Recently I had a discussion at work with a group of younger folks, all college-educated with at least associates degrees, about the poll which showed that 30% of American adults did not know what year the 9/11 attacks on the WTC occurred. I was heartened that 100% of the six people in the room dutifully chirped in near-unison “2001”, although one admitted she only knew it because she had been married six weeks prior to the fateful date. Our discussion then traversed a couple generations and the other date that lives in infamy: December 7th. The group did not fare as well with only one person even getting the correct decade, but stating “1945.” Another twenty-something thought it had something to do with men walking on the moon, and two thought it marked the end of World War II. The one dissenter simply exclaimed, “I'm not a history person.”
Which brings us to the discussion at hand. With most polemics, whether political or otherwise, two or more sides develop arguments in support of their theses and discussion usually progresses until some conclusion is made. Sometimes common ground is established, but often, in political arguments especially, the various sides must agree to disagree. Over a longer period of time, as heat gives way to light, one side will be determined to be more correct than the others. Galileo was correct that the earth orbited the sun, and the Roman Catholic dogma was incorrect in their view of contention of the opposite. Former Republican advisor Brent Scowcroft was more correct in his trepidation about entering the Iraq war, while Donald Rumsfeld was incorrect in his supposition that the Iraq war would be a “cakewalk. It took the church 400 years to acknowledge it's mistake, let's hope Rummy doesn't take as long.
Facts are facts and with time disputatious arguments will often be resolved. The Iraq war issue is not a question of right vs. left, or liberal vs. conservative. It is a question of correct vs. incorrect, and our current government has been incorrect. Period. Now Mr. Rumsfeld is telling me that I am confused, a confusion apparently shared by several retired generals, various Republican advisors, historians, pundits of the right and left, UN weapons inspectors, the Duelfer Report on Iraqi weapons caches, and 60% of the American people. That's a lot of confusion, whether it's moral, intellectual, or otherwise.
Being called “confused” by someone as bat-shit crazy as Don Rumsfeld is like being called “drunk” by Farrah Fawcett, or being labeled “glib” by Tom Cruise. Other than triggering a giggle, being insulted by Rummy hardly gives me pause.
Comedy aside, Mr. Rumsfeld's tactic of dismissing all dissent as “confused”, is not only insincere, but anathema to our form of government. A contemporary of George Orwell once said that “all governments are oligarchies” and the issues are whether they are competent, incompetent, benevolent or evil. The purpose of the statement was to recommend his friend Orwell as Britain's “chief oligarch” at the start of WW II because he was an intellectual stalwart as well as a “secular saint.” Whatever your opinion of Bush's and Rumsfeld's sanctity, not many people can argue that they are overflowing with competence.
For Rummy to intimate that his critics are somehow deficient in lucidity is an affront to honest discourse necessary to solve the immense problem of Iraq. He has so fucked this up that he cannot figure out a solution. I feel his pain. We all make mistakes, and unfortunately the mistakes made in Iraq have metastasized into mushrooming problems with our budget, our allies and our national unity. No matter how wacky these “five morons” , as one Reagan official called them, in charge of our foreign policy may be, I have little doubt that they are devastated by every injured or killed American soldier and Iraqi civilian, and each “setback” in the spiraling descent into civil war. I may not agree with this administration's view of Iraq, but I cannot fathom that they are so evil that they would be indifferent to the suffering caused by their incompetence.
Why does Rumsfeld engage in such sophomoric propaganda as comparing his critics to “Nazi appeasers” and calling them “confused”? You'll have to ask him, but my guess is that he is trying to stop the deafening cacophony of critique that is only becoming more shrill with each passing day, each Baghdad car-bomb, each inane remark, each brave soldier laid to rest in Arlington.
Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies states that as a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison to Nazism or Hitler approaches one. A corollary points out that once that analogy is made, the argument ceases, and whomever brought up the comparison to Nazism automatically loses. Does Rummy lose merely by comparing his opponents to Nazi sympathizers? No, he loses the argument because he is wrong.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice have been wrong for quite some time. They have been wrong so many times and in so many ways, that the only tactic that remains is to just plead with their critics to please stop criticizing. In my view, Rummy's latest tirades are heartfelt appeals to get his critics to cease and desist.
Will this tactic work to quell the dissent? Unlikely. But then, Rumsfeld thinks I'm confused, so I doubt he cares what I think.
