Family Dynamics

There may be a third President Bush, but he has to live with the decisions of the second one. He can praise those decisions or say he’s his own man and distance himself from them, but this is family – he has to say something. Americans want to know what they’re getting if they vote for him.

What’s done is done. In response to those September 11 attacks we invaded and pretty much took over Afghanistan, to rid that place of the Taliban and that guy they’d hosted, Osama bin Laden, who had said he had been the one behind what happened, or at least approved it. We took care of the Taliban, more or less, and nurtured a new if somewhat flaky government that would not let the Taliban run things again, hosting al-Qaeda again, but we didn’t get Osama bin Laden. He’d slipped away, but by then we were off to Iraq anyway, because of those weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had – which he didn’t have – and because Iraq was a state sponsor of terrorism – even if that was a matter of their support for the PLO and other enemies of Israel. Al-Qaeda had long despised Saddam Hussein for being too damned secular. There was no connection there, and George Bush was finally forced to admit that Saddam Hussein didn’t have anything at all to do with the September 11 attacks, but terrorism is terrorism, right?

That wasn’t going to fly – we’d lost years there by then, and far too many lives, and spent far too much money – so we shifted to talk about how the point had always been to build a Jeffersonian secular democracy in Iraq, as an example to the region, to show everyone over there the virtues of the American Way in that New American Century that the neoconservatives had said was well underway. It had been a demonstration project all along. Now we knew, and all we had to do was tamp down the Sunni-Shiite civil war that had exploded once we had settled in, and George Bush’s “surge” would take care of that – thirty thousand additional troops to stop the internecine violence, to give both sides “breathing room” to work out their differences and form a sensible inclusive government.

That didn’t work. The Bush administration finally just set a firm date for us to leave, and carefully negotiated a status of forces agreement, to keep enough of our troops in Iraq to keep al-Qaeda types from setting up shop there, until 2011 – but no longer. Malaki would be hounded out of office if he agreed to Americans in Iraq pretty much forever. He told Obama they he really couldn’t sign any extension to the Bush agreement – his own parliament would never ratify it – and we left.

We really had no choice, because we had said that Iraq really was now a sovereign nation after all – we had made it so – and that left Iraq as a sovereign nation run by a Shiite strongman, Malaki, as opposed to a Sunni strongman, Saddam Hussein, and closely aligned with their two Shiite neighbors, Iran and Syria, our current nemesis-twins in the region. The major Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia, was infuriated, and the internal Sunni-Shiite civil war still rages on in Iraq, and with ISIS trying to take back what they can from the Shiites in Iraq and Syria, and with the Saudis fighting the Shiite rebels who have taken over Yemen. We pulled a few strings two years ago and got rid of Maliki, but the new guy, Haider al-Abadi, is little more than a more pleasant version of Maliki – a Shiite strongman who smiles and says he’s working on that be-nice-to-Sunnis thing. He isn’t. And we are long gone from Iraq.

At least Osama bin Laden is dead. We got him, far too late, and curiously, without a major war and occupation. A small team slipped into Pakistan and shot him dead, not that it mattered that Obama did what George Bush had vowed that he, George Bush, would do. By then Osama bin Laden didn’t matter. Al-Qaeda had become a loose affiliation of independently owned and operated franchises, or really, a trademark appropriated by all sorts of terrorists organizations calling themselves Al-Qaeda in This or Al-Qaeda in That. Osama bin Laden wasn’t even a figurehead by then. The thing had metastasized. Now al-Qaeda is almost a memory – ISIS took its place.

That’s the legacy, and in February, 2014, Slate’s Fred Kaplan insisted on setting the record straight:

It’s maddening to have to repeat this fact over and over, but George W. Bush – not Barack Obama – negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, which required the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. One clause allowed the deadline to be extended by the vote of both countries’ parliaments, but the Iraqi parliament wasn’t about to do any such thing. Obama dispatched emissaries, including one who’d also worked in the Bush White House, to see if some deal could be arranged. It couldn’t.

At the time, Kaplan added this:

Maliki has his own agenda. It doesn’t align much with ours; it never did, a fact that some smart colonels and generals realized at the time. He sees our past alliance as one of convenience and has now moved on to other allies, including Iran – except, of course, when he needs arms and consulting advisers to stave off his old enemies, in which case he turns to us again, and we supply him with what we can. This is fine, when it’s also in our interests to resupply him, but there should be no illusions; there’s no point going back in deeper, even if the treaty allowed it, because, like the last time, we won’t be able to settle the war on our terms.

