“Far More Complex” (Updated)

I’ve been trying to steer clear of newsy items because I doubt anyone comes here for news. But I try to give President Bush credit when he does something well because I don’t want to be written off as a knee-jerk Bush-basher. (Just to be clear, it’s the “knee-jerk” part that’s the problem.)

I did not watch the President’s speech on his veto of the “emergency” funding bill for “Iraq,” but when I read the transcript a couple of points impressed me. I thought the President was uncharacteristically nuanced in his assessment of the current situation and the overall mission in Iraq:

Al Qaida’s role makes the conflict in Iraq far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis. It’s true that not everyone taking innocent life in Iraq wants to attack America here at home. But many do.

Many also belong to the same terrorist network that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, and wants to attack us here at home again.

We saw the death and destruction Al Qaida inflicted on our people when they were permitted a safe haven in Afghanistan. For the security of the American people, we must not allow Al Qaida to establish a new safe haven in Iraq.

(My italics.) As a description of the current situation, this is a long way from an apology for painting us into this corner, but it is also a long way from “mission accomplished.” To say that the situation is “far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis” is implicitly to concede that it is largely a fight between Iraqis, albeit with certain elements that make it “far more complex” than that. The White House used to be allergic to the phrase “civil war,” and the objections to that description of the situation often seemed to me to betray a fundamental unwillingness to face facts. What elements? Well, “many” in Iraq — presumably al Qaida — would like to attack us here at home even if we were not fighting them there. “Many,” but “not everyone.” Some of the people taking innocent life in Iraq would leave us alone if we left. This begins to sound like something that can be discussed without any accusations of treason on the one hand or blood-for-oil tyranny on the other.

Similarly, as a statement about our goals in Iraq, the argument that “we must not allow Al Qaida to establish a new safe haven in Iraq” is a long way from all that Wilsonian stuff about democracy in the Middle East, or even from “stay the course.” The implication, at least, used to be that Hussein had already provided a safe haven for al Qaida in Iraq; that Iraq bore in some measure the sort of vicarious responsibility for 9/11 that Afghanistan bore. The more modest claim that Iraq must not be permitted to become a new safe haven for al Qaida is a more powerful argument, even if it conveniently abstracts from the question of whether it is our military intervention that has created the problem.

I also found this part of the speech interesting:

The Democratic leaders know that many in Congress disagree with their approach and that there are not enough votes to override the veto. I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They’ve sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need.

Some of this, to be sure, is a slap at antiwar Democrats for playing “politics,” as if they were alone in that respect. Perhaps the whole thing came off that way live. But on the printed page, just as “far more complex than a simple fight between Iraqis” implicitly concedes that civil war is the closest analogy, the vote-counting statements above implicitly concede that the President is now in the minority and can continue to prosecute the war only because he retains at least 33% support: “there are not enough votes to override the veto.” “They’ve sent their message,” says the President. I would have preferred, “I hear their message.” But I am encouraged to find at least some textual evidence that he does hear it, whether he says so or not.

All of this made me a little surprised to see commentary this morning suggesting unfavorable conditions for compromise. On paper, at least, it looks to me like the path is clear for President Bush to get his funding without a timetable, and for the Democrats (and antiwar independents) to get their withdrawal without a timetable as well.

UPDATE:  A friend wrote to commend me on my “hermeneutical generosity.”  It occurs to me that hermeneutical generosity is something this blog should encourage, so I’m adding it as a category for future posts that try to put the most agreeable interpretation on the words of someone with whom the writer fundamentally disagrees.  I hope that definition of the phrase doesn’t cost me my commendation.

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6 Responses to ““Far More Complex” (Updated)”

  1. Timothy Peach Says:

    Granulous — this is coming from a man who is, of course, hermeneutically challenged, but I cannot resist the temptation to ask you this: are there any simple issues?

