Daily Archives: May 22, 2004

The New O.J.

Donald Rumsfeld has presided over the most foolish conflict since the War of Jenkins’ Ear in the 18th century, and he is at the top of a military force that tortured prisoners. So Washington is humming with widespread calls, including one from this newspaper, for him to be fired.

But those demands strike me as unfair and premature.

They strike me as relatively modest. But then I’m not Nicholas Kristoff of the NYT

Frankly, I’m astonished to be speaking up for Mr. Rumsfeld.

Frankly I’m not. Defending the status quo is your job. And you op-ed column consistently shows why it’s your job.

But fairness must govern our handling of American defense secretaries as well as Iraqi prisoners. The central point is that we have no proof that Mr. Rumsfeld bears direct responsibility for the torture.

Or as O.J. Simpson’s African-American defenders invariably insisted “Were you there?”

So far the evidence is mixed about whether there was a policy of abusing prisoners to get intelligence.

So far the evidence is far less than “mixed” as to whether “intelligence” was at issue at all.

As reports from the foreign press ( the U.S. press being less than useless) leak out revealing the express culpability of military higher-ups the charade that “intelligence” of any sort was sought becomes increasingly difficult to maintain — though Kristoff and company will doubtless continue to try.

It’s troubling that there was similar misconduct in Afghanistan, and that some of the techniques reflect expertise in torture. On the other hand, interviews with inmates and guards alike have suggested that most of the really horrifying abuses may have been limited to the night shift at one cellblock of one particular prison. The latest revelations from The Washington Post are horrifying; guards threw inmates’ food into toilets and tortured them into renouncing their religion.

Oh I see. The “really horrifying abuses” were all “on the night shift.”
We’re all just so relieved to hear that.

So we need a thorough investigation.

How “thorough”? How high up do you want to go on this, Nick?


Or even higher — Cheney?

If Mr. Rumsfeld turns out to be complicit, he must go. But if, as Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba has said in his report (deservedly praised as tough and unsparing), the problems were at much lower levels, then why make a scapegoat of the defense secretary?

Because the buck has to stop somewhere perchance?

It’s true that the torture arose in a climate of administration contempt for the Geneva Conventions, particularly reflected in those shameful Justice Department memos outlining loopholes so the U.S. could evade responsibility for war crimes. But this disregard for ethics and law arose mostly from the White House and the Justice Department.

Which have no connection to Rummy?

The better argument for Mr. Rumsfeld’s ouster is that he led us, poorly prepared and clutching the hands of a charlatan, Ahmad Chalabi, into a quagmire. His doctrine of underwhelming force hobbled our occupation and is partly responsible for the mess. According to a poll cited in The Financial Times, 58 percent of Iraqis now support Moktada al-Sadr, one of our enemies.

“Charlatan”? Judy Miller’s unimpeachable source a “charlatan”? How rude!

But remember: this is not Mr. Rumsfeld’s war. It is President Bush’s.

“It’s not Tweedledum’s fault, it’s Tweedledee’s !”

Mr. Rumsfeld is not a neo-conservative hawk. He is an old-fashioned conservative, a realist like the first President Bush, and he did not particularly press for war with Iraq. The real culprits are the neo-con ideologues who screamed for war: people like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby and the current President Bush himself.

Really Nick? Midge wouldn’t agree with you. And neither would anyone else with an ounce of sense.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not display the wisdom of Colin Powell, who pushed back against Mr. Bush in the run-up to war.

Colin Powell’s “wisdom” is best exemplified by his covering-up the My Lai massacre. This time out Dubbya’s second-most-important House Nigger was considerably more than “a day late and a dollar short.”

But neither was he a jingoist. According to Bob Woodward’s new book, Mr. Rumsfeld spent meetings asking questions rather than taking positions. So why fire Mr. Rumsfeld for carrying out his boss’s invasion?

Why indict Adolf Eichmann then?

True, he has managed it poorly, and there’s an argument for firing Mr. Rumsfeld for incompetence. But how do we justify retaining Mr. Cheney, who bears central responsibility for everything that has gone wrong, and George Tenet, who managed both to miss the 9/11 plot and to “find” slam-dunk evidence of Iraqi W.M.D.?

Quite simple, we don’t.

Indeed, under the neo-cons the war would have been even more mishandled. Mr. Wolfowitz believed that a small number of troops could seize Iraq’s southern oil fields and that Saddam’s regime would then fall.

But that’s precisely what happened, Nick. We have you been for the past year? Surely trolling for thrid world hookers, the better to write sob-sister columns about surely didn’t take up all your time.

What would firing Mr. Rumsfeld achieve? In its favor, it would send a message to the world that we are as appalled by our own war crimes as by Saddam’s. But it would also leave a vacuum.

There’s already a vacuum. It’s called George W. Bush.

The people immediately below Mr. Rumsfeld — Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Feith — are more culpable and would need to follow him out the door. Emptying the top three jobs in the Pentagon would be a nice gesture of accountability, but would also lead to paralysis and more Americans coming home in body bags.

There’s no shortage of body bags, but the only paralysis on view is at the NYT.

So until proof emerges that Mr. Rumsfeld was directly connected to the torture, it would be unfair to single him out.

What do you want, Nick? A blue cum-stained dress from the GAP?

That’s why only 20 percent of Americans say in an ABC poll that Mr. Rumsfeld should lose his job. Even Democrats oppose firing Mr. Rumsfeld by a ratio of two to one.

And more Americans opposed interracial marriage when Loving was decided than oppose gay marriage right now.


The person who charted the course into Iraq and who bears ultimate responsibility is not Mr. Rumsfeld but Mr. Bush — and his bosses will get a chance to fire him in November.

If the Supremes don’t intervene on his behalf, or if the elections aren’t cancelled due to some “terrorist emergency” or other that he and Rummy might confect and a credulous NYT report.

As two quite different publications have reported in recent days, Chalabi’s biggest “mainstream” devotee, Judy Miller has, as Ricky Ricardo would say “a lot of ‘splainin to do.”

Could she be following Jayson Blair out the door? Or maybe, like Elvis Mitchell,
she has a Hollywood future in mind.

After all, she’ already appeared as a supporting player for Marcel Ophuls.

Maybe Errol Morris could make her a real star.