Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Perils of a Righteous President

The Perils of a Righteous President
(TIME: Sunday, May 09, 2004)

This is one of the finest columns I have read at TIME in long time. As usual very articulate, cerebral and quite logical. I want to join this particular discussion by adding few more points to what Joe Klein mentions here. It is most likely that such columns would not be reaching on President Bush’s desk. We know that he does not watch much of TV and does not read newspapers as well. I think he would not be bothering about magazines too. So we do not have much reactions from him about such columns and it is unlikely to come forward. What I am arguing is if the Bush Administration were to reply back, what would they say and still how that could be totally wrong.

Basically, the column tries to fathom the baser instincts or motivations of this Administration for the current Iraq Policy. What it contends is not flattering and I definitely agree what Joe makes the case here. But the Administration could argue that imagine the days after 9/11 and before Iraq war. It was, and is still, well known that there is no silver bullet to stop Terrorism and the threat of Islamic Terrorism to America. I do not doubt that the Administration would know this fact. Given that, logically there are two responses – one at the generic level get prepared for all sorts of possibilities and remove the systematic failures of American State and Institutions and at the specific level start identifying the real life potential threats in advance. Creation of Home Land Security Department and Transportation Security Administration are the responses of the former category. For the latter part, when one starts to inspect the world around, it is unavoidable to point that Iraq and Saddam could pose that danger. Keep in mind that I am not saying that it was the case, but it was logical and prudent to be suspicious.

This is where the things get interesting – what if Saddam drops the regular or dirty Nuclear Bomb on America? You are talking about potentially tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of American civilian causalities. As President of America, Bush has to think this possibility. My understanding is this Administration would have reached to the Iraq policy possibly by this route as well. Not necessarily only the baser instincts which Joe mentioned. I believe in what Joe is saying but do want to point that there is possibly this additional reason which would have prompted the Administration to think about containing Iraq. It does not matter this possibility has probability of 2 to 5%. Because if it were to happen, the whole world and history would have blamed this Administration that why did they not take the care earlier? Why did they not take the risk of attacking Iraq? Howsoever cynical this administration is; I think Americans can be sure that this “what if” scenario would have been on the minds of this Administration.

The real failure of the Administration is in how they decided to deal with the “baser fear”. This fear monster has played the role. The sad part is this Administration did not demonstrate any intelligence whatsoever in dealing with this fear monster. As elected rulers of a strong democracy, you want your leaders to feel this monster. What you also want the rulers to have is the basic sense of how to deal with this monster. You want these leaders to deal with rightly. President Bush did the first part well, but miserably failed in the second part. And I think it will be instructive to look into why did he fail in the second part.

If you want to logically deal this fear monster, what would you do? First and foremost, ensure that indeed the risk is real. It is well known that this Administration did not fulfill this basic requirement as is clear from David Kay’s testimony that there were no WMDs. So they did not do this basic check. Next, the administration assigned itself the right to preemptively attack Iraq. It is true that legally one can do so in self-defense. But why such delusion that America can remove every possible risk from this world for it’s own people? American rulers need to understand that the world is a dangerous place. American people are no exception. It is wrong to take literally that this is “God’s chosen land” and American people are descended from heaven. Everyday, many states in the world live with all sorts of risks and they have been doing so for long. Why then everyone else is careful in taking on this risk? As for any human endeavor, there is cost versus reward equation applicable for what you do to take on this risk. There is no escape from that. There are so many risks in life which simply do not warrant such massive and misguided efforts like Iraq. Almost surely they do not bring the intended results. Killings of 9/11 does not change this cost-reward equation. This Administration believes the threshold of what Americans can risk after 9/11 has reduced dramatically. President Bush and Administration is in fool’s paradise here. You never want the leaders to loose this sense of cost-reward ratio in dealing with these emerging risks.

As such American leaders are always vulnerable to project how American’s are special than rest of the world. Invariably they do the sin of cementing this belief among its people. In addition to this usual susceptibility of American rulers; this Administration thinks that 9/11 has morally empowered them to have zero tolerance for any risks of modern life. Well, nothing is lost for the rest of the world; but it is the stupid America which squanders it’s own resources and it’s future. Many in the rest of the world know how to have a measured response to risks in order to achieve the ultimate objectives. America under this Administration has lost that ability.

It is amazing how American leaders are ignorant of their own past. We know that it is in the character of this country that political debate is not unduly burdened by the History and no one denies that it is one of the noblest aspects of American ethos. But do you take that to the extreme where American leaders fail to learn from their own glorious past? Knowing Auschwitz and Genocide under Nazi, America never perpetuated what they did at Abu Ghraib. We know the Japanese encampment during those times, but still there is no stupidity and immorality like as displayed at Abu Ghraib. And don’t tell us about the monster of WMD. This country has weathered that with Soviet Union for around five decades. It followed a wise policy which would never make the cost – reward ratio skewed in dealing with that thread. America did not loose the nerve in Cold War. Is this Administration trying to tell us that 9/11 is more dangerous than what America lived through the Cold War? They are wrong. So sad that there is no sense of this wisdom as manifested by the country’s glorious past. The same shameless President and his lackey will attend glibly upcoming WWII Memorial at Capitol Mall in coming days but not learn anything from that. It is a tragedy of Homerian proportion.

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