The Bush Administration is poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of its victory over Saddam’s Iraq, but it will blame the Left, which counseled against the invasion, for the ensuing debacle. This evasion of responsibility is nothing less than pathological character flaw that typifies reactionary conservatives, a hyper-aggressive breed of alpha males (high in arrogance, but low in competence). The fatal combination of extreme aggression coupled with inadequate insight invariably leads to the self-destructive pattern known as the “conservative crackup.” We’ve seen this motif play out before of late: the disgraced congressman Mark Foley who rails against sex predators, but is exposed as a page molesting hypocrite; the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff who plays pro and anti-gambling lobbies off one another, but overplays his hand on his way to winding up in a Federal pen; and the the televangelist Ted Haggard, who railed against homosexuality, but was caught buying drugs from a gay "acquaintance."
Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales represent a variation on this theme, bunglers who’d blame everyone but themselves for the incompetence and demoralization that swirls around them. Whether the issue was too few troops or torture memos, Rumsfeld and Gonzales set out to transform the bureaucratic cultures at the Pentagon and the Justice Department respectively, but their personal management styles only undermined the agencies they’ve led. Personal corruption may not have been in play, but their failures seem to stem, once again, from pushing too hard and reflecting too little.
The Bush administration’s blend of hubris and ineptness, of course, can be traced right to top. Perhaps no president in American history came to the oval office so untutored in foreign affairs, nor so ill-equipped to manage the nation’s vast modern bureaucracy. To compensate for Bush’s inexperience and evident shortcomings the president has been shielded, as much as possible, from deliberative processes where a normal give and take might expose his relative ignorance on policy matters. For instance, only six months before the invasion of Iraq outside briefers were stunned to learn that president was unaware of the ethnic rivalry between Shia and Sunni.
Bush’s overweening confidence has gone hand in hand with his sheer obliviousness. Nowhere is this fault more evident than in Bush’s blithe assertions about Saddam’s non-existent WMD and the administration’s cherry picked intelligence. For example, the analytic community was divided regarding the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, but the administration insisted the evidence was unambiguous. Simply put, the Bush administration never did the due diligence necessary that would allow it to vouch for the intelligence it insisted was unassailable. Thus, it is not a matter of the Bush Administration being “duped” like everybody else by bad intelligence, but a wholesale corruption of the national security process whereby top officials saw only what they wanted to see.
Despite hyping a non-existent threat, the Bush Administration’s efforts to find and secure Saddam’s alleged stockpiles of WMD was mishandled from the start. To begin with, Bush didn’t know it but he had essentially endorsed a dual chain of command in Iraq with both Paul Bremer and General Sanchez reporting directly to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. It was left to then Secretary of State Colin Powell to explain to the neophyte president why a dual chain of command could prove problematic: Bremer and Sanchez would each claim the other was responsible for finding Saddam’s WMD! As it happened, personal animosity between Bremer and Sanchez precluded coordination, and the search for Saddam’s WMD turned into a fiasco. Ironically, thousands of conventional ammo dumps were never secured or destroyed (for fear of setting off hidden caches of WMD), and the insurgents have since turned these munitions against U.S. troops. In short, if the post-war planning had been as well choreographed as Bush’s “mission accomplished” carrier landing the war in Iraq might be over by now.
A psychological craving for glory and a refusal to acknowledge obvious mistakes and misjudgments seems an integral part of George W. Bush’s makeup. As a result, his political opponents bear the brunt of his ire when a scapegoat is needed for Bush’s failures. Liberals believed in the “cowardly” doctrine of containing Saddam, but now that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war (brought on by Bush’s decision to invade), liberals are to blame for their “defeatism.”
In Bush’s black and white worldview political opponents must either be weakling appeasers or dangerous quislings. As such, they are either objects of contempt or objects of dread, but never subjects to be accorded respect or engaged as serious partners. As a result, genuine bi-partisan cooperation is a non-starter. Political opponents serve only one legitimate function for Bush; they exist to be demonized. For instance, if Iraq descends into complete anarchy one can be sure that war critics like Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha will be to blame for “stabbing America in the back” by tying the administration’s hands. Never mind, of course, just who it was that got the United States into the self-defeating quagmire of Iraq in the first place and then mismanaged the reconstruction.
In Bush’s warped mindset anyone who opposes his decisions is playing into the hands of the enemy. Disagree with the so-called surge, for instance, and you are guilty of signaling to our enemies in the Middle East that America doesn’t have to stomach to defend its values. Ironically, Bush has a pattern of insulting liberals – “they failed to learn the lessons of 9/11” – and then blame them when they fail to support his “leadership” and his policies. Indeed, the polarization of the electorate and the erosion of Bush’s support has little to do with the so-called duplicity of liberals, and everything to do with the backfiring of Bush’s divide and conquer modus operandi, which has thoroughly alienated most of the electorate from their president.
The myriad of woes Bush is facing is largely of his own doing. In many respects the failures in Iraq reflects the Bush Administration’s ideological blindness. For example, competent Middle Eastern experts and administrators were ousted because they did not meet a pro-life litmus test; a large number of military personnel fluent in Arabic were ousted from the armed forces because they happened to be gay; and the Bush Administration needlessly antagonized much of the Iraqi population by insisting on turning occupied Iraq into a laboratory to test its libertarian philosophy. The end result: Iraq is something of a casualty of the so-called culture war.
Justice Brandeis once noted that the greatest threat to civil liberties came from men of great zeal and little understanding. The Bush Administration’s bellicosity and obtuseness has inflicted grave -- and perhaps irreparable – harm upon America’s body politic. It is ironic, but George W. Bush has arguably done more to damage America’s interests than its enemies could hope to inflict themselves.