March 11, 2006

Philip II May Finally Lose the "Wooden-Head" Title

Paul Craig Roberts:
March 20 is the third anniversary of the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq. US military casualties to date are approximately 20,000 killed, wounded, maimed, and disabled. Iraqi civilian casualties number in the tens of thousands. Iraq's infrastructure is in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed. Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people had 36,000 of its 50,000 homes destroyed by the US military. Half of the city's former population are displaced persons living in tents.

Thousands of Iraqis have been detained in prisons and hundreds have been brutally tortured. America's reputation in the Muslim world is ruined.

The Bush regime expected a short "cakewalk" war to be followed by the imposition of a puppet government and permanent US military bases. Instead, US military forces are confronted with an insurgency that has denied control over Iraq to the US military. Chaos rules, and civil war may be coming on top of the insurgency.


What is being achieved for this enormous sacrifice?

No one knows.

Every reason we have been given for the Iraqi invasion has proved to be false.


The brutal truth is that America's responsibility is extreme. We have destroyed a country and created political chaos for no reason whatsoever.

Seldom in history has a government miscalculated as badly as Bush has in Iraq. More disturbingly, Bush shows no ability to recover from his mistake. All we get from our leader is pig-headed promises of victory that none of our military commanders believe.

Our entire government is lost in confusion. One day Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld tell us that we are having great success in training an Iraqi military and will be able to begin withdrawing our troops in a year. The next day they tell us that we will be fighting the war for decades.

Bush's invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Bush's attempt to cover up his mistake with patriotism will ultimately discredit patriotism.

America has to be big enough to admit a mistake and to bring it to an end.
Roberts is entirely correct, of course. But our government will never "be big enough to admit a mistake," certainly not so long as the current administration holds power. Even now, they ratchet up the fear-mongering about Iran more every day. Here's Bush's most recent contribution: "US PRESIDENT George Bush has called Iran a 'grave national security concern' but said he would seek a diplomatic way to cap its nuclear goals." As most honest commentators know and as I've observed before, this is diplomacy intentionally designed to fail, precisely as was true with Iraq. Be sure to understand: they want a wider and more devastating war. They positively ache for it. Many people don't want to believe it. In the end, what many people want to believe won't matter a damn. And what is still worse, given the extent to which the Iran propaganda appears to be succeeding, a lot of people will cheer on the administration's plans to attack still another country.

One more time, Barbara Tuchman on why we will probably enlarge upon our tragic and calamitous mistake, rather than admit it:
Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts. It is epitomized in a historian's statement about Philip II of Spain, the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns: "No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence."


Persistence in error is the problem. Practitioners of government continue down the wrong road as if in thrall to some Merlin with magic power to direct their steps. There are Merlins in early literature to explain human aberration, but freedom of choice does exist--unless we accept the Freudian unconscious as the new Merlin. Rulers will justify a bad or wrong decision on the ground, as a historian and partisan wrote of John F. Kennedy, that "He had no choice," but no matter how equal two alternatives may appear, there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counter-productive course if the policy-maker has the moral courage to exercise it. He is not a fated creature blown by the whims of Homeric gods. Yet to recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government.

For a chief of state, admitting error is almost out of the question. The American misfortune in the Vietnam period was to have had Presidents who lacked the self-confidence for the grand withdrawal. We come back again to Burke: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom, and a great Empire and little minds go ill together." The test comes in recognizing when persistence in error has become self-damaging.
Philip II may have been "the surpassing wooden-head of all sovereigns," but he has a lot of competition these days.

And at least he didn't have nuclear weapons.