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Sympathy For the Devil

I was pretty surprised when this leaked memo from Donald Rumsfeld popped up. Ever since the war in Afghanistan, the administration's rationale how it conducts in the war on terror (if there really can be such a thing in the first place) has been a jumble, never articulated, with no clear, honest, or respectful explanation of why the US is throwing its military might around in the way that it is. The relative clarity of late 2001 is long gone. The invasion of Iraq was driven more by the opportunism of neo-conservatives in the administration than the execution of any coherent anti-terrorist strategy, as nearly all cited links with threats to the security of the United States, and even of the Gulf region, rather tenuous. The neo-conservatives hope for a “democratic domino effect,” but hope is no substitute for planning. I am ecstatic that Saddam is gone, and the situation is quite salvageable, but the apparent discounting of negative scenarios by ideologues in the administration has cost us goodwill among our allies and over $150 billion to the taxpayers of the United States.

For us non-ditto heads, we wonder how the hell can the various talking heads of this administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell) say what they can say with a straight face. (And Cheney's desperate, divisive, rhetoric ? Don't get me started…) They can't even present a coherent front, since Bush is incapable of putting across both the broad sweep and specific strategies for the goals he wants to accomplish.

And now this memo. It's got something we don't expect from the usual gung-ho Bush II conservatives – introspection:

"Are we winning or losing the global war on terrorism? Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?
And what about this:
He challenged Pentagon leaders to consider and discuss troubling issues, including whether or not the United States was capturing or killing terrorists at a faster rate than they were being created by extremists.
I'll grant that there's probably a little more soul-searching in the right in private, but liberals do it in public. (And that's pounced upon as weakness, but that is not the story for today.)

Rumsfeld would be the guy to do this. No matter where he is, he never quite fits in. I probably won't even be writing about this, but a few weeks ago I'd read about his days in the Nixon administration, when he headed one of the anti-poverty programs. (It's in the November Atlantic magazine; not online but a related interview with the author is available.) Nixon thought he was putting Rumsfeld in right field, politically, but instead Rumsfeld threw himself into the job and became an advocate for what the government could do to fight poverty. Rumsfeld was more of a liberal Republican back then, and advocated withdrawing the troops from Vietnam. But Nixon tolerated him because he provided the liberal view that could prove to be politically useful.

It would have been a little more, err, err prudent, if such soul-searching had been in effect two years ago, but since we're stuck with this bunch until 2005, I'll take what shreds of hope I can find. [If you want more jabber about this, Tacitus has a good discussion.</a>.]

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
all_askew
Oct. 23rd, 2003 07:59 am (UTC)
If you're pissed off now...
See how you feel after reading this Nov 6th review of Krugman's book: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/16730

The Awful Truth
By Russell Baker

The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century
by Paul Krugman
Norton, 426 pp., $25.95

When The New York Times tempted Paul Krugman to try daily journalism, no one, including Krugman, could have anticipated what was to come. Krugman was an Ivy League professor of economics, a scholar acclaimed for his youthful brilliance, and an author of learned books and occasional commentary on international money crises. All clues pointed to a master of the tedious. One suspected the Times wanted someone to be boring in a genteel, scholarly way twice a week on its Op-Ed page. Krugman himself may have thought so. In The Great Unraveling he says he intended to write about globalization, world financial problems, and sometimes the "vagaries" of the domestic economy.

Before anyone could say "narcolepsy," politics intruded, and it quickly became obvious that Krugman was incapable of being either boring or genteel, but was highly gifted at writing political journalism. Starting in January of the election year 2000, he rapidly acquired a large, adoring readership which treasured his column as an antidote for the curiously polite treatment President Bush was receiving from most of the mainstream media.

At his most polite, Krugman was irreverent, but much of the time he seemed to think irreverence was much too good for the President, the people around him, and almost everything he stood for. In The Great Unraveling he commits the ultimate rudeness: Bush, he says, is surreptitiously leading a radical right-wing political movement against American government as it has developed in the past century. The words "radical" and "right-wing" are bad words in the political lexicon of mainstream American journalism. Normally they are simply not used to describe presidents, except by the kind of people who write for funky little out-of-the-mainstream journals.

As a Times columnist, Krugman is as mainstream as it gets. His readiness to apply disapproved words to the President helps to explain why his column quickly became catnip to so many who had voted for Al Gore and were still angry about the bizarre manner of Bush's elevation. For them, to have the Bush presidency so relentlessly and expertly savaged was a consolation of sorts.

From the White House viewpoint criticism itself was bad enough-Bush people are famous for thin skin-but the really troublesome problem was that Krugman seemed to know what he was talking about. This is not entirely unheard of among political columnists, but the typical Washington pundit is stupefyingly uninformed about economics, a field in which Krugman is exceedingly well informed. He had the professional skills needed to tell when the political rhetoric was nonsense and he took a short-tempered professor's sadistic delight in holding oafs up to ridicule.

The vocabulary Krugman applied to the President bristled with words such as "dishonesty," "lying," "mendacity," and "fraud." Among political pundits such language verges on the taboo. As a class, political columnists do not shrink from the occasional well poisoning, but on matters of etiquette they are conservative to the verge of stuffiness, and they tend to view plain speech as the mark of the ill-mannered bumpkin.

The good opinion of his colleagues does not seem to concern Krugman. His indifference toward journalism's conventional etiquette may even contribute to his success. By speaking rudely about the President and his policies he gave loud voice to what many of his readers had been wishing somebody important would say ever since Bush was created president by Supreme Court fiat. In some measure Krugman helped satisfy a hunger for political opposition, a longing which, not surprisingly, became acute after the election of 2000 turned out to be a nonelection.
rpkrajewski
Oct. 23rd, 2003 08:55 am (UTC)
Re: If you're pissed off now...
I don't agree with everything Krugman says, but he's fighting the good fight. It just amazes me how more people don't see (or care) how beholden Bush is to reactionary and plutocratic interests in this country.
all_askew
Oct. 24th, 2003 06:38 am (UTC)
Re: If you're pissed off now...
What I don't understand is how the media is glossing over Bush's statements about how he is directed by God to do what he is doing. That scares me as much as anything else.

The country says it wants Martin Sheen's character from The West Wing as President, but instead we got Marin Sheen's character from The Dead Zone movie. Sorta.
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