Friday, March 28, 2008

The Rashomon Effect

Have you ever wondered why it is that many people looking at the same thing will all see something different? Tracking the divergent responses and patchwork reactions to Hillary and Barack, for instance, as they swirl around in cyberspace, is like diving into the pit; it is enough to make anyone quite crazed. How can precision or consensus ever emerge out of such titanic disagreement and confusion? These days nothing is ever crystal clear in the mirror of public recognition.

Cleaning out some old files, I found an essay I'd saved from Time magazine, written by Charles Krauthammer, a neo-conservative columnist, sometime just prior to the 2004 Republican convention. The text is a major defense of George Bush, declaring him to be a leader of great political courage who absolutely merits reelection. "Bush acted. He declared war," writes Krauthammer. He declared war not just on terrorists but on states that aid and abet them and which seek weapons of mass destruction.

Where many of us see a politics characterized by propaganda, false information, lies, and militant posturing, Krauthammer praises Bush for choices that were "radical, dangerous, and absolutely necessary." He declares the conquest of Afghanistan and the installation of a pro-American government and the decimation of al-Qaeda to be "the single most important victory ever" in the war on terror. He positively crows about how until America's victory there, Afghanistan had been the graveyard of empires and was considered unconquerable. You really have to wonder how these neo-cons float and maneuver their fictional dreadnoughts!

Bush accomplished the destruction of the Taliban, according to Krauthammer, by delivering a tough ultimatum to Pervez Musharraf: "Join us or else." And here's the kicker: But Bush didn't just settle for his "success" in Afghanistan by resting on his laurels. Instead he started another war in Iraq, in yet another difficult and dangerous undertaking from which he did not shrink. Bush has risked his entire political future to remove this "ominous and absolutely inevitable" threat, when he could have played it safe, but once again, he chose to ACT. And that, says Krauthammer, is real leadership. I don't know whether to cry, or spy, or reach for the sky when I read these words. Maybe, I think, I'll just rent Rashomon from Netflix. Maybe it will explain everything to me.

Meanwhile, yesterday, as we all watched the disasters unfold on the news--oil-rich Basra now fallen into the hands of Islamists, Baghdad under complete lock down with its streets empty, rockets raining on the heavily fortified Green Zone--Bush stood like Forrest Gump (only with machismo) on TV, chained as usual to his unshakable myth of liberation. It was truly dazzling. Bravely and with painstaking diligence, he reeled off one by one the many positive results of the "surge"--among them improved security and "a rebirth of civil society."

I was in the gym at the time, working out on the treadmill as I listened to him. Surely, I thought to myself, this speech has to count as no small part of his remarkable accomplishments: not being able to distinguish success from cottage cheese. Yesterday was definitely a gold-letter day, with John McCain also insisting as well: "We're succeeding. I don't care what anybody says."

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