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March 06, 2003

Incompetent

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.

Posted by john at March 6, 2003 05:09 PM

Comments

Kerry Luver | November 15, 2004 11:55 AM

Kerry Sucks and you would be in trouble if he was the President.

darren | December 12, 2004 03:02 PM

"Kerry Sucks and you would be in trouble if he was the President."

Now that is some very thoughtful, fact based, rational commentary there(/sarcasm).

Vanessa | September 24, 2005 03:44 PM

I love your site!
I live in a suburb of Nashville TN,
where it literally looks like "W"
country! The "w"'s on all the cars
go on for days. I am vehemently against dubya and cronies! What a mess has been made!
The truly sad part is this; our children and grandchildren will be the ones who try to clean it up. That is how far reaching some of this will be. For example; the Supreme Court justices, 2 will be appointed by dubya.
They will have decades to re-enforce this
administrations views and/or agendas.
Personally I would rather have a pres that smokes "soggy" cigars and likes blue!(wink)
Clean air, poverty, equal rights and the constitution, all are in danger from these money hounds. Government is a dangerous game when played blindfolded like Russian roulette.
What disturbs me the deepest, is the fact that John Q. Public either does not see,
or does not care about the long road of disaster we are being led down.
Pray for us all~

Kevin Sullivan | November 29, 2005 11:12 AM

I hope that you took out your bitching license by voting in the last election. It has always amazed me how so many of our fellow citizens fail to vote.

It is my hope, that the positions that I support can win on their merits and not just because I find them attractive. (Although having your positions carry can be encouraging.)

What most concerns me today about our election process is that the public needs to be engaged enough, to vote at all! After the elections, we can all complain about the other guy's candidate (if elected) for his/her failures. If by chance, your own choice fails to live up to your expectations by voting your bitching license was renewed for another term.

Re: Your book OMW, I enjoyed the story fully. I think that reviewers who spend too much time dwelling on RAH's contributions to SF in general (and to anyone who writes SF today) may be missing what is your own to add. Personally, I don't miss RAH's preoccupation with sexual variation and quasi-libertarian preaching in some of his later novels.

John Scalzi | November 29, 2005 11:29 AM

Kevin Sullivan:

"I hope that you took out your bitching license by voting in the last election. It has always amazed me how so many of our fellow citizens fail to vote."

No worries about that here. I vote whenever I can.

Glad you liked OMW!

MN | December 30, 2005 04:37 PM

I just came across your website by typing in the words "being 36." I will be - gulp - 36 in a few days. Don't know why the heck I am all that down about it. It's always this way when the birthday rolls around. Life is short and i do believe there's more to come! okay, four comments.

1) You sure write a lot and keep busy. Good for you.
2) The snow scenes are breathtaking. Are these pictures you took cause they came out great.
3) I didn't know how men loved their Nintendos and video games until i got married. They are like second wives. There's got to be a Nintendo wedding band floating around somewhere...
4) Also, recliners are good, flab is bad! My father in laws eats, sleeps, watches tv and entertains guests all from his recliner. Geez.
I may check in now and then...until then, good luck and happy 36th:)

Rick W | May 17, 2006 02:59 PM

Scandoo search brought me here.

I read OMW, and was pleasantly surprised to find I loved it.

It's been a while since I could say that about a book. Fresh with just enough of RAH to make me feel at home on the first page.

I searched to find others you have written. Very pleased to see the Ghost Brigade available on the shelf. I'll be buying it today and will likely read in in 2 days like OMW.

36 isn't so bad. In fact it could be your perfect time of life. Daughter a pre-teen (mine's 13 going on an impossible 20), enough life experience to be taken seriously without half trying, and time enough for life. (sorry for the RAH parapharse) :)

Cheers and I look forward to more. Get back to work.

Rick

Ned B | September 13, 2006 03:52 PM

I mostly agree with you about Dubya, but I think you are going too easy on him. He actually isn't a very nice man (check out the article on the Karla Faye Tucker case in the New York Review of Books, Jan 13, 2005 -- since you don't want hyperlinks I will send you a link if you write me back).

And when you say he isn't a crook ..., well, what is a crook? Someone who breaks the law? Suppose someone breaks a law, but subsequently claims that the law was unconstitutional and challenges it in court. Is that person a crook? Does it depend on whether the court agrees with him? Most people would argue that the strictly legal course of action is to petition the court to decide on the legality of the law before going ahead and breaking it. Or to try to get congress to change the law, again before breaking it. In my book, someone who does neither of these things, but goes ahead and breaks the law, and tries to keep it a secret, and only when he's finally exposed by a newspaper does he argue that the law is a bad one, is a crook.

Ned B | September 13, 2006 03:56 PM

I mostly agree with you about Dubya, but I think you are going too easy on him. He actually isn't a very nice man (check out the article on the Karla Faye Tucker case by Sister Helen Prejean in the New York Review of Books, Jan 13, 2005 -- since you don't want hyperlinks I will send you a link if you write me back).

