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President Bush’s passionate intensity

John Infranca | Friday, September 26, 2003

President George Bush knows he’s beatable. Sure, Karl Rove might think Howard Dean offers a chance to make Bush’s claims to being a moderate seem less absurd than they are. But Bush’s hollow flight suit and the man who holds his brain might soon begin to shake uncontrollably. And controlling his message and manipulating public opinion is all that this president ever had going for him.Last week Bush finally explicitly stated that he and his administration have no evidence Iraq was involved with the events of Sept. 11. While this would appear to be a concession of having misled the American public, Bush and company, having orchestrated a slow change in the party line, made this seem like nothing new. This despite recent polls showing that approximately 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was behind Sept. 11. What in the world might have made them come to that conclusion? Perhaps George Bush. In his State of the Union address this past year Bush declared “Before Sept. the 11, many in the world believed Saddam Hussein could be contained.” Then, when he landed on the aircraft carrier to prematurely celebrate the end of the war, “The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on Sept. the 11, 2001.” Sept. 11 has of course been this president’s rationale for most of his actions over the past two years. It is wearing thin. The question is whether Bush’s political opponents can turn the central focus of his reelection campaign into his biggest weakness. A weakness predicated on deception, arrogance and opportunistic exploitation. This past Tuesday, in his address to the United Nations, Bush began, like the writer of a Greek epic, by once again evoking Sept. 11: ‘”Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, 24 months ago, and yesterday in the memory of America, the center of New York City became a battlefield and a graveyard and the symbol of an unfinished war.”So began his request for increased assistance from the international community.Suddenly it seems like the United Nations has regained relevance. Just a year ago Bush suggested the U.N.’s failure to draft a resolution in support of war with Iraq and to then commit troops to that endeavor would cause the international organization to lose credibility. Now, as the war in Iraq stumbles on many months after the end of “major combat” it seems the United Nations has suddenly found a purpose.This should not surprise us. The United Nations is Bush’s life preserver, it offers the possibility of legitimizing a reconstruction effort that, by all accounts, was poorly planned and based on inaccurate assumptions regarding the postwar situation. Yet Bush’s speech before the United Nations, while conceding the importance of a larger United Nation’s role in the rebuilding of Iraq, still displayed strong evidence of the unilateral approach that defines his foreign policy. This approach will not work this time around. The United States may possess the military prowess to fight a war independently of the United Nations, but it does not, as has been clear from the past few months, possess the diplomatic and logistical abilities necessary to turn Iraq into a functioning, legitimate and peaceful Democracy. President Bush’s characteristic unwillingness to compromise cannot be reconciled with his desire for a greater international role. This is not a situation he knows what to do with. There is perhaps something admirable about George Bush’s relentless focus and unwillingness to compromise. Some might call his behavior courageous and characteristic of a man with integrity. Others might describe it as reckless and arrogant. I prefer to think of Bush’s behavior in light of Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming.” Yeats writes, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” Bush certainly possesses passionate intensity. That intensity, and the blindness it produces, might become his fatal flaw.Unfortunately Bush’s prospective opponents, for the most part, lack conviction.Their increased attacks on the administration for poor postwar planning, misleading Americans about the rationale for and cost of the war and a lack of respect for diplomacy sound rather hypocritical following months of silence leading up to this war. Bush has consciously focused on preventing the same scenario that led to his father’s single term presidency. Yet despite trying to control the variables the economy remains weak and Bush’s responses ineffective, the war in Iraq is looking less like the scenario Bush envisioned and serious questions are being asked about how in touch this President is with the American people (check out an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times). The potential is there to shake things up. The only thing lacking is an opponent with the conviction to convince the American public he or she can do better.

John Infranca is a graduate student in theology. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected] The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.