There’s a certain class of people who are endlessly titillated when history repeats itself. Amongst this class there’s a subset that is boundlessly amused when history repeats between Bush 41 and Bush 43. For that subset, this has been a very good week.
One of the forgotten elements of Bush 41’s doomed reelection campaign is the way the right wing punditocracy turned on him like a pack of rabid Yorkshire terriers. From Safire to Will all the way over to Buckley, they lined up (justifiably) to take potshots at George Herbert Walker Bush for his many betrayals of the Reagan Legacy.
This week, it was the son’s turn. Below are a couple of samples:
“Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's failure to offer his resignation over the Abu Ghraib scandal is sadly typical of the lack of accountability
that permeates the U.S. government.
We have suffered some catastrophic failures during the last few years. On Sept. 11, 3,000 people might have been saved if FBI, CIA, immigration and customs officers had been a little more diligent and a bit more willing to cooperate with one another. More recently, we went to war in Iraq based on the assurance of the intelligence community that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
How many people have been canned for these egregious cock-ups? Zero.”
Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times, 5/13/2004
“The first axiom is: When there is no penalty for failure, failures proliferate. Leave aside the question of who or what failed before Sept. 11, 2001. But who lost his or her job because the president's 2003 State of the Union address gave currency to a fraud -- the story of Iraq's attempting to buy uranium in Niger? Or because the primary and only sufficient reason for waging preemptive war -- weapons of mass destruction -- was largely spurious? Or because postwar planning, from failure to anticipate the initial looting to today's insufficient force levels, has been botched? Failures are multiplying because of choices for which no one seems accountable
George F. Will in the Washington Post, 5/12/2004
The key word above seems to be “accountable.” Will and Boot aren’t alone. David Brooks also took some shots this week and the dean himself, William F. Buckley, returned to Republican bashing to also intimate that Rumsfeld should resign. The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has been a persistent critic of Iraq policy for months now. And these are the administration’s friends. Friends they may be, but they want “accountability.”
The Will and Boot quotes offered above are typical of the line of attack. The thinking goes, stuff has gone wrong and someone must be “accountable.” For the administration to show an adequate commitment to achieving results, it must apparently respond to adverse results by making a sacrifice to the “accountability” gods.
This flabby logic first took hold amongst the right wing pundits with the George Tenet controversy. I’ll be the first to admit, from an outsider’s perspective it doesn’t seem like the CIA has gotten a whole lot right under Tenet. The CIA missed 9/11 and blew the pre-Iraq intelligence. The results have clearly not been good.
But does that tell us all we need to know about whether or not Tenet is doing a good job? Do we have any idea what resources are available to him and how well he’s doing marshalling those resources? Is it possible that he has maximized his resources, but, due to no fault of his own, the resources themselves were lacking?
All I’m saying is that unless you have an extraordinary security clearance, you have no idea how well George Tenet performs as the director of the CIA. You’d think whether or not he’s good at his job should be a consideration when one is debating whether or not he should retain his job. If Tenet is a good director of the CIA, if he performs well at the task, we would be unwise to jettison him.
While tempting, it is intellectually lazy to conclude that he is a bad director of the CIA because of the notorious and damaging failures of his organization. Of course, the calls for his dismissal have been legion. Engaging in simplicity will always be a more pleasant pastime than practicing intellectual rigor.
Will’s and Boot’s calls for Rumsfeld’s dismissal are also intellectually lazy. Nowhere in their articles do they engage the issue of whether or not Rumsfeld has been a good Secretary of Defense. It seems to me that many of their ilk were ready to put Rummy on Mt. Rushmore not so long ago for his commitments to transformation and 21st century blitzkrieg. They also fail to engage the even more important question of whether he possesses the talents one would want in a Secretary of Defense at this point in history. Being at war and all, shouldn’t that consideration at least rate a mention?
In his a recently published autobiography, Robert Rubin tells a story about his successor, Paul O’Neill (who managed the almost impossible feat of being fired by Bush 43) to illustrate the differing philosophies of the two men:
“Paul O’Neill, the Bush Administration’s newly appointed Treasury Secretary, said he liked the Mexican (bailout) program because it worked. ‘We gave them money, it stabilized their situation. And they paid back the money ahead of schedule,’ he said. ‘I like success. I’m not a real fan of even well-meaning failure.’ Where O’Neill said he liked what worked, my view was that decisions shouldn’t be valued only on the basis of results. Even the best decisions…are probabilistic and run a real risk of failure, but the failure wouldn’t make the decision wrong.”
Thinking like O’Neill is easy, thinking like Rubin is hard. Unfortunately, in this war, the easy way seldom seems to be the best way.
Responses? Thoughts? Please email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
James Frederick Dwight