Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
On the Virtues of Changing the Mind
It is depressing for me to see George W. Bush on the stump doing a stand-up comedy routine about John Kerry, parroting the predictable line that Kerry has had more than one opinion about Iraq. Serious news reporters
who have gone back over the record find that Bush's charge is without merit, and that Kerry has been consistent on his Iraq position.
The thing that most worries me is not when a politician's thinking evolves on a subject and he changes his mind. It is when a politician refuses even to consider changing his mind. Such inflexibility is almost always a sign of rigidity, which can be catastrophic in the most powerful man in the world.
So Bush vowed not to retreat
Bush has been refusing to retreat, or even to reconsider, for a long time now. At a news conference in the spring, Bush was asked if he had made any errors, and he replied that he could not think of any. Yesterday he said he did not regret his "mission accomplished" speech
aboard an aircraft carrier on May 1, 2003, in which he declared the Iraq war over. Bush keeps saying that there are 100,000 fully trained Iraqi security personnel, and seems to think that there are hundreds of UN election workers on the ground in Iraq.
This kind of single-mindedness and refusal to even think about altering course reminds me of Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War.
It is indisputable that the Iraq situation is Fouled Up Beyond Repair, or FUBAR. The number of daily attacks has gone above 80. The Green Zone where the government offices are is taking mortar fire. Little of the country is actually under control, and it goes further out of control at the drop of a hat. Amarah was in full rebellion against the British in late August, forcing them to fire 100,000 rounds of ammunition in a major battle of which most Americans remain completely unaware. The country is witnessing a guerrilla war that is vast in geographical reach, such that the guerrillas struck British troops and National Guardsmen in the far southern city of Basra on Tuesday. Americans have little appreciation of geography, and still less of foreign geography, but let's put it this way. The guerrillas were battling in Fallujah and Basra on the same day. They are over 300 miles apart. This is like being able to strike in both Youngstown, Ohio and Baltimore, Md. on the same day. The guerrilla resistance is not small, or localized, or confined to only 3 provinces.
Many in the CIA have concluded that
"There's no obvious way to fix it. The best we can hope for is a semi-failed state hobbling along with terrorists and a succession of weak governments."
When you are deep in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging. Whatever Bush has been doing in Iraq for the past 18 months demonstrably has not worked. He desperately needs a change of mind on these policies. He needs to try something else.
The image of him giggling about Kerry changing his mind on Iraq takes on a chilling aspect when you think of him as Captain Joseph Hazelwood of the Exxon Valdez. Hazelwood told the helsman to steer right and then went to bed. The helsman didn't steer far enough right, and plowed into the Bligh Reef and disaster. Part of the reason was that corporate cost cutting had left the ship without radar. If you think about it, in fact, a wrecked oil tanker is a good image of Bush administration Iraq policy.
Bush should stop slapping his thigh and guffawing about that flipflopper Kerry and being to think seriously about changing his mind on some key policies himself. Otherwise, an Iraq as failed state could pose a supreme danger to the United States, the kind of danger that the Bligh Reef posed to the Exxon Valdez.