LOS ANGELES -- For years, since I moved there to cover Watergate, I have wanted to write a column about how Washington really works -- a checklist of sorts. But I never got around to it.
The closest I ever got was quoting the late San Francisco humor writer Arthur Hoppe. Writing from 3,000 miles away, he said, if I remember correctly: Washington is 67 square miles, about as high as the Washington monument, and surrounded on all sides by reality.
Last week, Joe Scarborough, former Florida congressman, talking head on MSNBC, and now guest columnist for Politico.com, did a nice job in laying down a couple of rules that would make my list. "Age-old truths," he called them. The three that impressed me were:
-- "The first of these truths is that Washington always wins. Always. The federal government always gets bigger."
-- "The second time-tested truth of Washington is that policymakers skew the rules to ensure Wall Street always wins. ... Wall Street stands stronger than ever, three years after bringing America to the brink of financial collapse."
-- "The third ugly truth is that the city's political gears are always greased for war. The most recent Republican administration showed an unnerving propensity for war, and the current Democratic White House has expanded troop levels, increased the Pentagon budget and made larger the percentage of the U.S. economy being spent on weapons systems and hot wars."
Scarborough, a Republican, aims some of his arrows at the press: "Against this chaotic backdrop of military adventurism run amok, there is no countervailing force to balance a reckless, shrewd foreign policy. ... And most troubling is that the same press that bowed and scraped to Obama in 2008 is now doing his bidding in support of his wars."
Obama, in fairness, inherited two of his wars, and he can say the Libyan war is not an American war, but a North Atlantic Treaty Organization war. Unfortunately, he is beginning to learn that there really is no such thing as NATO. Only the United States -- a victim of being called the world's only superpower -- has the equipment and reserves of material to defeat even a little country run by a madman, like Libya.
So war is breaking out all over. And the president, like his predecessor, seems to be determined to intervene in them because angry people in squares far away chant "Democracy! Democracy!" What they really mean is "Freedom!" And we would love to help them, but there is only so much we can do. These are internal affairs -- they have nothing to do with Thomas Jefferson or, for now, with you.
The "Arab Spring" and attendant events are a great thing. But it will take these countries 10 to 20 years of civil warfare before they catch up with the rhetoric of the day. But if they are to have freedom, they have to win it with their own hearts and minds -- and bodies.
We can't give it to them. It is not ours to give.
Take Afghanistan. We should get out as fast as we can. Here is an age-old truth of mine:
It does not matter when we leave Afghanistan!
Ten years. Five years. A year. Tomorrow. The same thing, a civil war, will happen with or without us. This is Afghanistan. Read a history book.
Scarborough raises the specter of a new brand of "Republican isolationism." Well, good for them. We need them, someone, to balance the military-industrial-media complex and its war drive.
Why are we fighting these wars? What's in it for us? A world of peace and prosperity would be wonderful, but we can't make it happen. I repeat myself: It doesn't matter when we leave Afghanistan. The same things will happen the day after, whether that date is this summer or four winters from now. Get out!