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"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)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 28 December 2006
From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

From Beyond the Grave - No More Mister Nice Guy

Bob Woodward is a wonder - the ultimate insider journalist, keeping secrets, even from his bosses at the Washington Post where he is one of the assistant managing editors. And he knows how to promote himself - holding the identity of his famous Watergate source, Deep Throat, close all those years, creating a minor "guessing" industry that kept his own name out there. And he was the first to know who spilled the beans in the CIA leak case - it was Richard Armitage who spoke to him first, and Woodward knew it all along. And he breaks stories in the Post not when they have news value, but only as his latest book is about to be released. That has, reportedly, irritated the top folks at the Post, but what can you do with the ultimate insider? You really wouldn't fire him. He's the franchise, as they say in the sports world. You don't dump Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle - you just get a new manager.

And the Wednesday after Christmas, Woodward was at it again - being the star. Just a few days after the death of Gerald Ford, in the midst of all the nice things people were saying about the former president, Woodward dropped the bomb. He had interviewed Ford in 2004 and has that on tape, and has notes from the subsequent long one-on-one discussion with Ford that followed the interview - notes for his new book. His write-up of all that is here, and you can listen to the key parts of the interview here.

The bomb, so to speak, is that Ford disagreed with the Iraq War thing entirely - he would have never gone to war but done what the French had suggested, continued inspections, revamped the sanctions and just contained that Saddam guy, as that was working just fine - and Ford thought the "WMD justification" used to make the case for war was just a dumb idea. And even worse was the fall-back "spreading democracy through military action" justification. The guys who worked for him - Cheney and Rumsfeld - had somehow gone off some deep end or other.

Of course the deal was that Woodward had to promise not to release any of this until Ford had died, and you also have to understand Ford never did the retired and wise politician thing, never offering any opinions on much of anything at all. He did the retired Republican nobody-special golfer thing instead. He had walked away from all that political stuff, unlike Nixon and Carter and Clinton. He had nothing to say.

But it seems he did think about things, and Woodward got him to open up -
"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

… "Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
Ah, sensible to the last… but of course that drew the wrath of the defenders of the current president. They had said all these nice things about the now quite dead Gerald Ford, and Ford stabbed them all in the back from beyond the grave. No fair! Just as you should never get involved with a widow - there's no competing with the dead husband who is progressively more of a prince and hunk and the years go by - how do you attack a dead president, especially one who most everyone saw as a sensible nice guy who calmed things down and made things better?

William "Bill" Bennett, the man who says his massive gambling habit is none your business and you have to read his Book of Virtues and shape up yourself, gives it a try -
Since "decency" seems to be the watchword of the day and the consensus modifier for Jerry Ford (a view with which I generally concur), may I nevertheless be permitted to ask this: just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush and Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. If he felt so strongly about his words having a derogatory affect, how about telling Woodward not to run the interview until after Bush and Cheney are out of office?

The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue. The way Ford does it with Woodward, he doesn't have to defend himself... he simply drops it into Bob Woodward's tape recorder and let's the bomb go off when fully out of range, himself. This is not courage, this is not decent.
So in the end, Ford was just a coward. He wasn't a real man, a manly man.

But here's another view -
I have a problem with an embargo of this type, but I don't think this is an issue of Ford's cowardice. Rather, this simply raises once again the question of Bob Woodward's ethics. While listed in the byline of the piece Bennett describes as a "Washington Post Staff Writer," Woodward is, in fact, an assistant managing editor at the newspaper. If Woodward agreed to keep something from his paper for the purposes of a future book, then what good is he to the Post any longer? Shouldn't the paper use his salary to hire three young go-getters to find the next Watergate scandal and let Woodward write his books full time?
But at Daily Kos you'll find the real issue -
Here's the thing: Bennett's beef is that Ford's embargo means there can now be no "dialogue" regarding his views on the war.

I beg your pardon, but I think that was a problem long before Ford's comments became known. In fact, Ford's comments were embargoed precisely because it was already impossible to have an honest dialogue about opposition to the war in this country before he ever made them.

What does it say about the American political climate when a Republican ex-president - a 90+ year old man, by the way, who hasn't been moving in DC circles for years - feels intimidated in expressing his views on the biggest and most important issue of the day?

Yes, there's a tradition of ex-presidents holding their tongues. And yes, Bennett is astute enough to recognize that the terms of Ford's embargo are very pointedly not aimed at preserving that tradition. But if that wasn't the point of the embargo, then what was it? Clearly if it wasn't just outright fear, it was at least Ford's anticipation - and one that's obviously quite correct given this "administration's" track record - of the headache of harassment and smearing he'd be in for, for daring to express his doubts and opposition.

Besides, when has the lack of genuine dialogue ever stopped Gamblin' Bill (or any of the rest of his gang of bullies) from simply putting words in the mouths of their opposition - living or dead - and then stomping on that strawman?

So please, let's not bemoan the lack of dialogue now that you've beaten even our leading citizens into submission.

Have you no decency?
Some questions just answer themselves, don't they? And sometimes it is better to just play another eighteen holes of golf, rather than have the Swift Boat guys, on instructions from Karl Rove, go after you and your family. Ford wasn't "beaten into submission" as much as he was just being realistic. Who needs that grief? There's more to life than smash-mouth politics. It's too bad that Max Cleland can't play golf, for obvious reasons.

