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 A Sinking Ship 

February 28, 2006 
As President Bush’s approval ratings hit the canvas, one of his oldest supporters, a man he recently honored at the White House on the occasion of his 80th birthday, Today's column is "A Sinking Ship" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.has decided to admit the obvious. William F. Buckley now describes the Iraq war as a “defeat” for the United States.

In Buckley’s words, “One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.” He adds, in the wake of the bombing of the ancient Samara mosque, “Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans.”

Allow me to gloat. Schadenfreud, thy name is Sobran. During my last years at National Review, Buckley’s magazine, I argued in vain against his fervent call for war against Iraq; he called Saddam Hussein a “global menace.” I was rebuked and eventually fired. Not long afterward, Buckley turned control of the magazine over to a new generation of Republicans who could be relied on to favor any war against any Arab.

So the conservative brat pack has been cheering on the latest Bush war and sneering at its opponents, those lousy liberal peaceniks — and a few America-hating conservatives too. They assumed they enjoyed the blessing of the magazine’s founder, who has never opposed a war in living memory. Bombs away!

Now the old man has pulled the ultimate patriarchal dirty trick by yanking the rug out from under his own heirs. How are they going to explain to their readers that the Ancient Mariner has decided to jump ship? How humiliating! It’s as if Hans and Franz had been bitch-slapped by Ahnold himself!

My guess is that they will minimize this defection, if indeed they mention it at all. After all, National Review has a long tradition of what might be called ostrich journalism. It operates on the principle “What our readers don’t know won’t hurt them,” which assumes that those readers get all their news from National Review and no other source, so no embarrassing news will reach them.

In this case, however, Rush Limbaugh has already spilled the beans by expressing his puzzlement that Buckley would give up on the Iraq war, just when it is going so awfully well. (“We Are Winning!” a National Review cover boasted last year, and that remains the party line, no matter what the hated liberal media may say.)

[Breaker quote for A Sinking Ship: The Bush disaster]Buckley suffers from that common affliction of the aging celebrity: reverse Alzheimer’s, when everyone forgets who you used to be. And conservatives now think it’s clever to accuse liberals of everything liberals used to accuse them of: Isolationism, nativism, anti- Semitism, and so forth, as they shatter all the liberals’ records for deficit spending and outdo them in Constitution-twisting.

Meanwhile, Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s, has called for Bush’s impeachment. With a Republican Congress, he concedes, this is unlikely to happen, especially given “the apathy of an American public reluctant to recognize the President of the United States as a felon.” But it’s desirable that someone should go on the record as proposing it, just so future generations will know that at least a few of us were keeping score.

Lapham shouldn’t despair. More and more Republicans are edging away from their president, and more and more conservatives — even at National Review — are asking why Bush was ever mistaken for a conservative. Another conservative, Bruce Bartlett, has written a book calling Bush an “impostor” and “pretend conservative” on several grounds, quite apart from the Iraq war. The polls suggest that for most Americans, Bush’s impeachment would be something less than a trauma.

As Lapham says, impeachment isn’t a punishment; it’s a constitutional “remedy” for the wayward use of power. In the words of John Dean, best known for his testimony against Richard Nixon in the Watergate days, “Bush is the first president to admit to an impeachable offense.” Namely, his directive to the National Security Agency to snoop on suspected terrorists without warrants, “a felony,” Lapham notes, “under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (punishable by five years in prison and a $10,000 fine).” That’s a little more serious than perjury about Monica Lewinsky.

Conservatives are going to have to repudiate Bush loudly, en masse, and soon — unless they want conservative to become a synonym for psychotic, criminal, and lousy at arithmetic.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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