“Don’t mess with Texas.” It might as well be Bush’s official slogan. If we ignore the forehead-slappingly ironic fact that the phrase was originally used to promote protection of Texas’ environment – remember that we are talking about a president who wants to drill for oil in the national parks and who thinks the best way to prevent forest fires is to increase logging and “thin the forests” – it is not surprising that Bush adopted the phrase and changed it into a macho caveat.
The president has always projected a slick, semi-tough-guy aura. However, the war in Iraq has shown us how ugly cowboy diplomacy can be when it is combined with high school-style, smart-aleck antics.
I understand and accept that in any war, there is always going to be a certain level of aggressive, tough-guy rhetoric that infects the speech and actions of both politicians and the public, and the enemy will always be demonized, but Bush and his administration have taken on a far more flippant and, frankly, alarming attitude. It’s one thing for the media to treat war like a game or a sport; it’s quite another for the government to do the same.
This was demonstrated clearly during the prelude to the so-called “shock and awe” bombing campaign that was supposed to bring Iraq to its knees. The government dangled the tasty morsel in front of public so long that people started to crave it. (People may not have known what it meant, but they knew damn well it would have a lot of cool explosions and flashing lights.)
When members of the press kept asking if it had begun, sources at the Pentagon finally said, “If you have to ask, it’s not ‘shock and awe.'” Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but shouldn’t they have been just a bit more solemn about the prospect of reducing a city to rubble?
Even though this particular example was not from Bush himself, it is just one of many examples of how everyone in the government (and the media) eat Bush’s shit with a smile, adapting to his style and treating him like the popular kid in high school who everyone is afraid to defy.
Bush’s overly casual attitude popped up recently during a speech in Florida. While addressing troops at MacDill Air Force Base, Bush expressed his regret that Gen. Tommy Franks was unable to attend the speech, saying with a smirk, a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge, he “couldn’t be with us today on the account of some pressing business.” (Everyone got a good laugh out of that little zinger.) Quite a long way from FDR’s serious and dignified speeches to the nation during World War II.
Bush’s shallowness when it comes to discussion of serious events knows no limits. It was on the eve of the war, as Bush was making the final decision whether to attack, that he most sickeningly let his true cowboy side show. The president, in place of what should have been a grave and heartfelt directive, instead uttered a two-word, macho war cry: “Let’s go.” He then proceeded to run around the Oval Office, yelling, “Yeee-haw. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires” and firing two revolvers in the air. I’m kidding of course – they wouldn’t let him shoot the guns inside.
Then, of course, there is the President’s unrelenting use of “good” and “evil” to describe the participants in this war. But this is nothing new. John “Civil rights, shmivil rights” Ashcroft and Donald “Skeletor” Rumsfeld have been referring to our fight against the “bad guys” since Sept. 11. Creepy religious implications aside, it is just immature and insulting to refer to people as if they were characters in a Clint Eastwood movie in which the hero cleans up the bad town.
The president also seems to see this war in the moral realm of a Western, with good guys and bad guys who might as well be clad in white and black hats for easy identification. The language of “good” and “bad” used by the administration shows their lack of compassion and depth of understanding of morality, because for the most part, there aren’t really good guys and bad guys – it’s just a bunch of guys.
Except for a couple of high-ranking Iraqis, (i.e. Saddam and his cronies), most of the people fighting against us are just regular kids who are probably not that different from the average 19-year-old American soldiers. (And please don’t start with the “elite Republican Guard” talk. I’ve had just about enough.)
But I understand that for a soldier to be able to do his job and not have a complete emotional breakdown, a certain amount of dehumanization of the enemy is necessary. However, for the president to be indulging in this same practice is wrong and just childish.
I’ll admit, when FOX News (“Your 24-hour source of American flag graphics”) repeatedly showed that seven-second clip of the scary Fedayeen guys marching in strict formation, it spooked me. And sure, anyone with the word “sacrifice” in his job title is probably not friendly. But I’m sure the Marines look pretty daunting when they’re wearing body armor and operating weapons that could blow the ass out of Iraq.
For his entire presidency, Bush has acted like the popular class president, cracking wise and trying to act cool in front of the public. At any other time, this would merely be annoying, but when we’re at war, this immature conduct becomes reckless. Grow up, Mr. President.
– Andy Taylor-Fabe can be reached email@example.com .