Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tracy McGrady and George Bush

Tracy McGrady, a seven-time NBA All Star, just experienced his fifth first-round loss in the NBA playoffs, although the Rockets took it to seven games. Before the series he said, "This is on me. It’s on me to lead my team to victory."

Overall he played well, but Utah had a better team, especially as their big men were more mobile than Yao Ming (as in Ming vase), an over-hyped player whose offensive limitations and defensive liabilities are rarely mentioned for fear of reducing the NBA's worldwide revenue.

When the series was over, wiping a tear from his eye, McGrady admitted his failure and responsibility, even though during the series he was his team’s most effective player. In his view he could have played better, thus accepted the blame for the loss. There's a manly approach to responsibility and failure, even if a bit harsh.

In The Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis writes that “a king should be the first in battle and the last to retreat." We read about such men in history, like William the Conqueror and Admiral Nelson. They are hard to imagine in this day and age.

Imagine if George Bush, "The Decider," like Tracy McGrady, said: "I decided to go to war with Iraq. It was one of my early policy aims and 9/11 only steeled my resolve to do it. Yes, I had advisers who favored it, but I didn't have to take their advice. I take responsibility for our failure there, and I'm going to do everything I can to get our troops back home. We’ve lost and it’s on me. Time to move on." (Shocking, I know.)

One of the great things about sports, for all the criticism of salaries and steroids, is that athletes can tell the truth about things like responsibility and disappointment. Like McGrady, they can even speak in the first person. For Bush it’s mainly “we” when speaking about the war, and not the magisterial “we” of the Queen but the “we” that implies a country united in a dumbass war. Spin, spin, spin.

Bush rails against our enemies, the violent fanatics, but what is he? His invasion of Iraq has resulted in more violence than if we had not invaded. (Here I say “we” because Congress and the American people initially supported the war, though we now know, recently confirmed by the former head of the CIA, that intelligence was manipulated for political purposes.)

Although it is painfully obvious that the Iraqis are worse off than under Saddam, Bush remains a true believer. I don't think he's mad; I don't think he's evil; I don't think he's merely misguided; I think he actually believes in what he's doing. This qualifies him as a fanatic, because one definition of a fanatic is someone who continues to believe and act upon his beliefs when all the facts point to the contrary. How have suicide bombers in any way advanced the Palestinian cause? How has the invasion of Iraq made the world safer?

Bush still believes that democracy is the best defense against terrorism, and in this he is likely right. The problem is, you can't impose democracy on a primitive, feudal, theocratic society. Such a society must first go through a dictatorship that can guarantee order while promoting modernization before democracy can even be considered. This is what Ataturk did for Turkey and Deng Xiaoping did for China. For Bush and his advisers to be ignorant of this necessary transition seems unfathomable to me.

The recent death of David Halberstam reminds us of the irony of his book, The Best and the Brightest, which exposed a cadre of extremely intelligent, accomplished men whose hubris—a failure to grasp both history and the limits of American power— steered us into the (as yet) still greater quagmire of Viet Nam—something against which even De Gaulle, no friend of America, warned Kennedy not to stick his shoe in.

Unlike Tracy McGrady, Bush doesn’t think he’s lost the playoffs yet. As president all he has to do is use his executive powers to extend the series. Since he is convinced his principles must be right, reality can’t concern him. “Right makes might” is a silly approach to foreign policy—unless the leader of the free world tries to make a Sunday School lesson out of it. Then comedy becomes tragedy. 36,000 more troops are scheduled to be sent to Iraq. Does this mean the first troop “surge” failed? No, the series has just been extended.

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