Friday, September 15, 2006

Bush's Cluelessness: Exhibit #4,592

From President Bush's press conference this afternoon:

QUESTION: Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says, The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?

BUSH: If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic.
It's just -- I simply can't accept that.
It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

The question here is whether Bush is consciously evading the question, or whether he really thinks Powell and other critics are comparing "American decency" with terrorism. Powell's point is so simple and obvious, I think it is beyond argument: if the rest of the world thinks America has ceded the moral high ground -- whether because of our use of torture as an interrogation tactic, our secret CIA prisons, our not-so-secret Guantanamo Bay prison, or our general refusal to abide by international law -- then America has lost the moral high ground. Perception is reality. It doesn't matter if most Americans are decent people. It doesn't matter if, in the grander scale of things, our transgressions are minor -- as I think they are, ultimately -- in comparison to the horrors that are, or would be, inflicted by Islamic fundamentalists. The only thing that matter's is world perception -- and who can honestly claim America has improved its moral standing in the world community over the last four years?

Contrast our present situation with the ideological struggle against Communism. Throughout the entire Cold War, Europe -- all of Europe -- was a staunch and unquestioning ideological ally in the battle against totalitarian communism. This alliance translated into tangible, visible support for American foreign policy, through NATO, the UN, and other international bodies. There were serious missteps along the way, but no one (apart from a few random outliers largely confined to academia and the staff of "The Nation") seriously doubted the ultimate rightness of freedom and democracy, and the wrongness of totalitarian communism. But even more importantly, the people -- not the governments, but the citizenry -- living under communist regimes actively yearned to be free, and were in constant struggle against their own governments to obtain that freedom. They did so because the West, with a capital W, was an undeniably happier, more humane place to live.

President Bush, admirably, wants the Middle East to yearn for the same freedom and democracy. He is right to want this. But his mistake is thinking that the U.S. can therefore ignore important moral principles in pursuit of this vision, simply because "Americans are decent." Unlike, say, the Soviet Union circa 1986, it is not at all clear that the people in the Middle East today would prefer western capitalism & democracy to fundamentalist Islamic theocracy, or even or more moderate form of Islamic government. In order to convince them they should reject the religious vision, it is imperative that America conduct itself in a manner consistent with its own moral principles. If we do not, as former Secretary Powell has stated plainly, we lose the moral high ground -- and we lose the war against terrorism, the war against Islamic fundamentalism, and -- without sounding too melodramatic -- our soul.

This is not a sophisticated point. But today, in contemporanous remarks during a press conference, President Bush not only failed to grasp the point, he became actively hostile to it, confusing those who recognize the need for American moral stature with those who think we are no better than the terrorists. He is either ignorant or deranged. And I'm not sure which is worse.


Blogger Johnbai3030 said...

Well said.

9:02 PM  

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