrats and, even more specifically, about Barack Obama. Seeking to dodge political responsibility, seeking to dodge having to do the right thing, the Democrats have been saying they can't cut off funds for the war because this would endanger the troops. A few days ago I heard even Obama say it. This may be a good dodge vis a vis most of the body politic. For most people, not being lawyers let alone constitutional lawyers, may not yet know that a cut off need not be written in an all encompassing manner, i.e., need not say "No funds can be used for any military operations in Iraq." Rather it can be written in a way that allows funds to be used to protect American troops while they are being withdrawn, e.g., "No funds may be used for military operations in Iraq except when necessary to protect American troops during the period of withdrawal." Not only may large numbers of citizens not know this, but it wouldn't entirely shock me if some, even lots, of the Democrats are too dumb to know it although they are legislators. But can we think that Obama and other intelligent, law trained Democrats don't know it? Impossible. Gimme a break. They know it.

Take Obama, for instance. Here is a guy who is super bright; he was the President of the Harvard Law Review, after all. The former President of the Harvard Law Review thinks that a cut off must endanger our troops? He doesn't know that it can be written in a way that protects them? Gimme a break. Of course he knows this.

So what are he and other smart Democrats doing? That's easy. They are lying in order to play political games by which they hope to avoid the responsibility to do what is right. Obama, a super bright fellow, is also African American, well spoken, and reasonably liberal. This combination of traits is causing him to come on strong as a potential candidate for President as early as 2008. But what is he doing with regard to cut offs of funds? He is in effect lying. This is not good. We've had enough Lyndon Johnsons, Dick Nixons, Bill Clintons, and George W. Bushes. An African American President would likely be a good thing. But we don't need one whose respect for truth is no higher than that of the white jerks I've just named. Someone should wise up Obama about this.

Beyond the immediate question of what we should do in Iraq is the broader question of how should America conduct itself in the world as a general matter. This has been touched on in prior postings, which pointed out that at least since 1898 the US has been an imperialist, warlike, highly aggressive nation. As such it has seen itself as having a responsibility to affect, even control, what is happening elsewhere, as in Viet Nam in the 1960's and Iraq today. Usually (although not in Viet Nam, Korea or World War II), the U.S. is, as they say, just following the money (in Iraq, the oil); usually it is acting imperialistically in service of private commercial interests.

Unless it wishes to destroy itself as did the Roman and British imperialists, the US must quit the idea of constant military action and of affecting or controlling things all across the globe. Forget it; it just leads to one disaster after another. We have no God given right to control the world, and the world does not wish to be controlled by us.

Yes, there are countries in whose defense we would fight and should make it known we would fight. They are countries tied to us by history, commonality of interest and values, morals, and economics. Britain, France, the new Germany, other nations of western Europe, Israel, Japan, Australia, Canada and some others exemplify. We are not pacifists. We would fight to protect those nations and ourselves. But to fight in every small, backwards second or third world country in order to affect or control nearly everything everywhere? Forget it. That way lies more of the disasters that have already befallen us. We can be a beacon unto the better elements in those nations, as was the thought closer to this country's founding. But we should stay out of their affairs. A beacon, yes. A controller, no.

You know, we have plenty to do right here in the U.S. in order to finally establish a decent society. We must establish better, more widespread health care, lessen the costs of medicare, provide a better economic break for the vast middle class and the poor, especially vis a vis the superrich, must provide better economic treatment for our military people, must provide education, and better education, more widely, must deal with our energy problems, must rebuild our aging infrastructure, must insure that old people have decent incomes and lives, must insure the safety of food, must change our now largely crooked electoral system which causes the worst to rise to the top, insures against the cream rising to it and causes us to follow stupid policies, and must rebuild the values of honesty and competence - - must rebuild those and other cultural values on which all else ultimately depends. We have plenty to do without running around the world fighting war after war - - wars which simply distract from and make it impossible to do the things which need to be done, the things which are essential for a decent society. We have plenty to do right here at home without the horrendous impediment of Johnsonian, Nixonian and Bushian wars.

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.
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