Monday, March 29, 2004
Monday, March 29, 2004
Unspinning the Spinner
First, the quote of the day: "When you're in the White House, you spin. I have no obligation any more to spin," says Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism aide.
We expect executive spin. Sometimes it's kinda funny, like Clinton's, "It depends on what you mean by sexual relations..." Others are exquisitely tragic such was "I am not a crook" uttered by Nixon in 1973. I was told once by a former Canadian diplomat that in the context of politics, business, warfare and diplomacy there are no lies, only positions. Some outright fibbing is expected and I'm certain that every president since Washington has done it. Yes, even Honest Abe.
However, even the Office of Privilege must obey certain rules and the greatest among them is that you don't bungle spin and you aren’t caught in a lie. Bush has done both.
Let's get one thing straight, I never liked Dubiya and I never liked his dad, good ol' George "I'm Not In The Loop" Senior. But, before you go out and load up your flame-mail with ultra-conservative catechisms, I'm not a dead-in-the-head anti-Republican. In retrospect, I think that Reagan was a pretty good President (and a master spinner) and I've always liked Ike. What I find irksome is Bush's general clumsiness, which even conservative pundits like CNN's Robert Novak are finding it increasingly difficult to defend. I'd rather see Monica's dress paraded out on nightly news than listen to Bush's fables aired out by former aides.
While the White House wages an "unprecedented" spin battle to shake off Clarke, the latest salvo has backfired badly. Attempting character assassination and winding on about inconsistencies in Clarke's book and his latest testimonies, Republicans (obviously at the behest of the embattled President) are now threatening to declassify "certain parts" of Clarke's congressional testimony while he was still on the Bush payroll. Seizing on this massive error like a fast witted chessmaster, the competing side gleefully slapped down a call to release the entire Clarke library to ensure that his remarks are weighed in their proper context.
Until now, Bush’s spin machine has been pretty lucky. Former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, was easy prey for the spin-misters. They easily rolled over David Kay's parting remarks being most of them were far too technical for most Americans to comprehend. Of course, the whole issue of not finding WMDs in Iraq was counter-spun as a victory, being that we put an end to a regional tragedy and captured or killed its chief protagonists. But Clarke refuses to go quietly into the night. In fact, his unblinking and pernicious retorts threaten to unspin the entire Bush dynasty.
Meanwhile, the demand for Dr. Condoleezza Rice to publicly appear before the 9/11 Commission has grown uncomfortably shrill and American feelings about Bush’s handling of national security is shifting - however so slightly. The rapid succession of errors has some Republicans, even staunch backers of their president, spinning to save their own butts, just in case.
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel - in my estimation - was embarrassingly honest during his recent appearance on CNN’s Inside Politics (March 15, 2004). Some of the remarks must have hit Karl Rove's bean like a thunderbolt.
Here's Hagel reacting to a question about Spain's radical shift in politics as a consequence of Bush's failure to get UN agreement for the Invasion of Iraq: "But what I'm saying is this... actions have consequences. When you do not put a lot of time into thinking through your actions, then there will be consequences." And this reaction to the short-lived row over Tony Raimando (another spin that unwound), "The White House was inept, incompetent. I was stunned by what happened. Not one Republican senator knew about this. I'm the senior Republican senator of Nebraska, co-chairman of the president's campaign. I didn't know about it until I saw the AP story that John Kerry had just put out defining Tony Raimando. This was gross incompetence on the White House's part."
Unlike O’Neill, Hagel is no overreaching bureaucrat; unlike Kay, his remarks are clear and unfettered by complicated descriptions; and unlike the nearly invisible Raimando fiasco, Clarke's question of Bush’s fitness as Commander in Chief is starting to resonate with the electorate - again, ever so slightly.
If you ask me, and of course you have, I'd say that unless things simmer down a bit for Mr. Bush (and of course it won't) it'll get pretty difficult for him to keep spinning up positive messages especially with tepid pals like Senator Hagel and staunch critics like Clarke hanging in the wings. Then again, truth has a funny way of doing that from time to time - no matter how well you spin. -HP
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Post-March 11: The High Moral Ground
First, a note. I have been asleep for a while. Busy with life, my kids, and whatnot. But now I am awake and will resume my editorial snaps with greater frequency. Not because the world needs another opinion, not because I'm a frustrated op/ed columnist, but because this helps to quell the growing anxiety in my gut over what I fear is a terrible turn for the worst.
