Column: What a Mess

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Mr. Carpenter holds a Ph.D. in American History and is a syndicated columnist.

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The right wingers, muscle flexers, ideologues, pre-emptive strikers, the bunker blasters and the jingoists -- in short, the leaderless Bushies -- have once again screwed things up.

They weren't satisfied with neglecting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the boiling point, or obsessing over a non-threatening goon like Saddam Hussein while ignoring a real-threatening goon like Kim Jong Il, or dropping Afghanistan back into the Taliban's lethal hands. Those were mere previews of inimitable incompetence and deliberate recklessness.

Now, the feature presentation.

I refer, of course, to the creeping Iraq War. Some analysts for some inexplicable reason describe the calamity as a postwar situation, when in fact hostilities have just begun. Our initial military invasion -- what the Pentagon brass, Pentagon groupies, Pentagon has-beens and obsequious journalists straight-facedly called a war -- was little more than a slaying of sandpiles. Like Napoleon's "invasion" of Moscow, we rolled into enemy territory only to find the enemy had checked out, thank you very much.

The locals must have boned up on their Sun Tzu. While we applauded the conquering Bushies and busied ourselves with planting inscrutable "Support Out Troops" yard signs, the ill-equipped, outnumbered foe and neighboring Islamist brothers laid back and sucked us into the real war: a gruesome, unwinnable guerilla war.

The Bushies wanted us to get over Vietnam. Well, we're over it. Indeed, we've gone full circle and again stand at a crossroad. It is the early 1960s and militaristic brains mostly hold the floor, having mopped it up with diplomatic ones.

Then, as now, the militarists held sway over the president. Yet their sway over John Kennedy was perhaps tenuous at best. Unlike George W. Bush, Kennedy possessed an independent and curious mind, one that questioned the use of brute force as a preferred option. True, he escalated American involvement in South Vietnam, but he also rejected the stronger urgings of his Maxwell Taylors and Walt Rostows to introduce U.S. ground troops into the mix. What he might have done ultimately we cannot know; we do know, however, that he died hesitant, if not resistant.

In other words, out of a sense of learned trepidation, if nothing else, Kennedy exerted a presidential independence of mind in refusing to unleash the ravenous dogs of war.

Different circumstances occupy the present Oval Office. Lacking altogether the 35th president's abilities, 43 has assumed the palpable aura of a puppet regime. The Boy King has neither the backbone nor background to stand up to adult voices of impetuousness. There is no informed and authoritative there, there, so the puppeteers -- Bush's own Taylors and Rostows -- are free to run amok. They are free to play with American lives as though these are mere pieces of some inconsequential, big-strategy board game. They are free to rewrite American principles. Allowed to test short-term hypotheses, they are free to condemn America's long-term interests.

The presumed mice are having a field day, since the cat is not just away, but permanently out to lunch.

That presidential-candidate George W. Bush hadn't a clue as to complex domestic issues, let alone complex international ones, became more evident after his tawdry ascension. To watch the man struggle through a rare presidential press conference is to cringe. His answers, of a sort, are so manifestly programmed they only highlight his stature as a yes-man to subordinates. But Bush's political puppeteers have managed to turn ignorance into a virtue.

George isn't a fussbudgety micromanager, they swoon. That would be bad. Instead, he delegates. That is good. They don't mention that George delegates only because he knows not what he himself should do.

At least one grave consequence of 43's forced management style is clear. Bureaucratic strategists are in sole charge of America's future. And what that future looks like can be glimpsed overseas, in rapidly deteriorating Iraq.

The left wingers, parlor pinks, bleeding hearts, tree huggers, the peaceniks and the realists -- in short, the everything-the-Bushies-ain't crowd -- knew better all along. Unfortunately, that doesn't help increasingly endangered Americans abroad and at home.

© Copyright 2003 P. M. Carpenter

Mr. Carpenter's column is published weekly by History News Network and

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More Comments:

Dave Thomas - 9/1/2003

Sam Rayburn used to say you should get out of the way if you don't have a plan of your own. We are in Iraq Mr. Carpenter. What are your ideas, withdrawl? Criticism has a strong similarity to whining when it is not accompanied by thougtful policy alternatives for the problem at hand.

Gus Moner - 8/29/2003

How can you ‘stand by’ an argument with no factual basis and ask us to wait till 2023 to determine its authenticity. It’s audacious. These conspiracy theories are not part of a historical argument. It’s hard enough to sort things out when we disagree with the facts as we often do here, but now to agree or disagree on theories and have to wait 20 years…..

I pass. I doubt I’ll be alive in 20 years.

Aron Sanders - 8/28/2003

If there is an authorative and reliable source for the following claim, please provide it:

" "John Doe" from the Oklahoma City bombing was never captured. McVeigh's defense attorney swears this individual was a former East German agent working on behalf of Saddam and Al Qaeda."

