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Talking to Noah about the flood

On constructs and lipsticked pigs

The transcript of President George W. Bush’s interview with sympathetic print columnists is full of piquant images.

My strategy, from day one, was to go on the offense, stay on the offense, and keep the pressure on them until we are able to bring as many to justice as possible. They morph. You know, they kind of – there is al Qaeda central, there is al Qaeda look-alikes, there is al Qaeda want-to-bes. They’re dangerous. Some are more dangerous than others. And we have got special teams and special operating teams, as well as intelligence teams, pressuring them a lot.

They morph. These guys are so dangerous they don’t even keep a recognisably humanoid shape. Like the T-2000 robot, made out of liquid metal. Faced with such a foe, you need not just special teams but special operating teams, as well as experts, professionals and so forth. You also need one of the really great thinkers.

Abizaid, who I think is one of the really great thinkers, John Abizaid – I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to talk to him, he’s a smart guy – he came up with this construct: If we leave, they will follow us here.

He came up with this construct. There I was, trying to take “they will follow us” seriously, and now Bush admits that’s it’s just a construct – that Abizaid just made it up. I’m completely wrongfooted. It’s very clever: this kind of stuff is going to really confuse the enemy. It’s like putting mascara on a – what was that phrase again?

Don’t write me down as hopelessly naive and trying to always put lipstick on the pig, but I understand there’s got to be – you know, life is moving. People are living their lives, schools are opening. And it – and yet, this is a war that you don’t measure platoons storming hills. You measure – evidently, the measurement is violence. Well, if the absence of violence is victory, no one will ever win, because all that means is you’ve empowered a bunch of suiciders and thugs to kill.

Ah yes. Putting lipstick on the pig. But what does the tender filial scene of little George applying Barbara Bush’s makeup for her every morning have to do with the war in Iraq? Never mind, let’s concentrate on the fact that the absence of violence can’t be victory, because “all that means” is, er, that there’s a lot of violence around. Or something. But this is to get bogged down in logic. The assembled columnists tried their best to help.

Q: I want to go on the air tonight, I want some good news. I need some good news, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do, too.
Q: I really do.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re talking to Noah about the flood. I do, too.

Talking to Noah about the flood. Fascinating. Like Noah, Bush has received a secret message from God about the coming global inundation. I wonder who gets a place on the Ark? The neocons went in two by two . . . We may rest easy knowing that the offspring of Cheney and Rice will repopulate the Earth when the waters recede. In these last days, meanwhile, please meditate on the sovereignty of the Iraqi government.

They were asking me today, put out benchmarks. Well, it’s a sovereign government. You just don’t put out benchmarks. You work with the sovereign government to develop a way forward that’s got enough pressure on them to move, but at the same time, they’re comfortable with. Look, if we wanted to, we could put so much pressure on the Maliki government to topple it. What good would that do? We could put so many demands on them, it might satisfy people in the short-term, but it would defeat the purpose for victory in Iraq.

Let’s get this straight. It’s a sovereign government, but never forget that we could bring it down in a moment “if we wanted to”. See? But enough of this talk of war: what really matters in an election is tax cuts.

And I believe that when it gets down to it, money in people’s pockets are going to matter. I really do. Immigration is an issue. I don’t hear it being discussed much out there. Of course, generally, I’m doing all the discussing.

People really are letting the President down in this time of need. There he is, doing all the discussing, and everyone else is staying silent. Or else they are not speaking loudly enough to drown out the sound of his own voice. The rains are coming. Won’t someone help him out?

  1. 1  Sohail  October 27, 2006, 1:08 pm 

    Thank you for this amusing piece, but don’t you think you’re being a touch unfair? This is after all from a guy who thinks people from Greece are called Grecians and who can barely manage to eat a pretzel!

    But you’re absolutely right – Gilgabush is in real trouble!

  2. 2  Graham Giblin  October 27, 2006, 5:54 pm 

    George has always been a bit…awkward…around words…and…and…ideas…and…thinking, but there’s an acceleration taking place that feels like a dead man’s foot on the accelerator pedal. See, for example the extraordinary denial to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “Listen, we were never ‘Stay the Course’, George.” There are many videos at Youtube proving how silly a statement this was to make, my favourite being “Bush the Course” at
    I have an extraordinarily strong premonition that we are about to experience an implosion of Bush and many of those around him and it is not going to be pretty. I can’t help wondering whether the presence of James Baker and Henry Kissinger around the Administration is the hand of George H. W. Bush trying to dig his son out of yet another disaster.

    The synthetic right wing blogger, “Pierce Kramer” (who, try as I might I cannot make more appalling than the real-life Ann Coulter) has advised Aussie PM Howard to get out of Iraq before the inevitable implosion happens.

    Oh, Bush explains that he has never been ‘stay the course’. He’s been “complete the mission”. And that, of course, is an entirely different thing.