You may have read about my concerns over foreign policies dealing with the terrorist threat. Today I'm writing about the fruits of what I consider enormous errors committed in that regard. In case you haven’t been keeping score, the net result of the Madrid train bombing is 202 dead, 1,400 injured, and course of history changed (once again). We were the victims on September 11. On the greatest scale imaginable, we were victim and hero all in one fell sloop. Our allies wept with us. They gave us their deepest expressions of sorrow. And they held up their chins and shouldered the burden of grief by our side. For the first time in history, European military was activated by a call from the United States. For the first time in history, NATO jets patrolled our airways. The World Trade Towers were not only hallowed ground – it was our high moral ground. The months that followed, we used that moral authority imbued by 911 to determine what would follow. At the crest of the Great War on terror, we were victorious. With strong European support, we engaged the Talibanic Afghanistan and crushed them roundly. Soon afterward however, our stalwart partners began to hold misgivings over our failure to arrive at a strategy that might quell the greatest impetus for this reign of terror – they expected us to help them bring down and isolate the doctrine that had issued such horror. Namely, they were looking for us to step in and help them defuse the greatest sources of Arab Islamic anger.
Today, with the occupation of Iraq taking center stage and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now infused with a volume of hatred that few of us have witnessed in our lifetime, the real enemy is ready to fully exploit our distraction and division. The al-Qaeda have rallied their supporters, the supporters are generating their own movements, and now we face a vicious hydra that will strike wildly, globally, and with great zeal. With March 11 taking on the mantle of high moral regard, our allies are caught looking over their shoulders worried about how they will protect themselves. And we - the people of the United States - are caught without the guarantee of the kind of ironclad support we gratefully accepted only a few years ago. It is time that we realize that our leadership has taken an enormous gambit and failed. Our blindness for revenge and our inability to foresee what many philosophers, scholars, and tacticians predicted (with stunning accuracy) has only served to aggravate the divisions and incite our real enemies. Our policies have helped to expand the Jihadist mission and make us far more vulnerable to even greater tragedies. God only knows where the next high moral ground will arise - but it ought to be a doozie. -HP
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Saturday, March 29, 2003
A Frog In the Well…
A pair of young missionaries recently accosted me at my home. They claimed that I was not enjoying the true pure gifts from God. I didn’t need to hear the rest of their pitch; obviously, I could not “enjoy” said gifts until I was indoctrinated into their particular order, so I told them, “via con Dios” and returned to whatever it was I was doing (digging up the dandelions in my front yard, I think).
Missionaries and evangelists are often cited as cultural icons of freer societies such as America; a matter of due course in the multi-faceted non-secular societal infrastructure. We joke about them sometimes and some people even entertain themselves by engaging in a little bit of doorstep theology. But, in other places and other times – such an encounter could mean trouble, even death.
Evangelical ambition is the pursuit of those who feel they must save the world. In milder times, the act of ‘saving’ could mean cleansing the sinner through baptism, in harsher times the task requires the killing “infidels” wherever they may be. Okay – that’s a thinly veiled reproach of certain pernicious Islamic teachings – but Christianity has certainly had its days of darkness – and there is always potential for more.
The problem is that Religion (and I am deliberately using the proper noun to connote a specific cultural character) sometimes gets lost in its own forest. Evangelism is fine, under normal circumstances when it is no more than an annoyance to those who choose to ignore it, but left unchecked by non-secular rules of behavior and governance, it is a ravenous creature whose appetite for Purity is as endless as God’s eternity.
I was once a member of the Anglican Catholic Church and have since converted to Lutheran. My wife and I left when one bishop threatened another with a shotgun during a particularly harsh debate over the sustained purity of Mother Mary after the birth of Christ. Not only could my wife and I not tolerate the expressed violence of that totally ridiculous and prolix debate – we found that we could no longer countenance an environment that would allow the debate to emerge in the first place. Yet, the predisposition toward ‘purity’ is ever present – no matter what sect or denomination you may belong.
Religion seeks to cleanse God’s creation of the temptations that makes us sinners. Anything that violates scripture and Law is therefore sinful and therefore wrong. However, the problem with such notions of purity is that it is often the result of narrow observation; something akin to looking at a picture through a straw.
The observer may only see a jumble of colors, or perhaps an elbow, or the corner of a table – since the observation doesn’t make sense, the observer may leap to judgment that the rest of the picture must also be nonsense. However, with the straw removed, we discover that the picture is actually a masterpiece painting, or a portrait of somebody we love.
