The Bush administration and its supporters are widely perceived as incompetent.
Actually, they are very competent. But that competence is limited to furthering their own secret agenda, an agenda that seldom coincides with the national interest and is most often at odds with it. What's more, like the legendary crazy fox, they actively encourage the misperception of incompetence; it gives them cover for what they're really up to.
Could an "incompetent" administration have gotten itself in power twice, enabled the election of a rubber-stamp Congress and increased its margin of power three times (so far)? Start two major wars, one with lies and waged contrary to expert military recommendations? Engineer passage of massive tax cuts — during wartime — and other welfare for the rich programs? Get other controversial legislation passed, like a Medicare drug bill written by and for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, the Patriot Act, and Orwellian-titled laws like the Clear Skies Act that achieve the opposite effect? Gut provisions of environmental and other basic protection laws by placing industry leaders to head the regulatory agencies? Perpetuate their policies by getting far-right Supreme Court justices and lower federal court judges confirmed?
The list can go on and on, but all of their very real accomplishments required great skill and dedication; all have or will be detrimental to the nation.
But selling the war in Iraq is — so far — the ultimate example of their supreme competence in furthering their own agenda, while causing grave harm to the nation.
They were obsessed with this war even before taking office, and were prepared to do whatever it took to achieve it. Sept. 11 was their opportunity and they seized it. But they needed to sell it to a skeptical Congress and public, and quickly; the U.N. inspectors were on the verge of announcing that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and the anti-war movement was fast gaining momentum; every day's delay further jeopardized their war.
Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida were the most logical selling points. But they needed more; they also had to convince the public and Congress that it would be easy, quick and cheap. Hence the talk about our invincible military enjoying a cakewalk, our troops welcomed as liberators, lowball costs to be paid out of Iraqi oil revenues, etc.
Those lies were their competence, not incompetence, at work; they were the only way to meet their goal: starting the war. But they also made it necessary to attack prematurely, with inadequate planning, troop levels, training and equipment, dooming it to failure from the beginning.
When Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki and other military experts argued that at least 300,000 troops would be needed, not for military victory but to maintain stability in Iraq afterward, they had to be squelched — not because they were wrong but because deploying that number of troops would not only have delayed the start of the war; it would have raised serious questions about how easy, quick and cheap it would be, and about the welcome our troops could expect from the defeated Iraqis.
The State Department had spent a year preparing detailed plans for the aftermath of military victory, its Future of Iraq Project. Dealing with the predictable aftermath of military victory was also a significant part of contingency war plans against Iraq prepared by the military since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Both plans were ignored; to even acknowledge either would have raised serious questions about the war's feasibility.
Any honest prewar assessment of the costs, risks and benefits of the war would also have raised serious doubts about its feasibility, so none was ever made. Besides, only wimps do such things.
They were extremely competent at getting the war they wanted. They just had no more concern for the consequences than a dog chasing a truck.
Not surprisingly, following an initial military victory that culminated on "Mission Accomplished" day, the initial mistakes, compounded by an utter unwillingness to govern wisely, led to a complete debacle, with literally everything turning out the opposite of what was intended.
Yet, as a further measure of their supreme competence and impotence of their opposition, they are still in charge, still fooling a sizable albeit shrinking segment of Congress and the public into accepting their sorry-about-that response: We might have misjudged the difficulty, but "stuff happens" in war and no one could have anticipated the resulting problems; but the war in Iraq was necessary to fight terrorism; we must "stay the course" until "victory" is achieved, and we're the only ones who can achieve it; but we need another Republican Congress to do it.
An incompetent administration would have been laughed out of existence, or impeached, long ago. And they still have their opposition believing they are incompetent.
Arthur Cannon lives and writes in Bath and considers himself an equal opportunity cynic. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2006 Times Record