Unfortunately for our oligarchs, and us by proxy, the increasing volume of dissent is coming from all quarters. Rich Lowery of the National Review, Quin Hillyer of the American Spectator, columnist George Will and the iconic William F. Buckley, all venerable conservatives and once-Bushophiles, have renounced current Iraqi policy. For Rumsfeld to call me confused is one thing, but for such an erudite group of right-wing ideologues to also stumble onto the exact same flavor of dementia strains credulity. Perhaps we should all be picking out matching Neville Chamberlain bowlers and umbrellas next week.
There is something more problematic about Rummy's calling his critics morally and intellectually confused. Not only is he incorrect, although I'll leave others to list the reasons, but more damning is that such rhetoric shows that Rumsfeld is simply not seriously pursuing solutions to Iraq. Just as alcoholics must eventually admit that a problem exists, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney and Rice, if they are ever serious about resolving the quagmire and impending civil war, must admit that we have entered the dark night of our national soul. How many New Jersey living rooms will Elton John park his Lincoln in before he signs up for rehab?
You could fill volumes with what I don't know about foreign policy and warmongering, but I do have an informal acquaintance with decision-making. Rumsfeld taking time out of his busy day to comment on my moral and intellectual hygiene is laughable. You have a war to fight for chrissake. The only analogy I can countenance is an obstetrician encountering a woman in her 36th hour of labor, blood gushing from her womb and fetal heart tones becoming fainter; the nurses near panic as the mother's vital signs become thready, and Dr. Rumsfeld turns to the distraught father to conjecture about his alleged moral and intellectual deficiencies. Doctor, are you going to deliver the baby, or just whine about everybody else's moral and intellectual state?
We all suffer as a result of the incompetence of our oligarchs, but doubtless some suffer more than others. As a middle-class, middle-aged, mid-level professional living in a middle-sized town in the middle of the Midwest, the redundancies that secure my well-being are multi-layered. I have no children, nieces or nephews who are military-aged. Bush's first order of business in 2001 was to give me a fat tax cut. My house and Nissan are all but paid off. For me to engage in ad hominem attacks on our incompetent oligarchs would be pointless.
My dissent is not pointless even if it may be of little consequence. I wouldn't have voted for Bush, Rumsfeld, or any of these knuckleheads, for music director for a school for the deaf. Bush's incompetence was obvious from the first time he stepped out of Ken Lay's jet during the Iowa caucuses in February 2000. Cheney's been wrong since the 1970's Nixon years ands when he voted in support of apartheid in South Africa in 1986 and on nearly every issue since. Rumsfeld, whether he's shaking hands with Saddam, underestimating our enemies or nattering on about my mental state, he's clearly a senile curmudgeon desperately in need of collecting his Social Security check. And Condescenda Rice... what can I say? She's one of the few public figures that makes George W. Bush look intelligent; I guess that's her role in this harlequinade. Neither seem to know the difference between strategy and tactics, unless the mission is to have your name on a supertanker.
Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough broached a recent dialog about whether Bush was “an idiot” and noting that while other presidents have been called stupid, he says "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth of these other people...George Bush's lack of gravitas is hurting America at home and embarrassing us abroad.” No kidding.
Leaders sometimes have to admit that they are wrong. Don't admit it to me, but at least admit it to yourself. When the Secretary of Defense makes an appeal for support by calling critics “confused” and likening them to “Nazi appeasers”, I know one thing: he has not admitted that his policy is wrong, he has not taken the first step. Instead of running around like his hair on fire, spewing delusional invectives about my cognitive state, he should be quietly and competently formulating a plan to get us the hell out of the Iraq quagmire. A plan is not a constant re-iteration of some vacuous platitude such as the president does when was asked if he has a plan for Iraq: "The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society. That's the strategy." (Bush, last week.) A plan may contain a mission statement, but more importantly has a few bullet points on strategy and tactics, and addresses several contingencies. You know, a plan. Rumsfeld's “morally and/or intellectually confused” critics seem to be the only ones with plans. And that is downright scary.
I'm sure the young scrub tech referenced earlier who doesn't know Pearl Harbor from Pearl Jam certainly isn't losing sleep over Rummy's burgeoning senility or my electronic rant. She's got kids to raise and a mortgage to pay. We would all be well-served if she informed herself more about what is being done in her name and the name of her country. Somebody voted these guys into office, but the entire world is suffering the consequences. As another contemporary of Orwell once said, we have a moral obligation to be intelligent. If they were still alive, I'm sure Rumsfeld would declare Orwell and his pals certifiably confused.