It takes neither Sherlock Holmes, nor Dr. Watson, nor one of the Hounds of the Baskervilles, to sniff out the foul stench that has come to comprise the American political debate. Two recent books make this point in different ways. “Destined for Destiny,” by Scott Dikkers and Peter Hilleren, and “Out of Iraq,” by George McGovern and William Polk, offer, by turns, gut-busting and sobering views of our current malaise.
“Destined for Destiny” is the quicker read. It is some of the best and sharpest pure satires to land on the non-fiction shelf in years. This is not our parents’ political mockery. This is not the happily bumbling Al Franken lambasting Fox News, nor is it the sneaky, smirking know-it-all humor of Jon Stewart or Keith Olbermann. No, at its best, “Destined for Destiny” has a savage edge that recalls vintage Bill Hicks or even Hunter S. Thompson.
So it was that while recently watching Stewart lob softballs at Sen. Trent Lott, I plowed into Chapter 8 (“The Clown-Faced Zombie I Call My Wife”), the most fierce part of this hilarious book. This is satire at its most vicious. Remembering it is supposed to have been “written” by President Bush, here is a taste:
“When a man reaches a certain age, he feels an urge to settle for the closest woman around him who seems interested. He then embarks upon one of the most rewarding experiences in life. I was blessed with the good fortune of meeting a wonderful small town Texas woman who had a dazed and clueless stare reminiscent of a goat that had been struck between the eyes with a tire iron — a halting kind of beauty every man desires in a woman. It was at a backyard Texas barbecue of mutual friends. The midday Texas sun shone brightly. Laura was gnawing at meat with her make-up-caked face, much like the majestic condor might tug at the cartilage of a road-kill skunk.”
Whoa. That is some seriously nasty invective, and bringing the boss’ wife into it is awfully hard to condone. But it’s hard to say it’s not funny, and politics is a bruising game anyway with every family member either fair game or a sitting duck. I’m not sure I condone this barbarity in comic entertainment, but it definitely made me laugh.
The McGovern/Polk book is a much more sober (and sobering) affair. Beginning with a fistful of chapters detailing the failures of the current war in Iraq and continuing with a grocery list of how the war is damaging our own interests, “Out of Iraq” eventually gets around to presenting a startlingly detailed program for troop withdrawal and Iraqi reconstruction. It is in this section that the authors’ thesis gets a bit shaky.
Up until then, the book is both an academic catalogue and a rollicking good history of American military misadventures and misdeeds. It is particularly incisive on the subject of guerilla warfare and the three guerilla wars in which the United States has been involved. These are: the Philippine Insurrection of 1899, the Vietnam War and the current Iraq War.
Each was or has been an unmitigated disaster. The U.S. military, as the authors eagerly point out, was not designed to fight guerilla wars. They are at the best and most eloquent in enumerating the myriad human rights failures of the current campaign; not just the torture that has become commonly known but also the use of white phosphorous (a poison gas) on civilians and the extensive deployment of depleted radioactive munitions.
McGovern and Polk have an admirably thorough and well-considered plan for the salvation of Iraq. The list of needs includes construction, education, profit-sharing between the Iraqis and U.S. oil companies, environmental reclamation and even an official diplomatic apology to the Iraqi people. The plans are humane, sensible and expensive, but much, much cheaper than continuing the war. They are also completely unrealistic. What the authors propose is nothing less than nation-building on a scale not seen since the Marshall Plan. While it is probably true that many of these strategies would save the United States money in the long run, what stateside constituency is going to get behind extensive economic assistance to Iraq when their own jobs are fleeing offshore and their children are getting shot?
Politically, the ideas in this book are only slightly more than pipe dreams.
With McGovern on the bookshelf and Henry Kissinger advising the president, how can anyone deny any longer that we are, as a nation, re-fighting the Vietnam War?