And when you say he isn't a crook ..., well, what is a crook? Someone who breaks the law? Suppose someone breaks a law, but subsequently claims that the law was unconstitutional and challenges it in court. Is that person a crook? Does it depend on whether the court agrees with him? Most people would argue that the strictly legal course of action is to petition the court to decide on the legality of the law before going ahead and breaking it. Or to try to get congress to change the law, again before breaking it. In my book, someone who does neither of these things, but goes ahead and breaks the law, and tries to keep it a secret, and only when he's finally exposed by a newspaper does he argue that the law is a bad one, is a crook.

Guy Richards | January 25, 2007 11:30 PM

John, I just finished your first book and would like to compliment you on it's free flowing narritive, interesting story line, character development and predictive elements. I liked it a lot and look forward to reading your other books. Well done.

As to your treatise above on Dubya I can see that you are not the typical irrational rabid Bush hater liberal and therefore it is worth while to engage in a civil debate on the topic.

First your contention that the Bush adminstration is imcompetent is I believe too general to be self supportive and smacks of shallow cocktail party mutual admiration conversation.

Take the economy for example. When Dubya took over the business cycle was coming to an end. The ten year low oil price reward we got for saving Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was ending and the ten year information technology expansion bubble had burst and we were sliding into recession. Dubya put together a package of tax reductions, job incentives, prime rate reductions, a focus on small business' and deficit spending that turned things around in less than two years. Quite an accomplishment. Oh, that deficit spending thing bothers you? Lyndon Johnson called it "priming the pump". It is in fact a legitimate way to increase the velocity of money in the economy and increase economic growth and stall a recession in times of low inflation. And those wonderfull surpluses that were such a political grabbag were bound to disappear with the recession and Katrina and 9/11 and Afganistan and Enron and the war in Iraq.

Speaking of Katrina I have to agree on incompetence at every level including the Bush adminstration. However the incompetence varies at the National, state and city levels. At the National level it is impossible to be fully prepared for the next greatest disaster. By definition the "greatest disaster" exceeds the previous disaster which was used as the model for preparing for the next disaster. The last greatest disaster was the hurricane that destroyed Galviston in the early part of the century. If you want to see imcompetence read about that one.

Nevertheless FEMA was supposed to be prepared for this and they were not and did not act as fast as they should so the blame must fall on Dubya for that. Dubya did however personally warn both the Governor and the Mayor in plenty of time and did alert FEMA as well so that they could take steps to mitigate the damage and loss of life.

The governor refused federal aid and the national guard but was unable to make decisions on what to do. A clear failure of leadership at a critical time. The mayor fled the city fearfull of his own life leaving the city police, fire departments and emergency responders on their own without instructions except to abandon ship and every man for himself. He should have been indited for criminal neglegence rather than being re-elected.

In hind sight much blame must also fall on the Army Corps of Engineers who failed to use the proper fill materials to be overtopping resistant and the City politicians who spent the federal monies appropriated for levie improvements on something else.

As to 9/11 much has been said about the failure of intelligence in preventing it. The simple fact is that neither the Bush #1 nor Clinton nor Bush #2 administrations recognized the need to defocus our intelligence agencies from the now defunct Soviet Union and sharpen our focus on other areas of the world that posed emerging threats. The 9/11 terrorists were successful because they realized that they could be if they were willing to die to accomplish their goal. That single innovation bypassed all the inplace hijacking procedures which were designed to negotiate with the hijackers. Dubya's response was, notwithstanding the minutes spent in the gradeschool adjusting to the shock, decisive and presidential. The Afganistan campaign was well planned and executed despite the various pundits and talking heads warning of impending doom for our inadequate number troops and no allied participation. There was not only an adequate number of troops but they performed brilliantly. We had allies but not France or Germany or Russia who were hopelessly compromised we find after the fact by high level governmental participation in the Iraqi Oil for Food scandal. Jacque's chief of staff for instance.

Enron was a financial and business disaster. It spoke to the worst in executive management behavior and fulfilled the expectations of all those who hate and fear big business. Lay and Skilling were crooks and they were dealt with as crooks should be, by going to jail. To me it was an important reminder to all executive management that just because you are at the top of your game and making millions of dollars doesn't mean you can break the law. You are not gods. Just as certain professional athletes need reminding so do all highly successful performers in our society need to be reminded as were conquering heros of ancient Rome reminded on entering the capital by a slave riding on their chariot whispering in their ear "thou art only mortal". Anyway, jail they deserve and to jail they go. Except Lay who cheated the hangman by dieing.

Iraq. The middle east has been a region of strife and contention for five thousand years because it stood astride the major southern east-west trade route. When oil was discovered and the world switched to an oil based economy it became strategically important and the major colonial powers decided that it was in their best interests to own it. That is still the case today despite the success the region has had in gaining it's self governance. The great powers still are competing for economic and political dominace over the oil. They have to.

It is my belief that after 9/11 Dubya saw an opportunity to change the basic equation in the middle east from one of dictitorial sattraps to one of democratic governments that would compete economically as well as getting rid of Saddam Hussein who was again going out of control with the expiration of the sanctions program.

