Marx tells us that history happens first as tragedy, and then a second time as farce. But he leaves us entirely at sea when it comes to the seventh or eighth time. So, really, what are we to make of the news that James A. Baker is leading an elder-statesman fact finding mission to Iraq to “generate new ideas on Iraq.”
Perhaps we need Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence more than Eighteenth Brumaire because, haven’t we been through this movie before?
Didn’t we do this back in like 2003? Baker was going to kick everything into shape on Iraqi debt forgiveness. Not quite sure whatever became of that.
The Times bandies about the comparison between this Baker mission and Lyndon Johnson’s calling back of Dean Acheson as he, Johnson, began to seriously question and eventually abandon his policy in Vietnam. The Times concedes that the analogy is “far from perfect.” But that seems like rather an understatement.
Johnson eventually halted the bombing of North Vietnam and announced he wouldn’t run for reelection. In effect, he resigned the presidency, though he remained to serve the remaining ten months of his constitutional term of office. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll ever see in American politics to an admission of failure followed by an intentional act of political self-immolation.
Does anyone imagine anything even remotely like that in the offing?
The president is stuck on telling us that Don Rumsfeld has done a bang up job as defense secretary.
And even with the rising chorus of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld’s ouster, isn’t this just displacement? Don Rumsfeld works for the president. This is the president’s administration in more than just the obvious, literal sense. These are his policies. It’s his denial, his indifference to the failure of his policies and the incompetence of his subordinates. As David Remnick put it recently in The New Yorker, the man in the Oval Office “does not much believe in science or, for that matter, in any information that disturbs his prejudices, his fantasies, or his sleep.”
The president is accountable, not just in the sense that the president is by definition accountable, but because these failures are his failures. They stem from his weaknesses — his inability to summon the courage to make tough decisions, his addiction to sycophants, his penchant for denial.
We’d be fools to expect any change when the president lacks the guts to recognize his failures let alone try to fix them.