Conservatives in transports of social and political engineering


There’s nothing scarier than conservatives in transports of social and political engineering.

The Republicans strain to appear diffident in Iraq, not wanting to be cast as overbearing imperialists. (Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the new American viceroy, affects a Dockers look while meeting Arabs in jackets and ties.)

The Bushies pretend that we don’t want an all-access pass to Iraqi bases (we do); that we are not interested in influencing the disposition of Iraqi oil (we are); that we will stay out of Iraqi politics, even if they go fundamentalist (we won’t); and that we will leave Iraq soon (we can’t).

Even as they stifle their Pax Americana impulses in Iraq, the imperialists swagger with a Pox Americana at home. Karl Rove has broken creative new ground in appalling political opportunism by pushing back the Republican National Convention in New York City to September 2004, the latest date for a convention in the party’s history and only days away from you-know-when.

Mr. Rove envisions merging the Madison Square Garden party with the 9/11 anniversary commemorations into one big national security lollapalooza. Perhaps President Bush should just skip the pretense of the Garden and give his acceptance speech at ground zero.

In another red-meat moment, Rick Santorum, the obnoxious Pennsylvania senator who is No. 3 in the G.O.P., equated homosexuality with incest, bigamy and polygamy. “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality,” he told The A.P. “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.”

Even Mr. Santorum’s old mentor, Newt Gingrich, felt emboldened to slither back on stage with a proposal to eviscerate the State Department.

After vowing to reshape the American character when he became speaker in ’94, Mr. Gingrich ultimately faced ethics questions and criticism for having an extramarital affair with a young Congressional aide after pushing for Bill Clinton’s impeachment over his extramarital affair with a young White House aide. He stepped down in ’98.

The man who once depicted himself as an “Arouser of Those who Form Civilization” stepped back yesterday into a clash of civilizations between the Pentagon and the State Department. In remarks at the Temple of Triumphalism here (the American Enterprise Institute), Mr. Gingrich denounced Colin Powell’s domain as a “broken bureaucracy of red tape and excuses” and demanded it be “transformed,” like Rummy’s.

He attacked Mr. Powell for announcing that he would visit (rather than bomb) Damascus and for the prewar failure of diplomacy with Turkey � conveniently ignoring the fact that it was the Pentagon hawk Paul Wolfowitz who had tried and failed to talk turkey with Turkey.

Rummy, who has taken on a Mars-like glow among carnivorous conservatives who crave more and more red meat, circulated a Kubrickian memo on North Korea, according to The Times’s David Sanger. While Mr. Powell pressed for diplomatic talks in China to help de-escalate tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Rummy’s memo suggested that the U.S. and China gang up on the crazed Kim Jong Il to force a regime change.

Even as the conservatives thump their chests in Washington, they have gotten a little nervous watching throngs of men flogging their chests bloody in Karbala. Their coolly rational schemes for establishing 18th-century-style democracy have run up against the 8th-century practices of Islam.

The Bushies were unpleasantly surprised by the sudden muscularity of the Shiite clerics in southern Iraq. According to The Times’s Douglas Jehl, Iranian-trained operatives have crossed into southern Iraq to help the Shiites who are demanding a state like Iran’s.

Administration officials have whispered other fears to reporters � that some of the weapons of mass destruction may have been removed to sell on the terrorism black market, accelerating the proliferation they had hoped to prevent. Or that Saddam loyalists are sneaking back into the government, waiting for the Americans, with their short attention spans, to pull out.