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Measure Once, Cut Twice

 wood shop

I suppose the problem started with Andover, Bush's prep school. Evidently there's no class in wood shop, where Bush could have learned the first basic rule of carpentry: measure twice, cut once.

I learned it first from my dad, and later – as a teen – had it reinforced by a master carpenter who had been a combat engineer in Vietnam. We were working together on a volunteer construction project, and he was watching all of us volunteers to see that no one got hurt and to insure that the project was up to code. Once, seeing me about to make a cut in a 4×4, he stopped me before the saw met the wood. "What? I measured it," I protested, a bit defensively. "Yes, but you only measured once," he replied. "That's a great recipe for making toothpicks, but a lousy way to build a house. If you're going to build something, it's 'Measure twice, cut once.'" 

I heard that refrain later in shop class, too. A classmate had planned on building a glorious doghouse for his golden retriever, but after mis-measuring a critical board, he realized that it had been cut too short and would not work. He scaled down his plans, and once more screwed up one of the cuts. Then he did it a third time. He ended up making a simple, small birdhouse, and even then the corners didn't fit too well.  "But I measured it!" he wailed. The teacher had little sympathy: "Measure twice, cut once."

Bush obviously does foreign and military policy planning using the toothpick recipe: measure once, cut twice.

Then-Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki told Bush in Spring 2003 that his measurements for troop strength were too light, but Bush didn't listen. Now almost four years later Bush wants to boost the troop strength . . . but that board's been cut and you can't go back.

The glorious plans for Iraq called for a "shock and awe" to defeat Saddam, stun the country into meek submission, and then let the neo-con nation builders play at being James Madison in the Middle East. (I think we're up to 1402 days on that one, right, NorskeFlamethrower?) "Major combat has ended," proclaimed Bush in his flight suit on the USS Lincoln, but that too has proved to be a mismeasurement. (Keith Olbermann keeps measuring that one for us – how many days has it been now, Keith?)

A thousand mismeasured policies later, and we're surrounded by sawdust and woodchips, reduced to trying to make a birdhouse. And it's not looking good for the birds.

Never mind that the Generals in charge don't think that this will work. More troops at the outset might have worked, but now . . . not so much. As the Washington Post said on yesterday's front page,

When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.

Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. "It's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans," he told The Washington Post in an interview last month. "I'm a strict adherer to the command structure."

Right. As long as everyone salutes the Adherer-in-Chief at the top of that structure. The WaPo goes on:

Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq.

Maybe the generals have done their measuring, not once but twice. According to that non-lefty, non-pacifist Larry Johnson,

George Bush still does not get it.  The war in Iraq is not and never has been about terrorism.  The attacks, the vast majority of attacks carried out against U.S. troops and Iraqis, are not the work of foreign jihadists operating under the direction of Osama Bin Laden.  The facts on the ground do not support it.

Although U.S. forces have killed the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi, violence has soared unabated.  The reason is simple and the solution complex. The U.S. presence in Iraq has unleashed a sectarian war that pits Sunni against Shia.  The United States now finds itself confronted with equally unpalatable choices:  1) Back the Sunnis and piss of the Shias, or 2) Back the Shias and piss off the Sunnis.

Bush tonight [i.e., in last night's speech] signals that we are going to pitch our tent with the Shias except we also are going to fight the one Shia, Moktada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, who are the most anti-iranian of the Shia. Great!  The one group of Shias not closely aligned with Iran are the ones we will attack.  This is madness.

Bush also has ignored the recent National Intelligence Estimate, which says that the U.S. presence in Iraq is fueling terrorism not diminishing it. Putting more U.S. troops into Baghdad who will be killing more Iraqis will simply embitter more Iraqis and speed recruitment of aspiring terrorists. 

There's so much about the speech itself that makes me wonder:

Responsibility: At the top of the speech, Bush said "Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me." OK, fine, but from then on, responsibility seemed to be somthing that belongs to everyone else. Iraq's plan, Iraq's plan, Iraq must, Iraq must . . .  If I didn't know better, I'd say that Bush has found his exit strategy. Either this new plan works (not likely, but stranger things have happened in life) and Bush grabs for glory, or it doesn't and we hear Bush in another speech three or four Friedman Units from now saying, "Gosh, the Iraqi's didn't live up to their responsibilities, so we're pulling out."

Contradictions: The Iraqis are in charge, it's their plan, it's their job to do . . . OK, but let's talk details. When we embed our brigades with their troops in Baghdad, who calls the shots and gives the orders? If it's US commanders, then the Iraqis aren't in charge. If it's Iraqis, then who is Bush to say where the troops will and will not go? (And what will the rightwingers think of US troops taking orders from Iraqi commanders?)

Domestic politics: Other than a passing thank you to James Baker and Lee Hamilton, only one US politician was mentioned by name: Mr. Bipartisanship himself, "Short Ride" Joe. When I heard that name come off of Bush's lips, I could swear I heard punaise shouting at his television set. Cue the chorus: "My contempt . . ."

Public Speaking: OK, I give a lot of public speeches as a pastor. I've averaged about one a week for over 17 years, so I've got a little understanding of the task at hand. Last night, I was appalled at how Bush spoke, and I wasn't the only one. Here's Howard Fineman of Newsweek:

George W. Bush spoke with all the confidence of a perp in a police lineup. I first interviewed the guy in 1987 and began covering his political rise in 1993, and I have never seen him, in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky. With his knitted brow and stricken features, he looked, well, scared. Not surprising since what he was doing in the White House library was announcing the escalation of an unpopular war.

The president may well be right that we cannot afford to leave or lose in Iraq . He makes profound sense when he observes that a collapse of Iraq would mean the rise of a giant version of the Taliban's Afghanistan—with a million times the oil in the ground.

But if he was trying to assure the country that he had confidence in his own plan to prevent that collapse, well, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Purpose of the speech: Other than announcing a decision, I couldn't figure out who the speech was aimed at or what Bush was trying to accomplish by it. It wasn't a persuasive speech, as there was no development of an argument and support for conclusions with evidence and logic.  Except for one thing. Syria and Iran. William Arkin at Early Warning picked up on this right away last night:

If there's anything in the President Bush's remarks tonight that we didn't already know or didn't anticipate him saying militarily about Iraq, it is his evident willingness to go to war with Syria and Iran to seek peace.

Speaking about the two countries tonight, the president said that the United States wiill "seek out and destroy" those who are providing material support to our enemies.

It is only a threat. But it is a far cry from the diplomatic proposals floated just last month for making Syria and Iran part of the solution. Can the president really be saying that we are willing to risk war with the two countries, and even attack elements inside them, to achieve peace in Iraq?


And how will Syria and Iran react? President Bush implicitly accused the two of providing sanctuary and material support for violent elements in Iraq. There is an ominous element here: When the President pledged to "seek out and destroy the networks supporting our enemies in Iraq," to me, that means the threat of strikes on targets in those two countries.

The President giveth peace and he taketh away.

If all this has you too depressed, and you need a laugh, check out the songs at Biscuit Joint . The name refers to a method for joining two pieces of wood, and the songs are done by a carpenter who does residential remodeling projects. (Note the logo there!) I especially liked DIYO, of which the carpenter/songwriter says " You’ll recognize the tune from one of Hank Williams’s great hits…but with a twist. This song should be played for any amateur schmuck who thinks they are ready to undertake a major construction project on their own, or who’s wife convinces them that there is a professional builder inside all men."

Measure once, cut twice. "Blather, rinse, and repeat " isn't just for bloggers, TRex. Are we down to toothpicks yet?

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.