Hail Mary

The shocking moment of the evening was John Thune (R-SD) on NPR’s post-mortem, looking as though he’d lost his best friend, beginning his reaction with a motto proud and bold, a ringing, confident endorsement of his chief: “well, we have to try it” …and losing enthusiasm from that point on. Is that the odds Republicans are quoting? And why do we have to try it? Why would any Republican want this new millstone around his neck?

“Hail Mary pass” is the current metaphor, but just to keep it challenging: the quarterback isn’t allowed to raise his arm above his shoulder, the receivers are shooting each other, the defense is blowing them up with IEDs, and the goal line is undefined. Right.

I can’t make sense of the first play, never mind the game plan. Iraqi police and army units are either Shi’a or Sunni. Either the Sunni are going in to Sadr City to kick butt (with Americans embedded), or the Shi’a are (ditto), or we are. In Sadr City, the militia is, approximately, the men between the ages of 15 and 60, and they live in, and shoot from, houses with women and children. If it’s the Sunni regiments, do we imagine that massacre establishes peace and coexistence (no matter who gets massacred)? If it’s the Shi’a regiments, do we imagine them more plausibly killing Mahdi Army grunts, deserting…or fragging the Americans who are urging them on to glory? If it’s us…well, that’s not what Bush said; apparently his fantasy capacity has limits.

There were no surprises in this speech; we’re beyond surprise at the dreamworld irresponsibility of this administration. Two more years of body bags and bodies in bits, the ruin of Gen. Petraeus’ career, endless more billions up in smoke, further breaking of a military that actually has useful work to do, international humiliation. It wasn’t about oil; the oil would have been cheaper to buy than to conquer and we don’t even have it. It wasn’t about WMDs. It wasn’t about Al Qaida. Water under the bridge…but what is it about now?

The best anyone’s been able to do to get behind this travesty is to point with alarm at how awful it will be if we leave now, and to assert that we “have to win”, though David Brooks can’t resist putting in the completely cynical and mendacious idea that the Democrats have some duty to come up with a plan to achieve a victory that has been completely precluded, forever, by the whole Bush program, from concept to execution. There is no making “plans” to stop the sun in the sky, to make bricks without straw, or to turn back time. When this little surge subsides and things are unchanged, it will be at least as awful if we leave then, and we still “have to win”, what then?

The SMU faculty is beginning to grumble, but can anyone explain why they will even start to begin to commence to entertain the possibility of hosting W’s presidential library?

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.