Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bush’s make-believe world

Bush’s make-believe world

Bush’s make-believe world

N J NANPORIA

What is the single, most self-defining characteristic which President Bush has acquired on the eve of the November election? It is surely that of a man with whom there can be no genuine communication. He has positioned himself in incommunicado, cocooned in an isolation in which he alone is a companion to his own thoughts, and armoured with an impenetrability which even his closest associated cannot overcome. His State department, his intelligence people, his experts, his allies, the Pentagon, the world media, and on-the-ground realities in Afghanistan have confirmed that the Taliban is not only not dead but is very much alive and active.

Yet, hugging the comforting thought to himself but letting it slip out as a self-evident truth he claims that “as a result of the American military the Taliban is no longer in existence”. What is actuality for the entire world is for him a nullity, and by declaring it as such he has invalidated it as far as he is concerned. The Taliban example is a prototype of many others relating to nearly every important issue concerning Iraq, Afghanistan and the war against terrorism.

A leader’s loony potential

A clue to an explanation lies in his remark “Mistakes? Not me. You can’t lead the world if you say your country made a mistake”. Never admit to anything, least of all to error or failure. Never apologise and never allow unacceptable facts to violate a very private vision of the world.

This is not a denial that mistakes have been made. It is simply that they should not be acknowledged; and this has been elevated to the status of a key quality of world leadership. In any run-of-the-mill citizen such a character flaw would invite regret and commiseration. In a leader of the world’s sole superpower it can only set the alarm bells ringing. No surprise then that in the critical comments that have surfaced in America, leave aside anywhere else, the word “lunacy” has begun to figure with increasing frequency.

The ultimate contrarian

In the face of contrary evidence, contrary opinion and contrary reality the position Bush has taken is not easy to maintain. So he has fallen back on the technique of the flat and uncompromising statement, with all the Presidential authority he can give it. Next he has invoked the help of macho rhetoric, a mix of bravado and phoniness that would be embarrassing in anyone else. And finally he has been pushed to claiming that the goals he has set for himself are those which God has coincidentally instructed him to try and achieve. It is impossible to believe that the coterie that surrounds him hasn’t had uneasy reservations about a leader progressively exposed as a dangerous maverick, seemingly incapable of at least an intelligent advocacy of a neoconservative ideology.

Powell has been unable to conceal his equivocations. Condoleeza Rice has betrayed, off and on, symptoms of an enforced loyalty. Even the Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, despite his own contribution to the mess, has disclosed belatedly and no doubt expediently that “he was never convinced by the evidence that Saddam Hussein had deep ties with al Qaeda”. Confirmed ideologues like Wolfowitz and Karl Rove, being what they are, tied to their beliefs and, as their bizarre leader would say, are committed to “stay the course.” Vice-President Cheney hasn’t even the dignity of any commitment other than to himself, and in evasions of the points made against him he has equalled his leader in guile and disinformation.

Given all this, when compelled to abandon his cocoon and engage in debate, Bush could only grimace, frown and scowl. The language of refutation, the mobilisation of detail and rational discourse, and the making of a case on the basis of what is happening out there were beyond him. Flustered by the gathering pressure on him he has admitted to a “miscalculation”.

Asked whether he could win the war on terror, his impromptu answer was “I don’t think we can win it”. Asked whether he would accept responsibility for Iraq as Kennedy did for the Bay of Pigs disaster, he said, “I’m taking the rap of course.” He could not deny that there was any “rap” to take. We have here, then, the picture of a man, confused, bewildered, incoherent, on his own volition isolated and out of touch, inspired only by his God-given messages. If this is farcical it is also a global tragedy.

Vietnam holds the answer

For anyone who has watched TV, particularly the debate with Kerry, read the papers with a modicum of intelligence, listened to the views of those qualified to know, and analysed things at a very elemental level the truth can hardly be avoided. It is there staring in one’s face. The gap between Kerry and Bush is stark. The voters, it has been said, are impatient with and cannot understand “nuances”. But there is no nuance here. What Bush is is plain for all to see.

Yet — and here is another aspect of the tragedy — the polls tell us that there is a fifty-fifty division of support for both the Presidential candidates. Arguably and theoretically the best educated and best informed electorate in the world is unable or unwilling to renounce a President so blatantly unworthy of the American people. What does this say about the ridiculous platitude that the voters know best? Miraculously November 2 might prove otherwise but doubts persist as also the conspiracy of silence on the one question that now matters. This is how the Americans can get out of Iraq for which America is desperately groping for an answer. One day, with or without Kerry, they will realise that the only way to get out is to get out as was done in Vietnam.

Naipaul’s area of ignorance

Of his own choice V S Naipaul has had more than normal exposure to the Indian atmosphere in which it is not enough to make a point. It has to be underlined and underlined again to excess before it registers however dimly.

This, perhaps, explains Naipaul’s comment that Saudi Arabia and Iran which “foment religious war must be destroyed”. Destroyed? Eliminated? Wiped out?

That is really going over the top whereas a novelist is expected to say what he means precisely neither more nor less.

Certainly there is a case to be made out against the countries he names. But despite the neoconservatives in — you know where — it isn’t quite yet the accepted thing to demand the wiping out of two ongoing independent nations, however much one might disapprove of them.

Perhaps it isn’t too off-mark to say that novelists in general are not quite convincing in the role of political commentators and analysts.

True, John Le Carre has said the right things on American unilateralism and Gunter Grass on America cannot be faulted.

Yet their comments do no more than reinforce conventional liberal opinion.
That is a useful contribution but, as in Naipaul’s case, it can be overdone.

The arithmetic of incivility

One of the casualties of 9/11 and of Bush on the rampage is the shared sense of civility that kept the wheels moving in the political and diplomatic world.
For the US President anyone who doesn’t fall in line is by definition a thug. An unrepentant Saddam Hussein called Kuwaiti citizens “dogs”.

Someone in the Canadian Parliament declared “damn Americans. I hate those bastards”.

Many hard and colourful things have been said about Blair and Bush to the point where civility in public affairs is an unexpected thing.
The art of being rude in language which in itself is not offensive has declined sharply.

Here in India incivility has the dull colour of routine, lacking inventive skill. When Yashwant Sinha called the Prime Minister a “puppet” the attempted incivility deservedly fall flat.

Amen for a prognosis

The United States is going to leave Iraq with its tail between its legs. It is a war we cannot win: Scott Ritter. Amen.

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