Thursday, March 27, 2003

Having had the misfortune of being awoken two days in a row by our fearless leader (a.k.a. the steely-eyed rocket man) attempting to wrap his mind around the sisyphean task of producing monosyllables in an order capable of generating meaning, I wonder if there isn't something wrong with him -- like some kind of neurological disorder. Seriously. It's like watching the special olympics -- like language is an enemy that he is struggling to subdue. Either that or the neural implant connecting him to the Trilateral commission Carlyle Group puppetmasters is on the fritz. Could you ever have imagined a speaker who made this one's father sound coherent? Memo to White House: joint press conferences with Tony Blair (or, indeeed, anyone who knows how to form a complete sentence in their native language) are not doing you any favors.

But far more disturbing than his neurological afflictions is his, and his handlers', utter ineptitude. I can't bear to count the ways, but some of the more obvious examples are killing people in Iraq at this moment: I know they did not have much time to process the important lessons of French and Indian War, but surely they could have learned something about those "dirty trick" guerillas. Then there was the widely trumpeted assertion that ground troops would be superfluous in encouraging "patriotic Iraqis" to "liberate" themselves. Because, you know, that worked out so well for them last time. You can add your own favorites. But unless you take long breaks from your busy internet-trolling schedule to read print media, you did not see this chilling litany of stupidity from Elsa Walsh's 3/24 New Yorker profile of Bandar bin Sultan:

On April 16th, the White House announced that Crown Prince Abdullah planned to visit Bush at his ranch in Crawford. The circumstances were not promising. Abdullah's opinion of Bush was increasingly unfavorable, and by this time Bush had begun to declare that one of his goals was "regime change" in Iraq. Saudi support was essential, but unless something was done about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Saudis could not oppose another Arab country, not even Iraq.

On April 24th, the eve of the visit, Bandar received a private briefing from one of the President's senior officials: Bush, he was told, was unaware of what was happening in the streets of the West Bank or Gaza. "This guy doesn't watch TV-he just doesn't know this stuff," the official said, adding that Bush's aides, many of whom were staunchly pro-Israel, shielded him. Bandar was in a hotel in Houston preparing Abdullah for his meeting with Bush the next morning. Bandar wanted Bush to see what Arabs saw daily on Al Jazeera, hoping that it would open his eyes, and so his aides were trying to get photographs. Eventually, they were able to find some, mostly pictures of dead Palestinian children-a five-year-old with a bullet wound to his head, a child cut in half. He did not want to show the most gruesome; the purpose was not to make Bush sick.

Bandar knew that if Bush was unaware of views within the Arab world, he couldn't understand the impact that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was having in the region. Already the trip was becoming something of a fiasco. On Abdullah's first day in Houston, the White House had faxed Bandar a draft of a proposed communique, to be released by the two leaders following their meeting, which seemed to place all the blame for the increase in violence on Arafat and the Palestinians. "This is ridiculous-this is unacceptable," Bandar said to an aide, and he picked up the phone to call Powell. The Secretary of State claimed that he hadn't seen the latest version, and had rejected previous drafts. The draft had come from Vice-President Cheney's office, the rationale being that Abdullah is the Vice-President of Saudi Arabia. Bandar faxed back his rejection to the White House and warned that Cheney should not under any circumstances give a copy of it to the Crown Prince....

Later, back at the ranch:
The meeting was scheduled to last twenty minutes, but Bush and Abdullah talked for two hours. At one point, the Crown Prince handed Bush the photographs of the dead Palestinian children. Do you think it's right? he asked. Bush appeared surprised by the photographs and his eyes seemed to well up. One person familiar with the conversation summarized Bush's comments: "I want peace. I don't want to see any people killed on both sides. I think God loves me. I think God loves the Palestinians. I think God loves the Israelis. We cannot allow this to continue." At one point, Bush told Abdullah that he believed Muslims and Israelis were all God's children and that God didn't want to see children from either side die. The meeting ended with both leaders promising to deliver the other side: Abdullah pledged to rein in Arafat and Bush to rein in Sharon.

Someone suggested a break for lunch. Before beginning to eat, Bush bowed his head and reached for Saud's hand. "Let us pray," he said. A look of panic came over the Crown Prince, who was unfamiliar with the Christian custom of saying grace before meals. "What is he doing?" he whispered to an aide sitting nearby. "What should I do?" Powell also looked stricken, as if he couldn't believe what Bush was saying in front of his Muslim guests.

Update: Predictably, some people have been dismayed by my religious bigotry. Fine, pray to your little statuette or whatever it is to smite me down. But I don't want my hatred of cretinous zealots to get in the way of the larger point, thus:

The point of posting this wasn't the so-called cheap shot of mocking Bush's idol-worship, though I am happy to do that; it was the utter foreign-policy incompetence of the adminstration. That is the litany of stupidity to which I referred. The part that I quoted gives two other examples of this -- the retarded fax Cheney sent to Bandar and Bush's unawareness that Palestinians are dying. No wonder he sleeps so well. The article details many comical fuckups along the way to alienating our fanatical friends on the peninsula. People don't seem to understand that everybody wants to get rid of Saddam [partially because he is not sufficiently fanatical], but the administration's incompetence has prevented them from helping us even covertly.

Full disclosure: "Abdullah later told others that he had been impressed with the seriousness of Bush's religious convictions." You can interpret that however you want.

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