Former arch-conservative John Cole sums it up - "The reason Ford did not speak out is because all of the aforementioned blowhards would have savaged him for not keeping his opinions to himself, as former President's are 'supposed to do.' I think we can all agree that had Ford come out against the war, these same knuckleheads would have called him Jimmy Carter Ford or the like."

The best way to deal with knuckleheads is to ignore them - then get them good when their fighting back just makes them look like whining idiots.

But the knuckleheads were not that concerned with the words of the dead man. Thursday, December 28, the president - the "decider" as his calls himself - met with all sorts of folks down at the Crawford ranch for a "non-decisional" meeting on this "new way forward" in Iraq. "Non-decisional" meetings may be a Texas thing, but the nature of the meeting was given us all in the previous day's press briefing -
In terms of the decision-making process, as we've indicated before, this is a time for the President to be talking with his advisors about all the potential options, making sure that due consideration is given to the next steps, making sure that we're thinking through the new way forward in Iraq, to take into account all of the differing views.
Oh. It's not exactly fiddling while Rome burns. It's just being very, very careful - but isn't that an implicit admission not much of this was done before we invaded Iraq? Are they telling us better late than never? The adage for carpenters and woodworkers is measure twice, cut once - otherwise you mess up and waste your resources. They never heard of that old saying? Everyone has heard that. But then that's not a "bold" way of building anything.

But now we have these "non-decisional" meetings - measuring things that should have been measured four years ago - pretending that we haven't already decided to escalate this war. What other option is there?

Matthew Yglesias puts it nicely -
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president's thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public's concerns about the war and concede that things weren't going well. At that point, simply staying the course doesn't work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation. Thus, the idea of an escalation starts getting pushed and we start reading things in the paper like "Top military officials have said that they are open to sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if there is a specific strategic mission for them." Consider the process here. It's not that the president has some policy initiative in mind whose operational requirements dictate a surge in force levels. Rather, locked in the prison of his own denial he came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission.
So we can expect a "new mission" - as if we want to hear a new justification for it all. We're preventing gay marriages in Iraq? Who knows what it will be?

Josh Marshall adds this -
This is also a good example of how paradoxical or even bizarre "answers" often emerge from political problems. No actual policy or strategic imperative is driving the move to escalate the conflict in Iraq. The real causes are political and psychological.

To put it simply, the presidential is neither psychologically nor politically capable of leaving Iraq. The 2006 election made it clear the current course can't be sustained politically. Even his own party won't back it. That leaves escalation as the only alternative. All that's left is a rationale for doing so. And that's what the president is now working on.

That doesn't mean that in theory there couldn't be a good argument for escalation, only that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with why the president is in favor of escalation. Because if it did he would have called for it at some point over the last three years. And he didn't. All that's changed is that option two of three - stasis - was removed from the list of options. End of story.
So that's the big question. Why now? You escalate now because you don't want to look like a loser - better late than never. It's a legacy thing, and a matter of personal pride, or at least a matter of avoiding crushing shame. Others will simply have to die to avoid that. That may trouble the president deeply, actually, but he no doubt sees no other option.

But who really opposes adding fifty to a hundred thousand more troops for two years or more, as the current thinking seems to be running, as half-measures do more harm than good? Well, there's the public, and there's the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and reports the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates has real concerns about the idea. Gates did go to Iraq and find soldiers on the ground who said they'd like reinforcements. That might mean something. On the other hand, the Associated Press kind of called Gates on that and did their own interviews -
Many of the American soldiers trying to quell sectarian killings in Baghdad don't appear to be looking for reinforcements. They say the temporary surge in troop levels some people are calling for is a bad idea.

President Bush is considering increasing the number of troops in Iraq and embedding more U.S. advisers in Iraqi units. White House advisers have indicated Bush will announce his new plan for the war before his State of the Union address Jan. 23.

In dozens of interviews with soldiers of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment as they patrolled the streets of eastern Baghdad, many said the Iraqi capital is embroiled in civil warfare between majority Shiite Muslims and Sunni Arabs that no number of American troops can stop.
Spc. Don Roberts told AP, "I don't know what could help at this point. ... What would more guys do? We can't pick sides. It's almost like we have to watch them kill each other, then ask questions."

Sgt. Josh Keim, who is on his second tour in Iraq, said, "Nothing's going to help. It's a religious war, and we're caught in the middle of it. It's hard to be somewhere where there's no mission and we just drive around."

Sgt. Justin Thompson added that a troop surge is "not going to stop the hatred between Shia and Sunni." Thompson, whose four-year contract was involuntarily extended in June, added, "This is a civil war, and we're just making things worse. We're losing. I'm not afraid to say it."

Steve Benen puts this in perspective -
Now, these are comments from one battalion, not a poll with a random sample, so it's difficult to say with any certainty that "the troops are against escalation plans."

That said, two quick points. One, kudos to the AP for going straight to the source and getting so many soldiers' perspective. Two, how, exactly, do supporters of the war dismiss the opinions of the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, patrolling the streets of Baghdad? Cut-and-runners? Defeatocrats? Surrender monkeys?
Just call them tired. Gates and the Associated Press should leave them be. They've got work to do. There may be no clear mission and they're just driving around, but they do their job. And soon we'll have double the numbers, with no clear mission, just driving around.

And Gerald Ford is on the big golf course in the sky, working out the next wedge shot to the green, a little sad, but finally away from it all.

Posted by Alan at 21:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006 21:41 PST home

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