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Driving While Intoxicated

In a sense, the president or prime minister of any country can be thought of as the driver of the vehicle of State. While Congresses and Parliaments certainly have their say as to the direction of a country, the president or prime minister must be said to be at the wheel. Here in the United States, we consider Driving While Intoxicated (or DWI, as it is more commonly known) a serious offense.

The rationale behind our distaste for DWI is sensible. For instance, one of the key arguments behind DWI laws is that an intoxicated driver is likely to be overconfident in his or her ability to navigate the perils presented by the road they are traveling, or overestimate their ability to respond to the actions of other drivers with whom they share the highway – and in doing so, recklessly endanger the lives, health, and property of others. In this intoxicated state, they are unlikely to drive defensively – which most reasonable observers suggest is the best way to guarantee a safe and successful trip for everyone. It is also fair to argue that DWI can represent a serious character issue, since only a profoundly selfish person would even risk endangering the lives of others by getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. And we also know that most drivers who are arrested for DWI have driven in this condition many times before getting caught. And some will continue to do so afterwards until they are either caught again (and again), or kill themselves. On the other hand, an emotionally intelligent person will opt for calling a cab, or having a designated driver, or even sleeping it off in the back of their car.

The Bush-Cheney administration may well be the first “all-DWI” presidency in history. Both George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have arrests on their records for “Driving While Intoxicated” – Cheney twice, during the years when (to use his own words) he had priorities other than military service, and Bush once (at least that we know about, since virtually all information about Dubya's party animal years appear to have vanished like chemical weapons plants in Iraq). We could dismiss both men's criminal records as mere youthful indiscretions. Let me suggest, however, that their performance at the wheel of the United States since 9/11, and specifically in regard to Saddam Hussein, suggest that their DWIs were more a product of an ongoing pattern of reckless, unconscious, emotionally dangerous behavior, than either a product of youthful inexperience or short-term intoxication.

Intoxicated Leader
Let me go on record by stating that the world would be a far better place if Saddam Hussein woke up tomorrow, slipped in the shower, and suffered a fatal injury; or if one of his generals put a bullet into the back of his head. Let me also say that had Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, and the extraordinary outpouring of world support for this country, gone to the U.N. and soberly and respectfully asked for the support of the international community in solving the problem of dictators and rogue nations, I would be completely supportive of this effort to remove Hussein. But this driver of the vehicle of state didn't act in such a sober and emotionally conscious fashion. Both he any Cheney began by beating the drums for war, talking about regime change in Iraq (as if 9/11 gave the United States license to act unilaterally anywhere in the world) before even considering going to the U.N., and then introducing a profoundly dangerous shift in philosophy vis-à-vis the doctrine of preemption. As it turns out, this doctrine of preemption is one that worries both observers on the left like myself, but also serious thinkers on the right. For instance, once America uses it, what's to prevent the mainland Chinese from manufacturing a terrorist incident or two, and using it as a rationale for an invasion of Taiwan? What does the U.S. do then? Surely, this overt shift to preemption should have been debated in the Congress, or at least as part of a previous election cycle (like the 2000 Presidential cycle) before becoming the official policy of the United States. In fact, during the 2000 campaign, Bush critiqued the foreign policy of the Clinton Administration as being arrogant. Talk about your pot calling the kettle black.

There's a saying that we've all heard that carries more than a grain of truth. “First impressions are everything.” Granted, in real life, first impressions can be misleading – but they often do color our perception of what comes later. In the aftermath of 9/11, when the world finally began to pay attention to Dubya, the first impression of international community was anything but positive. In comparison, New York City's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was able to rise to the occasion and demonstrate an impressive measure of self-possession and emotional equilibrium in the aftermath of the most horrific attack ever experienced on American soil. Dubya, on the other hand, resorted to quaint cowboy illusions like “Wanted Dead or Alive” or David Frum's hollow “Axis of Evil” phrase. When both he and Cheney later begin to beat the drums for regime change in Iraq, not disarmament, boasting about how they would go it alone if necessary, they began the process of savaging the great achievement of his father's presidency, the idea of a “new world order.”

