So now we have news from the New York Times that, right before he was fired, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld (not former yet!) wrote a terse memo to the president that basically said, “Oops, this war isn’t working out, let’s look at our escape hatch options.”
It’s hard to imagine that this leak came from anywhere else but Rumsfeld’s camp, who presumably felt it would demonstrate either (a) that Rummy isn’t such an idiot after all, and has some awareness of how badly the Iraq adventure has gone awry, or, (b) that Rummy got fired precisely for suggesting that “stay the course” was no longer an idea that anyone but a moron could embrace.
Of course, if Rummy really wanted to prove that he’s no dummy he’d have to dial up the Wayback Machine and find a copy of such a memo a year or two further in the past. No such memo exists; Rumsfeld remained a loyal stay-the-courser — indeed, he was the primary architect of the course-to-be-stayed — till the last possible moment, by which time the gesture was far too little, far too late. Yet even that gesture, it appears, was too much for the blinkered, bunkered man in the Oval Office, who read his defense secretary’s grim prognosis and promptly decided to hang the messenger.
These men belong to an administration that wove a golden-hued myth of loyalty around itself. But it seems that, in fact, each of them found a way to double cross the other — Rumsfeld by belatedly telling the president the truth about the war; Bush responding with a “Now you tell me? Off with your head!”; and now Rumsfeld returning fire with this knife-twisting leak. These guys truly deserve each other, though the nation deserves better.
Our household recently watched The Fog of War, Errol Morris’s amazing documentary about Robert McNamara, and it offers some instructive parallels. (The entire film, in fact, is eye-opening today, and worth watching again even if you saw it back in late 2003 when it came out; the echoes that were only ominous then are deafening in light of the downward spiral of events in Iraq.) McNamara, who in many though not all ways was Lyndon Johnson’s Rumsfeld, offered Johnson a similar memo in fall of 1967, telling his president that it was time to “cut and run” from the Vietnam debacle. Johnson promptly gave him the axe.
The nation was blessed by better timing in that conflict; primary elections were only months away, and the voters delivered such a resounding thumbs down to Johnson’s war that the president stunned the nation with an announcement that he wouldn’t run for reelection. Today we’ve got 15 months before the primaries. That’s a long time to weather the collapse of a government we’re propping up and a murderous civil war our irresponsibility helped start.
I wrote earlier this week about the prospect of a Bush/Cheney resignation, and I realize that remains the unlikeliest of scenarios. But consider how unlikely Johnson’s choice was: He’d won in 1964 in a colossal landslide (a victory on a scale that puts Bush’s two ostensibly “mandate”-delivering squeakers into perspective); he’d engineered passage of some of the most important civil rights and social-welfare legislation in American history; he presided over an era of expansive, if unsettled, prosperity. The idea that he could be essentially forced from office must have seemed absurd.
There’s probably no force that can dislodge Bush from the White House between now and 2008. But consider: we will soon experience a flood of revelations from Congressional investigations into administration corruption and law-breaking. We may well see a revolt in the Republican ranks by party leaders and voters who see how badly Bush’s blind policies can cripple their future. The Beltway media’s slavish willingness to look the other way at the administration’s lies and stupidities appears to be eroding (though at a surprisingly slow pace!).
Right now Bush looks like he’s resuming the policy, if not the rhetoric, of “stay the course”: The Gates choice for defense actually supports that view, as Thomas Powers argued, and the president’s statements are becoming more and more petulantly defiant, as with his declaration that talk of a “graceful exit” displayed “no realism at all”. But if, in the face of the opposition that is beginning to assemble, Bush keeps his heels dug in, the damage will be extraordinary: not only to the GOP but to the office of the president, the U.S.’s international position, and, finally, to the one legacy Bush apparently believes he’s building — his own place in history. If things get to that point, it’s not impossible to imagine someone picking up the phone and telling the president what he must do for the good of the country. I don’t know exactly who that would be — Henry Kissinger? James Baker? Billy Graham? dad? all of the above?
It’s a way long shot, to be sure. But, as Frank Rich writes today, Bush is “slipping into the same zone as Woodrow Wilson did when refusing to face the rejection of the League of Nations, as a sleepless L.B.J. did when micromanaging bombing missions in Vietnam, as Ronald Reagan did when checking out during Iran-Contra.” The president, in other words, is entering a “Final Days”-like phase of utter detachment not only from reality but also from the forces that have hitherto insulated him. That’s dangerous for us all, certainly; but it could be the beginning of the end of the nightmare, too.
[tags]bush administration, iraq, rumsfeld memo[/tags]
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