Consider: "Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
She is not hopeful.
But then, here, stateside, there seems to be something in the air. Conventional wisdom, whatever that is, seems to be shifting.
As mentioned in the pages in April, David Broder of the Washington Post is sometimes called the dean of Washington journalists (probably because he has a gift for the obvious and has no firm opinion until everyone else has agreed on one), and looking at what the retired generals were saying about the secretary of defense, he said Rumsfeld needed to resign - "Even in Vietnam we saw no such open defiance." That's here if you want the details - four months before Hillary Clinton decided the same thing. He goes with the flow, and she doesn't, until she just has to, and there's an advantage to it.
This week Broder decided it was time for another stroll through the obvious - here he says that "the logic of prolonging the agony" just doesn't add up and its time to withdraw our troops from Iraq. When you've lost Broder you've lost the mainstream, or more accurately, he's the canary in the coal mine. When the canary is dead in the bottom of the cage, it's time to get the hell out of the mine. You could die. The grand experiment to remake the Middle East was, it seems now, just dumb.
The other canary, so to speak, is Thomas Freidman of the New York Times - the moustache of patience, famous for arguing from the pages of "the newspaper of record" that the grand experiment to remake the Middle East was quite smart, and the right thing to do. Sure there were problems, and he explained them in detail drawing on his vast experience in that part of the world, but then said the next six months would be critical. It all might work out. Perhaps he got tired of six-month increment after six-month increment, because Friday, August 4, he gave up, with this, saying that it's "now obvious that we are not mid-wifing democracy in Iraq" but just "babysitting a civil war." He ran out of patience.
Is this important? Do these two guys really matter?
Steve Benen thinks so -
Well, that's from the left, noting the mainstream has shifted, ah… to the middle? Which is slightly to the left? Something like that. The right had been saying that the position of the Bush administration was really what most people knew was the middle position - if you agreed with the president you were smack dab in the middle where you should be, with everyone else, with every sensible and patriotic American. The Democrats are "out of the mainstream" and just loony lefties, and cut-and-run cowards to boot. That doesn't seem to be working anymore. The middle moved on them when they we're looking.
Of course he cannot resist one more the-next-six-months-are-critical hail-Mary speculation - we could have a gigantic "last-ditch" peace conference - and that would be the United State, Russia, Europe, Japan, India, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria and Jordan, all sitting down together to work things out. But he knows that's just not going to happen -
But the likelihood the Bush-Cheney administration would "declare its intention to leave" is nil, or actually less than zero. He doesn't like it, but he wants out. This is a major change.
Is it a big deal?
Over at the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum is actually hopeful -
There are nonmilitary solutions? Invading random Arab countries doesn't work so well at putting an end to support for radical jihadism? Now that would require some really new thinking in Washington. We may be too far down the road for that. We have our way of dealing with things, and it's hard to admit that it doesn't work. Maybe it's not possible to admit. And after all, isn't Israel proving you can use massive force to eliminate terrorists, or at least make them seem powerless and humiliate them, so everyone rallies to your side and shuns them, or even laughs at them? No, wait. Bad example.
Or in detail -
"I'm fairly alarmed here," he says. The conventional wisdom shifted. It doesn't matter.
As noted by Bill Montgomery here, the whole idea was that bombing the crap out of Lebanon would strengthen Lebanese democracy by uniting the country's various ethnic groups and political factions and turning them against Hezbollah -
He really is a bit sarcastic. But the neoconservatives who have shaped our new foreign policy do believe such things. That's the reported plan for when we take out Iran's uranium processing facilities with our small nuclear weapons - we'll be heroes to the Iranian people when the smoke clears and things stop glowing. They'll cheer and throw out their government for one that works with America. This trial run isn't going so well.
As for the other trial run, that's not going so well either. Thursday, August 3, was the day the top generals and the Secretary of Defense went before congress, actually a senate committee which wanted to know, since things seem to going badly in the older war, the one in Iraq, what the situation really is, as they see it, and what the plan is for getting things back on track.
That didn't go well, as the Associated Press reported here.
Army General John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, and one smart guy who speaks the language and has his PhD and all, said "Sectarian violence probably is as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular. If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war." Marine Corps General Peter Pace, the most senior US military officer, said there was a "possibility" of civil war in Iraq - after all, about a hundred folks a day are blown up or found dead in the streets or in the river, maimed from torture and such. Two of the Pentagon's most senior generals conceded this looks like a civil war in the making. This got a lot of press. The reason is obvious. That's not the official line.
