Just Above Sunset
May 30, 2004 - Jumping the Shark (Bush Speaks)

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The big news early this week was the president’s speech – if you skip the announcement from a senior defense official that the Pentagon is considering replacing Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez as the top military officer in Iraq (the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times report he just might have been at that prison and may have watched the prisoner abuse now so famous from all the photographs) – if you skip the news that a federal judge threw out the Government's material witness action against Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, who was arrested on a material witness warrant in connection with the Spain train bombings (oops - the FBI says they kind of misidentified his fingerprint and he’s a fine fellow, even if he is a Muslim) – if you skip the new polls showing Bush dropping like a rock in the opinion of many, many Americans) – and if you skip the news about Bush falling off his mountain bike last weekend and getting all scraped up.  So much news.  So little time. 

Actually, that last item, the bicycle accident, is most curious.  Bush choked on that pretzel a few years ago and got a big scrape on his forehead when he passed out on the White House floor.  Oops.  Then there are those pictures of him falling off that Segway motorized scoter-thing last year (he forgot to turn it on and tumbled right over the front).  Oops.  Now this. 

Out here in Hollywood we have this term called “jumping the shark.” This term identifies the moment, the turning point, when a television series has run out of any useful plot devices and just throws in crap – and everything is crap from then on out to when the series dies from the inevitable low ratings.  As in… as in the episode of “Happy Days” when the waterskiing Fonz jumps over a shark.  When you have you leather-clad fifties motorcycle rebel, the King of Cool, waterskiing over a shark?  You’ve lost it. 

Think of Bush tumbling head over heels from his bicycle and landing face first in the dirt on his Texas ranch.  Iconic, isn’t it? 

Anyway, the speech….  It was dull. 

The basics from Reuters:

Bush Tries to Allay Mounting Doubts Over Iraq
Adam Entous, Monday May 24, 2004 09:41 PM ET

CARLISLE, Pa.  (Reuters) - President Bush tried to convince Americans on Monday he has a workable plan for Iraq as the United States and Britain asked the United Nations for a resolution endorsing the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government. 

In a half-hour televised speech at the U.S.  Army War College here, Bush sought to persuade Americans that he can turn around the deteriorating situation in Iraq, with just five weeks to go before the United States plans to hand over power to a caretaker Iraqi government on June 30. 

He offered no major change of course in Iraq and no timetable for a U.S.  troop withdrawal, but spoke of progress being made while predicting violence could get worse in the short run. 

"As the Iraqi people move closer to governing themselves, the terrorists are likely to become more active and more brutal.  There are difficult days ahead and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic," said Bush, whose job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, suggesting he faces the possibility of defeat in the Nov. 2 election.  ...

You get the idea.  Bush plans one of these speeches each week through the end of June. 

Oh, joy. 


Jeff Alworth's view…

The Bush Army War Speech


I wondered if this might not be a surprising speech.  It was.  Some of the content was surprising, and some of the context was, too.  The surprising content can be summed up in two words (and will be, in story after story, over the next five weeks): full sovereignty. 

"On June 30, full sovereignty will be transferred to a government of Iraqi citizens. 

"At that time, the Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador Paul Bremer, will cease to exist and will not be replaced. 

Iraqis will govern their own affairs

I suspect we'll be hearing more about what this actually means, but the White House hasn't left itself much room: it's getting the hell out. 

The context of the speech was also fascinating (to me, at least).  Bush gave a familiar speech, replete with descriptions of a reality to which few others have access (the transcript's not available yet, so I can't quote text).  It was his somber mode, punctuated occasionally by his strange blinking, wherein his delivery was that of a daddy trying to explain death to his four-year-old. 

But then, with about 20% of the speech left, he switched gears.  He shifted to Preacher George, messianic George, absolutely certain of his goodness.  It was actually quite moving, in a sort of twisted way.  He contrasted the horrors of wahabism (using "Taliban" as shorthand) with the purity of American democracy.  Where before the words tangled his tongue with their foreigness, now he seemed to be speaking from the heart.  It seemed clear that this is a guy who is, at the end of the day, pleased with how things have gone.  There was a bad guy there who oppressed his people; we took him out and offered up our perfected ways like a toe-headed boy offering up a golden ring.  All is well.  God bless America. 

To watch the speech, it was hard not to take away the message that this is pretty much how Bush saw it playing out.  There wasn't confusion or lack of planning.  This is a guy, remember, who exists only in the black-and-white mode.  So Iraq is either a success or a failure.  Today Bush declared it a success.  If the lesson of Iraq seems more nuanced to the majority of Americans, that's their failure.  They elected a guy of moral clarity.  Now they see what that means. 


Yeah, Jeff is bitter. 

His idea? 

