2006 is sure to be the year of living dangerously -- for the Bush administration and for the rest of us. In the wake of revelations of warrantless spying by the National Security Agency, we have already embarked on what looks distinctly like a constitutional crisis (which may not come to a full boil until 2007). In the meantime, the President, Vice President, Secretaries of Defense and State, various lesser officials, crony appointees, acolytes, legal advisors, leftover neocons, spy-masters, strategists, spin doctors, ideologues, lobbyists, Republican Party officials, and congressional backers are intent on packing the Supreme Court with supporters of an "obscure philosophy" of unfettered Presidential power called "the unitary executive theory" and then foisting a virtual cult of the imperial presidency on the country.
On the other hand, determined as this administration has been to impose its version of reality on us, the President faces a traffic jam of reality piling up in the environs of the White House. The question is: How long will the omniscient and dominatrix-style fantasies of Bushworld, ranging from "complete victory" in Iraq to non-existent constitutional powers to ignore Congress, the courts, and treaties of every sort, triumph over the realities of the world the rest of humanity inhabits. Will an unconstrained presidency continue to grow -- or not?
Here are just a few of the explosive areas where Bush v. Reality is likely to play out, generating roiling crises which could chase the President through the rest of this year. Keep in mind, this just accounts for the modestly predictable, not for the element of surprise which -- as with Ariel Sharon's recent stroke -- remains ever present.
Who, after all, can predict what will hit our country this year. From a natural-gas shock to Chinese financial decisions on the dollar, from oil terrorism to the next set of fierce fall hurricanes, from the bursting of the housing bubble to the arrival of the avian flu, so much is possible -- but one post-9/11 truth, revealed with special vividness by hurricane Katrina, should by now be self-evident: Whatever the top officials of this administration are capable of doing, they and their cronies in various posts throughout the federal bureaucracy are absolutely incapable of (and perhaps largely uninterested in) running a government. Let's give this phenomenon a fitting name: FEMAtization. You could almost offer a guarantee that no major problem is likely to arise this year, domestic or foreign, that they will not be quite incapable of handling reasonably, efficiently, or thoughtfully -- to hell with compassionately (for anyone who still remembers that museum-piece label, "compassionate conservative," from the Bush version of the Neolithic era). So here are just four of the most expectable crisis areas of 2006 as well as three wild cards that may remain in the administration's hand and that could chase all of us through this year -- adding up, in one way or the other, to the political tsunami of 2006.
1. Iraq. Bush's war (and occupation) of choice has shadowed him like a boogeyman from the moment that banner over his head on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln announced "Mission Accomplished" and he declared "major combat operations" at an end on May 2, 2003. On that very day, in news hardly noticed by a soul, one of the first acts of insurgency against American troops occurred and seven GIs were wounded in a grenade attack in Falluja. As either a prophet of the future or a master of wish-fulfillment, the President was never more accurate than when, in July 2003, he taunted the Iraqi guerrillas, saying, "Bring ?em on." Well, they've been bringing it on ever since.
Unwilling to face the realities of its trillion-dollar folly of a war and dealing with presidential polling figures entering free fall, the administration did the one thing it has been eternally successful at -- it launched a fantasy offensive, not in Iraq, but here at home against the American people and especially the media. A series of aggressive speeches, news conferences, spin-doctored policy papers, and attacks on the opposition as "defeatists who refuse to see that anything is right," all circling around an election likely to put an Islamic theocratic regime in power in Baghdad, pumped up the President's polling numbers modestly and, more importantly, caused reporters and pundits to back off, wondering yet again whether we weren't finally seeing the crack of light at the end of that tunnel. (Wasn't the President implicitly admitting to the odd mistake in Iraq policy? Wasn't he secretly preparing his own version of withdrawal? Weren't the Iraqis turning some corner or other?)
It's been a strange, brain-dead media era in which, far more than the American people, the pundits never seem to learn. Most pathetic of all, in what might have been a straightforward parody of the famed moment when a group of senior advisors from past administrations ("the Wise Men") met with President Lyndon Johnson and urged him to reconsider his Vietnam policy, the Bush administration gathered together 13 former secretaries of state and defense (including Robert McNamara and Melvin Laird from the Vietnam era) for a photo with the President. Also offered was an Iraq dog-and-pony show involving painfully upbeat reports from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace and Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizhad. In return, the 13 former officials, including Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, got a full 5-10 minute "interchange" with the President or (as the Dreyfuss Report did the math) all of 23 seconds of consultation time per secretary. It was the Wise Men (and Woman) Photo Op and it caught something of Bushworld and its peculiar allure.
However complicated the situation in Iraq may be, here's an uncomplicated formula for considering administration policy there in the coming year. After every "milestone" from the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons and the capture of Saddam himself through the "handing over" of sovereignty and various elections, things have only gotten worse. Remind me why it should be different this time? In fact, while the President warned endlessly about violence before the recent election, the violence since has been far worse with 28 Americans and hundreds of Iraqis dying in just a single tumultuous four-day period. Or put another way, whatever government may be formed in Baghdad's Green Zone, it will preside over a Bush-installed failed state, utterly corrupt (billions of dollars have already been stolen from it) and thoroughly inept, incapable of providing its people with anything like security. In fact, just the other day, two suicide bombers, dressed in the uniforms of "senior police officers" and with the correct security passes, made it through numerous checkpoints and into the well-guarded compound of the Interior Ministry where they blew themselves and many policemen up. Iraq's government, such as it is, has also proved incapable of delivering electricity or potable water, or of running its only industry of significance, the oil business (overseen by, of all people, Ahmed Chalabi), which is now producing less energy than in the worst moments of the Saddam Hussein/sanctions era. The country is already in a low-level civil war; its American-supported military made up of rival militias preparing to engage in various forms of ethnic cleansing; its police evidently heavily infiltrated by the insurgency; and its most important leaders are Shiite theocrats closely allied with Iran. The insurgency itself shows not the slightest sign of lessening.