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History as an Alibi
By Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

Wednesday 11 July 2007

On Friday, Condi Rice played hooky and spent the afternoon at the Tiger Woods golf tournament at Congressional Country Club in suburban Maryland.

She had lunch at the clubhouse with Tiger, who had dedicated the contest to American servicemen. She followed Phil Mickelson and Brad Faxon for a bit, after having them over to the White House on the Fourth to watch the fireworks. She gave interviews about her newfound affection for golf, laughing about her errant drives and "wicked hook."

Like W. going out boating and fishing in Kennebunkport as Britain and its new prime minister, Gordon Brown, reeled from terrorist attacks, Condi acted as if she didn't have a care in the world. And why on earth should she?

The homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff, has a gut feeling that a Qaeda cell might be coming or already be here. "Summertime seems to be appealing to them," he said, sounding more like a meteorologist than the man charged with keeping us safe.

With 30 mortars hitting the Green Zone yesterday and Army recruiting wilting, some Bush advisers are at long last coming around to the Baker-Hamilton report recommendation that they should engage in intense diplomacy with the countries around Iraq.

Someone might tell Condi - who said in one of her golf interviews that her zest for sports is so all-encompassing that "I love anything with a score at the end" - that she'd better get to work or America's score in Iraq will be zero.

The Iraq war she helped sell has turned into Grendel, devouring everything in sight and making it uninhabitable. It has ravaged Iraq, Bush's presidency, the federal budget, the Republican majority, American invincibility and integrity, and now, John McCain's chance to be president.

And there's no Beowulf in sight. Just a bunch of spectacularly wrong hawks stubbornly continuing to be spectacularly wrong at what an alarmed Republican Senator John Warner calls "a time in our history unlike any I have ever witnessed before."

Watching the warring tribes in Iraq grow more violent has caused the beginning of a reconciliation among the warring tribes in Washington, as they realize they have to get the car keys away from the careening president who has crashed into the globe.

With Republicans in revolt over the surge and losing patience, and Bushies worried, as one put it to The Washington Post, that "July has become the new September," the president decided to do a p.r. surge to sound as if he's acquainted with reality.

But in a speech in Cleveland yesterday, the president was still repeating his deranged generalities. Making a tiny concession, he said we would be able to pull back troops "in a while," whatever that means, but asked Congress to wait for Gen. David Petraeus to debrief on the surge in September - rather than focus on the report due this week that says the ineffectual Iraq government has failed to meet benchmarks set by America.

It was ironic that his strongest supporter to the bitter end was the Republican who was once his bitter rival. There was speculation that Mr. McCain would come back from his visit to Iraq and revise his bullish support of the war to save his imploding campaign. But the opposite happened.

As his top advisers were purged, Mr. McCain went to the floor of the Senate to reassert his warped view that "there appears to be overall movement in the right direction."

Like W., Senator McCain values the advice of Henry Kissinger and said, "We can find wisdom in several suggestions put forward recently by Henry Kissinger."

Why they continue to seek counsel from the man who kept the Vietnam War going for years just to protect Richard Nixon's electoral chances is beyond mystifying. But Mr. Kissinger holds their attention with all his warnings of "American impotence" emboldening radical Islam and Iran. Can't W. and Mr. McCain see that American muscularity, stupidly thrown around, has already emboldened radical Islam and Iran?

The president mentioned in his speech yesterday that he was reading history, and he has been summoning historians and theologians to the White House for discussions on the fate of Iraq and the nature of good and evil.

W. thinks history will be his alibi. When presidents have screwed up and want to console themselves, they think history will give them a second chance. It's the historical equivalent of a presidential pardon.

But there are other things - morality, strategy and security - that are more pressing than history. History is just the fanciest way possible of wanting to deny or distract attention from what's happening now.  

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