Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Core Issue is Ineptitude

* Fred Kaplan had a good review in Slate of the major mistakes made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in this war. (SeeT

The article is devastating from the point of view of someone who (like me) was never opposed to ousting Saddam Hussein. (In fact, I have long felt that we owed his removal to an Iraqi populace that we betrayed in 1991. Or, rather that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell betrayed, by dusting Saddam off and propping him back into power over his terrorized people.)

No, the real issue is not wishy liberal peacenikism, but realpolitik incompetence.

Evidence from the long span of American history suggests that, if something is worth doing, it can often be done virtuously, honestly, honorably, and competently. In contrast, can you name a crisis in our past when a dire situation was BEST handled by people who were demonstrably unable to handle a burnt match? Never was this illustrated better than the present imbroglio in Iraq. Kaplan’s list of horrendous blunders - including disbanding the Iraqi military in 03 -- setting 300,000 well-armed and resentful soldiers loose upon the streets -- is as nonpartisan as it is an overwhelming indictment of blithering ineptitude.

Like all unfit leaders, the administration and its defenders fall back upon classic strategies, for example, maligning critics, resorting to secrecy, questioning others’ patriotism, and intimidation... these have all at least been discussed in the press. But nobody seems interested in probing deeper, to the level of unspoken assumptions.

(For example, is anyone at all willing to discuss the cosmically weird coincidence -- that Donald Rumsfeld held exactly the same job thirty years ago, when he supervised America’s final humiliation in another Asian Land War?)

Oh, but it goes deeper. If this cabal of very silly men has one priority - above all - it is to convince conservative Americans that this whole thing is about political ideology. And therefore, conservative Americans have no choice but to choose between the present gang and “those liberal peacenik pro-terrorist flakes.” Or something like that. By couching it always in either-or terms, they distract anyone from noticing the very large and very sharp axe that could sever this corrupt band from power and save the republic. An axe that could be wielded by Republicans, themselves.

It is a question that they dread ever hearing said aloud.

“Are you honestly telling us that there aren’t OTHER conservatives, out there, who might pursue the same overall values, only more competently, more honorably, more intelligently, more practically and in less bitterly divisive ways?

“What... among a hundred million conservative adult Americans... there are NONE?”

What an indictment of conservatism, if this is true!

In a parliamentary system, any sub-group who had shown themselves to be this foolish, deceitful, corrupt and ineffectual would have resigned by now. Forced out of office NOT by their opponents, but by their own party! A party determined to avoid punishment at the polls by bringing in fresh faces, from a large pool of promising and experienced candidates, waiting in the wings. But today’s GOP seems to be saying that it cannot find anybody else, not even from the back benches. No one who would pursue the War on Terror with Rumsfeld’s vigor, but without his proved record of utter, blithering inneptitude.

Yes, this logic does not hold for President Bush and VP Cheney, who hold Constitutional offices that are bound by time, rather than national confidence. We can argue the pros and cons of that arrangement elsewhere, and I am not necessarily against Madison’s chosen approach. Still, American history is filled with episodes when Cabinet housecleanings were done for reasons of political triage, or for the national good. And if ever there were a time when it was called for.

Here is a test. Try a truly confidential opinion poll of professional officers inside the Pentagon. Many are lifelong Republicans and believe deeply in the general War on Terror. And yet, I would wager that - if offered a chance to pick some other prominent Republican as a new Secretary of Defense, you would find at most ten percent choosing to retain the present leadership. One that has engaged in relentless pressuring, chivvying, meddling, domineering and purging of the skilled and dedicated men and women who make up the United States Officer Corps.

.... More political-relevant snippets.

* Taking Spying to Higher Level, Agencies Look for More Ways to Mine Data

* Ah, but then there’s the problem of digesting information that’s right in front of you:

* As Michelle Bachelet becomes Chile’s first female president, Justin Vogler talks to specialists across the region about the sharp increase in the number of women in South American politics. Most link this trend to the workings of the democratic process. But some are skeptical about how much of a difference more female politicians will make in the lives of everyday women.

