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Bush: Always One Move Behind

April 2nd, 2007 by dk

What if our president isn’t so much stupid as slow? Maybe he reacts to a situation too late, but in every other way appropriately. He might be what they call a “slow reactor,” but other than that, he’s perfectly capable. It’s not his fault that events move quickly and his strategies are well considered, but one event too late.
This elegant theory can make sense of what appears to have been ham-handed responses to Hurricane Katrina and the firing a handful of U.S. Attorneys.
We were “attacked” on a September morning in 2001, but we weren’t attacked by a country. We were attacked by some radical hoodlums. The appropriate response would have been a crime sweep, not unlike the one President Clinton oversaw when we witnessed a similar “attack” in Oklahoma City. The dragnet would have caught the people connected to the crime and led us to the planners of the event. Then we’d let the criminal justice system do its thing and we’d all be able to call it a day. Instead, President Bush declared war (as Molly Ivins famously observed) on a noun.
Martyrs and revolutionaries goaded us into a war, when a crime is what we should have been fighting. But it’s not that Bush didn’t learn. He just waited for the next opportunity to get it right.
Unfortunately, it was a hurricane — which every insurance policy calls an “act of God” and lumps together with war. So here we have a war zone where New Orleans once sat, and the president puts his foot down to stop the crimes. Too bad the criminals were regular people getting food from abandoned but still-stocked stores, because the FEMA people couldn’t get the job done.
We got a crime treated like a war and then a war zone treated like a crime wave. The right solutions were put in play, just at the wrong times toward the wrong circumstances.
Fast forward to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for being unsympathetic to the president.
It was contemplated whether all 193 should be let go and replaced. That strategy was deemed too disruptive, mostly because it wasn’t at the beginning of Bush’s first term, which is when these things typically happen (under Reagan and Clinton, most recently), and when the machinery of government has come to expect it. Instead, the choice was made to fire only a handful. The beauty of this strategy is that the disruption appears minimal, except for the seeds of fear planted in those who remain in their jobs.
The strategy isn’t new either. Its literal meaning is preserved in the word “decimate,” which we now use interchangeably with “annihilate,” to our own detriment. Roman soldiers developed the technique known as decimation when they were building the first “new world order.” Because there were no other states yet to challenge them, only bands of barbarians, the Romans rounded up the primitives. Then they chose every tenth prisoner, made an example of them (usually fatally) and then released the other 90 percent of their prisoners to go home and tell the stories of what they saw. Since the conduits for communication were not formalized among the primitives, this relieved the Romans of the task of learning how all the tribal connections were made. Instead, they planted fear into their prisoners’ hearts and minds, and then shocked them with benevolence, allowing them to go free.
You can see how this technique can work well with a bunch of independent-minded federal prosecutors. The genius of the method is that the people most profoundly effected are not the poor souls who lost their jobs, but the majority who remain. They know now because they saw what happened to their colleagues that it is only the sheer benevolence of the president that keeps them in their jobs. (It goes without saying that the extra genius is that only the ten percent make news — the remaining 90 percent are reported as “business as usual,” which is code for “no news here.”
Too bad the technique has been used against our own federal employees, instead of against the bandits rounded up in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems the ancient technique of decimation is better suited for the Guantanamo detainees and the ilk they represent than a bunch of white collar professionals working for the United States government. But hey, a day late and a dollar short is better than most people are giving our Dear Leader credit for these days.

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