ITS HARD TO DECIDE! Had Bush decided on war by July? For Woodward, its hard to decide: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22, 2005
FIRST LESSON IN AMERICAN NEW THINK: Now that Durbin has offered his semi-apology (note all the ifs in his statement), weve learned our first lesson in American New Think. To fully understand that key first lesson, lets reread the FBI report on which Disgraced Durbin offered comment:
FBI REPORT (7/29/04): On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold...On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.So heres the first lesson in American New Think: The next time you read a report like that, you will not think it came from a mad regime, the term Durbin used in his troubling comments. Youll assume that it came from your country—America. And youll see that the conduct wasnt wrong.
High priests McCain and Russert will help if this first lesson proves hard to swallow.
WATCHING A GOOD GERMAN FUNCTION: In this mornings Post, Mark Leibovich helps the public process their important first lesson. Heres the way he describes the matter on which Vile Durbin made comment:
LEIBOVICH (6/22/05): Durbin's saga began June 14 on the Senate floor when he read from an FBI memo that described the ordeal of a prisoner at Guantanamo who was allegedly chained to the floor, forced to listen to loud rap music and subjected to extreme heat and bitter cold, among other unpleasantness. Durbin said: "If I read this to you and did not tell you it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others—that had no concern for human beings."Good boy! The key term there is among other unpleasantness. Like all good Germans, Leibovich knew to disappear the conduct which made this report so disturbing. Post readers wont have to hear how long these prisoners were allegedly chained. (Note: Leibovich has gone from the plural to the singular, pretending were talking about only one prisoner.) They wont have to learn that these prisoners were chained so long that they urinated and defecated on themselves. They wont have to hear about that pile of hair—the pile one prisoner pulled from his head. Good boy! Leibovich knows how mad regimes work their will. Here it is: They keep the folks stupid.
Good boy! Mark Leibovich played good German today. He helped that first lesson go down.
TURNING ALL LOGIC UPSIDE DOWN: Remember: When we deal in New Think, we have to learn to turn prior logic upside down. In todays Post, Shailagh Murray captures good German Dick Daley:
MURRAY (6/22/05): The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday joined lawmakers and other groups in calling for an apology for comparing the activities of U.S. troops to those of Nazis. Then, Chicago's Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley, declared: "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."But Dick! Some man or woman in the military (or in some affiliated force) did act like that in the matters in question. To Daley, it isnt disgraceful to act that way. Its only disgraceful to discuss it.
AND INSIDE OUT: Remember, logic must be turned on its head. As Durbin frog-marched his way through his forced confession, he made the following comment: "I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Peculiar, isnt it? Why would a Holocaust survivor be offended when someone objects to that conduct?
GOOD GERMAN MCCAIN: Murray captures leering McCain standing over his victim:
MURRAY (6/22/05): After the speech, Republicans said they were ready to put the matter to rest. During a later vote, Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) shook Durbin's hand and thanked him for apologizing. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said of the apology: "It was good for the troops, and it was good for Senator Durbin."Or as Ari Fleischer once sagely declared, Americans need to watch what they say. John McCain? The strutting bantam—the press corps great darling—turns out to be the new Fleischer.
ARE AMERICANS SMART ENOUGH: The question has been the same from the start—are human beings smart enough to conduct a democracy? Socrates raised the question at the dawn of the west, and for his trouble, the good Germans of Athens allowed him to swallow the hemlock. But democracy can only function in a culture of logic and reason. Given the crackpot nature of our devolving public discourse, will Americans be smart enough to hang onto a public democracy?
How bizarre is American discourse? Just last evening, on The NewsHour, we watched a ludicrous thirteen-minute debate about PBS alleged liberal bias (more on this bizarre discussion tomorrow). We watched a ludicrous exchange between Sean Hannity and biographer Edward Klein, with Alan safely stashed in Aruba (more tomorrow). We watched David Gregory play the good boy as he interviewed Karl Rove on Hardball (sorry—as he interviewed Karl, the appellation he thought appropriate). And we watched the all-stars rant and get red about Dick Durbins endless perfidy. In that debate, Brit Hume presented his usual line-up: Three well-scripted conservative screamers balanced by analyst Mara Liasson.
