The Truth, Mainly - 01/02/2006

Are things falling apart?
by Leon Satterfield

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world."

—William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," 1920.

If President Bush ever read those apocalyptic lines, surely he's reminded of them now. He must be aware that his plans are not working out the way he was told they would, and he must fear that his administration is falling apart, the center not holding.

Of course, had the president been an English major, he would have also read those lines in Robert Burns' "To a Mouse" reminding us that

"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft a-gley,

An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain…."

And had the president read more prose, he might have sensed the dissatisfaction of many others still occupying this world.

Here's what Kurt Vonnegut, author of "Slaughterhouse Five" (the best novel, I think, to come out of W.W.II), had to say a year and a half ago about the president's war: "We're spreading democracy, are we?…How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad….So let's give another big tax cut to the super-rich…."

Anyway, I'm starting to feel a little sorry for the president. He's been taking a lot of flak, not all of it from Democrats. He seems to have a reverse Midas touch whereby everything he touches turns to—well, you know. And for that he's being ganged up on. To wit:

•Remember the nuclear weapons we said Iraq had? Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector who labels himself a "Reagan Republican," said last month that even before the war "The Iraq Survey Group, headed by David Kay, found that Iraq had destroyed the totality of its nuclear weapons program and confirmed what the CIA had already said about them having destroyed it as far back as the summer of 1991….This is a war that's not worth the life of one American because it's a war based on a lie."

•After the president said a little over a month ago that "The United States of America does not torture," the bipartisan troublemaker took "a look at what has surfaced so far." It's not pretty. FactCheck quotes Vice-President Cheney saying a few days after the 9/11 atrocity that we'd need to work on the "dark side"—"A lot of what needs to be done will have to be done quietly, without any discussion…it's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal."

•And the "Gonzales memo" a year later said that the U.S. anti-torture law "would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President's power to conduct a military campaign."

Get that? Cheney says we use "any means" in our retaliation. Gonzales says the anti-torture law cannot keep the president from waging war in any way he wants to. But there are objections.

•Retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, former head of the CIA, called Cheney "a vice president for torture," and said "I think it is just reprehensible." Former president Jimmy Carter said "It is embarrassing to see the president and the vice president insisting that the CIA should be free to perpetuate cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment on people in U.S. custody."

•Even the president's (and vice president's) church took a position opposing that of the country's two leaders. In late October, the United Methodist Church Board of Church and Society lopsidedly voted in favor of a resolution calling for withdrawing US forces in Iraq: "As people of faith, we raise our voice in protest against the tragedy of the unjust war in Iraq. Thousands of lives have been lost and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted in a war the United States initiated and should never have fought….We grieve for all those whose lives have been lost or destroyed in this needless and avoidable tragedy. Military families have suffered undue hardship from prolonged troop rotations in Iraq and loss of loved ones. It is time to bring them home."

•Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who, having been tortured as a POW in a North Vietnam prison camp, said this on the CBS "Early Show": "Mistreatment of prisoners is one of the factors that has caused us to suffer so much in the eyes of the world. Torture doesn't work."

•Senator Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is questioning the legality of President Bush's authorization of a surveillance program that allows warrantless interception of telephone calls and e-mail of U.S. citizens. Sen. Specter said he has "grave doubts" about the legality of such surveillance. And U.S. District Judge James Robertson resigned in what two associates said was a protest against the program.

So yeah—all that suggests that things are falling apart and the center cannot hold. The question is: Does the president get it yet?


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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