A Mind That Suits
What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.
Monday, May 10, 2004 :::
There is nothing so ephemeral, so beautiful, and so unpredictable as spring in Washington. This year it came with a quick jump in temperatures from freezing to sweltering, which convinced everyone that two days was all we were going to get. But the cold returned briefly, followed by several weeks now of perfect temperatures and clear skies. Leaving the house yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of my leafy street in Mt. Pleasant.
And yet there was no real joy for me this weekend. It had nothing to do with work, which was indeed unusually difficult. It was the news from Iraq, which so filled me with despair and rage that I really found it hard to write. I walked around in a foul mood for days.
I am dispensing with the normal circumlocutions because that would add a certain cuteness to a situation that is simply horrifying. This is just me writing. There will also be comments on Allen Drury’s approach to covering this kind of story a little further on.
First, a personal note, but let us keep two numbers in the front of our mind: 450 and 7,000.
I have a draft article on the refusal of the Administration and the conservative intellectual elite to deal directly with the missing WMD problem and the effect that has had on the public’s perception of George W. Bush. Fundamentally, as a conservative who had his doubts about the war, I see nothing in the work of David Kay that needs to be avoided. It fully justifies the war. To be sure, it also flatly contradicts what everyone said before the war, but conservatives should face up to that kind of thing squarely, no matter how painful. “Yes, the war was all about WMD, and they weren’t there, but what we found was so frightening that...” It doesn’t seem to me that hard, but not many people are saying it. This has created doubts for average citizens in the back of their minds about W’s truthfulness.
I told one prominent conservative who encouraged me to work on that problem that I would love for something to come up to make my article irrelevant. This is not what I meant.
Actually, it doesn’t make my article irrelevant. It means the avoidable problem I wrote about is weighing down this new, very real problem. Which was also avoidable.
Back to those two numbers. 450. 7,000.
At the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison, there were 450 guards, and 7000 prisoners. No air conditioning. No place for American soldiers to take a break. No relief of any kind. 450 of our young people guarding 7000 people who may or may not have been our enemies. You can be sure that all 7000 of them now are. And it is appalling that senior military officials knowingly hung 450 of our soldiers out to dry for purely ideological reasons.
I have been doing a lot of reading to get my mind around what I viewed as a growing horror, and I am quite certain of what I just wrote. It is all in the documents. Donald Rumsfeld is committed to a fanciful doctrine of warfare. The results are plain to see.
I have no idea what to do about this, but I do have ideas about how this kind of revelation has been handled by the conservative intelligentsia in general throughout the war. In general, please, so no dragging out a William F. Buckley column as cover for other conservatives. And of course The Weekly Standard has been a welcome exception to the standard drumbeat. I also know that editorial writers for publications have a say in what goes into the editorials, but everyone, including the editor, can be overruled by the publisher. I suspect there will be a spate of memoirs after this is all over, and then we will have a better idea of who thought what when.
All that being said, the conservative intelligentsia has in general had a uniform response to every bad revelation.
In general, every one has been dismissed out of hand. “This was not easy to foresee, so many other things were happening,” and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
Well, this one actually was easy to foresee, and its solution was ready to hand. More troops, of course.
Which brings us to the defense of Donald Rumsfeld by his supporters.
In case anyone is wondering, I am not one of his supporters.
Regular readers will recall that a week and a half ago I congratulated the Wall Street Journal for its bold attack on the Administration’s plan to use the UN to straighten things out. It was their usual well-reasoned best. 21 months too late. The Administration had announced that as its fundamental policy when the public campaign for the war began in earnest in September 2002.
Further, the “planted axiom” in the editorial was that it was all Colin Powell’s fault. Which might be true, if Donald Rumsfeld had not been the one who announced the policy to Congress.
Which brings us to Allen Drury. I was lost in his archive last summer, and there was indeed a moment when it donned on me what was really eating me. And regular readers will know that I did not mention him much until last summer. The increase in references was because of this sudden insight into my own feelings.
I should explain that Al was one of my best friends. From the time I came to Washington in 1981 until he passed away in 1998, I talked with him four or five times a week, for 15 minutes to an hour. He was, in domestic matters, a moderate liberal, very much of his World War II generation, and I am unapologetically a “movement” conservative, but on the objective processes of politics and on foreign affairs he and I had enough common ground to avoid real arguments. (Al’s arguments are legendary among his friends. The diffidence that strangers noted in him was simply his way of preventing himself from blowing his stack.) With all due respect to people with journalism degrees, I know how a real journalist does his job. Al in fact had a BA in journalism from Stanford, but that wasn’t why he was such a great journalist. He was a great journalist because he never used other journalists as sources, because he read documents voraciously, and because he used every source he could, even if he didn’t like them.
Using those rather simple but demanding rules, from the vantage point of a little tiny newspaper in the Central San Joaquin Valley, in the days of radio, he deciphered more clearly than any reporter in Washington that FDR was leading us to war dishonestly. For that observation, he won the first ever SDX Award for Excellence in Editorial Writing. He was 23. There were many other such scoops, but the point is I really do know how a great reporter works. (This is how Alan Cooperman, the Washington Post 's current chief religion correspondent works, by the way. I have seen his office, such as it is—a cubicle about 4 feet square--and it looked the way a reporter’s office should look: it was swamped, though well-organized with documents and source material. He’s as good as they get.)
