By William Fisher
Well, our Pentagon rock star is gone.
President Bush’s encomium to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld after firing him last week was among the most predictable – and utterly forgettable – remarks ever to come out of a White House famous for its predictable and forgettable statements.
The president said the SecDef’s leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan “drove Saddam Hussein from power and helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East.” On his watch, the president said, “the men and women of our military overthrew two terrorist regimes, liberated some 50 million people, brought justice to the terrorist Zarqawi and scores of senior al Qaeda operatives, and helped stop new terrorist attacks on our people.”
Rummy’s response was perhaps less predictable and less forgettable. America’s misadventure in Iraq, he said, was “a little understood, unfamiliar war, the first war of the 21st century.” The war was “not well-known, it was not well-understood, it is complex for people to comprehend.”
So it’s our fault, right?
The people just don’t get it. The images of carnage we see 24/7 on our TV screens were all produced with PhotoShop on Osama Bin Laden’s laptop. The “revolt of the Generals” was a fiction concocted by Harry Reid. The $20 billion we wasted on Iraqi reconstruction resulted in schools and hospitals and electricity and increased oil output – it’s just that the vast leftwing media conspirators aren’t bringing us the good news stories (so the Pentagon better get busy and bribe more journalists to publish more of them). We’re really defeating the Taliban (again). The people we hold at Guantanamo are “the worst of the worst.” And our near-3000 dead soldiers and marines are only a tiny fraction of the 145,000 troops deployed to the Iraqi killing ground.
How is it we don’t understand all this stuff?
Well, American citizens don’t pretend to be military experts. But Mr. Rumsfeld does. And maybe, if we have sometimes found ourselves unable to comprehend all these foreign policy triumphs, Mr. Rumsfeld’s imperious rejection of the realities experienced by the uniformed military is largely responsible.
After all, wasn’t he the guy whose comment on our slain service members was,
“Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war?"
Wasn’t he the guy who told us in 2003 that, “It is unknowable how long (the war in Iraq) will last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months?”
Wasn’t he the guy who said about our troops’ lack of armor, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time."
Wasn’t he the guy who told us a year earlier that the situation in Afghanistan was “encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al Qaeda are gone.”
Wasn’t he the guy who was asked by Jim Lehrer on PBS’ The News Hour in 2003 whether a US invasion would be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?’ To which Rummy replied, “There is no question but that they would be welcomed.”
Wasn’t he the guy who told NBC News the same year, “We know where (the weapons of mass destruction) are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat?”
Wasn’t he the guy who attributed the looting and lawlessness after the fall of Baghdad to “stuff happens?”
Wasn’t he the guy who confused even the White House’s professional obfuscators by declaring, “"The message is that there are known knowns - there are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns - that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know. And each year we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns."
And wasn’t he the guy who testified that he'd "never painted a rosy picture" of Iraq and that he hadn't been "overly optimistic."
Well, the question about who’s now going to confuse the public and amuse the stenographic Pentagon press corps remains unknown.
But there are a few things we do know. First, our people are not confused. We may not all be political junkies, but we’re not stupid either. And we showed that last week in the best American tradition: We rejected the spin, the lies, the death, the obfuscation, with our feet – on the way to the polling place.
Second, we know there can be no more conclusive evidence that the Bush administration is utterly incapable of crafting any viable strategy for “winning” in Iraq than the very existence of the Iraq Study Group, now widely known as the Baker-Hamilton commission.
The Constitution gives the President, as Commander-in-Chief, the responsibility for waging war and protecting our citizens. And that doesn’t mean any previous Commander-in-Chief.
W., like all former presidents, has always had virtually instant access to the world’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable experts on virtually any subject. But The Decider didn’t care much for listening. After all, he answers to a higher power.
Well, the higher power at the moment is the Baker-Hamilton Commission, co-chaired by his daddy’s secretary of state, James A. Baker, and Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission. The other members are a group of other ultimate Washington insiders, including the one the president just nominated to be Rummy’s successor, Robert M. Gates, former CIA director.
Because this inside-the-Beltway bunch has little Middle East experience, it is being helped by four different think tanks. But despite lack of Middle East experience, we should all pray that the recommendations of this group will be substantive, not just more cosmetics. And that the president will be listening.
Aside from substance, however, this Commission is about giving the president the political cover to admit, by changing his policies, that he got it wrong. Perish the thought that our Commander-in-Chief would ever confront that fact in full frontal mode, as John F. Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs fiasco!
And if the Baker-Hamilton recommendations go wrong, W. will have a convenient scapegoat to swiftboat.
The one thing we poor confused, uninformed citizens can cling to is that Mr. Bush is now all about legacy. He doesn’t like the idea of being remembered as the president who made arguably the most egregious mistake in American foreign policy history.
The third thing we know is that, even in the event that the president announces some major new initiatives to extricate us from our Middle East quagmire, his government appears to lack the competence to execute those new initiatives. On the basis of this administration’s record, all of us can be excused for being just a tad skeptical – and very afraid.
One final thought about the Baker-Hamilton Commission: Can anyone imagine that it would ever have occurred to Franklin Roosevelt to outsource the decision about the Normandy landing in World War Two?