Richard Reeves

From Humility in 2000 to Humiliation in 2006

NEW YORK -- On Tuesday we vote, and the issue, according to most polls, is the performance of President George W. Bush. The president who promised us humility has instead given us humiliation.

It was on Oct. 12, 2000, during his final campaign debate with then-Vice President Al Gore, that Bush attacked nation-building and insistence on doing all things the American way, saying: "I think the United States must be humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own courses."

He also said that night: "I think one way for us being viewed as the Ugly American is for us to go around saying, 'We do it this way and so should you.'"

And: "I am worried about overcommitting our military around the world. I want to be judicious in its use."

That was then. In a little over two months he was president, promising "civility" in our relations around the world. Now, listening to a radio report Friday on the president's campaigning for candidates for the 110th Congress, I heard a correspondent casually begin his story by saying, "George Bush is campaigning for any Republican willing to be seen with him."

The same day's edition of The New York Times reported in two stories the combination of arrogant denial of demonstrated truth and incompetence that will be one of the historical trademarks of the second Bush years.

One headline read: "Congress Tells Auditor in Iraq to Close Office." It seems that the White House has found a new way to try to hide the obvious corruption in the financing of our occupation of Iraq. The administration persuaded Republicans in Congress to deal with the loss of billions of American taxpayer dollars in Iraq by slipping a provision deep into the current military authorization bill that would close down the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. That is the office that was investigating the many fiascos of our adventures, from financial cheating and poor work by American construction companies to the disappearance of millions of dollars worth of weapons sent to Iraqi police. Bush signed that bill two weeks ago.

The second headline read: "U.S. Web Archive Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Guide." That one revealed that the administration unaccountably released and posted, on government Web sites, documents from the 1991 Iraq war that would be helpful to anyone trying to build atomic bombs -- that from a secrecy-obsessed White House that has been busily classifying more innocuous documents that have been open to the public for decades.

We have long been disliked around the world, which is to be expected in some quarters -- and also has something to do with envy. Now we are feared as a superpower asserting the right, or at least the power, to attack anywhere that strikes our fancy. Worse, we are being laughed at for continuing to insist that we are on our way to victory in Iraq. Not!

If you talk to members of Congress who have taken the time and trouble to go to Iraq, they tell you stories of endless "victory" briefings. But when they go from one briefing to another, which means from one secure area to another, including the airport and the Green Zone, members are trussed up in bulletproof armor and helmets. Then officers point to a helicopter or armored car a few dozen yards away and yell, "Run! Run for it!"

A small humiliation. Perhaps the officers do it because they think members of Congress need the exercise. The bodyguarding is so tight that when a recent "Codel" -- that's the jargon for "congressional delegation" -- complained during a visit to the Iraqi Parliament, they were told it was a favorite spot for kidnappings.

So, polls say the Democrats will win on Tuesday. God knows they should. If after all this the Republicans win, then Democrats ought to begin thinking about releasing the donkeys and getting out of politics. But if they do win, the rest of us can only pray that they have the humility to accept and understand what has happened to the world's only superpower in the humiliation of these past few years.

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