… What Iraq needs is a global time-out.  Call it a ten-year plan wherein a provisional federal government is set up to conduct a series of reforms.  These reforms are standardized (sorta like the IMF's, but designed to benefit the country, not bloodsucker first-world nations), so they follow an established course.  Along the way, democratic government is slowly introduced, from the local level on up.  In the final stage, a constitution is drafted by local leaders and elections are held. 

Stability isn't cheap or easy.  The notion that we'd storm in, slaughter a few baddies, build some election booths and be on our merry way was patent stupidity.  We're fortunate that the Bushies had a free hand to execute their stupidity--nothing could have more clearly proven the point than they have.  Now the grown-ups need to put aside the overheated rhetoric of the neocons, roll up their sleeves, and do the hard work. 


Jesse Taylor’s view…

Bush's Speech


Summary version: "Everything I said before, updated with this month's new names and events.  As always, we must stay steadfast in the war on terror, only not the real one, but instead the one I'm sure will exist if we just bomb enough shit."

He's not giving a vision, he's giving the "vision thing".


Not nice. 

Groom Lake’s view –

Sounds like "Vietnamization" to me


Vietnamization is the best way I can frame the "five step program" to rid Iraq from terrorism.  Puppet government.  More work for the corrupt contractors.  Reconstituted military under the thumb of US advisers.  Once again, a yeoman's effort to further imbed the linkage between Iraq and global terrorism in the minds of the American people.  The way it sounds reading Shrubby's lips, Iraq is a seething hotbed of international terrorism.  But what do Kompassionate Kristian Konservatives know about wars of national liberation? 


Yeah, those three words spell out KKK. 

Damned lefties! 

On the right? 

For that you drop over to “The Corner” - the National Review Online blog -



I liked the speech.  As the media focuses relentlessly on American failings, seeing Bush live hopefully reminds Americans that we have high hopes and idealistic visions, and an enemy that murders without mercy and terrorizes without conscience.  Now is the not the time for hand-wringing and skittishness.  Now is the time for confidence and condemnation of the evil Baathist and terrorist remnants who bomb the United Nations, who bomb the Red Cross, who assassinate the courageous rising leaders of a new Iraq.  Bush is properly focused on their crimes.  Too many Americans are not. 

IT'S A START [Cliff May]
But only a start.  Too often in the past, this administration hasn't understood the importance of repeating a message, elaborating on a message, working a message until it burns its way into the public's mind and imagination. 

Yes, it was reassuring to see the President appearing confident, articulating a plan, going into detail about who, what, when and where.  But now he -- and those who claim they work for him -- need to drive the ideas he only sketched out tonight. 

Also, and perhaps because the President needed to seem in command of the facts, the speech came off as rather wonkish.  Hawkish national security conservatives don't need to be sold yet again on the necessity of this war.  But those who will never understand such strategic arguments need to hear the human rights case for this difficult and costly project. 

Maybe Kofi Annan and Michael Moore think the Ba'athists in Fallujah and that butcher Zarqawi are the equivalent of the Minutemen and the French Resistance, but most Americans understand in their guts that it would be a disaster were we to abandon Iraq to such barbarians. 

Commenting on the speech tonight, Joe Lieberman said: "If we don't lose our will, someday we'll look back on what we've done in Iraq with pride." That's more the tone I'd hope to hear from the President in the days ahead.  Bush and his speechwriters need to think Churchill and Kennedy (John, not Ted) if the President is to successfully rouse the nation to fight and win this difficult war against these ruthless, fantatical and determined enemies. 


Ah well. 

There was the flood of editorials that followed over the following days, commentary from all over. 

I’m just reminded of “The Fonz” and the shark. 


Well, the “newspaper of record” – and that would be The New York Times (Oh my, they had a bad week what with publicly admitting they got duped by Chalabi and his Gucci gang documenting threats where there were none!) - gave us this on the 25th in their lead editorial –


It's regrettable that this president is never going to admit any shortcomings, much less failure.  That's an aspect of Mr.  Bush's character that we have to live with.  But we cannot live without a serious plan for doing more than just getting through the June 30 transition and then muddling along until the November elections in the United States.  The president still has a number of speeches left to deliver before June 30.  We hope he will use them to come up with a more specific plan, to stop listing the things we already knew needed to be done and to explain to us how he intends to do them.  An acknowledgment of past mistakes would be nice.


Oh, I suppose it would. 

Ain’t gonna happen. 

The most interesting commentary was probably this:

Magical History Tour
Bush can't learn from the past if he can't see it. 
William Saletan - Posted Monday, May 24, 2004, at 11:57 PM PT at SLATE.COM

The premise? 


In press conferences, TV ads, and interviews this year, President Bush has manifested a series of psychopathologies: an abstract notion of reality, confidence unhinged from facts and circumstances, and a conception of credibility that requires no correspondence to the external world.  Tonight, as he vowed to stay the course in Iraq, Bush demonstrated another mental defect: incomprehension of his role in history as a fallible human agent.  Absent such comprehension, Bush can't fix his mistakes in Iraq because he can't see how—or even that—he screwed up. 


