The Not-So-Quiet American
by Hunter (dailykos)
Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 04:00:43 PM CDT
Via Atrios, Frank James points out the seeming, um... oddness... of Bush citing the novel The Quiet American in his VFW speech, specifically the character Alden Pyle. Bush's quote:
In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
After America entered the Vietnam War, Graham Greene -- the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. Matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.
In the speech, Bush indeed argued that the primary lesson of Vietnam, the only lesson of Vietnam after three decades to think about it, was that we shouldn't have left.
Back in college, our school (like most) had a time-honored tradition of pranking. The quality of a good prank was judged not on causing damage or embarrassment to the (frequently innocent) victim, but on two things: raw creativity and seeming impossibility. Pranking was considered a medium of artistic expression and technical skill: the best pranks were those that seemed to defy all plausibility of success. Stealing a treasured campus artifact? Crass and boring. Somehow rigging the scoreboard of a nearby major football stadium in order to display the school name instead of the actual competitors? Brilliance defined.
And so the only conclusion I can come to, after hearing Bush's "Vietnam" speech, is that it was an elaborate prank. Some Democrat somewhere hacked into the teleprompter and inserted a speech just barely plausible enough that Bush would actually read it, but otherwise nonsensical enough to make anyone with a shred of foreign policy sense, literary sense or -- what the hell, let's go for the lowest denominator here, any knowledge or memory of the Vietnam war whatsoever -- wonder if the president hadn't gone off his nut.
That must be it, because the only other conclusion is that the White House really intended the President to evoke one of the more notable American dimwits in literature in a speech justifying his own "trouble" caused. That he'd intended to evoke further dimwittedness by apparently misreading the entire point of the novel. That after resisting the comparisons to Vietnam for years, he would now willingly equate the two as quagmires, just as breezy passing point on the way to another assertion of his own confidence.
And that, in the entire speechwriting process of the White House, the only actual message any of the involved parties took from Vietnam is that we would have won, if it weren't for all those pesky congressmen, senators, foreign policy analysts, statesmen, military experts, soldiers and citizens that made us leave just before we could have really turned things around via some unknown and unspecified strategy. I've often heard that premise used to discredit conservatism -- the accusation that, after all this time, they are so hidebound and gullible that they really do believe that Vietnam was a grand and noble effort on the verge of winning, before it was sabotaged by the implicit cowardice of the American people -- but it's not often you hear it coming from the president's own lips. From the mouth of an American president, it is creepy and alarming, and smacks of delusion.
Bush correctly recognizes that the price of failure in Iraq will be high. And yet, at the same time, he has been categorically unwilling to do what is necessary to actually win. A supposed "surge" of 30,000 more troops cannot quell the unrest: perhaps a quarter million could provide the necessary stability and security. But to do that, he would have had to engage in either international diplomacy or an intranational military draft, and neither of those two steps, even though they would have helped win what the president sees as the defining world struggle of our times, were considered politically palatable.
The White House chose to staff the Baghdad-based government with hundreds of inexperienced die-hard conservatives with no actual knowledge of the country or infrastructures they were governing, even though it presumably knew a rapid and competent rebuilding of the Iraqi nation was absolutely vital for any chance of stability. But instead the White House chose years of cronyism and partisan loyalty over nonpartisan expertise and experience, because critical efforts to win the defining world struggle of our times were considered less important than promoting those partisan ideological economic experiments and fiefdoms.
The White House chose at the beginning of the war to move troops from Afghanistan into Iraq, launching a second supposed front to their anti-terrorism efforts while the bin Laden trail was still fresh. Bush is insistent that the only way to lose a war is to leave, and yet he managed to apply exactly that strategy to the actual war on terrorists themselves: attack with vigor, maintain the ongoing effort with insufficient forces, then leave. The special forces actively hunting bin Laden were needed elsewhere because a war with Iraq could not wait even another six meager months: winning Bush's defining world struggle of our times was indeed more important than winning the war with the people who attacked our nation. Abstract ideological goals took center stage -- and the lion's share of presidential attention and of troops on the ground -- over the more concrete military and security needs of the actual fight against actual terrorists.
In short, Bush correctly recognizes the price of failure, but that has not stopped him from, at every turn, playing politics with his own chosen war. The military has done what the military was tasked to do -- remove Hussein from power, and remove Iraq's military capabilities. Everything else has been on the administration to do, and that "everything else" has turned out to be a partisan fiasco wrapped in a ideological quagmire and sculpted into an incompetent clusterf*ck. There is apparently not one major neoconservative within the wide span of Bush's ideological wings, not one within an entire movement dedicated to the premise that they know how the world works and how nations should be run that can accomplish, on the real world stage, one damn thing of note.
Alden Pyle has indeed lost his war, and he lost it by entering it, and by not understanding what he was entering into, and not sufficiently even caring. He lost it when his attention became distracted from actual terrorism by vivid dreams of a new world order that needed only a few rifle shots to point it in the right direction. We have seldom known a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.
And in this case, even that is being generous.