The fundamental problem with the Bush Administration is that it appears to be working from the position that being right excuses being incompetent. This presents two problems. First, when it happens that the administration is right, as it is in wanting Saddam removed at the earliest available opportunity, it blunders about being right in such a way that others would prefer to be wrong rather than to be in its company.
We like to think the peasant revolt currently underway at the UN is simply a matter of formerly-significant states trying to stack up on top of each other, Transformer-like, to create a single powerful-but-evanescent entity to thwart the US for fun and future Iraqi oil revenues. But it has just as much to do with an absolute distaste for Dubya and his administration’s methods. Let’s be honest enough with ourselves to admit it takes a special kind of stupid to drive otherwise largely rational allies to prefer to be seen to side with a gleefully genocidal murderer than with you. I fear for the fact that the Bush administration wants to promote the development of hydrogen engines; if it goes about promoting the program like it’s handling Iraq, we’ll be stuck sucking oil out of the Arabian peninsula for another three centuries.
The second problem is that when the administration thinks it is right but is not (a condition that encompasses roughly every other aspect of its thought-making process aside from the two mentioned above), we’re stuck with it being merely incompetent, and that’s no good for anyone. Bill Clinton was famously obsessed with his ranking among Presidents. I don’t suspect it will ultimately be especially high — as two termers go he’s right up there with Grover Cleveland — but he can take comfort in the fact that at this rate Dubya’s going to rank somewhere near Franklin Pierce, who as these things fall out was about as bad as you could be without being James Buchanan.
This is, of course, a tremendously depressing thing. It’s never an especially good time to have an incompetent rubbing against the furnishings of the Oval Office and marking it as his territory, but some times are better than others. Warren Harding was a monumentally bad President, but he was also President during a time when he (or his thieving cronies, which is more to the point) couldn’t do a tremendous amount of lasting damage.
Alas, today is not one of those times, and in any event Dubya and his pals aren’t the sort to be content with mere graft. They’re not crooks (though they like their stock options), they’re ideologues with a deep and abiding moral clarity, both economic and religious, that’s dreadfully inconvenient to those of us who prefer that moral clarity not trim away our budget surpluses or, come to think of it, so many of the basic freedoms afforded to us in the Constitution. Bush’s administration would never be good one, but I wish we lived in a time where it could at least be harmless. This isn’t that time.
I’ve never been a fan of this administration. I don’t doubt Dubya’s a nice man and not traditionally what one describes as stupid, but his thought processes are shallow and stagnant, like week-old water in a unused kiddie pool. It’s painful to watch the members of his administration with the capacity for subtle thought twist themselves like pretzels either to get him to comprehend the world’s complexities, or to explain their bosses’ clear but tragically uncomplicated positions to a world that understands that clarity of moral vision doesn’t always mean you’re looking at the right thing. It’s hard to generate a head of enthusiasm about that sort of thing, even to mock it.
Be that as it may, it is my government. When I agree with it, I want it to succeed. When I disagree with it, I at least want to get the feeling that even if I disagree, some thought went into the government’s opposing position. The tragedy of the Bush administration is that it provides neither of these. Its total incompetence means that it fails when it’s right, and it fails when it’s wrong. The best you can say about Dubya and his people is that at least they’re consistent.