It was and is a noble goal and effort in an historically intractable region that will only increase in strategic importance as we move to higher and higher prices for oil.

The carefully planned lead up to the war in the UN could have been stopped if our WWII allies and particularly France had not been telling Saddam that the US was not going to invade because they would block it in the UN. Had they not been hopelessly compromised in the oil for food program and banded with the US the invasion would not have taken place and we would still have a buffer against the Persian radical islamists (Iran).

But they didn't band with us and we did invade with the allies we had. It was again a brilliantly planned and executed military campaign. The M1 tank stroll down mainstreet to downtown Bagdad ranks with the most daring exploints of George Patton and third army in WWII. This was despite the dire warnings of pundits, newscasters and retired brass that there were not enough troops to do the job. Tommy Franks deserves a lot of credit. Rumsfeld also was right in setting the objectives and in the force structuring. The new light mobile concept worked. The American millitary showed itself to be not only the finest in the world but light years ahead of any of the worlds militaries. It basically sent a message to the generals of the world friend and foe alike that you are all hopelessly outclassed. They are all now trying to catch up.

All that being said you might well ask if we were so successful why are we in the mess we are in now? Good question. Where did we go wrong? Was it in disbanding the Iraqi army. No. Leaving it in place would have left the Bathist army commanders as the only power in the country with a high probability of a millitary dictator taking over. Was it in assuming that the Iraqi people would greet us as liberators? No, they did greet us as liberators. Pulling down statues and dancing in the streets. Was it assuming that the basic civil infrastructure would be in and stay in place to furnish goods and services? Yup. That's one of the mistakes. They were Bathists and had to go and there was no reservoir of trained Iraqi's or Americans ready to step in to keep the trains running. Was it underestimating the ability of Al Qaida to foment mistrust and rebellion against the occupiers? Yup. That's another one. Was it underestimating the ability of Iran and Syria to do the same type of disruption and also foment trouble in other areas? Yup. That's another one. Did we rely on expatriate Iraqi's advice too much on what to do and what conditions would be like? Yup. That's one too.
Have we been too niave in believing that all the people in the world yearn to be free and will accept democracy as the best way of governance. Yup. That's one too.

Who among us though foresaw all this and made their case pursuasively and cogently to the decision makers? A few perhaps but not as many who now claim precience and call for blame on those who were and are willing to take a risk for a great change and a noble goal. Certainly not congress who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the war.

Your next question of course is what do we do now? Give Dubya and Patreas their chance and then make a slow withdrawal, perhaps leaving some quick response troops in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.
Leaving without victory will not mean the collapse of the US as a world power. It will mean that the price for the next battle will go up significantly. The treasure and loss of life will seem trivial by comparison. The challenge will not come militarily in a conventional sense. It will come from kamakazi Islamic militants.

So then, how will Dubya be remembered by history? I think it will judge him more kindly than you think. I think it will give him credit for handling some truely difficult problems well during a time when there were an unusual abundance of such problems. A man who had the personal courage, fortitude and idealogical character to do what he thought was right for our country and our people's best interest.

But that's just one man's opinion. Keep those stories coming John.

Best regards,


Guy


Ray Hoover | March 12, 2007 07:48 PM

John,

First and foremost, I just finished OMW (enjoyed it so much I read it twice) and will be going out and showing my support for your work in the old fashioned way... buying your books. I am very happy to find an author who's writing I enjoy so much, and who should have a good long career (more books for ME!!!).



On your thoughts about President Bush. I have to say that I think Guy Richards nailed it, and I agree with him completely. He was able to verbalize, far better than I, many of the things I like about this President.

I would like to add, that as a Veteran, I appreciate the genuine feelings that President Bush shows for those who put themselves in harms way for their Country. I have the great honor of knowing a couple here in Georgia, Jan and Joe Johnson, who lost a son, SPC Justin Johnson, in Iraq, and they have described their meetings with the President. They describe a man who is far from the calculating greedy oil hog the far left likes to paint as the new Hitler. A man who is truly moved and saddened by the loss of any of our troops, and a man of deep and abiding convictions and faith. Does all this mean I agree with this administration all the time? No, but I think the "Bush Bashing" that has become so stylish with the left is getting ridiculous and counterproductive. I'd rather have a President who may mangle the language occasionally to one who can glibly lie through his teeth and is so shallow he has to fake sadness for the cameras at the funeral of one of his own Cabinet members.



But, hey... this is America. We can disagree on things here and still get along.(unless it's about global warming... then it's the Green way or the... uh, well they don't want you to take the highway, so I guess it's JUST the Green way)

I'm looking forward to reading your other books, and I look forward to any future works you may write.

Ray

Ray Hoover | March 12, 2007 07:50 PM

No idea why my fonts are different half way through my post. God, I love computers... (of course, I like fiberglass underwear too )

Trevor | April 24, 2007 12:14 PM

Can we blame bad memes? Very intelligent post. How did you figure out so much about the President? I had to work for him to "get it" 1/10th as well as it seems you do.

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