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Reality Check II
April 23, 2002
By Michael Shannon

The original Reality Check can be found here.

There may be very little that I like about or agree with when it comes to Team Bush but I have to give them credit where credit is due; they certainly do provide a fella with an awful lot of inspiration. So much so that I find myself not searching for something to comment on but rather trying to winnow down my choices.

With that in mind here is another installment in what may very well become an ongoing series.

President of Oz. In the Hollywood version of the Wizard of Oz the film makers introduced one of the great cinematic special effects of all time. The first 15/20 minutes of the movie were filmed in black and white as was the custom of the day. But when Dorothy's house crashlanded in Oz the world outside her window suddenly became a Technicolor dreamland. The audiences of 1939 were left gasping in delight.

Fast forward to 2002: President Bush's view of the world has undergone an equally startling chromatic transformation. But whereas it may have been somewhat accurate to depict life in Depression era Kansas as predictable and easy to understand it was a fantasy to begin with for the President to try to define the world at large in the simplistic and unrealistic terminology he has employed so relentlessly since September 11th.

Mr Bush has not lost the "moral clarity" of the weeks immediately following the 11th of September. He never had it in the first place. His statements may very well have appeared on the surface to be a declaration of war against all who "harbor and support" terrorism but in reality they were merely a rhetorical device designed to mollify a domestic audience - an audience that was in great need of reassurance after suffering through an atrocity unlike any in their collective memory.

Although there are countless examples available to buttress this argument here are two that are particularly galling. Exhibit A -- Mr. Bush never ordered a cutoff of Iraqi oil imports to the United States even as he insisted that the government of Iraq was siphoning money from their sale of oil to both fund/reward terrorist organizations and build/buy weapons of mass destruction. Exhibit B -- there has to date been no public pressure put on Saudi Arabia to explain how it is that 15 of 19 of the murdering scum who so viciously attacked our country came from the Kingdom of Saud. Nor has there been the public announcement of one single arrest of any Saudi within the country who may have been involved in some manner, shape or form with Al Qaeda or its allies.

Perhaps the President has held the Saudi government to task outside of the public eye? On the contrary, as you read this the President and the Saudi Crown Prince will be dining on Texas BBQ at the Presidential ranch in Crawford with big smiles for the cameras.

I Meant What I said -- Or Did I? No where is the unraveling of the paint-by-the-numbers school of governing more obvious than in the manner in which the administration has handled the Israeli-Palestinian nightmare.

As admittedly complicated and perilous as the situation is, Mr. Bush has zigged and zagged from one position to another on this issue over the course of the past several weeks with such incoherence that even some of his most supportive loyalists have been left openly questioning his competency. And as is usually the case with this man, it is the President's own words that have caused him the most trouble.

You would think he would have learned his lesson after the Dead or Alive episode concerning Usama bin Laden. But no, there he was again making a declaration -- Israel must withdraw! -- that left his credibility -- not as an individual mind you, but rather as the head of state of the United States of America -- entirely exposed with little or no control over how the events would play out. And not only did he say it once, he repeated it three or four times over the course of the next several days. (Even Condoleeza Rice, NSC head, got into the act when she chimed in, "The President means now".) When Israel went right on about its business it not only left Mr. Bush looking irrelevant in this matter, it led to the question: The next time he gives an ultimatum will anyone take it seriously?

Oh Canada. Canada is the best neighbor any nation has ever had. In the almost two full centuries since the end of the War of 1812 the border between Canada and the United States has been -- by a country mile -- the longest undefended national frontier in the world. And not only do we never have any trouble with the Canadians, they are always there for us when we have a problem.

Canadians have fought side by side with Americans in every major war of the past one hundred years with one exception; Vietnam. An omission that not only does not for an instance diminish their sterling legacy of courage or commitment in the defense of liberty but rather serves to reinforce their sense of priority and soundness of judgement.

As was very evident, particularly in the battle of Tora Bora, the Canadian forces serving in the current conflict in Afghanistan have been invaluable in the struggle. In what can only be described as a tragic mistake, an American fighter bomber inadvertently struck a contingent of Canadian soldiers involved in a live fire exercise; killing four and wounding close to a dozen.

As terrible as this accident was, it is inexcusable that President Bush made five separate public appearances Thursday -- the day after it happened! -- with out mentioning it once. Leaving the Prime Minister of Canada to ruefully note, "it would have been a comfort to the families to hear the President's own words". And when those words did come on Friday they were woefully inadequate; "I wish we could bring them back but we can't".

Those brave young men deserved far better.

Cry for Me Venezuela. Talk about Freudian slips. The reaction of the Bush administration to the overthrow/reinstatement of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was reminiscent of a Monty Python skit where the authority figure denies -- with all sincerity and with a completely straight face -- that what is as plain as the nose of his face is in fact not true at all.

And for this administration to announce that a democratically elected President was not inherently legitimate raises irony to a whole new level and is not worthy of another word of comment.

The Buck Stops Over There. It has been readily apparent that from the inception of the Bush Jr ascendency that he was a very fragile commodity. One which needed to be handled with kid gloves. Allowing him to stray too far from the protective cover of his message du jour or out of arm's reach of his handlers was to invite disaster. This mind set, while obviously beneficial from a candidate's perspective, has spilled over into the Chief Executive's area of concentration with disturbing effect and implications.

Every time something goes wrong -- and lately that has been quite often -- one of Mr Bush's mouthpieces is quick to point out that it was someone else's fault. The right wing is up in arms because Secretary Powell met with Yassir Arafat? "Well, you can't hold the President accountable for that. The secretary did that on his own volition". What?!?!?!?

Mr Bush may be the first MBA to hold the office of President but he seems to have forgotten a basic tenet of Management 101. It may not be your fault if someone under you performs in a less than satisfactory manner but it damn sure is your responsibility.

Summary. As I mentioned in the opening, I could go on and on -- the ANWR defeat in the Senate, the Secretary of State being publicly snubbed by the President of Egypt, the President calling for a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan on the same day that the Secretary of Defense announces that no further buildup of American personnel is in the works -- but we will leave those faux pas and the ones which invariably are soon to follow for the next installment.

Stephen Kotkin, writing in the New Republic, April 15, 2002, says that "the media handle Bush's non-gravitas the way they handled Roosevelt's legs". But whereas FDR's physical infirmity had the converse effect of making him stronger and more effective as a leader in time of crisis the same can not be said for Mr Bush's substantive one. As every day goes by and Toto pulls the curtain back a little further the truth of his inadequacies becomes ever more apparent.

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