Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hi, my name's Phil Nugent, and I own and operate a blog called "The Phil Nugent Experience," because "First Draft Playhouse" and "Run-On Sentences 'R Us" just didn't have that special something. I'd like to thank Steve for the invitation to crash at his site while he's away and wish him safe passage. If he comes home to find the wood floors and copper plumbing stripped and junkies sleeping in the master bedroom, I solemnly vow to blame one of these other guys.

"Abu Ghraib was now a U.S. military prison. Most of the prisoners, however—by the fall there were several thousand, including women and teen-agers—were civilians, many of whom had been picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints... A lack of proper screening also meant that many innocent Iraqis were wrongly being detained—indefinitely, it seemed, in some cases. The Taguba study noted that more than sixty per cent of the civilian inmates at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society, which should have enabled them to be released." -- Seymour Hersh, "Torture at Abu Ghraib," The New Yorker, May 10, 2004

"It's the worst kind of inhumanity to just go after innocent people who were just going about their daily lives..." -- Condoleezza Rice, "True Believer", segment on "60 Minutes", September 24, 2006

I don't know what Katie Couric's political beliefs are, assuming she has any, but her sit-down with Condaleezza Rice had a sisterly feel to it, as if Couric felt that she owed it to Rice, as one lightning-rod to another, to have a chance to take a break from all that heavy, hardball questioning she hasn't been getting and invite the folks at home to feel for her; the poor kid is so busy "waging war and promoting democracy" that she barely has time to fret over her love life. ("How does one go about asking the Secretary of State out on a date?") Rice seemed to want to take advantage of the opportunity, and her politely mirthless fake laugh got a thorough workout, but she was never able to get the message to her eyes, which continued to look as if she were trying to fire laser blasts from her pupils. Is Rice, by default, supposed to be the "cute" member of the Bush circle--his Julie Nixon Eisenhower, his George Stephanopoulos, the one who makes the groundlings think, truly he must be an old softie inside, to inspire the love of such a one? Laura doesn't seem to want the job anymore, and Mother Babs, who had the job and did it well during daddy's administration, would probably love to take it on again but by now has shown enough of her true personality that she's about as squeezeable as Grendel in a pearl necklace. Really, though, "Condi", as Katie likes to call her, isn't much better suited to the role. If I had to pick a Bush cadet to model for plushy toys, I'd probably go with Donald Rumsfeld. I know, he used to be a fearsome beast, and he still tries to keep up appearances, but in the last year or so, I swear that he's been betraying signs that the old arrogance just doesn't come that easy to him anymore. He'll be roaring along as in the days of old and then suddenly his features will slip into the expression of one lamenting the fact that they've moved his water dish again.Go ahead, think me mad, I don't care. I say the man needs a hug.

Anyway, the big news from the Couric interview--aside, of course, from the strong implication that Condi's available, guys! -- was that Rice knows a thing or two about taking terrorism seriously because she remembers racist violence from the desegregation period in the South when she was growing up. Couric asked if she equated suicide bombers in the Mideast with "bigoted bombers in Birmingham," then took a little pause so that everyone at home could have a stab at saying that three times fast. Not too surprisingly, Condi sees a world of similarity there. She may have a point, but I had to wonder: if she made that connection before the invasion of Iraq, couldn't she have drawn from it the lesson that a little post-war planning would be in order? Rice says that the people who suggest that "spreading democracy" may be harder than it looks are basically saying that the people of the Middles East "aren't ready" for democracy, and this reminds her of people doubting that black Americans were ready to stand on their own feet, the meanies. But what about the people, in this equation, who stand in for the white Southerners who were thriving under the racist status quo, or who were simply to unimaginative to deal with the thought of living any other way, and who really didn't appreciate having what some of them saw as a foreign occupying force barging in and telling them how to save their souls? Rice knows that the racist white Southerners who went batshit from culture shock during the Civil Rights years and blew up black churches and schoolbuses were independently motivated and not being guided by the Kremlin, so why is it so hard for her to believe that the mayhem in Iraq is largely being caused by disgruntled Iraqis who, far from being grateful for having been invaded, truly do not want us there? Not for the first time, she seemed to be implying, without realizing it, that the Bushies impute to the Iraqi common man a deep, committed, selfless love of the pure principles of democracy that they assume the common American--that loutish dude who doesn't care if black voters are disenfranchised and the Constitution is in tatters so long as the right badass is in the White House--can happily do without

The most distressing thing about listening to Rice these days may actually be the way she wields her alleged learning--her standing as a "student of history", as the Courics always put it--as an all-purpose cop-out. She seems to agree with her master's famous dictum that the judgement of history is irrelevant because when it comes in, "We'll all be dead." Rice told Couric that she takes pride in her role in transforming the Middle East, even though she knows that she herself will never see the miracle she and the neocons have birthed come to full fruition. Now, Rice is only fifty-one years old; as Couric's video dating profile made clear, she works hard to stay fit, and it seems safe to say that, unless she has some scary X-rays that haven't been declassified, she'll probably be sticking around to delight us on this earthly plain for another twenty, thirty years. Yet she's already given up hope of seeing things turn out well in the Middle East; she just takes comfort in her absolute assurance that, thanks to her "bold" actions, everything will finally turn out peachy keen, once she's no longer here to accept a round of applause for it. In this she, once again, resembles her boss, who lately has taken a page out of Nixon's book and started explaining that he himself must be Lincolnesque, because nobody appreciated Lincoln in his day and age either. Bush and Rice were pretty scary back when they were selling preventive war as a miracle cure-all, but at least back then there was the chance that they might rethink their bluster after the fast results they explicity promised failed to materialize. Now that they've come to the conclusion that, though they're still right about everything, they won't actually be proven right until after their deaths, it's hard to think of anything they're not liable to pull.

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