That’s the reality of the thing. Obama actually understood Maliki:

He too has an unsentimental outlook on the world. His views have been tempered by Iraq and scorched by Afghanistan. He’s not shy about using military force, but insists, when possible, to grip it tightly. “Escalation” is a suspect term; “uncontrolled escalation,” is an unacceptable one.

Those, however, are not suspect terms to Republicans, and Robert Costa explains a new shift in Republican strategy:

After more than a decade bearing the political burden of Iraq, Republicans are making a dogged effort to shed it by arguing that the Islamic State’s gruesome ascent is a symptom of Obama’s foreign policy, rather than a byproduct of the 2003 invasion they once championed… At the least, it is an attempt to have Iraq seen as a shared failure, begun by a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress but inherited and fumbled by Democrats…

The political endgame for Republicans is a general election where Clinton can be portrayed as someone who initially backed the U.S. mission but did not see it through. In that sense, foisting blame on Obama is only the first step in the GOP’s aims. Knowing their ownership of the invasion in the eyes of voters has not faded, they would like to distance themselves from the messy debate over weapons of mass destruction and make the Islamic State – how it rose and how to stop it – the central political battleground on foreign policy.

Jeb Bush is already testing out this new strategy:

Bush said that Obama “abandoned” Iraq and lamented the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State terrorists, saying that “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president” and that Al Qaeda was decimated under his brother. “You think about the family members who lost – our blood and treasure’s in Ramadi, and they won, they won that battle,” he said. “It was hard-fought and that stability has been lost.”

Asked about Bush’s Iraq comments on Thursday, White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said reporters were “missing the point.”

“We know that ISIL was an outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that did not exist prior to the fateful decision by the previous administration to launch an invasion in Iraq,” Earnest said.

The former Florida governor also reiterated that he loves his family, but that he is a different man than his brother and father, the 43rd and 41st presidents, respectively.

“I love my mom and dad, I love my brother, and people are going to have just get over that,” he said to applause.

That’s an interesting dynamic, and Greg Sargent adds this:

It’s hard to say whether it will work: While blaming Obama is a sure-fire winner among GOP primary voters, the middle of the country may still have firm memories of Iraq as Bush’s war. The strategy also risks putting more pressure on Republicans to detail what they would do in Iraq instead. Of course, with the situation in Iraq deteriorating, and with Obama’s numbers on foreign policy ailing, perhaps many Americans will be open to spreading the blame around.

It’s also worth noting, though, that the current sanitizing of the history of the Iraq War could help in this effort. The “knowing what you know now” question simplifies the genesis of the Iraq War by blaming it all on a supposed intelligence failure. That alone whitewashes away the fact that many critics warned at the time that the intelligence might not actually indicate what Bush and company claimed it did, and that Bush might be cherry-picking intelligence to help build the case for an invasion. Worse… this narrative also obscures the fact that invading was a bad idea regardless of whether Saddam had WMDs – because it risked creating all kind of unintended consequences.

But it might work:

The story now becomes: Hey, we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq based on what we know now, and it was a mistake, given the intelligence failure. But since we did, what really matters is how we prosecute the current conflict. This is now all about Obama’s strategy – Bush’s “mistake” is old news – and Obama’s weakness is really to blame for the current mess.

Simon Maloy notes the other factor:

Establishment Republicans and neocons pleaded with Jeb to stop being so bad at politics and start defending his brother’s war. Randy Scheunemann, a neoconservative activist and lobbyist, told BuzzFeed that Jeb should immediately pivot to blaming Obama for the chaos in Iraq. “Gov. Bush could easily say to Obama, ‘The surge was working. You were handed a three-run lead at the bottom of the ninth, all you had to do was come in and close, and you blew the game.'”

That was actually the message Jeb laid out back in February in his big national security speech that everyone’s already forgotten. And he’s coming back to it now, attacking Obama for not leaving behind a large residual force of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. “The focus should be ‘Knowing what we know now, Mr. President, should you have kept 10,000 troops in Iraq?'” he said in New Hampshire yesterday. Instead, Jeb argues, Obama “abandoned” Iraq for political reasons.

Okay, one more time:

This is a bogus argument that assumes that the only factor preventing the U.S. from leaving a massive troop presence behind in Iraq was Obama’s political agenda. It was actually the Iraqis who made the residual force an impossibility. George W. Bush had negotiated a timetable for withdrawal that required all U.S. troops to be out of the country by the end of 2011, and the Iraqis (after many years of military occupation) were eager to adhere to it. Obama, despite his campaign promises to withdraw American forces from Iraq, tried to negotiate with the Iraqi government to leave behind a residual force of 3,500 soldiers, but Iraq would not agree to necessary legal protections for the American troops. There were powerful factions within the Iraqi government that would not support any troop presence of any size, and “followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were threatening renewed violence if any American troops stayed past the end of the year.” Unable to achieve any sort of agreement, the negotiations fell apart and the U.S. troops pulled out.

Maloy is not impressed:

The argument coming from Bush and Scheunemann and other critics who blame the rise of ISIS entirely on the failure to leave behind U.S. troops is that Obama should have forced the Iraqi government to ignore or overcome its political divisions and accept a continued American military force. And the assumption they make is that the presence of those American forces would have encouraged the corrupt and authoritarian prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to stop alienating and repressing rival Sunni factions, which helped create the toxic political conditions in which ISIS has thrived. The Bush administration wasn’t able to accomplish that task with over a hundred thousand troops on the ground, but Obama could have done it with 10,000 because… well, just because.

The neocons say we invaded Iraq so we could bring freedom and democracy to the region. And after setting up a democratically elected Iraqi government, they’re attacking Barack Obama for not trying hard enough to undermine that government’s sovereignty and strong-arm it into accepting American military forces.

The illogic of all this is inescapable, so Jeb will have to rely on Americans’ profound and persistent disregard for logic. Iraq is a mess. The whole Middle East is a mess. My brother is a fine fellow. It’s all Obama’s fault. That might work, but there’s a backup plan:

Jeb Bush on Thursday put a bit more space between himself and his brother, part of a slow-motion and seemingly reluctant distancing effort as he moves toward a White House bid.

After being asked by a questioner at a sports bar here whether there is any “space” between the Bush brothers on issues, Jeb Bush pointed to the scale of government spending during the George W. Bush presidency.

“I think that in Washington, during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money,” Jeb Bush said. “I think he could have used the veto power – he didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C.”

Well, he did face the facts:

Total federal spending grew from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to nearly $3 trillion in 2008, an annual growth rate of 7 percent. Spending in President Obama’s first six years has had an annual growth rate of about 4 percent.

There’s no getting around that, but Jeb is not exactly cutting ties:

“I don’t feel compelled to go out of my way to criticize Republican presidents. Just call me a team player here,” he told voters at the sports bar Thursday morning. “It just so happens that the last two Republican presidents happened to be my dad and my brother.”

Later, Bush was asked during a radio interview whether he is ever bothered by attacks on his family. He said he will be ­”successful” if he can “show what kind of person I am.”

“If it’s all about the past, if it’s all about whether the Bushes are going to break the Adams family [record] in terms of the number of people who are president, that’s a loser… I totally get that – and I think people have a right to question me, and I’ll have every opportunity to convince them of who I am.”

That might be difficult. Jeb has issues, and this calls for an expert like Peter Wolson – a Training and Supervising Analyst on the faculty of the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies and their former President and Director of Training, and a Resident Faculty member of the Wright Institute Los Angeles. He has a private practice here in Beverly Hills, but he often writes about politics, from a psychoanalytic perspective, and he finds Jeb interesting:

There is convincing evidence of Jeb’s internal conflict between his desire to become “his own man” and his fear of separating from and antagonizing his family, especially the brother he idealized as a child. This dynamic may be even more conflicted because Jeb’s personal history demonstrates that he has already strongly differentiated himself from his family to become his own man.

He married a Mexican woman whose father had been a waiter and migrant worker, for example, not a society debutant. He became fluent in Spanish and converted to Catholicism. His policies as Florida governor were far closer to conservative than moderate. He also made Florida his home rather than the family favorites, Maine and Texas.

Put that in perspective:

Separating from your family is part of growing up. You go from extreme dependency as a baby and throughout childhood to the independence of adulthood. Teenage acts of rebellion, when adolescents can disagree with virtually everything parents say and stand for – is part of this transition. The turbulence of adolescence reflects the internal conflict between a teen’s desire to remain a child and the desire to separate and become his or her own person. It culminates in a break that enables teenagers to form separate identities.

As teenagers reject their parents and their values, they create the internal space to develop their own opinions, tastes, ideals and goals. Though they may retain many aspects of their parents’ views and values, they develop their own distinctive framework for them. They create who they are in the world.

Mark Twain described this transition. “When I was a boy of 14,” he wrote, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

But it could be that, in striving to step into the presidential shoes of his long-idealized older brother and his even more idealized father, Jeb somehow regressed and lost confidence in himself.

That may be what’s going on here:

Children with powerful family members are frequently filled with self-doubt. They can feel like failures when comparing themselves to older siblings and parental figures. They might experience normal manifestations of separation or individuation – including adolescent rebellion or just the act of forming their own opinions – as if they are attacking or even killing their family members. Understandably, this causes them not just guilt but a growing fear of alienating their family.

Clinging to family love through idealization is a defensive reaction against aggressive feelings from separation and individuation. Most adolescents resolve this conflict as they realize they are merely killing off their family’s controlling influence over them – not their actual family members.

If these are the psychodynamics that caused Jeb to flounder this past week, his major challenge is if and how quickly he can work through them. He has to fully recover a mind of his own – and convince the American public that he is not George W. Bush II.

And first he has to convince himself, or something, and Digby (Heather Parton) has what seems to be an appropriate reaction:

Reading that almost makes me feel sorry for Jeb. Not because of the armchair psychological profile of his family dynamic – which is cheap speculation – I feel sorry for him because he’s being discussed this way at all.

I guess it’s inevitable but I hate it. Yes, he’s shackled to his family’s political legacy and is having to pay a price for his father and brother’s failures. But this stuff is junk. Who knows what his motivations are and whether or now he’s gone through the normal processes of “separation and individuation”? And who cares? What matters is how he deals with the reality that his brother’s presidency was an epic failure and how or if he would do things differently.

That’s what people want to know. People are waiting, or maybe not:

On the heels of uninspired reactions from an Iowa focus group, “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough sounded the lack-of-enthusiasm alarm Thursday for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush among potential Republican primary voters.

Scarborough, along with Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, remarked that voters they’ve come in contact with at GOP events, unlike other candidates, are not coming to events to see Bush. The MSNBC host said that voters are simply not “talking about him,” adding further that excitement surrounding the potential candidate is “non-existent.”

“Nobody’s running around with their hair on fire going ‘I just hate Jeb Bush’ – it’s worse than that,” Scarborough said. “Nobody’s talking about him. I have yet to find the first person in all the Republican events I’ve been to come up to me and go ‘I’m here for Jeb.’ It’s non-existent.”

“Have you ever had anybody come up to you in any of these Republican events saying, ‘I came here, I drove here specifically for Jeb?'” Scarborough asked Halperin. “You hear that for everybody else. Have you ever heard that for Jeb?”

He hadn’t, and Scarborough added this:

“I do think that he would be the strongest general election candidate. And I think he would be a great president. That’s me personally,” Scarborough admitted. “But, boy, I don’t see how gets through a primary process where people – again, it’s not anger or rage. They just don’t connect to him.”

That means that Peter Wolson may be right. Jeb first has to work out those family dynamics. Then he’ll have something to say. But no one has time to wait for that, although everyone wishes him well. We all know our own families.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Family Dynamics

  1. Rick says:

    I guess we should have fully realized what “defending his brother’s record” was going to mean once Jeb starting talking like a candidate, but little did we know it would mean him juggling live hand-grenades with their pins pulled.

    Yet one gets the feeling that Jeb must have known what was coming, and so he did plan ahead, it’s just that his plan fell apart on execution, like someone who’d been practicing telling a joke all day, but when the time came, he blew the punchline.

    The thing is, though, all this was probably inevitable. Had Jeb merely answered the question as asked — “Yes, if we knew then what we know now, I would not have invaded” — or, once he realized that he misunderstood the question, had he immediately backtracked — then none of this would be happening. But that wasn’t going to happen, Jeb being who he is — someone who is so very anxious to shift the blame of Iraq to Hillary, and so very reluctant to let his brother get tainted with even a speck of blame for his own mistakes — and so Jeb stumbled into his own trap.

    What does this little affair say about how he’d handle himself as president? This is not a confidence builder, I must say.

    I’m guessing that Jeb’s pathway ahead, should he ever recover from this, will probably involve further rewrites of history, aided and abetted by certain fellow Republicans who wish him well (including maybe John McCain, who said on September 11, 2014, “We had it won, thanks to the surge. It was won.”). Politico zeros in on what Jeb said Wednesday at an event in New Hampshire:

    Bush said that Obama “abandoned” Iraq and lamented the fall of Ramadi to Islamic State terrorists, saying that “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president” and that Al Qaeda was decimated under his brother. “You think about the family members who lost – our blood and treasure’s in Ramadi, and they won, they won that battle,” he said. “It was hard-fought and that stability has been lost.”