    For instance, when you go to a restaurant and the waiter asks you if you’d like tap water or sparkling water, do you just pick one, or is the waiter treated to a 20-minute review of the history of bottled water, some interesting asides regarding the idiosyncrasies of mineral content vis-a-vis geography, and the potential impact of different qualities of glass on the flavor of the water, as well as some vague but unexplored concerns about the rising proportion of deuterium in domestic water that you have every reason to believe is the combined result of global warming and the building of just too darn many golf courses.

    I’m having a really tough time believing that Bush’s speech is that pregnant with meaning. Can’t we just get a little bit pregnant sometimes?

  2. David Fitzgerald Says:

    While I agree that President Bush is likely nowhere near as subtle as Grannis gives him credit for (I used to think his advisors MUST be, I know better now), Mark has tried to do what this administration and Congress have forgotten how to do, find the points of possible agreement and move forward from there. It’s called governing and, sadly, is a lost art.

  3. Rob Gittings Says:

    This thread sparks me to mention an article that was on the NYT OP-ED page (“Obama, Gospel and Verse” by David Brooks) on April 26 about which, if I was unemployed like Mark Grannis and could read and write all day, could have been the basis for a real post (. (WHAT? He has a JOB?) Anyway, it turns out that Barrack Obama is a big fan of the work of the philosoper Reinhold Neibhur. Obama seems to have woven some of Neibhur’s wonderings about the persistence of evil in the world and the ability of mankind to balance good and evil into his nascent foreign policy views. While Mark may be correct in noting that the Bush foreign policy may be becoming more “subtle” (there was even more progress this week as it seems Condaleeza Rice had a Slurpee this week with the Foreign Minister from Iran – it’s a start!), the current administration’s foreign policy is still not based on a core set of beliefs that have any consistent and/or pragmatic basis.

    One more thought on something in that that same day’s NYT (and apropos to Mr. Fitzgerald’s post above). In an unrelated editorial on the other side of the page, there was the line “True safety lies in the civility of society…”. While this sentence fragment appeared in the context of the gun control debate, one could make the case that it applies to our foreign policy as well. Should we choose to look for “points of possible agreement and move forward from there” in evaluating and promoting our foreign policy – “governing”, is what I belive Mr. Fitzgerald says it used to be called – one can’t but think of the power that would give us in dealing with both our friends and our enemies around the world.

  4. Timothy Peach Says:

    David — you are absolutely right that good governance requires subtlety and generosity of interpretation, working harder to find common ground than to irritate nodes of contention. I don’t think Granulous is trying to be generous to Bush, but is trying to take a somewhat faux “high road” rather than just bashing him, because he knows this will turn off conservative readers just like I turned off all the liberal readers with my abortion tirade. It’s not about being exactly right, it’s about managing language to maximize total audience attention span. “Hermeneutical generosity” is really just the practical approach.

    I think what Bush is really trying to do is to dwell as little as possible on the mess he made in the living room and just talk about how important it is that we stick to cleaning it up before Mom gets back. There is little nuance to this, I think — it’s just more evidence of his childish inability to acknowledge mistakes. Bush is right about what has to happen now in Iraq (viz. we can’t leave), even though he’s the guy most directly to blame for the mess level there now.

    Hubris more than anything has created this deeply flawed presidency.

  5. Tim Naughton Says:

    As a former client, I assure Rob Gittings that Mark does, indeed, have a day job. (There, perhaps as here, we worked to fight a losing battle for cogency in what was sadly, mostly, the arena of politics. Not surprising anyone, cogency lost. But, we took our shot.) I am guessing, however, that he has a “hiptop” laptop, that permits him to chip away herein, no matter where he is. I hesitate to speculate further on his time management.

  6. The Academic Calendar, Open Mic Night, and Right-Thinking People « Reasonable Minds Says:

    […] been a quiet week, and not just in Lake Wobegon. Part of the reason is that, notwithstanding irresponsible speculation to the contrary, I do have a job. But it’s not just me: Fitz and Wendy are quiet as well, and the Anchoress […]


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