January 07, 2007
The Good, the Real, and the Ugly

In The Mind in the Making, which has gone untaught in American schools for fifty years or more, Columbia University historian James Harvey Robinson wrote:

I remember years ago attending a public dinner to which the Governor of the state was bidden. The chairman explained that His Excellency could not be present for certain “good” reasons; what the “real” reasons were the presiding officer said he would leave us to conjecture.

This distinction between “good” and “real” reasons is one of the most clarifying and essential in the whole realm of thought. We can readily give what seem to us “good” reasons for being a Catholic or a Mason, a Republican or a Democrat, an adherent or opponent of the League of Nations. But the “real” reasons are usually on quite a different plane …

To illustrate Professor Robinson’s point, here are two excerpts. Both appeared during the week before the 2004 election. Neither made the slightest difference. The first is from the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh; the second from journalist Russ Baker’s interview of Mickey Herskowitz, once hired to write an as-told-to campaign biography of George W. Bush and then fired when Bush’s handlers learned that their boy had told too much.

I’m one of those people who believes that Bush really did go to war to free the Middle East and turn these nations into democracies. I don’t think he went to war for oil primarily or Israel. He went because he has this idée fixe that it was his mission, his crusade to change the Middle East — to turn it into a democratic stronghold of good, well-meaning people who would buy American and support Israel against the Palestinians and keep the oil flowing.

It’s idealistic. It’s utopian. Is there anything more dangerous than an ideologue who doesn’t know he’s wrong?
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According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House — ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: “They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches.”

Republicans, Herskowitz said, felt that Jimmy Carter’s political downfall could be attributed largely to his failure to wage a war. He noted that President Reagan and President Bush’s father himself had (besides the narrowly-focused Gulf War I) successfully waged limited wars against tiny opponents — Grenada and Panama — and gained politically.

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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at January 07, 2007 04:13 PM
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