Echoes of Adolph
We are now told that Bush's approach was meant to be an attempt at “coercion diplomacy”. But to the “old” nations of Europe, particularly France and Germany, this coercion diplomacy (where a leader threatens military action unless a decision about the status of a third country is made in his favor) must have evoked echoes of Hitler's approach to settling supposed claims in regard to the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, or the Anschluss of Austria. Of course, one is not allowed to compare Bush to Hitler, even if the confrontational, gun-to-the-head style is more than vaguely similar – and a German minister who had the temerity to publicly make such a comparison eventually was removed from office.

Now, let me be clear that I am not saying that Bush shares Hitler's despicable goals or ideals -- as were some of the protesters in anti-war demonstrations around the world. But, I am suggesting that Bush may prove to posses a vaguely comparable degree of arrogance, recklessness, and overconfidence -- particularly in regard to his style of dealing with the international community, and in his role as Commander-in-Chief. Consider this comparison. The United States is already heavily involved in military activities in South Korea, Afghanistan and Bosnia - and in the grip of a serious economic downturn. By June of 1941, Hitler was master of all of Europe - and hence was militarily engaged everywhere on the continent. Yet, Hitler still felt so sure of himself and his destiny that he was willing to: 1) invade the Soviet Union; 2) in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, declare war against the United States. Talk about being an overconfident, reckless, power-intoxicated driver in the name of a truly evil ideology.

It is often said that “all politics are local,” and in the hearts and minds of Europeans whose parents and grandparents lived through two World Wars, and destruction and atrocities that make 9/11 seem trivial, I can readily imagine that this analogy is not lost on them. And, to repeat, I am not implying that Bush's geopolitical goals are even vaguely comparable to Hitler's. But I am very specifically suggesting that the emotional impact of his approach is comparable, and it is having an obvious deleterious impact on the citizens of Europe. Even in countries where governments have signed up to be part of our “coalition of the willing”, public sentiment is strongly anti-war. This is simply not the way to build a coalition, remove a dictator, must less triumph in a war against terrorism. You may think be thinking “thank God that Hitler was so incredibly arrogant as to invade the Soviet Union and declare war on the United States.” I agree, for had he been an even vaguely prudent military commander, removing him from Europe might have been infinitely more difficult and bloody. But, in my humble opinion, that's the point of reference from which we need to view Bush's reckless approach to combating terrorism. The last thing that this intensely patriotic American wants is to see is the United States foolishly exhaust its political, economic and spiritual capital on a poorly-conceived, ill-advised, incredibly divisive military adventure – that will doubtless, at least in the near-term, spawn more, rather than less, terrorism.

Giving Bin Laden Talking Points
We mustn't underestimate the terrorism angle, and the impact of Bush's bluster on the “Islamic Street”. At the heart of Osama Bin Laden's Islamic critique of the West is a resentment of our power, our influence, our economic wealth, our support for repressive Arab regimes, and a sense shared throughout the Muslim world, as Thomas Friedman has written about in the New York Times, that we will do just about anything to enable our addiction to Petroleum. Bush's bully-boy approach to strong-arming the world community into a war that they don't feel is yet warranted plays right into the powerlessness that nurtures Arab terrorism. Bush is, in an absolutely material way, giving Bin Laden and his associates “talking points” for future al Queda enrollment, and hence the future murder of Americans. And he is demonstrating that any Arab state or group that wishes to challenge American hegemony in the area will never be able to oppose an American military, even if their cause happens to be legitimate -- and thus have no recourse but to resort to terrorism.

Why Now?
Why does this war need to happen NOW, especially considering the fact that Hussein clearly poses no threat to the world at the present time? One obvious reason is that Bush, by building up American forces in the region, has prematurely, and recklessly, depressed the accelerator pedal to a point where we are heading down the highway at a speed where a collision with Hussein is imminent, and probably cannot be avoided, regardless of whether more sober, saner heads in the Senate like Richard Luger or Chuck Hagel, or conservative commentators like Robert Novak or John McLaughlin, openly question if this war, at this time, is in the best interests of the United States. That Bush and Cheney, two leaders who themselves never fired a weapon in combat, or even put themselves in a position where they might face lethal force from an enemy, would propose to so aggressively, and without any immediate threat, project American power around the world is a phenomenon that deserves the highest degree of psychological and spiritual inquiry. Seen in the context of Karl Rove's remark that “we can go to the country on this issue”, and the shameful attack on decorated Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland in the recent mid-term election (in which Cleland was pictured side-by-side with Bin Laden), one begins to wonder if these reckless, power-drunk ideologues will stoop to any level to retain their grip on events – regardless of the potential long-term impact on their country. In light of Rove's remark, and the thrust of the recent mid-term elections, every American would also do well to ruthlessly consider the Bush Administrations political motives in pursuing this particular war AT THIS PARTICULAR MOMENT, with a faltering domestic economy, and the onset of the next Presidential campaign less than a year away.

