A kick in the pants
As this is being written, Americans are mulling over President Bush’s “new way forward” in Iraq.
As indicated by polls, the president no longer inspires great national confidence. For some of us, he never did. For many others, the president’s poor judgment has come as a bitter revelation.
Still, for the sake of Americans and Iraqis both, we can all hope that there is a way to make things better.
And, while we are seeking such a solution, we should also be asking how we got ourselves into this mess and can avoid doing so in the future.
There is no shortage of explanations.
Some blame it on bad leaders. I would say that bad leadership suggests bad followers as well. Others blame the system—our tired-out political parties, crassly uninformative elections, and/or the predominance of narrow interests over the general good.
While I think all these perspectives are valid, I want to focus here on the role arrogance has played in the current debacle, and how such arrogance might be addressed in the future.
That arrogance has been a big part of the formula for failure is beyond dispute. The simple truth is that the Bush administration has exuded a noxious aura of arrogance ever since launching the war in Iraq became politically viable in the drunken aftermath of 9-11.
War critics within the U.S., recalcitrant foreign allies, and basically anyone who did not accept the administration’s view of the matter, hook, line, and sinker, have been singled out for ridicule right from the start. Opponents of the war, even now, are accosted as appeasers who are weak on terrorism and who fail to realize that “losing” the war will “haunt” the U.S. for decades.
Well, it’s time to face up to it. No matter what happens from now on, the war in Iraq will haunt us. No compassionate and/or rational citizen of the U.S. could fail to be haunted by the carnage over which we have presided— with tens of thousands of innocents slaughtered, maimed, and made homeless while under our protection, and our troops put into a deadly situation where the distinction between friends and enemies can make the best of us paranoid.
All this has occurred because of arrogant policies made by arrogant leaders, leaders who were (and perhaps still are) too sure of themselves to listen to valid criticism—criticism of the war’s perceived and actual legitimacy, nation-building assumptions, and other key strategic (as well as tactical) details.
So how do we make sure this sad turn of events does not get repeated?
I’m sure there are many sophisticated solutions that future commissions will present to us with great pomp and earnestness—constitutional amendments, new cabinet departments, a revised war powers act, etc.
What I want to suggest is rather less sophisticated—and much easier to implement.
I propose making a brief addition to the inauguration ceremony in which the president elect is given an unceremonious and very hard kick in the pants for the sake of humility.
In my view, a carefully aimed kick in the pants might well have had a sobering effect on President Bush, reminding him that even he, in all his grandiose magnificence, suffers from human frailties, including biases, clouded judgment, stubbornness, and denial.
As such, the president might have thought better than embarking on the Iraq fiasco. He might even have been better prepared for 9-11.
It must be admitted that my proposal is not without a kink or two. First, it was pointed out to me by a friend that, given the circumstances of his presidency, it would be insufficient to merely administer a kick in the pants to George Bush. Vice-President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are both just as arrogant as the president, and they probably did more to shape the Iraq war than the president did. Thus, they, too, would need to be kicked in the pants. This, of course, brings up problems of age and health that must be taken into account. As for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, I don’t even want to go there.
My friend also pointed out that it was quite possible that Illinois Senator Barack Obama might be the next president we inaugurate.
“He’s a humble guy,” my friend said. “I don’t think he needs a kick in the pants.”
I had to agree.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.