Wednesday, October 4

The buzzword is "Incompetance"


There are now so many books out on the Bush policy in Iraq with variations of the word “fiasco” in the title or the text that bookstores are surely going to have to be redesigned to create shelf space for this war: “Welcome to Barnes & Noble: We have fiction and nonfiction on the main floor, poetry and mystery in the corner, children’s books upstairs and the ‘Bush Fiasco’ section across the entire basement.”

And the war isn’t even over yet.

If there is a theme common to all these books it is the word “incompetence.” Reading Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” about the completely dysfunctional manner in which the Bush national security team has conducted the Iraq war — the president reportedly had to order Don Rumsfeld to return Condi Rice’s phone calls — leaves you disgusted.

Which brings me to this November’s elections. New York Times columnists are not allowed to endorse candidates, but I checked the rulebook the other day, and there’s no rule against rooting for a general outcome. So here is my fervent wish: For the sake of the country, I really hope the Republicans lose the House and the Senate to the Democrats — by one seat in each chamber.

It is so important that the Republicans lose, because if the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice team can get away with the grotesque incompetence they have exhibited in Iraq — a war that was not preordained to fail, but was never given a proper chance to succeed — it makes this country look like a banana republic.

If on the morning after the election these people come out smirking that their efforts to scare the public into voting again for their candidates worked, and therefore they can just stay the present course in Iraq — which is not working — it will send a terrible message about our democracy. It will tell us that the country is so divided, and so many districts gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, that performance does not matter any longer. Unless you are caught sending e-mail to a Congressional page soliciting sex, your seat is safe.

If we have any chance of salvaging Iraq and solving some of our real problems at home, it will only be as a result of some electoral shock treatment delivered to a Republican Party that has failed to demand even the most minimal competence and planning from its leaders.

But the reason I want the Democrats to win by only one seat in both the House and the Senate is because I want them to have such a slim margin that they will have to govern from the center — to look for bipartisan fixes to the country’s major issues, which is the only way they can be addressed.

“We’re not just in a ‘state of denial’ about Iraq,” remarked Michael Mandelbaum, the author of “The Case for Goliath.” We’re also in a state of denial about the deficit, health care, energy and Social Security.”

Maybe the deficit can wait. But there is something immoral about kicking Iraq down the road for someone else to deal with it. Because the burden of Iraq falls — unfairly and harshly — on one small segment of our population: U.S. military troops and their families.

Yes, Mr. Bush’s original vision of a unified democratic Iraq was compelling and important. But it’s not happening. It’s become the “second choice” of too many Iraqis. Too many Kurds just want their own state; too many Shiites just want their own pro-Iranian zone in the south; too many Sunnis want the old order. Real democracy is too many Iraqis’ second choice. If that doesn’t change, we can’t go on having our first-choice kids dying for Iraqis’ second choice. Our top military people know things aren’t working. But they also know the Bush team won’t order a Plan B, because it would be construed as an admission of failure and used in domestic politics. So we are staying a failing course.

You know how they say that after a while people start to look like their pets? Well, we’re starting to look like Iraq — a bunch of warring political tribes incapable of acting in common for the greater good.

So here’s hoping the Republicans lose the House and the Senate and realize that if they don’t start acting responsibly they’ll suffer an even worse defeat in ’08. And here’s hoping the Democrats win by just enough to love being back in power, but by such a slim margin they know that if they don’t produce something by ’08, they’ll get defeated again.

Without restoring a legislative center that can tackle hard issues and demand sacrifices, we’re just going to keep kicking problems down the road — from Iraq to Social Security — until the road reaches a cliff and we plunge over the side.