What's up in Washington?
I mean, it was a rush to catch up with Stephen Colbert's amazing press corps performance (thanks, Jon, for making it possible for me to see that), but that's court jesterism, nothing more, engaging and perversely satisfying as it may be. Still, that spectacle is strangely emblematic of the President and his administration's inability to cope with the mounting public outrage over their performance. Hurricane Katrina (and this government's complete failure to engage on any level with the catastrophic Third-World-in-our-own-country consequences) was clearly the tipping point, but what we're experiencing now is unlike anything I can recall in my lifetime since the '70s and the beginning of the end for Nixon.
The refusal to engage with the mounting outrage over the complete and ongoing mishandling of the Iraq War is only escalating the outrage, natch. While catching up with the events of the past couple of weeks, I can't help but wince at how the President and his Administration's behavior unerringly aggravates a terrible situation further.
Sandpapering nerve endings might be relevent to burn therapy and skin grafts, but the typical Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rove/Rumsfeld sociopathology seems to be yielding results unexpected only to the B/C/R/R/R cabal.
The substance of the issue, briefly, is holding someone in power responsible for the disastrous policies, decisions, tactics and consequences that led to, and were thereafter representative of, the Iraq War. Of late, we've seen increasingly vocal former-supporters of the War (and now a few who were directly involved with the launch of the War itself) crying for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Reportedly, Rumsfeld has tendered his resignation more than once; President Bush refuses to accept it, and so it goes.
So, in mid-April we had the spectacle of more retired generals speaking out against the mismanagement of the Iraq War and calling for Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. Once Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr. (who'd most recently led troops in Iraq as commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne in 2004) became the fifth retired senior general to publicly call for Rumsfeld's removal, you'd think the White House would have at least changed their own tactics. But, no -- "The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history" soon-to-depart White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on April 13th. Thus, the smear of Swannack began, piggybacking the Rovian attacks on Major General Paul D. Eaton, General Anthony C. Zinni, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General John Riggs and Major General John Batiste, who'd publically broken ranks with Rumsfeld only the day before Swannack did so. I heard some of these attacks before our departure for Copenhagen, and having grown up in a military family found the entire spectacle increasingly painful.
The generals are speaking quite coherently, concisely, and cogently about what they see as Rumsfeld and this Administration's gross mismanagement of this war from the outset. That their criticism is not only falling on deaf ears, but prompting the spiteful bile typical of this President and Administration's legacy from their initial campaign tactics to the present, is the latest galling episode in one of the most shameful chapters of our national history I've lived to see and hear myself. Indeed, as Marge and I left the US for our brief jaunt to Europe, I wondered what reaction the Administration's retorts might invite: what honorable, loyal soldier would be prompted to next speak out against not only the War, but the hateful campaign actively being waged against Swannack, Eaton, Zinni, Newbold, Riggs and Batiste? The volatile escalation of outrage and typically vile retaliations were simply too intense; something momentous had to follow.
Lo and behold, the most steadfast and loyal of them all, the man who laid his military career on the line for Bush/Cheney and the case made for launching this damned War and paid the price for doing so, had finally heard enough.
"Just back from Baghdad and eager to discuss promising developments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice found herself knocked off message...forced to defend prewar planning and troop levels against an unlikely critic — Colin Powell, her predecessor at the State Department. For the Bush administration, it was a rare instance of in-house dissenter going public."
Rice was hoping to bring front-and-center "the political breakthrough" that shuttled Rice & Rumsfeld to Iraq the week prior, a "breakthrough" supposedly "clear[ing] the way for formation of a national unity government," put Powell's statements (again, unexpected only by the White House and the cabal) "sideswiped her by revisiting the question of whether the U.S. had a large enough force to oust Saddam Hussein and then secure the peace." According to Quaid, Powell "said he advised Bush before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to send more troops to Iraq, but that the administration did not follow his recommendation.... Rice, Bush's national security adviser during the run-up to the war, neither confirmed nor denied Powell's assertion. But she spent a good part of her appearances on three Sunday talk shows reaching into the past to defend the White House... "I don't remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I'm quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission that we went into Iraq," Rice said. "And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration. But that when it came down to it, the president listens to his military advisers who were to execute the plan," she told CNN's Late Edition.
The problem here is the statements of Powell and that of the retired generals speaking out -- an unprecedented event in US history, really, particularly during wartime -- are completely consistent in their portrait of a President and an administration that refused to listen to its own military leaders. Still loyal to his Commander in Chief, despite everything, Powell's statements are not as pointed as the retired generals, but still pack a punch.
Quaid's AP report continued, "Powell, in an interview broadcast Sunday in London, said he gave the advice to now retired Gen. Tommy Franks, who developed and executed the Iraq invasion plan, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld while the president was present. "I made the case to General Franks and Secretary Rumsfeld before the president that I was not sure we had enough troops... The case was made, it was listened to, it was considered. ... A judgment was made by those responsible that the troop strength was adequate."
By all reports, Powell was not alone. As Quaid notes, "In January, Pentagon officials acknowledged that Paul Bremer, the senior U.S. official in Iraq during the first year of the war, told Rumsfeld in May 2004 that a far larger number of U.S. troops were needed to effectively fight the insurgency, but his advice was rejected. Bremer said his memo to Rumsfeld suggested half a million troops were needed — more than three times the number there at the time."
Typical of this administration, the ongoing rhetoric is that we must wait until after what is, by its very nature, an endless war ('The War on Terror' is, after all, a nonsensical "war" on a tactic, not a geographically definable people or country) to even discuss these key issues. Quaid quotes Rice as saying, "There will be time to go back and look at those days of the war and, after the war, to examine what went right and what went wrong... But the goal and the purpose now is to make certain that we take advantage of what is now a very good movement forward on the political front to help this Iraqi government."
So, no one was to speak out against the war before it was a war; that was unpatriotic. No one is to speak out against the war while it is being waged; that only aids the terrorists, we're told time and time again. No one is to be held culpable in away way, for what is by President Bush's own admission a war that will outlast his administration, that is by definition an interminable war, given the goal Rumsfeld himself has stated (the abolition of all terrorism).
The good soldiers have done their duty, but enough is enough. The military is having none of it, and it's getting increasingly difficult for the Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rove/Rumsfeld to continue deflecting criticism long-overdue, questions too-long tabled, a national debate too long refuted, and scrutiny of a behavorial pattern that has grown much, much too destructive.
On May 4, Rumsfeld spoke to a public audience at the Southern Center of International Studies in Atlanta, where a number of protesters interrupted Rumsfeld's talk (and were duly hauled away by security police). The AP reported "the outbursts Rumsfeld confronted on Thursday seemed beyond the usual," primary among them the persistent questioning from Ray McGovern: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" To his credit, Rumsfeld stopped security from hustling McGovern out of the hall, but Rumsfeld's replies -- "I'm not in the intelligence business," citing then-Secretary Colin Powell for having "spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people" preparing "a presentation that I know he believed was accurate," and President Bush's "WMD" justification for war after spending "weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people" -- was the usual horseshit (there's no longer any other way to put it, is there?).
The exchange between Rumsfeld and McGovern is worth quoting (and available on many online venues in its totality):
Rumsfeld: "They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were no weapons of mass destruction."
McGovern: "You said you knew where they were!"
Rumsfeld: "I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were."
McGovern: "You said you know where they were, near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and north, east, south and west of there. Those are your words. I'd just like an honest answer. We're talking about lies..."
We are, indeed.
It's getting harder for the powers-that-be to defer, ignore, refute or spin, as the consequences spiral out of their control.