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Promotion, Policy, and Politics

Bush has made Karl Rove Assistant Chief of Staff. So what?

Well, If you’ve read Ron Suskind’s book about Paul O’Neill’s tenure, The Price of Loyalty, the theme of most of the criticism is that the Bush Administration doesn’t have clear policies, only politics. Now we have a political consultant at a rank where he can directly set policy.

It's not merely that the man setting the political tone his is known through various works to have a paranoid, vengeful manner of dealing with political opponents, as is reported in the book Bush's Brain, in an even stronger position to filter information coming to him and controlling access. Those things are bad by themselves, but they are worse when we put them in the context of real events.

In my entry The Depths of Memory, I brought up the intelligence and policy failures that plagued us in Iraq. In other posts it's been taxes, social security, and other things.

If there's one common thread it is this: the Bush administration has time and agains chosen political expedience over practical necessity, the dogma of ideologues over critical examination of the real facts on the ground. The fact that we have had three tax cuts in a time of war, where unpredictable costs skyrocket, is a sign of this. Even now, Rumsfeld is trying to cook the books.

Even after all the tax cuts, Bush has pushed and continued to push changes in our entitlements system that are busting the bank. His medicare drug benefit has added 160 billion dollars a year to the budget. His Social security plan, if it ever gets off the ground, Adds 200 billion dollars a year over ten years to our liabilities. Both sets of changes actually endanger the systems, threatening to send both to an earlier demise.

Bush seems to be copying fellow Texan LBJ in his Guns and Butter approach, waging a huge war and creating huge entitlements at the same time. Does he have enough of a sense of history to understand what resulted from that the last time?

Despite the successes and dissimilarities, the political approach to Iraq has had startling similarities to Vietnam. Again, optimism and loyalty are prized over dissent and dark predictions. Your access to the president doesn't depend on whether he needs your expertise , it depends on whether you tell him things that he wants to hear, and say things to the public that make the politics and dogma he believes in look good.

The same thing happened with LBJ. If you didn't have a positive outlook on Vietnam, if you didn't drink the Kool-Aid, they simply shut you out. They actively smeared those who contradicted or qualified the Administration's politically motivated position.

Early in the war, the similarities are chilling. An Administration gets us into a land war over dubious causes, after a build up that is mainly the fault of the administration itself. Again we go in light, and at the beginning our casualties are light. But they escalate in time, and the cost in blood rises. Again we go in without a clear understanding of how we get out. Again we are promised that the people will universally love us, and the truth turns out to be much more complicated. Again we tell ourselves that the numbers of the enemy will fall through attrition.

These are not symptoms of inevitable defeat. I think we stand a good chance of winning here, and the Iraqi people with us. But what the above similarities indicate is that the policy is more political than practical. Practical military leadership means going in when one has a cause to back up one's actions, and no other worthwhile choice. Practical leadership means understanding that Guerilla wars are not wars of attrition like conventional conflicts, but instead wars of political supremacy.

Practical military leadership means overwhelming force that doesn't allow an enemy to regain their breath, suffocating troop presence, and reasons for going to war tight enough that opponents and critics can't pry open the armor of justification to get at your reputation within. It means fighting wars knowing that winning isn't always about taking pieces off the board. It's about not waiting to redress one's errors until the effects and implications of those mistakes have already permeated the situation itself.

LBJ hamstrung himself by making the war itself a personal cause, with those questioning its course dealing him personal insult and showing disrespect to this country. He made unwavering faith in a flawed policy the sign of one's patriotism. Given the human mind's ability to rationalize just about anything, this created a situation where people emotionally defend, even to this day, a policy even the Republicans in power came to question. Cheney himself believed he had better things to do than fight the Vietnam War. He got five different exemptions to avoid the fight. Even now, though, he and the president he serves under use similar tactics to get people to support the war in Iraq.

I recalled in my previous post the question asked by many gung-ho conservatives and hawks: "Have you forgotten?"

It's a question that implies much about its subject. Mostly it implies that the person in question dissents from some lack of spine or character, that they've forgotten the blood sacrifice of that day long ago, where Americans lost their lives at the hands of our enemies. When the question works, it is often a triumph of sensibilities over the senses, of emotion over reason. It is part of the strategy that people like Karl Rove have been using to push policy on all of us.

What the question really asks, in Rove's terms is, will you give up asking these uncomfortable questions that give my boss a hard time at the polls? Will you stop getting in the way of his leadership? Whatever worries you, it tells us, doesn't matter because your worries are the product of a weak spine.

For Rove, the problem of whether his president is right is inconsequential. He's there to change things, to make the country over in his ideal party's image. The bill of consequences can always be paid later. Anything is better than Democrats and liberals remaining in power, in the long run.

He has played a dangerous game, with many officials working alongside him, that has consequences which reach farther than he can imagine. The easiest trap for human beings to fall into when dealing with the rest of the world is the one between their own ears. When policy, access, administration, and other checks and balances are shifted around to perpetuate a certain dogma, we trade awareness for ignorance, and fact for illusion, and it becomes very difficult to deal with the problem effectively.

The signal sent by the Bush administration by rewarding the likes of Karl Rove is that appearances mean more than the facts. In this term, they and the public will find out just how wrong that assumption is.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at February 9, 2005 9:57 AM