Rumsfeld doesn't think there's anything like a civil war starting, as earlier, he had said this -
Does he ask himself the questions he thought he should have been asked and then answer them? Yes, that's how he thinks, working with himself as everyone else is unimportant.
Is it a bit schizophrenic, as if he's hearing voices in his head and talking back to those voices? Yes, there's a touch of that, but he's just trying to work out how this "a hundred dead a day" thing is no big deal.
If what's happening doesn't look like our Civil War with the Blue and Gray armies and battles like Gettysburg, should you not worry about what's happening? Maybe, but that would make you seem silly.
Should we worry that the secretary of defense works out what he thinks by talking to himself in public? Maybe, but there's nothing anyone can do about it, as he's staying.
Would medication help? Probably not.
Rumsfeld had planned to skip the Thursday senate committee hearing - he said he was too busy for such political tomfoolery - and instead hold a closed briefing with the full senate, until the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, publicly called on him to testify in open forum, in front of the cameras and all that. She said that the senators and the American people "should hear directly from the top civilian leader at the Pentagon, the person most responsible for implementing the president's military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Drat. Now what? You don't let any woman make you look like a coward, especially an aggressive (or assertive) one with presidential ambitions. You have to show that you have more balls than she has - two, at least. And he could put her in her place. But that didn't work out.
The junior senator from New York laid into him but good - watch the video (with transcript) here.
She went over, point by point, each "error in judgment" on matters in Iraq and Afghanistan, and quoted him on things he said that just weren't true - his "rosy pictures" of how things would certainly work out, and that stuff about the Taliban being completely eliminated - and it was devastating. She asked him what he had to say about all that, and what the policy was now.
He looked stunned. His first words were "My Goodness!" The generals don't talk to him like this. The voices in his head certainly don't.
There's video of Rumsfeld here then saying he had "never painted a rosy picture" about Iraq - he had been "very measured" and told "you would have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been overly optimistic." He said he had always maintained "this is tough stuff."
That's followed by this list with hyperlinks to the source -
The records weren't erased. It sure was easier back in the Nixon days when he work in the White House - no internet, and paper shredders did the job.
Then there's this video and transcript, set up by head of NATO's Afghan security force, one Lieutenant General David Richards, saying Afghanistan was "close to anarchy."
So he was asked about that. How's it going, really? Was Richards full of crap?
Well, he has to admit Taliban fighters were "occupying safe havens" in Pakistan and other places, and admitted that violence has increased recently. But this was not a big deal. It was the weather -
The voices in his head told him so.
After the hearing ended Clinton called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of "presiding over a failed policy in Iraq." She was kind enough to not mention the voices. Other Democrats had called for Rumsfeld's resignation - until now she had stopped short of that. But this was just too surreal.
No one is hearing voices. They're just imagining things for which there is no evidence, because they're angry. They've been fed so much bullshit they're trying to figure out what's really going on.
And of course Rumsfeld answering the voices in his head, not the voices in the room, isn't going to help any of this at all.
Four fronts? Are we being had again?
It's double or nothing time, and the word is that senior national security professionals have begun circulating among themselves a 1996 document - "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." This was written by, among others, Richard Perle, the first-term chairman of the Defense Policy Board; Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense, and David Wurmser, Cheney's chief Middle East aide. It was written at the request of Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide "a new set of ideas" for dumping the policies of the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin.
That's all documented. The man has problems with his father. Yipes.
Are Sidney Blumenthal's sources feeding him disinformation, setting him up to look like a foolish conspiracy nut? That could be, but recent history argues against that. And there is the document.
That's odd. You want everyone to concentrate on how we're working with Israel to end Hezbollah and Hamas and maybe go after Syria and Iran, and, as they say in Vegas, double-down and run the table in this war on terror, and they want to return to the Iraq business. So they want to know in this Iraq war, now longer than World War Two, why it looks like we're trying to tamp down a civil war and supporting a pro-Iranian Shiite government we created, and one that doesn't think much of what Israel is doing nor of our alone-in-the world support of that, and are pouring in more troops. They want to know what the plan is here, and the policy objectives are. Rumsfeld's attempt to blow this off as old news no one cares about anymore didn't work. One senses he's very angry with these small minds, unable to move on to the new war. But then no one is talking about the "third string" war, the one in Afghanistan, nor is anyone any longer asking why the CIA disbanded its group dedicated to finding Osama bin Laden. Rumsfeld catches a break on that. Osama bin Laden caught his break long ago.
