Barricaded in Buckingham Palace, President George W. Bush can take comfort in his skills as a motivator. No one has drawn such big crowds to London since Princess Diana in 1997, though those crowds were sorry that she had died, while these crowds wish that Mr. Bush would die, which is a difference.
The Brits have snarled at Presidents greater than Mr. Bush: Young Henry Adams lived in London during the depths of the Civil War. “London was altogether beside itself on one point in especial,” Adams wrote in his memoirs; “it created a nightmare of its own, and gave it the shape of Abraham Lincoln. Behind this it placed another demon, if possible more devilish, and called it Mr. Seward [William Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State-today, substitute Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld]. In regard to these two men, English society seemed demented. Defence was useless; explanation was vain … the belief in poor Mr. Lincoln’s brutality and Seward’s ferocity became a dogma of popular faith.” Adams recalled running into the novelist William Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair (today, substitute Graydon Carter), who berated him for the Union military blockade that had prevented a Southern lady friend of his from seeing her family before she died of consumption: ” … Thackeray’s voice trembled and his eyes filled with tears. The coarse cruelty of Lincoln and his hirelings was notorious …. At that moment Thackeray, and all London society with him, needed the nervous relief of expressing emotion.”
Past a certain point, foreign countries-even ones as close as England and America-cannot explain each other. Why do so many Americans hate Mr. Bush and his policies as bitterly as the mobs in Trafalgar Square?
The emotion comes in three forms. The hard left-the people who bring bullhorns and leaflets to Union Square-have the least doubts. They do not “support the troops”; they want American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to fail, and they want enough American soldiers to die so that the rest will be brought home. They believe the United States is an aggressor nation with a corrupt government; even if the 9/11 terror attacks were not directed by Washington, Washington has exploited them to serve the interests of Big Oil (via the puppet Cheney and his sub-puppet Bush).
Hard leftists tacitly support Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as enemies of their enemy. As time passes, the psychological necessities of their position will drive them to affirmatively admire Middle Eastern dictators and theocrats. Charles Lindbergh, spokesman of America First, wanted to keep the United States out of World War II, but he also admired German efficiency. How much further might he have gone, had not Pearl Harbor intervened? Give Lindbergh credit, though; our modern Pearl Harbor, 9/11, makes no impression on the hard left.
Hard leftists are few, but energy and compactness give them disproportionate weight. At times their passions will bleed into those of better people, like colors in a madras jacket.
Far more numerous, and lacking in malice, but equally hard to reason with, are the distressed. They feel the crisis of the moment, whatever it is, but their sense of it is so great that they cannot measure it against the last crisis or the crisis to come, or see any possible solution. Sept. 11 wrung their hearts and their nerves. But so did the anthrax letters; so did the Virginia snipers; so did the thought that Saddam Hussein would use W.M.D. on our troops if we attacked him; so does the frustrating search for W.M.D. now that he has fallen. The looting of the Baghdad museum was a horror. So is the death of every American soldier. President Bush should greet every coffin that arrives at Dover Air Force Base; he should stop the aching march of coffins by bringing our soldiers home (except that he should somehow find Osama bin Laden yesterday).
The palpitant bard of the distressed is Maureen Dowd. But an even greater engine of propagating distress than she is the rhythm of television, especially 24/7 cable: the click-click-click of this image, then that image, then that image there. Each image wipes out the last, so that each image brings with it the shock of the new; only a sense of motion and fatigue remain. In past wars, people said “Remember the Alamo” or “Remember the Maine.” In this war, the distressed say: “Look at that!”
The third category of Bush-haters, the perplexed, say, “Where is the end of all this?” This is the category I feel sympathy with, because we are all perplexed.
Part of their perplexity is the fault of Mr. Bush. The President has been fairly consistent in his pursuit of the Terror War, in some aspects remarkably so: he identified Iraq as a dangerous nation as early as 1999, when he was campaigning for the White House. (How prescient will Howard Dean and company look in 2007?) Just this month, he gave an important speech on transparency and freedom as the hopes of the Middle East, and on years of colluding with despots there (including, by inference, the collusions of his own father) as the source of our current problems.
At the same time, he has left things unsaid and made confusing feints. Our announcement that we will hand off sovereignty to Iraqis by June 2004 looks as if it was motivated less by the desire that they be well governed, and more by a need to start bringing troops home in time for the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden. Our knowledge that politics has influenced the conduct of every war doesn’t make this bit of politics any easier to take, or to understand.
But even if Mr. Bush were the perfect man we would still be perplexed, because that is what wars do. Adolf Hitler, who knew, said that starting a war was like entering a dark room. We have not fought two wars since 9/11; we have been in one war with two large battles. Where the next battle happens depends not only on us, but on people in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria; on dedicated murderers who may be down the block.
So we’ll do the best we can. Cheer up: We’ll probably win, because we’re richer, smarter and freer. Win or lose, cheer up anyway: Wouldn’t you rather live your life, than the life of some crappy jihadist?