THE WANDERER, August 3, 2006


The Bush Aberration 

     Not since the 1968 Tet offensive has the news made 
me feel so confused and dispirited. It's easier to say 
what should have been done -- or not done -- than what 
should be done now.

     The Founders of the American Republic counseled us 
to maintain neutrality, now disparaged as isolationism, 
in foreign broils. It wasn't that they thought all 
foreign powers were wrong; just the opposite.

     Every state might have plausible reasons for making 
war, but that was exactly the problem. Their reasons, 
however appealing, need not be our reasons; and it was 
unlikely that their interests should often coincide with 
ours. Let them fight without us!

     But since the days of Woodrow Wilson we have been 
taught that it is both our interest and our duty to side 
with democracies abroad. In any conflict, the democratic 
side must be right; for, as Condoleezza Rice keeps 
reminding us, "Democracies don't start wars." If you 
believe that a priori, everything is immediately 
simplified. Israel is a democracy, so in its latest war 
we must take Israel's side. 

     But having abandoned neutrality, the United States 
is in no position to broker the diplomatic settlement 
Rice hopes to negotiate. Both the Bush administration and 
Congress have quickly expressed their support for the 
violent Israeli assault on Lebanon, which Hezbollah has 
made its base for rocket attacks on Israeli cities.

     Most of the world agrees that the Israeli assault is 
wildly excessive, but the Israelis argue that under 
international law Lebanon, by failing to control 
Hezbollah, has become responsible for those rockets and 
for any innocent carnage resulting from measures the 
Israelis deem necessary for their defense. So, as a 
democracy defending itself, Israel becomes America's dog 
in this fight.

     And once again the United States finds itself 
entangled and ineffectual in the most violent region on 
earth. Not only that, but the world holds America largely 
responsible for a bitter conflict we all deplore. O for 
the placid era of Yitzhak Shamir and Yassir Arafat! 

     To be sure, Hezbollah is supported by Iran, which 
may well have instigated the latest trouble to deflect 
attention from its nuclear program. But was this 
unforeseeable? Did the administration think the Iranians 
were just going to sit still and endure more American 
scoldings for their misbehavior?

     Never assume that your enemies are without resource. 
Iran is too big and too cunning to be bullied.

     I'm always wary of the Israelis, but that doesn't 
mean I trust their enemies, and for some days, 
remembering how we reacted to the 9/11 attacks, I was 
willing to give Israel the benefit of a doubt, as far as 
their own safety was concerned.

     By the same token, though, I didn't expect them to 
consider whether their actions were beneficial to us. 
Right or wrong, their fight is not ours. We have more 
than enough enemies now, and fewer allies than ever. 
Never was prudence more urgent, or less in evidence.

     Maybe there is no justice in this world, but there 
is certainly hubris, and there is its usual reward, 

     As William Schwenck Gilbert once complained to the 
president of a railroad, "Sir: Sunday morning, though 
recurring at frequent and well-established intervals, 
always seems to take this railway by surprise."

     In the same way, Nemesis always seems to take this 
country by surprise.

     So here we go again. We intervene on the other side 
of the world, where the only thing worse than war is 
peace, and we are shocked to find things beyond our 

Independent Iraq

     And having installed a brand-new democracy in Iraq, 
we are unpleasantly taken aback when Nouri al-Maliki, the 
brand-new prime minister of our brand-new ally, condemns 
the Israeli action during his first official visit to 

     We wanted Iraq to be independent, but perhaps not 
quite =that= independent. When he addressed Congress, 
several congressmen boycotted his speech.

     This put President Bush in yet another awkward 
situation (he must be getting used to them), and Maliki 
quickly got the word to tone it down.

     Only Rush Limbaugh still thinks the Iraq war is 
going well; even other conservatives are deserting Bush 
now. Bill Buckley has opined that Bush is no conservative 
and that his disastrous failure in Iraq, were he a 
European prime minister, would have compelled his 

     Surely the Republic's Founders would be astonished 
to find their country so impossibly mired in the Muslim 
world, to say nothing of its fantastic debt and 
semi-socialist economy.

     Less than halfway through his second term, Bush 
seems intent on completing America's ruin. Not that he 
has done it alone, but it's hard to imagine how a single 
man could have done more to aggravate the damage he 

     To say that Bush has failed as a president is to 
understate the matter. He has booby-trapped the 
presidency for his successors. How can they hope to 
repair what he has wrought? Even without war and military 
spending, his new Medicare entitlements can't be paid for 
by marginal tax cuts; barring a miracle, they ensure 
generations of spiraling debt.

     If the immediate future looks bleak, the long-range 
future looks even worse.

Wasted Assets

     Grim as the prospect of Democratic rule may be, it 
seems probable that the Republicans' political hegemony 
is finished. Seldom if ever has a party wasted its assets 
as rapidly as the GOP has since 2004, or lost the aura of 
invincibility so suddenly. If the Democrats can reverse 
their fortunes in this fall's elections, even another 
impeachment is possible.

     As long as I'm spreading good cheer, allow me to 
suggest a silver lining. Party loyalty needn't mean 
following your leader over a cliff. Bush is so completely 
discredited that I see only one way for the Republicans 
to recoup: by repudiating him the way the Democrats 
disowned Lyndon Johnson by nominating George McGovern in 
1972. Pretend he never happened.

     Once the Republicans make it clear that they agree 
that George W. Bush was an aberration, they can begin to 
recover. This may mean enduring a period of Democratic 
dominance, but the Democrats themselves will see to it 
that this doesn't last long if the voters have an 

     I once predicted that Republicans would eventually 
urge us to return to the conservative values of Bill 
Clinton. I just didn't expect it to happen quite so soon!

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