Bush Contra Greenspan
As a further illustration of Bush's recklessness, we need only consider his proposed changes to the tax code. As credible a capitalist voice as Alan Greenspan has recently stated that he feels that Bush's proposed stimulus package is both excessive, and if unsuccessful, likely to lead the nation into an economic crisis later on – due to the risk of ever expanding deficits. He has been joined in this critique by more than a few GOP moderates in the Senate. Bush's response is to re-paint the rosy scenario, and talk about the unfairness of double taxation on dividends, etc – while never even acknowledging the wisdom of those who argue that the prospect of expanding deficits at the precise moment when the baby-boomers are beginning to retire, thus setting off the Social Security/Medicare Trust Fund time bombs, is as dangerous to the security of this country as any challenge the nation faces militarily. Airman Bush is, of course, supremely confident that he is right, just as a former World War I Corporal was supremely confident that Operation Barbarossa would vanquish the Soviet Union in short order.

Burning Down the Forest to Save a Single Tree
The nation and the world stand at an important crossroad. The great contribution of Bush I, the “new world order”, the idea of collective security and international unity in the face of aggression, hangs by a thread. There should be no doubt that Hussein has weapons of mass destruction that he is hiding. There is no question that Hussein needs to be contained. The only questions are those of how, and when, and whether a single nation should ever be arrogant enough to dictate to everyone else the details of when this will occur.

In a very real sense, Hussein is already adequately contained - particularly with one of the most heavily armed militaries in the world, that of the State of Israel, in his back yard. A more muscular inspection regime is likely to dramatically narrow his ability to cheat, and eventually, in time, find enough of the weapons to effectively prevent Iraq from once again becoming a menace to the region. Even the CIA suggests that a military invasion of Iraq is more likely to encourage Hussein to give his surviving WMDs to terrorists, and hence, likely to usher in a era of greater danger to Western Europe and the United States in the aftermath of a Gulf War II.

In the end, it is clear that the French position is the most sensible -- even if they have adopted it to thwart American hegemony in the world, and assert their own claim to leadership. It doesn't matter how you stumbled on to the truth, only that you found it. There needs to be more time for the inspectors to find the weapons - not because Hussein deserves any quarter at all, but because the United States and its allies need the time to better develop their defenses in the war on terrorism, to try once again to create a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and to attend to the much more urgent challenge that North Korea poses today. But our driver and his team of ideologically drunk revelers believe that they know better than anyone else whether they are sober enough to navigate the treacherous road ahead. They are confident that they can handle the inevitable reprisals among the Kurds, Shia and the Sunni - which will have profound implications for United States relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, an emerging democracy in Iran, Pakistan, to name only a few nations in play at the moment. They are equally certain that they will prevent Hussein from destroying his oil fields - and hence drive the price of oil even higher, further damaging the U.S. economy. They're sure that they can do what Ariel Sharon cannot - that is, use the sword to win a war of ideas, where young men and women with nothing to live for willingly sacrifice their lives for the promise of an eternity in paradise - and protect the most open society in the world from increasing, and ever more devastating, terrorism. I'm sure that they think they can, just as the drunk driver who slaughters some mother's child thought he or she could handle the ride home that night – even though everyone else in the bar that night told them to sleep it off, call a cab, or let someone else drive them home. But the drunk didn't listen, and neither is the Bush administration listening to anyone in the world community, or in this country, who happen to disagree with them. Based on both Dubya's and Cheney's history, and ultimately their character, I guess that we shouldn't be surprised.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2003. All rights reserved.

Originally published February 15, 2003.