    And I note that in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer (as well as elsewhere) he insists that no-one in his administration has EVER claimed that Saddam “ordered” the attacks on 9/11….. But he puts a kind of a gently ambiguous emphasis on “ordered”. Could have fooled me:

    CHENEY: If we’re successful in Iraq, … we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.” [NBC, Meet The Press, 9/14/03]

    And can I just offer this as well? A couple of years ago (as reported in Haaretz) Abu Abbas says Bush told him “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did…” In the Blitzer interview George says, “It’s a struggle between people who use religion to kill and those of us who are for peace.” I’m left wondering, who could he be referring to as “those of us who are for peace”?

  3. 3  Steven  October 28, 2006, 8:54 am 

    Graham: I’m getting my mail to you bounced back, but thanks for the note, fixed now.

  4. 4  Graham Giblin  October 29, 2006, 3:34 am 

    Thanks. I spent a kind of Steven Poole day yesterday, following links from the blog, checking out your keynote address at the Sydney Opera House etc. Good job. I wondered what you thought of the “welcome to country” which doesn’t happen a lot of places in the world. It’s more nostalgic than anything because well, it’s not really their country any more, is it. I also checked out the Klemperer reference a little and found this in an LRB review of “The Everyday Life of Tyranny”:

    “The fundamental Nazi sin was not simply murder on an unprecedented scale: it was the systematic abuse of a class of human beings, while forcing other people – by no means only Germans – to watch in spite of themselves, do nothing, profit in small ways, and live afterwards with the burden of their complicity and silence.”

    And, you know, I think there’s something in that for all of us…

    I read the entire special briefing to Bush’s cosy conservative buddies like Krauthammer at – of which achievement I’m very proud, since I felt like throwing up during page 1 and there were 17 more to go.

    He started out early with this:
    “Other parts of the world, and some here – and I’m not casting dispersion, I’m just giving you a sense – I’m telling you what’s on my mind.”
    I was excited that George had his dispersion under control.

    But, more seriously, several times then and since he used the phrase “extremists and radicals” and in the same sentence called them “the enemy”.

    He said, “Iraq is the central part of this global war right now. The extremists, radicals have made it clear that they want us to leave.”

    This looks to me like a deliberate attempt to conflate ALL who want the US to leave Iraq as “the enemy” and as “extremists and radicals”. (I wonder if this was Luntz’s work, or Rove’s.)

    The desired outcome would be to paint the Democrats as both “extremists and radicals” and “the enemy”; I suppose as the enemy of the American People.

    He represents his invasion of Iraq as “this grand ideological struggle”, I suppose something like the old “Manifest Destiny”. Or “Mein Kampf”.

    And “I’m trying to figure out a matrix that says things are getting better.” Matrix? Take the blue pill, George. I’m trying to figure out a way we can massage the facts and look at the disaster we’ve created that makes it look like a glorious victory.

    “The frustration is that the definition of success has now gotten to be, how many innocent people are dying?” Looks to me as if on this definition you’re winning that one, George.

    “The Seniora – bolstering, helping the Seniora government is in this country’s interests and it’s a priority. Why? Because we want young democracies that are fragile to take root in the Middle East.” Just the kind of democracies we love – fragile ones that we can lean on (although I’m at a bit of a loss to understand exactly how supporting Israel in its bombing of Beirut suburbs and dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas is “bolstering” Lebanon’s democracy.)

    But I think I liked this the best:

    “I’ve worked rope lines and the wife says, I’m emailing my husband after the event. I said, tell her the commander – tell him the Commander-in-Chief respects him – send – and all of a sudden the guy – wow, Mom, I saw the President. It is amazing when there is that direct communication.”

    Amazing indeed.

  5. 5  bobw  October 30, 2006, 6:12 am 

    This get together with the friendly journalists could be called an “intervention” — arranged to help George get his confidence back, after so much hostile questioning.

    And the speech — the disconnected babbling of a dislexic kid — reveals that the intervention was just in time.

    Unfortunately, George has been this way all his life, and is used to rescuing himself on the brink of disgrace. So, while the policy is imploding, and GHW Bush looks to be coming to the rescue, dont count on seeing Junior hauled off to the clinic any time soon. He’s got enough defenses and evasions for a hundred lifetimes.

  6. 6  Steven  October 30, 2006, 2:07 pm 

    Hi Graham,
    I didn’t actually see the “welcome to country” at the time since I was pacing around backstage. But it was a very nice thing to do if the alternative is simply to ignore the past. (I was also quite touched to learn of the existence of “Sorry Day”.) I suppose the Anglo-Saxons having been around much longer in England, no one would really think of welcoming anyone to that country with a performance by Celts plastered in woad. But maybe it should be tried.

    The last quote you give from Bush is extraordinary. I really have no idea what it means at all.

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