Gaffe of the Year--so far ...

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 12 2007 7:14 AM

Gaffe of the Year

Plus--Radar's blind spot.

(Continued from Page 14)

But it seems to me the invasion of Iraq and "comprehensive immigration reform" actually have more in common than you might think. Far from being a sensible centrist departure from the sort of grandiose, wishful, rigid thinking that led Bush into Iraq, "comprehensive immigration reform" is of a piece with that thinking. And it's likely to lead to a similar outcome. Here are ten similarities:

1. They're both ideas Bush had when he came into office. Bush speechwriter David Frum has written of his first Oval Office meeting with Bush, a few weeks into his presidency, at which the president explained his "determination to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq." At about the same time, Bush was meeting with Mexican president Vicente Fox to try to hammer out an immigration deal that would combine a guest worker program with some legalization of existing illegal Mexican immigrants. (Plans for such a broad deal were put on hold only after 9/11 made immigration a national security issue--but Bush diligently resumed pursuit of the deal, just as he diligently resumed pursuit of his pre-election plans for Social Security.)

2. They both have an idealistic basis. Bush was sympathetic to the way Middle East democrats had been frustrated by "realist" foreign policies, and he's clearly sympathetic to the problems of poor immigrants who come to the U.S. to work and feed their families only to be forced to live "in the shadows."

3. They both seek, in one swoop, to achieve a grand solution to a persistent, difficult problem. No "smallball"! The Iraq Project would begin the transformation of the Middle East, an area that had frustrated president after president. "Comprehensive" immigration reform would, as the name suggests, resolve in one bold bill the centuries-old immigration issue--including a) devising a way to keep out illegal workers while b) providing business with legal immigrant workers, plus c) deciding what to do with illegals who are already here. It would, as Bush said Tuesday, be "conclusive."

4. In both cases, they envision a complicated, triple-bank shot chain of events happening just as Bush wishes it to happen. Iraqis were going to be grateful to their American liberators, come together in peace and give us a stable "ally in the war on terror." Hispanics, in the happy Rovian scenario behind Bush's immigration plan, would be grateful to Republicans for bringing them out of the shadows, etc., ensuring a large and growing GOP Latino vote for decades to come.

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5. Both have an obvious weak spot, depending crucially on pulling off a very difficult administrative feat. In Iraq, we had to build a nation in the chaotic vacuum of sectarian post-Saddam Iraq--which came to mean training a national army and police force from scratch with recruits who were often sectarian loyalists or insurgent infiltrators. "Comprehensive" immigration reform requires the government to set up an enforcement mechanism that can prevent millions of impoverished foreigners from sneaking across thousands of miles of unprotected borders--and prevent America's millions of self-interested employers from hiring them.

6. In both cases, the solution has failed before. We had failed to "stand up" a democracy in Vietnam. We failed to establish a stable, trans-factional governing structures in Lebanon and Somalia. Similarly, the grand, bipartisan Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform of 1986 had promised, and failed, to establish an effective immigration enforcement mechanism.

7. Both were promoted by Bill Kristol!  

8. In both cases, some Bush plan enthusiasts may not really mind a chaotic end result.  Iraq war foes argue that some important neocon supporters of the Iraq war weren't really bothered by the prospect of Sunni-vs.-Shiite warfare--even seeing divide-and-conquer advantages. (That might help explain the lack of attention paid to planning the post-war occupation.) Similarly, Kristol has said he isn't really bothered that the enforcement parts of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli law failed:

I'm not cavalier about illegal immigrants. ...[snip]... What damage have they done that's so great in 20 years? The anti-immigration forces said 20 years ago, there was an amnesty, which there sort of was, the Simpson- Mazzoli bill, which was pushed by the anti-immigration people, that Ronald Reagan signed. What's happened that's so terrible in the last 20 years? Is the crime rate up in the United States in the last 20 years? Is unemployment up in the United States in the last 20 years?...[snip] ... I am pro-immigration, and I am even soft on illegal immigration.

9. In both cases, less grand--and less risky--alternatives are available. Bush could have kept "Saddam" boxed up while he planned regime change through other means, built alliances and pursued the more manageable war in Afghanistan. ("Smallball" in 2002. Sounds good now!) Similarly, Bush could put "enforcement" mechanisms in place, and make sure they work, before he potentially stimulates a huge new wave of illegal immigrants by rewarding those illegals who already made it across the border. As a stopgap measure, he could establish modest "guest worker" program and even enlarge the quota of legal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

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