How can religious Purists (and note, that I refrain from calling them fanatics, which bears a wholly different connotation) profess that faith alone has given them the insight to define the whole of a culture based upon the actions of a few? How can anyone rest judgment against one society without appraising its role within the ages old story of human civilization?
Since we know that the human reaction is to bring order to chaos, we can assume that Purists will have a heightened sensitivity toward anything that assails their ideological and idiosyncratic expectations of human behavior. Citations of religious lawlessness can come from a host of observations – indeed there are wide swaths of non-secular society that bears great resemblance to a complete breakdown of morality. No matter the observation and the weight of apparent immorality, how can the Purist rise above the rest of man? Who shall call me sinful and judge me unworthy of God’s grace? My fellow man, or God?
Within Purity itself there seems such diversity so as to be almost countless: the Bible produces laws of Moses, of Abraham, Jesus Christ, Solomon – followed by the ascribing religions and sects that have diversified to such an extent that one might assume that they were following different scriptures and Laws. Yet in each is a stalwart claim to Purity.
Add to the Purist’s error in observation, are his intentions, which are categorically and egregiously wrongful. On simple terms, it seems that the religious Purist wishes to enact a cleansing of whatever may seem out of bounds from religious doctrine, however upon closer examination we find that they seek a cleansing of the principles that allows it to occur. The Purist not only observes how we live, but the environment in which we live; the Purist does not only seek to correct what we do, but to correct our diversity.
One can only assume that good intentions originate in following God’s Law – these rules, after all, are the basis of nearly all civilization: thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, and so on. However, while the Purist achieves believers, he also foments the righteous few who will go on to undertake the evangelical mission with greater fervor.
Take for example Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim philosopher who wrote a religious treatise in the 1950s that illustrates a “hideous schizophrenia” of Judeo/Christian life that allows the belief that God's domain rests in one place and the ordinary business of daily life in another. This, of course, is fodder for nearly all Purists who cite the American Constitutional separation between God and what it regards as the state (render unto Caesar). The American example of course is a distinction that has allowed diversification to flourish, but it is also the precise source that some Purists have targeted as the root of insidious and worldwide impurity.
In their final error, and one that exposes them for what they truly are, Purists such as Qutb take on such a high mantle of righteousness that they discard the very notion that God is above mankind as judge, witness, and creator. Therefore, we can only conclude that these perceptions of Purity and all acts thereto have nothing to do with man's desire to live as God wished, but more about men’s desire to live as God.
Purists can only achieve their ideals through the destruction of diversity - they seek to homogenize the world through secular ideals that are mistaken for sacred mission. Take the word "jihad" where we find that within Islam there is great disagreement over its meaning and intent - on one hand it is defined as a personal struggle to cleanse oneself of evil; another, widespread bloody conflagration to cleanse the world. Again, there are similar problems with Christians and Jews who press the issue of Sin in society as an indication of widespread social and cultural depredation and degradation of the human condition; but oh, how the straw narrows when they argue for causes and cures.
Qutb's logic is narrow to the extreme because he views the "Christian error" as both enigmatic and monolithic, which it is neither. The Reformation, propelled by Luther, sought to expel the horrendous and systemic propagations of the medieval Roman Catholic era (i.e., 1100AD through 1500AD). Since then 'Lutherism' and other outgrowths have sought to re-establish man's relationship with God by prescribing themselves to new tests of grace, re-examinations of Gospel, and so on. Similar 'revolutions' in thinking have also affected the Jewish state - thus making irrelevant the argument that any perceived Judeo/Christian “error” is in any way self-perpetuating and self-sustaining. It is unlikely that Americans will never abolish the separation of God and State, but the character of its citizens could make that distinction irrelevant (In God We Trust).
Like many puritanical philosophers, Qutb is at minimum myopic, but in the extreme sense, he is also quite dangerous. It is through his philosophy that I find quite the type of “hideous schizophrenia” that frightens me most: that of implicit and frenzied fanaticism. The basis for Qutb’s thinking are the teachings of Abd Al-Wahhab who held to an even more provocative notion that all who do not ascribe to the pure form of Islam MUST be put to death. Wahhab and his current followers reason further, that only through the death of infidels may mankind achieve purity and thus earn God's grace. Wahhab had a very loyal disciple by the way; his name was Muhammad ibn Saud - the fore bearer of the House of Sa'ud which is now the ruling family of Saudi Arabia.
