Monday, September 25, 2006

Four wake-up calls and a prophet

Former president Bill Clinton got right back into Chris Wallace's face on Fox News Sunday, making Wallace look like the Maxell tape dude with his hair and tie blown back. It was as a satisfying and stunning tour de force by Clinton.

The New York Times and other national papers revealed this weekend some of the contents of the classified National Intelligence Estimate from last April. The consensus of sixteen intelligence services is that the Iraq debacle was worsened the terrorist threat by creating more jihadis faster than we can kill them.

No kidding?

For his part, President Bush told us just the opposite on August 21:
You know, I’ve heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of “we’re going to stir up the hornet’s nest” theory. It just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
One wonders is he a) not reading his own intelligence reports, b) refusing to believe his own intelligence reports, or c) lying?

Senate Democrats today, led by Byron Dorgan, heard testimony from retired generals John Batiste, Paul Eaton and Col. Thomas Hammes on the conduct of the Iraq debacle. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not come off too well. Batiste:
Bottom line, our nation is in peril, our Department of Defense's leadership is extraordinarily bad, and our Congress is only today, more than five years into this war, beginning to exercise its oversight responsibilities. This is all about accountability and setting our nation on the path to victory. There is no substitute for victory and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything, except "how to win." He surrounds himself with like-minded and compliant subordinates who do not grasp the importance of the principles of war, the complexities of Iraq, or the human dimension of warfare. Secretary Rumsfeld ignored 12 years of U.S. Central Command deliberate planning and strategy, dismissed honest dissent, and browbeat subordinates to build "his plan," which did not address the hard work to crush the insurgency, secure a post-Saddam Iraq, build the peace, and set Iraq up for self-reliance. He refused to acknowledge and even ignored the potential for the insurgency, which was an absolute certainty. Bottom line, his plan allowed the insurgency to take root and metastasize to where it is today.
On MSNBC tonight Keith Olbermann took it up a notch further with his commentary on the Republican effort to revive the Bush presidency by rewriting history to divert blame from themselves:
... perhaps we should simply sigh and keep our fingers crossed, until a grown-up takes the job three Januarys from now.
And quoting Orwell:
"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power...

"Power is not a means; it is an end.

"One does not establish a dictatorship to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

"The object of persecution, is persecution. The object of torture, is torture. The object of power… is power."
And then there's this eerily prescient warning from Walter Russell Mead's 1987 Mortal Splendor – the American Empire in Transition:
The men who wrote – designed – the Constitution did not consider democracy to be good in itself. On the contrary, they feared nothing so much as unbridled democracy, even an unbridled representative democracy. Political theory in the eighteenth century still looked back tot the ancient world, and the observations of Aristotle and Polybius seemed to have been amply confirmed by events since their era. Classical political philosophy distinguished three basic forms of government and taught that each form had a characteristic corruption. Some thinkers postulated a cycle to government – from monarchy to aristocracy to democracy to tyranny. The tendency of democracy to evolve into tyranny was widely noted in the ancient world, perhaps because there were so many examples A strong leader caters to the prejudices or gratifies the passions of the uneducated, unreflective mob, and so is freely given the highest offices in the democratic state. He consolidates this power, fortifies his position, and ends by subjugating the state to his will. (Pg. 105)

In the original American Republic the informed consent of a small number of electors held the system together; the contemporary Republic counts on the uninformed acquiescence of a vast number of voters. The citizen has been replaced by the consumer of government as the building block of the state. The citizen helps shape the state by actively participating in its affairs; the consumer accepts or refuses a package prepared for him or her by others.

The resulting lack of substance in political life appears on every side. In the extreme, one sees the figures of Johnson and Nixon preaching peace while preparing to widen a war. From day to day there are endless arguments over prayer in schools, tax reform, and other issues dear to the hearts of P.T. Barnum’s latter day descendents and spiritual heirs. A Gresham’s law of political discourse seems to be at work; bad political discourse drives out good. Political life increasingly revolves around the state of the economy, a preoccupation that differs little from the “bread and circus” politics of the Roman Republic. The circus acts are provided by a political system that has deliberately and knowingly turned over much of its policymaking authority to unelected boards of experts and officials. (Pg. 120)

The right also depends on the widespread illusion that the free enterprise system is associated with and upholds the traditional social and family values. The gap between illusion and reality here also must be covered by a charismatic personality, which can evoke traditional values even as they fade. (Pg. 258)

Conservatives will believe that foreign policy conflicts are part of a life-and-death struggle that America must win at all costs. They will know – or think they know – what policies would enable the United States to win the coming battles, but they will not be able to follow these policies within the limits of constitutional government. (Pg. 259)

A hypothetical Nixon-Kissinger team of the future, confronted by an equally intractable war in a region of vital interest to the United States, would face many painful perplexities. The obvious American stake in the region – oil fields, the Panama Canal – might elicit initial support for the war. But anything les than a victory on the scale of the Grenada invasion would lead to a steady erosion in that support, both within and beyond the armed forces.

Assuming that decisive military victory proved elusive – that the Nicaraguans or the Argentines or the Philippine communists or whoever else – resorted to prolonged and bloody guerilla resistance, what then? Pressure to withdraw or to negotiate “from weakness” would mount; they would be felt throughout the political system. A public by turns uninformed, misinformed, and disinformed would weaken and waver. What then? Suspend civil liberties – officially and with fanfare or unofficially with goon squads? Lie about the progress of the war and the prospects for peace?

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