Saturday, September 15, 2007
Grand Unification Theory
"And tonight, our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future and also threaten ours."
For a long time now, a certain "grand unification" trope has marked the rhetoric of George W. Bush. In Thursday night's address to the nation, it was in full force. For the president, two things that may in fact have little in common—say, strategic imperatives and abstract morality—are the same—indeed, unified!
What? You think protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks and engaging in regime-change and a long-term occupation of a foreign power don’t seem to be compatible? It all makes sense once you understand that our cold, Machiavellian calculus leads us to what we always knew was true in our heart!
Much of grand unification can be accomplished by simply defining national interest and "strategic imperatives" in the fuzziest and hokiest manner possible. The United States, as nanny to the world, must support all those "young democracies" among which Iraq is the one we really care about. This feels good, but it says nothing about the consequences of invading and upturning a country, even less about the kind of policies a country will pursue once its demos is given the vote.
More Bushian logic: we need a "free" Iraq because this will inherently be "good for America." What, you say that a free Iraq might decide that its interests are not the same—perhaps even opposed—to America’s? --Basta with the pessimism! Don’t you understand that democracy and American interests are one!
That such rhetoric and logic dominated Bush’s speech is evidence of a certain Gersonian legacy amongst current White House speech-writers. Michael Gerson was the mind behind Bush’s Second Inaugural and coined (or really likes to claim to have coined) much that is quintessentially Bushian—"compassionate conservatism," "tyranny of low expectation," and some more one-liners so maudlin I can’t bear to reproduce them here.
Saint Michael might have left the White House in 2006; however, his rhetorical tropes have remained. Indeed, Gersonian rhetoric seems indestructible: no matter how bad Iraq gets, no matter how little support Bush musters among the public, few in the White House seem capable of thinking outside the Gersonian box of grand unification. The man who wrote "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one," and "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands" could have penned Thursday night’s speech. The same cadences, the same sentimentality as a substitute for logic, it’s all still there.
For all the talk of a new strategy, the same two or three half-formed ideas are still swirling around inside George Bush’s head.