Greater philosophers than I have long since demonstrated that diversity itself is an ideal example of God's creation - one need only examine the wild natural beauty evident on Earth, and if Earth isn't enough, the cosmos above. Chaos? It certainly seems that way to one looking through a straw, but isn't Chaos itself God's own design? Therefore, aren’t the fully diversified cultures of mankind the purest example of God's own world? Should we put ourselves in a position to judge what is Chaos and what is pure? Are we not Men, and not God?
The Japanese have a saying: "The frog in a well cannot know the ocean." I assert to all Purists wherever they may be, whatever they preach, that Man lacks the ability to appreciate what – from the view of the straw - appears to be Chaos, but may actually be greater beauty beyond our imagining.
I submit to you that we are but mere frogs in the contrast of God. -HP
Saturday, March 15, 2003
Saturday, March 15, 2003
I Stand Corrected
Yes, I have been away for a while. It has been nearly a year since I last submitted an editorial. I can explain the absence – work, family, etc – but these reasons pale against those that compel me to set aside my client work today.
I must admit that have been riding the fence all these past months regarding the impending war with Iraq. Indeed I have taken the chicken’s way out in discussions with friends and colleagues, nodding my head when they exclaim: “I don’t like GW either, but I’m no friend of Saddam's”; “if the NO countries are really committed to preventing war, then let them assemble troops around Baghdad”; and my personal favorite: “France hasn’t been right about a single world issue since they helped us win our independence.”
And while I think Saddam’s complicity with Al Qaeda was as about as unlikely as an Orthodox Jew joining forces with a Southern Baptist to attack Turkey, I succumbed to that infamous Sun Tzu cliché: "Your enemy's enemy is your friend."
I condemn myself for being a bobbleheaded simpleton trying to avoid a sticky conversation. While the population dances to the war drums, I have had a festering, gnawing fear that this country is about to make the worst strategic blunder in history (since, perhaps, the French helped America win its independence). Lesser countries might be vanquished by the magnitude of this error, yet I fear that this country will be in for a world of hurt.
The first shot of my bow came as I was listening to Arianna Huffington’s comments on Bush's failing foreign policy during a recent broadcast of a semi-conservative talk show. I cannot offer you direct quotes, but I think you’ll get my meaning when I say that her angry and vitreous remarks were punctuated with such phrases as “absolute falsehood,” “a complete whitewash of the real facts,” and finally “liars.” The latter of which was aimed squarely at Bush’s assertion that Saddam was working on a nuclear weapons program.
Not that Huffington is the absolute authority – she was no fan of Clinton’s either – but the strength of her conviction bears reason enough to dig deeper into the question.
Few people have quarrel with the ultimate goal of seeing Saddam Hussein go the way of Idi Amin or Pinochet. Nevertheless, the list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq, and who have since publicly submitted their capitulation, is growing at an alarming pace. Many are finally saying that not only is Mr. Bush wrong, he is the wrong man to do the job.
And what of the leaks from within government – the very latest from the State Department, but also from the Treasury and even the Pentagon – that openly question the leadership, the strategy, the tactics, and even the administration’s sense of reality.
Consider the string of debacles: the aborted attempt to hammer together a ‘collation of the willing’ (with emphasis on the verb), the loss of esteem of close allies, and the general irritation over American arrogance and political superciliousness.
Bush has done everything – pulled every spin trick ever developed, every propaganda ploy devised – he has waved the bloody shirt of 911, even issued vague and not so vague threats of the consequences should others fail to fall in line. And yet, the world remains circumspect – and as a result of his badly aimed rhetoric, angry by his attempt to shoe them in.
Bush has alienated our most valuable allies – and to what end? The budget deficit is exploding, the economy is stalling, and our non-existent policy for North Korea is wrought with peril. There in that stubby little thumb of a peninsula near one of our closest allies lay as clear an example of present danger as a hawk could ever wish, cavalierly set aside by this administration as a mere ‘regional conflict’. No wonder Kim Jong Il is laughing at us – no wonder our allies are sneering at our backs – no wonder that the whole of the world appears to be against us.
If war is truly inevitable, then I pray that it is a swift victory with a minimum of collateral damage (e.g., civilian and military deaths). Yet, and as more people realize, even if all goes well with the battle, we could loose the war from lack of the moral and ethical reason. -HP