So much of the burgeoning Bush literature, both nonfiction and fiction, is built on the premise that the Bush-Cheney autarchy is a disastrous failure that can be diagnosed as a hulking case of hubris coupled with a righteous dose of blowback. (Earlier this year saw the publication of a book co-written by Michael Isikoff and David Corn titled Hubris, unveiling “the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.”) It’s assumed that the plastic fantastic alternative universe fashioned by the Bushies and the neocons—remember the famous boast to Ron Suskind from the unnamed Bush aide in The New York Times Magazine, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”?—has ignominiously popped upon contact with brute reality, sending a former demigod such as Donald Rumsfeld crashing into the cornfield and ejecting Condoleezza Rice into an endless orbit of mortified futility. But perhaps we’re the ones living in Bizarro World, not the Bushies. Maybe from their vantage point inside the mother ship nearly everything’s worked out as intended, if not exactly as planned, and those in the highest circles have no more reason to examine their consciences or re-trace their steps than the perpetrators of a successful heist. For years, a few voices on the radical edges of the blogosphere have contended that sowing chaos in the Middle East, privatizing war to enrich their corporate sponsors, and letting things slide to hell at home were what the lords of misrule wanted—that the bungling and incompetence of the war and Katrina weren’t bugs, but features. After all, the post-Katrina diaspora has redounded to the benefit of the Republicans with the election of Bobby Jindal to the Louisiana governorship, his victory made possible in part by the dispersement of black voters displaced by the floods.
As for Iraq, Jim Holt makes the persuasive counter-intuitive argument for this thesis in a piece for the London Review of Books called “It’s the Oil, Stupid,” which begins, “Iraq is ‘unwinnable,’ a ‘quagmire,’ a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy.’ ” Spreading democracy in the region was never the goal, a quick in-and-out never in the cards, despite Michael Gerson’s misty-eyed testimony to the contrary. The goal was to take control of Iraq’s oil resources and stand guard over its infrastructure, which is why military bases with world-capital-size airport runways and suburban comforts (miniature-golf courses, fast-food restaurants, sports fields) are under boomtown construction in Iraq. Holt writes, “The draft law that the US has written for the Iraqi congress would cede nearly all the oil to Western companies. The Iraq National Oil Company would retain control of 17 of Iraq’s 80 existing oilfields, leaving the rest—including all yet to be discovered oil—under foreign corporate control for 30 years.” All in all, a pretty sweet deal for the U.S. and trans-national corporations, paid for in part thus far by the sacrifice of nearly 4,000 American troops and countless thousands of Iraqis, a necessary cost of doing business if you don’t mind having others get their hands bloody. Holt:
The occupation may seem horribly botched on the face of it, but the Bush administration’s cavalier attitude towards ‘nation-building’ has all but ensured that Iraq will end up as an American protectorate for the next few decades—a necessary condition for the extraction of its oil wealth. If the US had managed to create a strong, democratic government in an Iraq effectively secured by its own army and police force, and had then departed, what would have stopped that government from taking control of its own oil, like every other regime in the Middle East? On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics—dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration—could scarcely have been more effective. The costs—a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws)—are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.
Which may explain the final sentences in the epilogue to Draper’s Dead Certain, where the author says that Bush had no intention of marking time until the last tick of his presidency. He’s going to go out with a bang. Once the “surge” strategy in Iraq pays off, “that big ball would be back in his hands again, and he would heave it long.” In Beltway gridiron lingo, this might be interpreted as signifying that Bush is going to drop back in the fourth quarter and hurl a long bomb downfield at Iran. If Bush feels he’s achieved a winning groove, what the hell, why not run up the score, despite the National Intelligence Estimate? Perhaps Bush’s post-presidential memoir should be titled From Coffins to Coffers, since he’s helped fill so many of both.
James Wolcott is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.