And then Saletan goes on and explains it all.  You might want to click on the link and read the whole thing. 

If not, know that the argument revolves around the idea that Bush simply cannot see his own part in any of this:


Bush's ignorance of his part in the tragedy infects everything he says.  "The swift removal of Saddam Hussein's regime last spring had an unintended effect," he observed tonight.  "Instead of being killed or captured on the battlefield, some of Saddam's elite guards shed their uniforms and melted into the civilian population.  [They] have reorganized, rearmed and adopted sophisticated terrorist tactics."

Note the passive construction.  The mistake isn't that Bush failed to prepare for guerrilla tactics commonly adopted against occupiers.  It isn't even a mistake; it's an "unintended effect." The cause of that effect is Saddam's "swift removal," not Bush or anyone in his administration who engineered the removal. 

Is Bush embarrassed that a year of occupation has failed to substantiate his claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and links to global terrorism?  No.  He hasn't even noticed.  "I sent American troops to Iraq to defend our security," he repeated tonight, adding, "Iraq is now the central front in the war on terror … This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world." Never mind the emerging evidence that North Korea, not Iraq, was engaged in the kind of WMD proliferation that Bush attributed to Saddam.  In his speech, Bush simply repeated that Iraq was the headquarters of terrorists who "seek weapons of mass destruction."


You get the idea - and the argument is extended to how we deal with North Korea, with the United Nations, with questions of appropriate troop levels, with whether any Iraqi police or military force will be ready to replace our guys and so forth.  “Things are fine, and problems aren’t my fault.”

And then there is the matter of to whom we turn sovereignty over come late June.  That’s a tad unclear, as is who will have authority to do what, militarily.  Oh well.  Saletan suggests that, well, when you deceive yourself about the past, it's easy to deceive yourself about the future. 


The upshot? 


Bush, being Bush, thinks abstractions and good intentions will conquer such unpleasant facts.  To Bush, they aren't even facts; they're illusions.  The reality is the great narrative of the war on terror, whose infallible course is set by a higher power.  "The way forward may sometimes appear chaotic; yet our coalition is strong, and our efforts are focused and unrelenting, and no power of the enemy will stop Iraq's progress," Bush insisted tonight.  Close your eyes, and you can almost see it. 


Clap and Tinkerbell will live. 

But Tinkerbell was discussed earlier – see May 2, 2004 - It is all a matter of having the right attitude... for that. 

Better yet, one could look at this in terms of philosophy – and think a bit about epistemology and pragmatism. 


Here’s a letter to MSNBC this week of note:


From: Eric Rauchway
Hometown: Davis, CA

Amid the many portents of doom frolicking through the headlines you might have missed this particular True Sign of the Apocalypse: the French -- the French -- are trying to explain Pragmatism to us.  Jacques Chirac told the president yesterday that "le transfert de souveraineté doit être réel, et perçu comme tel," which (unless I misheard my radio) NPR translated as "the transfer of sovereignty [to Iraq on June 30] must not only be real but must be seen to be real." To which I confess my initial reaction was, "snarky Gaul."

But a moment's reflection forced me to realize this lesson in basic philosophy is exactly what someone needs to explain about this U.S.  administration.  Its members habitually claim privileged knowledge of the essential nature of things, knowledge that is independent of (when not actually contrary to) empirical evidence.  I.e., in the administration's epistemology one may incontrovertibly be a superb Secretary of Defense without doing a good job as Secretary of Defense; one may truly be the sort of people who would never torture Iraqis while in fact torturing Iraqis. 

Considering this epistemology, Chirac had evidently imagined that the president might plan to declare that a real transfer of sovereignty would take place on June 30th, even though the available evidence of our senses -- let us suppose, the evidence of an Iraqi constitution or lack of one, of a continuing American presence in Iraqi civil and military affairs -- might suggest to the ordinary mind, the mind privy only to empirical data, that no such transfer had occurred. 

And so (one suspects while gritting his teeth) Chirac undertook to explain to the president and, over the president's head, to the people manning the media filter, that an event that is called the transfer of sovereignty that lacks evident consequences of a transfer of sovereignty is, however sadly, not a transfer of sovereignty.  Or, as William James put it, "There can BE no difference anywhere that doesn't MAKE a difference elsewhere -- no difference in abstract truth that doesn't express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen."

President Chirac must have hated descending to Philosophy 101 for the benefit of the president and the press corps.  It must be especially galling to realize that almost nobody noticed.


Damned French.  Like THEY invented logic? 

Well, we don’t let facts get in our way.  The speech Bush gave shows that. 


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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