Friday, July 15, 2005

Staying the Course

Stay the course. I’m getting tired of hearing this somewhat idiotic adage, Bush—and I hear you use it all the time. When I began to think about it, I assumed it had its origin in yachting. I was first aware of hearing it when your Dad was in office: as I recall, it was a favorite of his, too. And it made sense, with all that sailing going on at Kennebunkport and so on. But then I began to dig a little deeper and I discovered that it’s most likely origin is in horse racing, as in "that horse will never be able to stay the course." Or maybe other forms of racing.

Anyway, listen, here’s the point: you trot out this adage all the time as though it were some great, eternal truth. Well, staying the course maybe an admirable quality for a racehorse or a marathon runner, Bush. When it comes to human affairs, however, things begin to look a bit more complex. Suppose your course happens to be leading you toward the reefs, for example? Or an errant iceberg? Or, God forbid, into the path of a hurricane? Would wisdom not dictate a change of course, to avoid disaster? Would not the captain on the bridge be constantly re-evaluating the situation and preparing to make course corrections, based on the changing conditions he’s confronting? I think so.

That’s why your constant reiteration of the phrase seems so absurd to me. It works well, perhaps, as a sound bite, rallying support, but it’s essentially a piece of nonsense done up in the wrapping of popular wisdom. Just take a look at the murderous atrocities committed in Iraq in the past couple of days. I don’t know whether you happened to catch the CNN interviews with a couple of men who claimed to be insurgent commanders. I have to tell you they did not sound like wild-eyed fanatics, Bush. They did not sound like they commanded a ragtag bunch of disorganized amateurs. Not at all. They sounded like men of deep and abiding commitment, men of rather calm and self-confident assurance. Men with a mission—however misguided it might seem to you. Their stated dedication was to fight what they see to be American occupation of their country.

Without necessarily agreeing with their position, Bush, I do understand that the "course" you seem determined to "stay" is not producing the results you say you’re aiming for. So far, it has produced nothing but the opposite: more, more organized, and more dedicated resistance. You and your people estimate no more than a few thousand insurgents left to fight. These people estimate two hundred thousand and counting upward. They say they are well-armed and well-financed, and I see no reason to disbelieve them—especially given the failure, after the first thrust of your attack, to protect those vast supplies of arms and ammunition scattered in bunkers throughout the country. Your Rumsfeld’s suggestion of a dozen years of more is far more convincing to me than your Cheney’s "last throes."

So how about a change of course, Bush? How about a careful reappraisal of the situtation, in the light of current realities, and at least a course correction? This does not necessarily involve the retreat you seem to dread—although that, too, is a strategic option that a good commander surely will consider. I hope you have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War—an essential text, I’d imagine, for a man in your position. My suggestion is, you go back and take a look at this wonderful text. In the light of Sun Tzu’s subtle and nimble thought, "staying the course" will surely begin to sound like the empty cliché that it is.

No comments: