August 28, 2006


"Say it! Say it! Say 'I lost the nest-egg.' Go on, say it! " *

*David Howard (Albert Brooks) to his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) after she gambled away their life savings in Lost in America.

Lost in America

I was reminded of this classic scene from Albert Brooks' Lost in America while reading The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg's analysis of our current situation in Iraq. In his piece entitled Snake Eyes, Hertzberg quotes war pundits, pro and con, who saw the President's war in Iraq as a gamble:
Three and a half years ago, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, commentators across the board agreed that the coming war would be a gamble—“the greatest shake of the dice any President has voluntarily engaged in since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan,” Thomas Friedman called it. The metaphor came up again and again as the war approached. “This is the biggest gamble any President has taken in my lifetime,” a foreign-policy specialist at the Heritage Foundation said. “By accident or design, President Bush has allowed Iraq to become the gamble of a lifetime,” the Washington Post noted. Some viewed the gamble with apprehension. “Whatever this war’s effect on the region, globally it may be an even bigger roll of the dice for the United States than either its proponents or critics have argued,” Charles W. Freeman, Jr., who was the first President Bush’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, wrote. Others were thrilled by the audacity, the swagger, the sheer “High Noon” moral clarity of it all. “This is Texas poker, with the President putting everything on Iraq,” a Republican senator told the columnist Robert Novak, with relish.
Forget that Bush gambled on his place in history. He has gambled away lives, money and America's goodwill:
It is in the nature of gambling that the gamble may lose. The dice have now been well and truly rolled, and they have come up snake eyes. The war’s sole real gain—the overthrow of the murderous Saddam Hussein regime—is mocked by the chaos and suffering that have overwhelmed millions of Iraqis, whose country is again a republic of fear. The concrete losses are horrific: nearly three thousand American and “coalition” troops killed; thousands more maimed; scores of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; a third of a trillion dollars burned through. So are the less tangible ones: the unprecedented levels of anti-Americanism throughout the Muslim world and Europe; the self-inflicted loss of America’s moral prestige; the neglect of real nuclear dangers, in Iran and North Korea, while chimeras were chased in Iraq. The neoconservative project of a friendly, democratic Middle East, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, is worse than a charred ruin—it is a flaming inferno.
George W. Bush should no longer be allowed to say his version of "nest-egg": 9/11. He should be looked upon with scorn and contempt should he ever utter a 9, an eleven or a "September."

He also should no longer be able to say any variations of the phrase "stay the course." To me, "stay the course" is the equivalent of this scene at the roulette table in Lost in America when Linda, in full gambling-fever mode and unable to cut her losses and run, blows it all on one last gamble:
"Twenty-two, twenty-two, come on back to me, come on back to me!"
Our empty-headed President obviously has no plan, no ideas. He's just throwing dice and hoping for a big win. And he hopes that, by playing the fear card (the "if we don't fight them over there" nonsense), he'll be seen as a bold visionary and protector of America instead of the man who has helped make the world a more dangerous place:
At the end of the week, after British authorities foiled what was evidently a large-scale plot to destroy transatlantic airliners and murder thousands of passengers, President Bush called the plot “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.” But the war in Iraq is wholly irrelevant to the means chosen by the London terrorists, and the means that thwarted them—dogged police work, lawful surveillance, international coöperation—are precisely those which have been gratuitously starved or stymied on account of the material, political, and human resources that have been, and continue to be, wasted in Iraq. Why not change the game to one that relies less on gambling and bluff and more on wisdom, planning, and (in every sense) intelligence?
Or as David Howard said to his wife:
"If you pick up that Keno card, I'll kill you. I'll kill you."

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