The Attention Span Problem

Tim Dunlop argues that those on the Left who dismiss Bush as a fool are in fact fooling themselves. He says:

“I, for one, can’t come at this sort of assessment. Nor can I accept the milder account that he is a bumbling amateur who just happens to get lucky. Such an argument is expressed here, on Electrolite‘s comments box by Iain Coleman :

I think the fundamental problem is the amateurishness, rather than the dishonesty. Tony Blair’s government has become notorious for spin, media manipulation, and stretching the truth until it snaps. Nonetheless, I trust Blair in matters of war much more than I trust Bush. This is because, whatever his other faults, Blair is a highly able politician who will put a lot of hard graft and determination into achieving his goals. Bush, by contrast, is a lazy amateur with the attention span of a small houseplant. With Blair, there’s always the chance that the foreign policy will be wrong: with Bush, there’s the certainty that it will be half-assed.”

This isn’t quite right, but there’s more to it than Tim is willing to concede. Bush has shown that capacity to push very hard and successfully for particular goals – the tax cut, the overthrow of the Taliban and the invasion of Iraq, but then the attention span problem kicks in. Given the disappearance of the surplus, the tax cut is sustainable only with rigorous restraint in expenditure, but Bush has shown no inclination to fight hard for this. In fact, it’s been pretty much ‘spend and let spend’ with the Democrats getting money for their priorities in return for supporting Bush’s military initiatives. Similarly, the risk that Afghanistan will collapse back into the kind of warlordism that set the stage for the Taliban is growing every day, and the US seems to be willing to accept this rather than anything that might even slightly compromise the operational freedom of its armed forces. Finally, in relation to Iraq I’d suggest reading James Fallows article (previous post) and asking whether anyone thinks the current Administration has the attention span required to follow through on a successful invasion.