Steve Benen explains -
In list form, the new rules would, 1). "include trials, for the first time, of people who are not members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and are not directly involved in acts of international terrorism," 2.) "also allow the secretary of defense to add crimes at will to those under the military court's jurisdiction," 3.) "defendants would lack rights to confront accusers, exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through rough or coercive interrogations," and 4.) "they would not be guaranteed a public or speedy trial and would lack the right to choose their military counsel, who in turn would not be guaranteed equal access to evidence held by prosecutors."
Yoo has come up before, and here the idea is to overrule the Hamdan case. It's a matter of who has the final authority.
That's about it. But there are improvements - Rumsfeld alone makes the rules of evidence, the class of detainees is expanded, and the number of crimes to be considered is increased.
That's about it. We're in trouble. But keep your eyes on the wars. It'll keep you busy.
Charming. But Steele is not the heart of darkness, just unclear of the concept that the Army is now trying to drive home - in this kind of asymmetrical, fourth-generation, guerilla war of insurgency, or whatever you wish to call it, the native population is the prize you're trying to win, not those who just get in the way and can be eliminated when you really don't know who is the real bad guy, who might be, and who's a normal or goofy nobody in the area and you don't have the time or resources to find that out.
Is he Kurtz? Maybe, but he knows he's not going to rise, and he may be the fall guy, eventually, for all this. It's time to get out.
There may not always be two generals who flat-out refuse to say you did anything at all wrong. Why chance that?
But then again there's this - the president has nominated General Bantz J. Craddock, to be the top military man at NATO.
Craddock currently commands the Southern Command, responsible for the Guantanamo prison, and is the guy, when the three prisoners there recently committed suicide, called the suicides an act of war on America. Whatever.
The Europeans get to nominate the top civilian at NATO, and we get to name the top military leaders - that's the deal. And this may be a Bush in-your-face thing at all the euro-weenies who bitch about Guantanamo and want us to shut it down, and don't like our secret prisons and don't like us grabbing people of the streets of Rome and sending them off for "enhanced interrogation" to places that don't exist, never to be heard from again. Maybe Miller should have stayed around. The senate, who must approve this nomination (the Europeans have no say), are a bit uncomfortable with this move, but the president's party still has the majority there. There are still enough angry no-one-can-criticize-us types that this will sail through, even if sailing through roughly. But it best be done before November. Things could change.
Given these items, one senses that there's a bit of an under the surface struggle going on here as Iraq disintegrates, the Hezbollah-Israel war widens and deepens, the Taliban retake parts of Afghanistan, and all the rest spins out of control. There are the "get tough" neoconservatives, echoing the words of Conrad's Kurtz - "Exterminate the brutes."
It's the Heart if Darkness, once again. Steele and Miller, and maybe Craddock and others - and Vice President Cheney in the shadows doing his Marlon Brando thing (think about it) - leading to things like this from the influential John Podhoretz -
Had will just killed every one of them there'd be no problem. Well, yes, genocide can be efficient, and bring a long period of no troubles. The Turks pretty much got rid of the Armenians way back when (many of those who escaped seemed to have ended up out here in California). Hitler almost got rid of all the Jews (and Schoenberg and Thomas Mann and so many others got out quick and ended up here in Hollywood). Those who aren't dead have left for California. But you hope you get them all. So the neoconservatives float a new theory.
So they all need to be exterminated. Or so says Kurtz.
Yep, there's something going around, in the top circles of those who advise or support the White House now. It's that "kill them all and let God sort them out" thing. The ball is rolling.
Same thing. The gloves are off. (And see this the two quotes side by side on national television, and Keith Olbermann of MSNBC ruefully laughing at Limbaugh.
That's a start.
You cannot win by bombing everything in sight, then rounding up everyone you can and torturing them to find out from the random sample who knows what?
No kidding, Tony. Dick Cheney may never let you talk to George again.
But this too is a start. On the other hand he's in trouble back in the UK and had to show he's really not George's prison bitch, and this would do. And he couldn't say this in Washington, only way out here where everyone is crazy anyway.