A View From The Handbasket

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
The State of the Union is: Imaginary (Part 1)
Posted by neros_fiddle at 8:17 PM

One of the administration's favorite rhetorical devices over the last five years has been the straw man. Faced with the unenviable task of defending its policies, it consistently has chosen to instead attack imaginary enemies of its own construction. Sometimes it describes situations that clearly do not exist in the "reality-based" world.

This year's State of the Union address was a master class on the technique. I've already discussed the Manimal Strategy, in which Bush ignored the complex scientific and ethical issues and scored easy points with his base by attacking unnamed, cackling, Dr. Moreau-ish mad scientists creating "human-animal hybrids."

Here's some more interesting examples from last night:

In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting -- yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people ... the only way to secure the peace ... the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership -- so the United States of America will continue to lead.

Bush returned to this theme many times over the course of the evening. If you oppose his foreign policy, he suggested, you must be an isolationist! Why, it's self-evident! The irony, of course, is that Bush's is one of the most insular and unilateral foreign policies in history. He cares not for what others think -- he does what he wants. This is sort of the evil twin of isolationism. The concept of engaging with the world rather than dicating to it is sadly not in his repertoire.

Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal -- we seek the end of tyranny in our world.

Translation: If you oppose me, you like tyranny. Bush's base loves this kind of ridiculous cowboy talk. What, there's tyranny? We oughta do something about that! Get a posse together!

On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country.

Here's Bush at his most disingenuous. Over and over, he insists that 9/11 Changed Everything in completely ludicrous ways. "We couldn't rely on the oceans to protect us!" Funny, I don't recall oceans being considered an effective defense against Soviet ICBMs. Here, he boosts his attack on phantom "isolationism" by claiming that US disinterest in world affairs caused 9/11, when anyone paying attention could tell you that it was our *non*-isolationist foreign policy that al Qaeda was gaining legitimacy by denouncing. At the risk of pounding the point into the the ground, he's inventing history to suit his agenda.

No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam -- the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death.

Another classic. While I have no interest in defending the tactics of terrorists, any honest observer would have to concede that their motives are more complicated than "hating freedom." Did Tim McVeigh "hate freedom"? Does the sniper hiding outside the abortion clinic simply "hate freedom"? Shifting gears, does someone who supports a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage "hate freedom"? It's a convenient shorthand to make his foreign policy seem remotely coherent, but that's about it.

In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone.

More criticism of the imaginary "give bin Laden a hug" advocates. In Bushland, the choice is not among different ways to confront terror, the choice is support Bush's way or endorse terror.

He goes on like this at length -- "leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself", "we will never surrender to evil", and so on. None of it is new, of course, but it's all he has. What he and his followers see as stirring rhetoric is in reality an attack on a position no one is advocating.

Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win, and we are winning.

In another lengthy section of the speech, Bush paints a rosy picture of Iraq that seems completely at odds with the continuing mayhem and sectarian strife. 47% of Iraqis support attacks on U.S. troops. Of course, noting such things is not goodthink:

[T]here is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy.

The lines between arrogance, delusion and megalomania blur deliriously.

After that, there's a maudlin tribute to one of the soldier's killed in Bush's elective war and a laundry list of supposed democratic successes in the Middle East, including the hilarious notion that Saudi Arabia is taking "the first steps of reform." (He also stumbles through a warning to the democratically elected Hamas party that they'd better shape up.)

If that weren't enough, he makes his almost gleeful contempt for us clear as glass by hauling out a warning to Iran cut-and-pasted from the 2003 SOTU speech:

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon -- and that must come to an end.

The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions -- and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats. And tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran.

I have to admit after that my attention wavered, as I was distracted somewhat by thrusting my head into the wall. From reviewing the transcript, it seems that he promised the same foreign aid package he's hyped for years now, before launching into a defense of domestic spying, which we've covered more than adequately over the last couple of weeks.

Finally, the foreign policy section wraps up with an odd statement:

American leaders -- from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan -- rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.

Odd, because it's widely assumed that Reagan's capitulation after the Beirut barracks bombing was a great morale boost for Arab terror. But whatever, reality has nothing to do with this. It's just empty noise to lull the base into a blissful state of righteousness and boost GOP candidates in the fall elections.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the domestic policy half of the speech, as freshly minted Supreme Court Justice Alito lurks in the crowd.

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