And this is what was eating at me: conservative writers were quoting each other, and they were quoting their friends in the Administration. They were not quoting documents or testimony, and there were not quoting, say, conservative members of congress who had had it with Donald Rumsfeld. They were defending Donald Rumsfeld at the expense of digging for the truth.
Which brings us back to their defense of Mr. Rumsfeld.
Even before these horrifying revelations, Mr. Rumsfeld was perceived to be in such trouble that his supporters were launching full-bore public relations offensive. I have not read this morning’s offerings from National Review Online, but their previous articles have followed this line. It must be added that for almost any publication, the authors are responsible for the facts. None of this has been "official," and no daily publication I know of uses independent fact checkers. But they have all followed this line.
If we had just listened to Donald Rumsfeld, we would not be having these problems. He had a plan. He listened carefully to the “Future of Iraq” Project and was going to do everything they recommended. There was going to be a brigade of 10,000 Iraqi soldiers who would take over post-war administration after they had liberated their countrymen. The first administrator, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, was going to install Iraqis to head every department. It was the State Department that screwed it up. They weren’t willing to trust the Iraqi people.
Let us skip over whether you can find 10,000 exiles to leave their homes and train them to be a cohesive, crack unit in a year. That at least is theoretically possible, though conservatives should be leery of theoretical possibilities that fly in the face of common sense.
Let’s move on to what we know: Mr. Rumsfeld would not have added those troops to the American troops. They would have replaced American troops. Further, he wanted to send fewer total troops.
Which means those 10,000 Iraqis would have shared the blame for the resulting riots.
Which would have been worse because there were fewer troops.
The riots, you see, were predicted by the Future of Iraq Project, the interdepartmental study group that included Iraqi exiles and experts from 17 departments and agencies, including DoD. The Office of Secretary of Defense and the Defense planning office dismissed the possibility of riots, saying that the Iraqi people would rise up and greet us with joy. As if they have no feelings as Iraqis and as Muslims about a foreign occupying power. As if every country on earth is not filled with people who would love to take it over if given a chance. As if nature did not abhor a vacuum.
And a vacuum is what we found. Far from finding ministries that we could hand over to those mythical, omni-competent Iraqi exile leaders, we found that Saddam’s excesses had reduced the entire government to shells. There was nothing to administer. That was why we couldn’t hand them over. Further, rioters had targeted those very ministries, something which reporters on the ground commented on at the time. I continue to believe that was a deliberate tactic, in keeping with the way the Republican Guard largely melted away and began an immediate guerilla war of increasing effectiveness.
And as for Mr. Rumsfeld’s attachment to the Future of Iraq Project, Gen. Garner had hired the head of it as his assistant.
Until DoD forbade it. (This is from news accounts. It needs further checking.)
Moreover, in that September 2002 testimony--which every reporter should have a dog-eared copy of on his desk--Mr. Rumsfeld’s response to a direct question from Rep. Ike Skelton on post-war planning was rambling and incoherent. Some minutes later--timing is hard to tell from the printed page--he returned to the question and added essentially “Talk to State. They have the Future of Iraq Project.”
Gen. Garner, by the way, waited a few months after getting canned, and then said publicly that he had never been shown any concrete plan for post-war administration.
There is a more fundamental problem, and I have to go back through what I have written to see whether I commented on it as it has been brewing in my mind. It is simply this: Donald Rumsfeld does not believe in nation building, and he does not believe in the necessity of such things as post-war planning.
Indeed, I have believed for a very long time that the well-intentioned Paul Wolfowitz and the entire band of neo-conservative intellectuals at Defense planning are nothing more than window dressing. They believe in the light army nonsense, but they also believe that model can be used for nation-building. Which makes it easy for Mr. Rumsfeld to hide his distaste for their passions by using their arguments to justify his own theories.
I believe that because I read newspapers very carefully, and the Journal had a "squib" (a three-or-four-sentence story) just after the war started about a report from something known as the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College at Carlisle, Pa. Its director, Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr., has frankly turned it into the “center of gravity” for countering some of the more cockamamie ideas floating around, and its scholars have turned out some excellent reports that cannot be dismissed out of hand.
(There is yet another superlative report from the SSI just this month discussing how an aversion to post-war planning is one traditional American theory about war. Mr. Rumsfeld appears to stand in a long line of American dunderheads.)
The report which drew my attention now over a year ago explained that the planning for post-war administration in Afghanistan had been lacking because the Department of Defense was opposed to nation building. Since then, I have been keeping my eye on that whole conflict within DoD, because it was not at first clear to me who was doing the opposing. The bureaucracy can dig in its heels when it wants to. So I was looking for signs one way or another since that report appeared.
And the opponent was Donald Rumsfeld.
Wait a minute. Didn’t the war in Afghanistan go flawlessly? Didn’t it prove that we have moved into a new era of warfare?
Well, maybe, but in those same September 2002, hearings—which every reporter should have a dog-eared copy of on his desk—Mr. Rumsfeld admitted that we had a problem in the border area with Pakistan. And there is a report in this morning’s Journal that the recent efforts to clean out the Taliban—now 21 months later—have been a complete failure.
Which brings us to then end of today’s musings. More tomorrow.
::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 12:51 PM