    The implication here is that his brother had won the Iraq War, and that the Iraq he had left was “stable” — but then Obama lost it. Maybe if Jeb, at some point, becomes the presumptive Republican nominee, the party echo-chamber can fire up to reinforce that revisionist idea, but before that happens, let me remind everybody of what they already know:

    Our side didn’t “win” the Iraq War.

    You need proof? Here it is:

    If the war had been a unqualified success, would the Republicans who launched it all be trying now to claim that Democrats should share some of the responsibility, instead of claiming all the “credit” for themselves?

    Then, of course, there’s the surge. Simon Maloy, in Salon:

    Establishment Republicans and neocons pleaded with Jeb to stop being so bad at politics and start defending his brother’s war. Randy Scheunemann, a neoconservative activist and lobbyist, told BuzzFeed that Jeb should immediately pivot to blaming Obama for the chaos in Iraq. “Gov. Bush could easily say to Obama, ‘The surge was working. You were handed a three-run lead at the bottom of the ninth, all you had to do was come in and close, and you blew the game.’”

    Although it probably won’t convince anyone — since history always becomes suspect as just somebody else’s version of events immediately after they happen — let’s revisit that “surge”.

    If the idea of the “surge” was to reduce all that sectarian violence to a level where all the parties over there would get a chance to form a government, then it didn’t really work. This is Alex Kingsbury in the November 17, 2014, Boston Globe:

    Violence in Iraq began to decline before the surge started. Civilian deaths peaked in July 2006, at more than 3,250 per month, a full six months before the surge policy was even announced. This was the result of many factors, including the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad’s neighborhoods.

    Another way of saying that is that the surge “worked” in the same way that closing that barn door after all the horses got out “worked”. Here’s more detail:

    As early February 2005 and more widely in 2006, Sunni tribes began turning against Al Qaeda, which entered the country for the first time on the heels of the US invasion. Also critical was the 2007 stand-down by militias — particularly the Mahdi Army under the control of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. A 2011 study published in the Small Wars Journal found these and other “intangible factors affect security more than the number of deployed coalition battalions.”

    It’s not hard to see why Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would stand-down his militias — why keep fighting the Americans if it’s obvious they’ll be leaving soon anyway? — but also every reason to believe he would have sent them back into battle, had the Iraqi government signed an agreement allowing the Americans to stay.

    And even in the actual announcement of the surge in his January 2007 radio address, then-President Bush acknowledged the success already of that “Sunni Awakening” in Anbar:

    Recently, local tribal leaders have begun to show their willingness to take on Al Qaida, and, as a result, our commanders believe we have an opportunity to deal a serious blow to the terrorists. So I’ve given orders to increase American forces in Anbar Province by 4,000 troops.

    The truth is, the promise of the surge had nothing to do with giving us a chance to “win the war”, since everybody by that time was convinced that the war was already a lost cause. The hope was that the surge would give us cover to get the hell out of there. “The surge didn’t ‘win’ anything. It bought time,” according to retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger in his book, “Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.”

    Kingsbury’s conclusion:

    For Americans, the myth of the victorious surge is so seductive because it perpetuates an illusion of control. It frames the Iraq War as something other than a geostrategic blunder and remembers our effort as something more than a stalemate. What’s more, it reinforces the notion that it’s possible to influence events around the world, if only military force is deployed properly. It’s a myth that makes victory in the current Iraq mission appear achievable.

    But given that Americans love mythology more than they do history, the Democrats still have an uphill fight in correcting the record. Still, I’d advise they take a lesson from Jerry Della Femina, once known as the “‘Madman’ of Madison Avenue”, which purportedly was the inspiration for that TV show.

    Remember him? He was an advertising executive who wrote that book in the early 1970s with a title inspired by someone’s tongue-in-cheek slogan suggested for Panasonic during a company brainstorm session, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor”.

    The point is, especially if Jeb Bush becomes the Republican nominee, the Republicans likely will try to spin history in their direction, which in fact will not only be counter-factual, but also counter to the memory of us Americans who lived through it, and even counter to the memories, apparently, of all those other Republican candidates who so quickly jumped in last week to contradict Jeb.

    So if Jeb becomes the nominee, we all need to remember to use this slogan:

    “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You The War In Iraq!”

    Maybe somebody should write a book with that title.

    Rick

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