Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On shrinking the government

Okay, so I'm an enthusiastic and unashamed therapygoer myself, and what's more, I don't think I've ever met a single person who wouldn't benefit from a couple or five couch sessions with a professional to help straighten out their heads and articulate the truth that they've been unwilling to tell themselves. And no one would benefit more from a little head-straightening and truth-articulating than the folks currently in charge of our government. Now, I won't pretend to be a licensed therapist, but I've spent enough time with them to have picked up a thing or two to my own benefit and the benefit of others.

I will dispense this advice now.

1. You can't control anyone's actions but your own.

A progress report due out this week is expected to report no progress in Iraq since the surge. The president has said that he doesn't intend to withdraw troops or even shift his strategy in light of the new information and that critics should just wait for General Petraeus's report in September. Then he once refreshed the tired old implication that Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks. But mostly, the message was "stay the course and give the surge a chance to work."

Here's the problem, six months into the surge: It's not not-working because of the troops (although their very presence is seen as an irritant by many of the people they're bound to protect). It's not-working because of the Iraqi government. We can send as many or as few troops as we want, but the progress that needs to be made needs to be made by Nouri al Maliki and his pals. More Iraqi police and soldiers need to be trained, but they also need to be held accountable, to be required to show up for work, to be properly armed and armored, and to be loyal to the government and the people of Iraq rather than to the militias - and that's something that Iraq has to do. The militias themselves need to be put down and Muqtada al Sadr stripped of his power and his influence instead of just shuffled around until the heat is off and his armies can rise again - and that's something that Iraq has to do. The government needs to find a way to deal with religious freedom, civil conflict, and oil revenues - and that's something Iraq has to do.

George, you can plead with them. You can bargain with them. You can threaten to withdraw troops or withhold aid. You can negotiate with them. You can send advisors to help them plan to disarm and dissolve the militias, to build the police forces and the Army, and to distribute oil revenues, and they might be good plans. But what you can't do is make them do what they need to do. You can only control what you do. And when they choose not to do what they need to do, as they have been doing for two years now, you have only two choices: to keep troops there or to begin a phased withdrawal. You can't make the Iraqi government do what they're supposed to do, but you can control whether or not American troops are in danger while they don't do it.

2. If you keep doing what you're doing, you're going to keep getting what you're getting.

In an effort to shake us up and keep us good and scared when we might start to be not-scared, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday that chances are good for a terrorist attack this summer. He said there wasn't evidence of imminent attack, but that his "gut feeling" and past terrorist activity patterns made a "spectacular" attack more likely.
You look at their activities around the world: bombings in North Africa from Al Qaeda, conflict in Somalia with radical Islamist groups contending for control over Somalia, training activity taking place in South Asia, the Taliban continuing to try to regain control of parts of Afghanistan.

I think if you look at that picture you see an enemy that is improving itself just as we're improving ourselves. They can't afford to remain static just as we can't afford to remain static. Our edge is technology and the vigilance of the ordinary citizen.


I think we do see a greater span of activity in South Asia, so we do worry about whether they are rebuilding their capabilities. We strike at them, we degrade them, but they rebuild. All these things give me kind of a gut feeling, not that I have a specific threat that I have in mind right now, but we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.

"We strike at them, we degrade them, but they rebuild." It's a pattern. "[Y]ou see an enemy that is improving itself just as we're improving ourselves." Pattern. We're in a war with the sole purported goal of fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, and what we get is... patterns. Terrorist activity in north Africa, Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, "spectacular" summertime terror threats in the US, and we degrade them, but they rebuild. Over and over and over.

Do something different, y'all. If what you're doing only knocks them down a little bit, and then they come back with a new plan or strike from a different direction or, heck, rebuild exactly where they were before with nobody saying a thing about it (Taliban, I'm looking at you), then what you're doing isn't working. We've been "staying the course" since 2003, and since 2003, we've been getting the same dismal results. Don't stick with a bum plan. My dad likes to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I'm just sayin'.

3. You teach people how to treat you.

If you insist on being treated with respect, people will treat you that way. If people give you crap and you take it, they'll learn that you accept crap, and they'll continue giving you crap. If Alberto Gonzales lies on the stand and otherwise obstructs justice, Congress, and you don't call him on it, he's going to keep lying. Because he knows he can get away with lying to you. When Bush tells you you can't talk to his aides because he's extra special and above the law, Congress, you know that he isn't, but if you don't tell him otherwise, he's going to keep stonewalling you. Because he knows he can get away with stonewalling you. When the White House continues pushing the myth that Iraq had a hand in the September 11 attacks, new media, and you don't call them on it, they're going to keep lying to you. Because they know that can get away with lying to you.

The only way to stop the lying, to make them respect you and stop treating you like an idiot and/or particularly gullible toddler, is to call them on it. Call them on it every time. Let them know that you're paying attention and that you aren't afraid to use the brains God gave you and the free speech the Constitution guarantees you. You have to respect yourselves before anyone else will respect you.

4. When you find yourself on the wrong road, the worst thing you can do is keep driving.

Listen, President Bush, we know you've got a lot on your mind right now. You're in the middle of this war that isn't going nearly as well as Dick and Karl told you it would, and you're getting the blame for it. You're trying your hardest to show up your daddy and prove to him that you're just as smart and competent and take-charge as your brother Jeb, but every time you do, you end up screwing it up and looking even more incompetent in a real sitcom kind of way. Your supporters are shearing off. You recently pardoned Scooter Libby so that Dick Cheney, your surrogate father figure, won't be mad at you. George, you made a little girl cry.

You know that something is wrong. You can surely sense that something is very, very wrong. And I know that right now, you're trying to go along to get along, to do whatever you can to skate until the inauguration in 2009 when you officially won't have to worry about any of this terrorism crap or immigration crap or healthcare crap or global warming crap or any of the other crap that people seem to want you to care about. But putting on the blinkers and driving resolutely forward is not the way to go, George. Right now, you're gearing yourself up for a legacy as The President Who Screwed Everything Up So Badly We're Still Trying to Quantify the Fallout. If you want to avoid that fate, the only way to do it is to stop dead in your tracks this second and reevaluate. You need to talk with some people who know how to deal with these things - swallow your pride and talk to your dad's folks, for God's sake - and figure out what you want your legacy to be and how you can get there from where you are.

I can recommend a couple of therapists, if you'd like.

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