Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, President George Bush will address the United States and the world; in this address, there seems little doubt among the politicians or news media, President Bush will announce a portion of his new policy in Iraq. He is sending 20,000 more American troops to Iraq; we’ll find out for sure tonight what he thinks this will accomplish–at this point we have only speculation and educated guesses, fun stuff, but not worth getting upset about until we hear it from the man himself. I’ve written before about trooping up over there, and I stand by what I said: if we don’t do it right, don’t do it at all (though I didn’t put it in this bumper sticker format, of course). And my fear remains that our hands are tied and that these 20,000 American men and women will be going into an untenable situation without sufficient support from either the White House or the American public. That breaks my heart.
So why is George Bush plowing ahead with a very unpopular strategy? Why does he persist in a course of action that will likely lead to . . . more of the same? I caught a news snippet of an interview clip the other evening that may go a way toward explaining it (and no, it’s not a confession by Barbara Bush that she used to bounce little George on his thick head): George Bush when asked the same question (how can you go ahead with your vision for Iraq, when you know that the majority of the American public oppose the war in general?), Bush answered that in historical terms, when future generations study the history of our country, the war in Iraq will be “just a comma.”
Pause, let that digest a minute.
What the hell? What can this mean? And not in silly punctuational or grammatical terms or even in sweeping historical terms, what does it mean here and now for us? I think it reflects a side of George W. Bush that frightens me more than any other: he is a “trees for the forest” type thinker. We’ve all heard the saying, “he can’t see the forest for the trees,” and we know that is a disparaging view of someone so detail oriented, rooted in the here and now, that they can’t see the big picture, the vaster scheme of things. Well. Okay. But with this comma comment, I think Bush is thinking in reverse of this, and that it’s equally unuseful, damaging, and wrong headed: he’s thinking ONLY big picture, only vaster scheme of things. He’s thinking of his presidential legacy and his place in the scheme of history. The forest.
The trees he’s not seeing when he views the war in Iraq as future comma? The men and women fighting, the American public who want it over in Iraq, the global view of our country that deteriorates each day, the men and women dying as they fight for a country that doesn’t want them there, the families who suffer, the Iraqis themselves . . . the list goes on because it seems to entail all that is here and now. If the war is so insignificant as to rank as a comma, what on earth does that make one dead soldier? Or three thousand, as we’ve lost now?
There is some merit in big picture thinking, no doubt about it, and sticking to one’s convictions is admirable as long as there is no evidence to show that one’s original conviction was faulty. Sticking to a conviction once it’s been proven shaky or plain wrong is not admirable. Quite the opposite.
He wants to make things right over there, and he needs us as a nation to do so; WE need us as a nation to do so. He just doesn’t have the power (even though people seem to think him God-like in blaming him for everything from the genocide in Darfur to the hurricane in New Orleans and on to the instability in the Middle East), again, he just doesn’t have the power to do what he wants the way he wants (decisively and completely), and because he can’t see that because it’s too close, too now, too tree-like, he’ll send more troops and then more and then more without changing the things that need changing to make the progress we need in Iraq.
Googling this “just a comma” comment, looking for the original source, I found a zillion (okay, a lot, and no, I didn’t go and look at any of them) blogs on this comment; I also found John Stewart doing what John Stewart does best, and I found a couple of op-eds in decent newspapers (The Washington Post and The Times (UK)), but I did not find a clip of the interview I saw on television, nor did I find a “real” write up on it (by a newspaper or news broadcast). It’s old news, so that may explain it, but I do find it interesting that such a controversial comment has disappeared (well, from the first three pages of search on google; I didn’t go beyond that, not getting paid and all that).
I could have given a good grammar and punctuation lesson here, but Lynn Truss (who herself says she’s not a “grammarian” but wrote a book on it) did a funny bit about the comma thing–funny in terms of both odd (er, incorrect a lot) and amusing, though more fun to read in my opinion is the fabulous Louis Menand’s review of her book.
The picture was taken by Rick Wilking. You can interpret my inclusion of it any way you see fit; you can’t be wrong.
Having just heard the President’s speech, I wanted to add a quick addendum:
He’s taken responsibility, admitted mistakes, and remains dignified. He’s right that we can’t just leave over there; it would be bedlam and worse would tell our enemies (and don’t doubt for a moment that we have them) that we can be bullied and (quite easily) beaten. We would be leaving behind more violence and bloodshed than we can really imagine; we would be directly responsible for who knows how many deaths. What about Iraqi wives and mothers? What about Iraqi sons and fathers and husbands? Or are only ours worth our interest and attention? Leaving would doom so many, and there seems little doubt that the resultant chaos would only foster terrorism and embolden the nut cases (such as the lovely leader of North Korea). Can we really take that chance? Is it worth it? I don’t know the answer, but I know what I think and how I feel about it.
He’s right that we, the people, need to commit; he’s right about changing strategy; and he’s right about putting more onus on the Iraqi government. In short, I support this new plan. I see no other (realistic) plans put forward by anyone else of any political inclination: nuking ’em and/or pulling all our troops out (not real plans, let’s face it) would be completely unrealistic and pure folly. That’s my two cents.
And as an aside: It was very jaw dropping, from my perspective, to hear Joe Lieberman’s name dropped like that and in that context . . . wow! A very real and very pointed and very public grab for that still-smarting, newly Independent swing vote. Good move.