Saturday, January 17, 2009

Greg Sheridan, Geoffrey Garrett, Dubya, Generation Kill, a failed Presidency and a dumb cowpoke

Over halfway through the mini series Generation Kill now, and it's easy to see why the show tanked in America. 

For a start, it spends a lot of time noting how marines take a crap in the field, and for a country that finds toilet offensive when bathroom will do, the emphasis on bowel movements was likely too confronting. I guess bleeding hearts might also think it's disturbing to see the chaos and civilian casualties of war, and the way the soldiers have to deal with everything coming down on them.

The show is typically hand held, jagged, deliberately rough and demanding in the way it refuses to follow conventional television structure, character and pacing, and while it doesn't match Band of Brothers, it still delivers plenty of grunt. There are a few irritations - the deliberately recessive way the observing Rolling Stone reporter is one of them (he has more beats than a drum kit, but few lines), and it's true that for all the modernist elements in the presentation, all the usual pieties of war movies are observed. 

But then war is hell, and while the technology might change, the human element and the atrocities remain pretty much the same. And it's hard, given the current recruitment policies of the US, to complain about the range of characters assembled for this story of a recon unit moving way behind enemy lines in the early days of the current Iraq war.

It's also a refreshing contrast to the pieties greeting the departure of Bush. There will be a few who are sad - what will Letterman do without his great moments in presidential speeches comedy spot? Jon Stewart has already begun to struggle with how to milk comedy out of Democrat disasters (though Colbert will likely just go on being Colbert), and comedians everywhere are in mourning. A target like the Shrub will never come there way again. Just as Packer only got one Bond, so hopefully the world will get only one Bush.

The epic failure of the Bush presidency - there's no other way to characterise it - almost defies analysis. The usual excuse is that he was a war president, but he only became a war president because he chose to embark on an adventure which turned into a morass. The mis-named war on terror (like the equally futile war on drugs) was actually a matter of catching non-nation based criminals organised in a loose gang, and conspicuously aided and abetted by two of the United States most fragile 'allies', Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 

This Bush and his team conspicuously failed to do - the most poignant farewell moment was when he had to admit in a television interview that he didn't know where Osama bin Laden be at - and while no one misses Saddam Hussein, it might have been a little easier either to assassinate him or teach him a lesson by bombing Gaddafi style, so that hundreds of thousands of innocent people might have lived and millions might have been able to stay in their homes.

It's a measure of how little empathy people have for others that this useless war has seen a parade of the chief villains receiving freedom medals, while the usual elements in the Australian press still manage to lick the shoes of the Shrub.

Typically, you can always rely on Greg Sheridan to see the glass half full rather than half empty. How else to explain an article headed "What went right for Bush" just as that epic failure is heading out the revolving door with record low public approval ratings.

You might say that Sheridan is delusional, but there's no need to be abusive in the quest for accuracy. It's just a source of wonder that he could hail such members of the Bush team as Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz as "brilliant and powerful individuals" while wondering how Bush failed to turn them into a coherent team. This is the same Rumsfeld who fucked up Iraq? And the one and only Dick Cheney who through rigorous ideological blinkers fucked up George's chance of self-regard after eight years in office?

Sheridan relies on a profoundly stupid defense - that Obama might continue some of Bush's policies, and true to form he characterises those who found Bush a failure as Bush haters. Actually I'm sure up close Bush is amiable and charismatic in his own ersatz Texan way, and there's no need to hate him, especially now he's gone. But how you can see Bush's redemption in the arrival of Obama is one of the deeper mysteries, a bit like transubstantiation (which still sounds like cannibalism to me).

If you want to read how Sheridan construes Bush's presidency as a triumph, with history likely to judge him much more kindly than current commentators do, go here. Alternatively you could read a book, watch a movie, have sex, eat food, get a life, improve your Chinese or just enjoy breathing. But in case you wonder why people sometimes get abusive about Sheridan and his stupidity, here's a few of the adjectives he litters through his piece to sustain his arguments: "every true Bush hater in the world", "remarkably silly" (by contrast Sheridan is serious, rational and dispassionate), "pundits and opinion panjandrums", "visceral hatred of Bush by The New York Times class", "its attitudes and disdains aped by faux sophisticates from Brussels to Balmain", "Maureen Dowd ... the most air-headed of all significant North American columnists" (she wrote Donald Rumsfeld was sexy and charismatic, but that doesn't suggest he was competent - some think Tom Cruise is sexy, especially if they go in search of Thetans).

And so on and on. Sheridan is really Akerman in broadsheet drag, with a better vocabulary and a more determined set of blinkers. If he thinks somehow that Bush will turn into a Truman, he should remember that one man was fighting a real war, the other invented a phony war to fuck up the world. Even Nixon can't be blamed for starting Vietnam (though he certainly can be held accountable for what he did to it), and god knows how Bush's handiwork will resonate down the decades. Obama has a lot to do, and who knows if he'll manage the test. At least we won't have to listen to inarticulate grunting passing for presidential speech.

Funnily enough, Geoffrey Garrett in The Sydney Morning Herald runs the same line in his article Dubya's reputation might yet be saved (in a move certain to get the faux sophisticates from Balmain who read this liberal rag all in a tizz). Bottom line for a long and rambling article is this: "But the Obama presidency will share more with its predecessor than you would think. And the better Obama does, the better Bush will look". There's just one slightly difficult stumbling block in this profoundly illogical article. Let's change the proposition: "... the better Obama does, the better Obama will look". You could even propose a corollary: "the worse Obama does, the same the Shrub will look". Or how about: "the better Obama does, the worse Bush will look". Whatever. If it gets you through the day and adds a publication to the CV ...

I know it's the business of commentators to produce gasps of amazement as they tip conventional thinking on its head, and demonstrate how they can think laterally, or quadrilaterally (or whichever of the six thinking hats you like to wear). 

But this kind of fantasy - that Obama will redeem Bush - is just too delusional to make the cut. I can say with some certainty that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt did not redeem Herbert Hoover, and it's likely that in the future Bush will hover somewhere around that low water mark, perhaps not with the worst, but certainly below the middling and the best.

Meantime, with Generation Kill out of the way and a host of Iraqis dead, it'll be time to check out the Budd Boetticher western five pack, as introduced by Martin Scorsese. Nothing like a good western, especially when Dubya isn't part of the scenery. After all, he bought his ranch near Crawford Texas back in 1999 when running for election, and then as soon as he stepped down from office, he put it on the auction block. Talk about a love of the great wide land. How soon can we get to a specially gated street in Dallas, Texas?

Along the way he put on his Texas rancher, Texas ranger badges and paraded them so he could pose and strut as the right thinking Gary Cooper sheriff of the world. Well seems like you can fool all of the people some of the time. He was just a green horn tender foot, a cowpoke dude at a guest ranch, who thought a little brush cutting gave him farm cred. 

As John Wayne said: "Life is tough, but it's tougher when you're stupid". Yo, keep those wagons moving.

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