Philip IV "Le Bel" of France. Ruthless, sometimes a real bastard, but at least he knew what he was doing.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld: the worst sort of men. Small-minded, corrupt, arrogant, cowardly bullies, yet at the same time driven by ideology. A fearful combination. On one hand, they are men of huge ambition: they really believed that through one simple invasion they could turn the entire Mideast into a peaceful Western democracy, a market for American goods, a base for American military and a voice of support for American policy. Yet the means they used were petty and corrupt, too easy -- means that would appeal to a privileged underachiever like our president, whose place in college was guaranteed by legacy, who avoided service in a war through family influence, who was bailed out of business failures by his father's friends, and who entered politics thanks to a war chest compiled by large corporations who knew a good puppet when they saw one.
So support for the war was achieved the easy way: on the international front by the reckless breaking of a consensus that had been in place for fifty years, and on the domestic front by deception, intimidation of adversaries (e.g., Joseph Wilson), and the appropriation for themselves of a national tragedy that belonged to all Americans. These men who had avoided war themselves sent soldiers into battle without an exit strategy, sufficient numbers or enough equipment. They refused the dead to be photographed so that the cost of the war is not on the front page of the paper. They callously and glibly spoke of going into war "with the army you have," when they were the ones responsible for the state of the army we have and the fact that we unnecessarily went into war. Playing GI Joe, they landed on aircraft carriers and said "bring 'em on." Once we found ourselves in the middle of the disaster they created, a place where there are no easy answers, they botched a vital reconstruction by handing out no-bid contracts to cronies and threw gasoline on the fire of the insurgency by resorting to stupid brutality in Abu Ghraib and Fallujah. They created a dangerous mess that could only be cleaned up through the utmost delicacy and honest recognition that any solution will be prolonged and involve sacrifice. These are virtues that the men of this administration lack to an almost pathological degree.
They have been assisted by a congress controlled by a party driven by its extremists and so hungry for absolute power that transparency, bipartisanship and common decency have fallen by the wayside. The party that attacked the previous president for lying about a personal matter is now suffering investigation or indictment at its highest levels. Any opposition or even discussion meets with the same argument that Cheney used to debate Sen. Patrick Leahy over Halliburton.
Bush himself is still something of a mystery. Does he believe what he says? How much of a puppet is he? It seems he is sincere in his weird, twisted, and megalomaniac version of religion. At the same time, while incapable of listening to criticism or imagining himself mistaken, he is not as steadfast as his supporters believe him to be. His behavior in the Harriet Miers nomination show him for what he is: an opportunistic coward. He thought he could avoid a battle by nominating a crony with no judicial background. He could only imply to the right and to the center that she was the woman for all seasons. When his own people revolted against him, he abandoned his hero-worshipping nominee as fast as he had named her. It was easy for him to be steadfast when the media and congress were behind him and the magic words "nine-eleven" could silence any adversary, even decorated war veterans. Now that he has run into adversity we see how much "character" he has.
These are the worst of men. Much worse than the Democrats, who are bad but are essentially merely pathetic and not dangerously insane. My friend Guillaume le Fou (whose brilliant blog everyone reading this should check out, leaving comments berating him for not posting more often) sums up the problem well: "The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats is that the Republicans have a vision. It's a scary vision, but the Democrats have nothing." A scary vision, benefiting the privileged, destroying freedoms, and ignoring our most important problems. It would be nice if the Democrats could at least try to see if vision is possible. Barack Obama, anyone?