May 26, 2008

Bush as a Native contrary

The Contrarian Nature of George W. BushLet's play a game. If George Bush was a character in the 1970 classic Western, Little Big Man, who would he be?

The obvious answer would of course be General George Armstrong Custer. Like our president, his character combines a sublime arrogance, a juvenile sense of the heroic, and sheer forehead-slapping stupidity in a manner that can only be described as gifted. And, employing these traits to their fullest, he also leads his troops into an unmitigated catastrophe. But that's too easy. Come on, play the game.
The author's answer:[R]ecent events have led me to choose one of the movie's lesser characters--Younger Bear, Little Big Man's nemesis within the Cheyenne tribe. In the course of the movie, Younger Bear becomes a "contrary," a strange phenomenon in Native American plains culture who says and does the opposite of what he actually intends. He rides his horse facing the rear, says "hello" when he means "goodbye," washes in the dirt and dries off in the creek.

I came to this conclusion after Bush's recent speech in Israel, where he famously equated Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's willingness to hold talks with Iran with the appeasement of Adolf Hitler prior to World War II. Pretty inflammatory rhetoric anywhere, but in front of the Knesset? Really over the top.

But it was the response of the Israelis themselves that clued me in. For no sooner had Bush's plane left the tarmac than they announced they were engaging in peace talks with arch-enemy Syria. They apparently learned their lesson in 2006. At that time, the Bush administration egged them on in their fight with Hezbollah "terrorists" in Lebanon, and it went about as well for them as our invasion of Iraq has gone for us. Well, "never again" as the saying goes. Now they know--whatever Bush says, do the opposite.
Below:  Little Big Man and little man, period.


dmarks said...

I wonder, how do you negotiate with Iran? It's #1 foreign policy goal is genocide against Israel: complete elimination of a nation. Do we meet them half-way, and let them kill off only half of the Israelis? Or will they be satisfied if we let them kill off 20%.... let's say 700,000 Israeli Jews?

Not that Obama says he would do this or even intends to.

Rob said...

I think you've confused the ravings of Iran's President Ahmadinejad with its actual foreign policy. Here are the facts of the matter:

What is the role of Iran’s president in foreign relations?

Ahmadinejad has some influence over foreign policy—he appoints the cabinet and the head of the SNSC—but power remains mostly in the hands of the SNSC and the Supreme Leader. "[Ahmadinejad] is a small piece of the puzzle and can be influential on the fringes, but certainly not [by] steering Iranian foreign or nuclear policy," Sadjadpour says. Experts say Ahmadinejad's controversial statements calling for Israel's elimination should not be construed as official foreign policy. "He's sort of a bull in a china shop and neophyte in foreign affairs," says Samii. "He does not have great input on [Iranian] foreign policy. But he hasn't been president six months and he's managed to alienate most of the international community." Two days after his anti-Israel comments, Khamenei came out publicly to say Iran's official policy was one of nonaggression toward all members of the United Nations. "He made it very clear: enough of this talk," Sadjadpour says. Older generations in Iran, particularly centrists like Rafsanjani and former president Mohammed Khatami, have been particularly critical of Ahmadinejad's hard-line foreign policy, as well as his "wholesale replacement of state officials," says Samii.

How much influence does Iran’s Supreme Leader wield?

Sadjadpour says Khamenei plays a more influential role in Iranian foreign affairs now than at any point in his seventeen-year reign. According to Iran's constitution, the Supreme Leader serves as commander-in-chief of the armed and police forces; the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the state ministry in control of television and radio; and leader of the country's judiciary. Most important, "he's the person steering the Iranian nuclear ship," Sadjadpour says. "But if you look at his track record the last seventeen years, he's been someone who has wanted neither confrontation nor accommodation with the West." Sariolghalam likens Iran's stance to that of the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, saying, "[The policy] is not to provoke the United States nor intervene in Iraq but to maintain some degree of conflict." Khamenei, Samii says, also has the power to transfer authority to anyone or any office he deems necessary. The Supreme Leader also has representatives within all of Iran's governing bodies who report back to him.

Rob said...

And here are some postings on the asinine Bush/McCain "appeasement" talk:

President Bush and Sen. McCain have been tag-teaming Sen. Obama on his willingness to hold talks with Iran. Jamie Rubin pulls the tape of him calling for talks with Hamas a mere two years ago.

(ed.note: As Rubin makes clear in his OpEd, there's nothing unreasonable about McCain's position from two years ago. It's probably the right position. It just shows his campaign rhetoric today is dishonest posturing for political effect.)

This point is implicit in much of the current paranoid saber-rattling over the Middle East. But does John McCain really think that the threat posed by Iran is equal to that the United States faced from the Soviet Union--the world's greatest land military power, with a massive strategic nuclear capacity that carried on a multi-decade ideological struggle with the US? In his speech this morning, McCain adds all the caveats that Iran is not a superpower. But at bottom he still seems to see that it is a sign of foreign policy naivete to say that the threat we face from Iran today pales in comparison to that we faced from the Soviets.

Seems like a "threat" in this sense is really a function of two variables: the potency of the enemy *and* the ability to defend against that enemy's arsenal. (Potency - Defense = Threat.)

In that context, Obama is partially right. The Soviets had the ability to rain down warheads upon us and destroy multiple cities. However, we could counter with M.A.D., and at least we knew where the Soviet leader lived, so in the end, the potential danger was huge but the threat in terms of daily risk was significantly lower.

Meanwhile, from McCain's point of view, Iran is part of a larger, amorphous network of Dangerous Brown People Who Want Us Dead. And many key aspects of our defense against that (non-proliferation, capturing Bin Laden, avoiding Iraq-style quagmire, etc.) are sorely lacking. So in this sense, McCain may truly believe that Iran is part of a more serious day-to-day threat.

Of course, that reality would be due in large part to profound failures in policy and judgment that McCain has endorsed for a few years, but I guess he's hoping he can gloss over that with the tough talk. The Iranians and the Soviets could only wish(ed) they could use any weapon as effectively as the GOP has used fear over the past six years.