James Thornton - 8/28/2003

I stand by my earlier argument. Iraq may have been behind the 1993 WTC bombing with assistance from Al Qaeda. It may well take a decade or so before this information finds it way to public light through the Freedom of Information Act. Also, remember that "John Doe" from the Oklahoma City bombing was never captured. McVeigh's defense attorney swears this individual was a former East German agent working on behalf of Saddam and Al Qaeda. Again, it may take FOIA to support this assertation, but who knows what will be discovered in the documents seized from Saddam's security services.

Aron - 8/27/2003

not Daniel

Aron Sanders - 8/27/2003

The latest remark by Mr. Thornton suggests new possibilities for sloppy distortions of history.

"The West has likewise been invaded by terrorist-barbarians, and the asymetrical warfare campaign conducted by them against the United States commenced on November 4, 1979 with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran."

And Saddam was in league with the Iranian Shia students ? Clumsy of these terrorist barbarians to kill hundreds of thousands of themselves in the 1980s, wasn't it ?

And Timothy McVeigh, was he part of the same terrorist network ?

Keep your Newspeak definition of war if you want. I will hang on to Daniel Webster and try to defend him against barbarism, foreign and domestic.

Gus Moner - 8/27/2003

Let’s see. What elected governing organisation has declared or recognised this state of war since 1979? The Arizona Parliament?

The Kuwaiti war ended and both sides violated the cease-fire agreement in the ensuing years. Regime change was not part of the authorised brief by the UN in that war. Pity. However the neighbouring countries made it a conditon of their support for the war, knowing full well the chaos that would ensue in Iraq if the regime was toppled.

This is a new war, and a new (old) enemy. We were fighting terrorists in Afghanistan when suddenly we are invading Iraq to draw more people in against us. On top of it they haven’t even got to bother crossing the ocean, we set ourselves up as a nearby target. So now we have lots of enemies, an international legion of them from Muslim nations no doubt. Aren’t those brilliant Foreign and Defence policies?

Iraq never bothered the USA in its prostrate condition this past decade. Like the old CIA estimate of Soviet strength weeks before its implosion, we were told Iraq was about to bring us Armageddon, only to quickly learn we never had the slightest idea what was happening.

James Thornton - 8/27/2003

Your defination of war is antiquated and your interpretation too conservative. Rome was invaded by stateless barbarians and no doubt considered those invasions a state of war. The West has likewise been invaded by terrorist-barbarians, and the asymetrical warfare campaign conducted by them against the United States commenced on November 4, 1979 with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran.

Aron Sanders - 8/27/2003

"The World's Most Trusted and Best-Selling Almanac, The World Almanac 2002", refers on page 63 to "Sec. of State Donald Rumsfeld".

The Almanac, and I, in my earlier comment, are mistaken.

We should have said: "de-facto secretary of state Donald Rumsfeld"

Aron Sanders - 8/27/2003


"War: 1) a state of open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations."

There being no "state" or "nation" of "militant Islam", this clearly does not apply, before or after 1979.

"2) a struggle between opposing forces or for a particular end"

This might indeed apply to the so-called "war on terrorism", it might also be used to characterize Attorney General Ashcroft's "war on civil liberties", or Secretary of State Rumsfeld's "war on French diplomacy". None of these were in much evidence before 9-11, which is being exploited for all sorts of unrelated "atrocities" against common sense. The "Cold War" was quite different. It made sense for the U.S. to resist the expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence but without resorting to an all-out "hot war".

Sloppy use of English leads to sloppy historical parallels.

James Thornton - 8/27/2003

Militant Islam has been at war with us since 1979, and we didn't take notice until 9/11. Regarding Iraq, the first Gulf War was interupted with a ceasefire that Saddam failed to honor. The US could have and should have renewed hostilities during the Clinton Administration. Bush 41 should never had ended hostilities without changing the regime, and leaving the Kurd and Shia to hang after encouraging them to revolt is utterly shameful. Operation Enduring Freedom was our counterattack in a war that started nearly thrity years ago, and Operation Iraqi Freedom was the renewal of combat in a war that started twelve years ago. We have no new enemies and we are not fighting new wars.

Anthony baltakis - 8/27/2003

Bush is a disaster,however all the carping in the world will do little unless the Democrats get it together quickly.The lousy preidential campaign of the Democrats in 2000 let this goofball win an election that Bush should never have won. I am afraid that Bush will win in 2004 despite his vulnerabilty unless the Democrats get united behind a candidate and got after this incompetant individual.

Olaf O'Reilly - 8/27/2003

Hear hear to:

"responsibility...resides with concerned American Jews, who need to either take back organizations like AIPAC and JINSA from Sharonist warmongers, or starve off such organizations altogether".