Given our devolving public culture, are Americans smart enough to hang onto a democracy? This morning, a good German writes the New York Times—and shows how poorly we humans reason, especially at times of high stress:
To the Editor:What rights do these non-citizens, non-criminals, non-soldiers have? Duh! Presumably, such people have human rights, the very subject of the good Germans letter! The right, for example, not to be chained to a floor until one urinates and defecates on oneself, until one pulls ones hair out (with apologies to Leibovich, whose delicate sensibilities have surely been offended). By the way, are all these Guantanamo prisoners our enemies? Like all good Germans, the writer assumes this is true—because his government has implicitly told him. Yes, the good German is always around us, and he tends to reason quite poorly. And he makes it clear that hed be just as glad if our prisoners werent protected at all. Leering like the bantam McCain, he declares them lucky to be alive, so great is our power to control them.
The good German exists in the human gene pool, in every single human society. He was there in Cambodia. He was there in the gulags. He was there in Rwanda. He was there when young, poorly supervised troops tormented and killed those prisoners in Bagram. And yes, hes there as you walk down the street, no matter what part of the world you may live in. His primitive impulses are held in check by the prophylactic of a liberal society. And a liberal society runs on logic—logic, under assault for the past dozen years as fiery career liberals, assessing their interests, politely gazed off and didnt tell.
LESSON TWO IN AMERICAN NEW THINK: Whats the second lesson in American New Think? Of course! Spend a lot of time and effort banning events which never occur! [L]obbyists on both sides say the conservative tilt of this Senate gives the measure its best chance of Congressional approval since the Supreme Court ruled 16 years ago that flag burning was a form of protected speech. You know what to do—just click here.
PART 2—ITS HARD TO DECIDE: Had Bush decided on war with Iraq by July 2002? The Downing Street memo suggests that he had, but this matter is hard to judge—in part due to the shadowy logic of decision-making itself. After all, as commander in chief, Bush could have aborted the war at any point, right through its start in March 2003. And since Bush was saying, all through 2002, that war with Iraq was his very last option, there was never a chance that hed tell an outsider that he had settled on war by July. Military action was now seen as inevitable, Sir Richard Dearlove wrote in the July 23 memo, describing his recent meetings in Washington. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action. But if high officials had conveyed that to Dearlove, Bush wasnt going to convey it to Woodward. Indeed, absent particular circumstances, its intrinsically hard to nail down the point at which a decision has truly been made. Had Bush decided by July 2002? The Downing Street memos suggest that he had. But such a matter is intrinsically hard to judge, and Bob Woodwards ballyhooed Plan of Attack simply cant settle this issue.
That isnt to say that Woodwards book doesnt shed light on the question. As Woodward notes, some members of the Bush Admin favored war with Iraq from the start. According to Woodward, Paul Wolfowitz favored such military action in the administrations first days, a plan Colin Powell viewed as lunacy (page 22). And in the immediate aftermath of September 11, Donald Rumsfeld had asked if the terrorist attacks did not present an opportunity to launch against Iraq (page 25). According to Woodward, The only strong advocate for attacking Iraq at that point was Wolfowitz, who thought war in Afghanistan would be dicey and uncertain (page 26). But Bush decided against such a war—at least for the time being:
WOODWARD (page 26): The next afternoon, Sunday, September 16, [2001,] Bush told Rice that the first target of the war on terrorism was going to be Afghanistan. We wont do Iraq now, the president said, were putting Iraq off. But eventually well have to return to that question.According to Woodward, the question re-emerged as early as November 2001. On November 21, Bush ordered Rumsfeld to get started on a war plan for Iraq. [G]et Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to, Bush is quoted saying, in a stirring statement which seems to be fashioned for history. By December, Rumsfeld is telling Franks that action may be needed fairly shortly:
WOODWARD (page 43): You need to look at things that you could do even as early as April or May . That was four or five months away.According to Woodward, the time frame of the planning kept getting pushed back, although extensive war planning efforts continued. Indeed, by March 2002, Woodward says that Franks was sure that Bush had decided on war. This doesnt mean it was so, of course. But Woodward says Franks was convinced:
WOODWARD (page 113): That day, March 21, [2002,] and the next, Franks gathered the component commanders of the services—Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines—at Ramstein Air Base in Germany...This is fucking serious, Woodward quotes Franks telling the commanders. You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, youre wrong. You need to get off your ass. This doesnt mean that Bush had decided. But, according to Woodwards reporting, Franks now believed that he had.
