Thursday, February 01, 2007


The only thing wrong with Hendrik Hertzberg's "Talk Of The Town" pieces in The New Yorker is that they're only in every other issue. I always hate the disappointment of his off weeks. What's right with them, of course, is that they almost always eloquently develop thoughts that I completely agree with.

This week he's in with a piece on last week's State of the Union address (remember that?), and the follow-up from Sen. Jim Webb. Here's the shiniest nugget:

Between the veggies and Baby Einstein fell the shadow: Iraq. The President pointed to his “new strategy,” begged Congress and the country “to give it a chance to work,” and added, “Whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.”

True, but not true enough. Last November, the voters didn’t endorse failure—they simply acknowledged it. And they certainly didn’t vote for escalation, which is what Bush is giving them. With this address, in conjunction with his January 10th “new way forward” speech, the President has taken full ownership of the Iraq war. Four years ago, many were complicit to one degree or another in the decision to invade, including a bipartisan majority in Congress and the governments of Britain and other members of the “coalition.” That is no longer so. The generals on the scene, who resisted Bush’s “surge,” have been removed. The Senate is on the point of passing a resolution of disapproval. The coalition is crumbling, and its British component is likely to ratchet itself down once Tony Blair leaves office. Senator John McCain, who a month ago passionately warned against a surge of fewer than thirty thousand troops, now supports a surge of twenty thousand—largely because, he says, the new American commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, thinks it has a chance of working. But Petraeus conceded, in testimony last Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the new troop levels fall short of his own previous estimate of what would be necessary. Soldiers follow orders, and General Petraeus has his.

In a Saturday radio talk before the State of the Union address, the President said, “Those who refuse to give this plan a chance to work have an obligation to offer an alternative that has a better chance for success.” The day after the address, Vice-President Cheney—in an instantly notorious CNN interview in which he dismissed talk of blunders as “hogwash”—said, “The critics have not suggested a policy.” That is hogwash. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is in its fourth week of hearing such suggestions. The Iraq Study Group has a plan. Senator Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb have a plan. The Center for American Progress has a plan. But what all their plans have in common is that they recognize that what remains is the search for the least bad of a bad bunch of options. Implicitly, they recognize that Bush’s policy—and, therefore, Bush—is a failure. And so, rather than looking for a policy that might be within our means and might mitigate the disaster, Bush is betting all his chips—all our chips—on the only choice that allows him the fantasy that in the end people will say: Bush was right. He is sending twenty thousand because twenty thousand is all he has. Next to nothing in the way of ground forces remains for other contingencies. His Presidency and his “legacy” are in ruins anyway, so he imagines he has nothing to lose. If only that were true of the rest of us.


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