Thursday, April 20, 2006

General Disorder…

The current staff moves of McClellan and Rove are a fig leaf for an increasingly concerned Republican majority facing re-election and a desperate attempt the change the subject away form Rumsfeld's fate. It's not sufficient to the task and the disorder won't be sufficient to placate Americans or focus the attention off of the lack of results form this administration. Disorder followed by incompetence seems to abound in the administration these days. I'm not just talking about the recent spate of General officers who have criticized the administration, though they are certainly a significant part of this.

Disorder and distractions followed by insufficient response is the hallmark of this administration. Instead of focusing on the people who attacked us and the real threats—Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, they recklessly attacked Iraq that was not a threat simply because they could—and then they did a poor job of that, leaving a destabilized state tilting towards civil war that can't quite manage to put together a workable government.

Couple with that the tactical incompetence of Rumsfeld and his tone deafness and the unprecedented comments of the Generals calling for his resignation for ignoring the counsel of the military and you have a real problem on your hands for the administration. It's telling that the Generals who have chosen to spoken up are both retired and well respected combat veterans of the current campaign—Zinni, Eaton, Newbold and Batiste are well respected and have nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose in terms of retirement gigs within defense related industries. They do this out of conscience and it's equally telling that those who speak on behalf of Rumsfeld are not as objective or well respected and have much to gain rather than lose—the Pentagon wields inordinate influence in an officers life and those lucrative defense industry post-service careers and it's no coincidence that many of them are Air Force (having their programs funded by Rumsfeld while the Army and Marines do the grunt work) and worse yet—serving officers. If you think it's inappropriate for retired generals to comment on the administration's actions (and I don't—who better to provide counsel based on experience?) then it is far more so for an active service member who is explicitly enjoined from criticizing to provide suspect support that can be ordered at will.

The problem here is deeper than the dissenting Generals. It's rooted in the administration's overly simplified vision and failure to deliver on even that simplistic vision. They couldn't make Iraq a bulkhead for democracy and they won't—it takes more troops and sacrifices (and I don't mean shopping!) than Americans are willing to undertake. It might have been possible had a draft been instituted after 9-11, but that ship has sailed, and that's unfortunate because as a consequence of the disorder, incompetence and distractions we are ill equipped to address the very real threats of an Iran that will be nuclear sooner than we expect and a North Korea that already is, not to mention an Al Qaeda that seems to be just fine in the border regions of Pakistan and elsewhere and has proven itself capable of waiting eight years to attempt another strike in the past.

The problem here is that none of the administration's overly simple plans are working. Not its studied ignoring of climate change and its consequences (hint: Katrina is a prologue, not an epilogue) not its economic policies—gas at $70 a barrel is a serious problem and puts a crunch on the administration's usually supportive base. And even if it subsides, with competition from China and India for scarce petroleum resources when China is willing to procure where we are not (Iran, Sudan and elsewhere) the respite would be temporary.

Similarly, the shuffling of administration officials, though it may create enough disorder to change the topic of conversation away from Rumsfeld's fate for a while, is not sufficient to the task of ameliorating American's concerns over the direction in which we are headed, the results we are getting or even to address the President's 35% approval rating.

Disorder isn't working, and it's looking less and less likely that a few cosmetic changes will be enough to save those Republicans up for re-election. That's bad news for the administration because a Democratic Congress would provide subpoena power to the President's opposition and given the panoply of issues to investigate from warrantless wire taps to torture to GITMO to the secretive reclassification of documents dating back to the 1950s in the US archives, to the election scandal in New Hampshire to the Plame affair (and the administration's fabled love of secrecy) what do you want to bet that a few well placed subpoenas would be enough to bring the administration's house of cards tumbling down?

Bush's relentless appeal to ignorance and scoffing at science, from abstinence only programs that simply aren't as effective as actual biology classes to rejection of the consequences of environmental change to cultivating of bigotry against gays and immigrants, won't be enough to tilt the balance in the face of $3.50 a gallon gasoline. Not with his connections to the Republicans and the myriad corruption scandals coming to light.

When Generals—in a post Macarthur and Vietnam—era tell us the military is abrogating its responsibility to its members and we refuse to draft to make real sacrifices we need to listen. When we leave behind civil war in a nation that wasn't a threat and ignore the ones that are, we need to listen. When we ignore science for preference and selfishness disguised as faith we need to really listen. You know what really turns my stomach? We will listen—but not because of any of these issues, we'll listen because of $70 a barrel oil.

The real problem with Rumsfeld is this—we could really use the ability to engage Iran right now with diplomatic channels and that requires a credible military threat—a credible carrot and stick, but the facts are that Iran (nor the world) has any reason to trust this administration's diplomacy and less reason to believe we could invade Iran or that bombardment would buy us much time in delaying Iran's nuclear ambitions when stacked up against the international (not to mention domestic!) resistance such a move would create. Rumsfeld's incompetence makes it unlikely that a military threat is credible or that Americans would support another Rumsfeld lead campaign. That limits us and makes us truly vulnerable—and that's the result of the disorder and incompetence of this administration. And no amount of re-shuffling without bringing in real change agents to shield Rumsfeld is going to change that.

We—and our troops—deserve a hell of a lot better and we are suffering the consequences either way. That next press secretary better be PT Barnum.

"The lunatic is the man who lives in a small world but thinks it is a large one; he is the man who lives in a tenth of the truth, and thinks it is the whole. The madman cannot conceive any cosmos outside a certain tale or conspiracy or vision." --G. K. Chesterton
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