But then, according to Woodwards implication, Bushs judgment to go to war may have been made a few months earlier, in January 2002, by the time of the State of the Union—the address at which Bush first decried the three-member axis of evil. Here, were relying on Woodwards judgment. But, for what that judgment is worth, Woodward seems to wink at his readers, suggesting that the axis of evil speech was a virtual declaration of war—on Iraq. Woodward seems to be mind-reading in this passage. But his view of Bushs intention seems fairly clear:
WOODWARD (page 95): Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist for The Washington Post, caught the understory, calling Bushs speech an astonishingly bold address, and adding, Iraq is what this speech was about. If there was a serious internal debate within the administration over what to do about Iraq, that debate is over. The speech was just short of a declaration of war.That doesnt mean that Bush had decided. But seven weeks later, Franks thought he had. You know, if you guys think this is not going to happen, youre wrong, he told his commanders. That doesnt mean that Franks was right. But it does provide some context to our murky question—a question Woodward simply cant settle in his ballyhooed but little-read book.
Had Bush decided on war by July? Woodward doesnt tell us. He does say that Cheney had settled on war by mid-August. Some major Republicans were talking about pursuing diplomacy through the UN. Cheney saw that as disaster:
WOODWARD (page 163): Cheney saw he was rapidly losing ground. Talk of the U.N., diplomacy and now patience was wrong in his view. Nothing could more effectively down the march to war—a war he deemed necessary. It was the only way.According to Woodward, Cheney deemed a war necessary by mid-August. But there is no point where Woodward shows that Bush had settled on war by this point—and of course, in theory, war could have been stopped at any time up to March 2003.
Finally, of course, the question arises—why did Bush take that diplomatic route, the route through the UN? The Downing Street memos and Woodwards book answer that question fairly clear. Bush very much wanted British allies in a war with Iraq. And the Brits were very firm—they had to go through the UN. Woodward describes the state of play around August 16—and he says that Tony Blair thought Bush was committed to action:
WOODWARD (page 161): [Powell] met privately with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had wanted to come over for a day since Iraq was heating up. In Blairs conversations with Bush, it was increasingly clear to the prime minister how committed Bush was to action. Straw had some of the same concerns as Powell. His message was in essence, If you are really thinking about war and you want us Brits to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations.So thats the situation Woodward portrays around the time of the Downing Street memos. Bush decides to go to the UN because he needs Blair for a war with Iraq. Cheney is troubled by this turn, because he has flatly deemed the war necessary. But nowhere does Woodward define Bushs intention this clearly—although Franks had believed that war would come since all the way back in March.
When did Bush decide on war? Absent clear statements from Bush himself, its impossible to settle such a question. Throughout the summer and fall of 2002, Bush was publicly saying he hoped to avoid war; given that fact, there was no chance that hed tell Woodward different. But one thing is clear in Plan of Attack; right around the time of the Downing Street memo, Woodward clearly portrays the Admin starting to fix the intelligence. Did the Bush Admin fix the facts and the intelligence around the time of the Downing Street memo? On that question, Plan of Attack is quite clear. Was the nation lied into war? The Downing Street memo suggests that it was—and Woodwards book backs up that suggestion. Woodward shows the bald dissembling starting in August—dissembling that the liberal and Democratic establishments havent yet been bright enough to nail down.
TOMORROW—PART 3: Pimping the nukes
FRIDAY—PART 4: Bungling the argument
SATURDAY: Attacks widely-pimped misdirection