I would add, however, that Arab and Moslem Americans should take back their heritage from Osama, Palestinian Arabs should tell cousins back home a thing or two about Ghandi and Martin Luther King, and Americans generally should unite to take back their country from the arrogant, crypto-militarist spendthrifts who are driving it to ruin. At least the old Cold War apparatchiks understood basic bookkeeping, and gave enough of a hoot about America's future to warn us against the military industrial complex.

Leland Connecticut - 8/26/2003

Herbert Hoover was an accomplished engineer, a scholar, and a successful business man with considerable international experience. All of which contrasts markedly to his present day successor. The '29 crash was not his fault, and, as FDR later discovered, there were no easy solutions to the depression which followed.

To be sure, Herbert was not a great president, not by any stretch, but to rank him BELOW Dubya ! That goes too far.

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

I suppose, Mr Thornton, he is referring to the Palestinian, Afghani and Iraqi wars. Isn't odd that we'd go starting a new war in an area with two conflicts already? Oughtn't we have sorted out Palestine first?

Gus Moner - 8/25/2003

A brilliant observation, thanks for that angle.

Herodotus - 8/25/2003

Sheesh, for all that screaming you'd think he'd have described the opposition of many to the U.S. Navy's sturdy response to the Barbary Pirates.

Albert Madison - 8/25/2003

For starters, after being attacked by Saudi Arabians and earning the sympathy of the world, our inept chickenhawk government responds with a hasty aggression against Iraq, in defiance of American traditions and past policies, in total disregard for more reasonable multilateral approaches, and in utter contempt for both international opinion and the long term detriment caused to U.S. security (through the hatred aroused in future enemies by all this arrogant stupidity). All of this in order to "launch a new product" to deflect attention from the failings and failures of voodoo economics domestically. And, for icing on the "freedom pastry", gratuitously trying turn America's oldest (albeit not most steadfast) ally into Enemy-lite.

James Thornton - 8/25/2003

Your opposition to the current administration aside, but what new wars and what do enemies do you refer to?

Geoff Ericson - 8/25/2003

In my experience, Jews, and, especially American Jews, do not think monolithically. It is true, I think, that most of them are to some extent cowed and blinded by the relentless lobby and propaganda network in the U.S. which can be more extreme than the Likud itself and is usually far more extreme than Israelis generally. But some of the most articulate and informed voices exposing all of this are also Jewish. The problem here is (to my knowledge at least and I've been following HNN fairly consistently for well over a year) these voices have never appeared on HNN, whereas Daniel Pipes, for instance, has had probably 20 or 30 articles during the same time.

Jesse Lamovsky - 8/25/2003

I agree, of course, as to the distinctions between the Likud, the state of Israel, and the Jewish people, but I believe that the responsibility for making these distinctions clear resides with concerned American Jews, who need to either take back organizations like AIPAC and JINSA from Sharonist warmongers, or starve off such organizations altogether. The same goes for "Commentary", "Forward", and other publications that presume to speak for American Jewry, while at the same time marching to the tune of Israel's right-wing government.

Until American Jews assert their independence from lobbying groups that funnel contributions straight into the settlements, that advocate the lavishing of public money on the Israel Occupation Forces, and that justify every outrage in the territories in the name of "security", such monolithic thinking regarding Israel and "the Jews" will continue.

Jim - 8/24/2003

Great Article: What A Mess!

I have said ever since "Selection 2000" that having "George W. Bush as President is like having a monkey fly a helicopter". We should not be surprised WHEN the monkey flies upside down and chops of treetops with the rotors!

What is truly amazing is how many naive Americans rallied behind this incompetent corporate run administration and believe all the propoganda it shovels at us!

Edmund Birkenstock - 8/24/2003

Thanks for making the distinction, Gus Moner. Not that Herodotus and his gang of semi-educated historians here will ever be able to comprehend the difference between the Likud party, the state of Israel, the citizens of Israel, Jewish people, and the interests of the U.S., until THEIR (Herodotus et al) houses are bulldozed by the American taxdollar-funded IDF. I think there is a word for this sort of psychological disorder, but I would have to go someplace like or dust off some very dusty old Freud to find the technical phrase. A form of self-centered blindness is undoubtedly part of it. See the hundreds of prior comments by Herodotus in the archives here for more details.

Gus Moner - 8/24/2003

I suppose he menat Likud Israel, as in the Israel of today, run by the Likud party and their fundamentalist religious allies.

Herodotus - 8/24/2003

What is "Likudisrael" ?

Edmund Birkenstock - 8/24/2003

The cold warriors, of the "early 1960s" wanted to contain the Soviet Union, or at their most extreme, "roll back" its influence. That is radically different from the current "neo-conservatives" (who, it has been noted, are neither neo nor conservative). This latter more cowardly and less competent gang are all about STARTING new wars, creating NEW enemies, and building a new (American) empire in the image of Likudisrael.