* Average incomes after adjusting for inflation actually fell from 2001 to 2004, and the growth in net worth was the weakest in a decade, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday.
Average family incomes, after adjusting for inflation, fell to $70,700 in 2004, a drop of 2.3 percent when compared with 2001. That was the weakest showing since a decline of 11.3 percent from 1989 to 1992, a period that also covered a recession. In contrast, the average incomes had soared by 17.3 percent in the 1998-2001 period and 12.3 percent from 1995 to 1998 as the country enjoyed the longest economic expansion in history. The 2001-2004 performance was the worst since net worth actually declined by 9.9 percent in the 1989-1992 period.


Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Two things, both about the very last part of the post (specifically, average income).

First: People should not be allowed to talk about "average" income without being forced to specify if they are referring to MEAN income, or MEDIAN income.

An example to help make the distinction clear for those who may be fuzzy on their statistics: If Bill Gates walks into a room, the mean income shoots up to the millions, but the median income barely changes.

Second: The link you provided doesn't work for me, and a (brief) search in the provided box from yahoo didn't locate it, either.

Don Quijote said...

Average family incomes, after adjusting for inflation, fell to $70,700 in 2004, a drop of 2.3 percent when compared with 2001.

Not exactly a surprise from a goverment who would like to take us back to the 1890's.

The subject has been discussed in the following blogs recently.

Crooked Timber

Brad Delong - Income Inequality and Information Filters

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get the above link to work. What was it about?

Anonymous said...

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et hoc genus omne, although incompetent bunglers, may have plans to sail right on through the 2008 presidential election without letting go of power. Halliburton/KBR is busy building the detention camps for anyone who objects to a permanent coup d'etat by the occupying power.

Tangent said...

The only thing worse than a Shrug Presidence (so-named when I typoed "Shrub" once and my friend commented that "shrug" is a perfect description of GW's reaction to any crisis that doesn't go his way) would be a Kerry Presidency. Trust me on this. I lived in The People's Republic of Massachusetts for over 30 years (though admittedly I don't remember anything much of the 1970s, but I was a kid back then *grin*).

In the time that Kerry was (and is) Senator of Taxachusetts, he has done remarkably little for his state. He missed quite a few votes, he consolidated his own fiscal worth, and he was pretty much a reflection of the worse of the Republicans, on the Democratic side.

Quite a few Democrats, in fact, have stated that Kerry's nomination was a crass betrayal of the Democratic party. Gore would have been the better candidate: did he not already defeat the Shrug once before in a popular election?

If the Democrats want to win the 2008 election, they have to take a long deep look into their party and find a leader worthy of leading, not just someone who, thanks to the Old Boy Network, has put in enough hours to be next up for the Ultimate Big Guy's Political Position. The Presidency is not a reward for those who plunked in enough years as a Senator. It's a deadly, serious job that requires leaders, not half-wit deal-making croneys.

Of course, the other thing we need to do is vitalize the American People and get them voting for what they believe in, instead of just along party lines. The current Two-Party system has been showing its flaws. It doesn't represent the people. It doesn't pass laws that do good (what with all the riders attached to bills - damn it, there should be a Constitutional Amendment banning bill riders. Let each of those riders be voted in on the strength of its merits, not on the necessity of the bill whose coattails it is riding on).

This country needs leaders. When is the last time we had one?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Webcomic Reviews

Anonymous said...


Though "Taxachusetts" is a cute nickname for the state, it doesn't have much basis in reality these days, at least according to last year, the state's state/local tax burden was 32nd in the country.

Just thought I'd remark... and then again, I don't live there. Maybe their taxes are just more obvious... or Mitt Romney has gone on a cutting spree... or both...

Tangent said...

Well, they do have the gas tax, the cigarette tax, the 5% Sales Tax (which results in most of Massachusetts purchases being made in New Hampshire), the Income Tax, Property Taxes, Excise taxes, and so forth.

Perhaps not as much money is taken out in the long run as in other states, but there is an illusion that it is; add to that the high cost of living in MA (there are many places where an income of $20,000 a year would allow for comfortable living; in MA it's difficult to survive on that, or at least in the urban sections) and you end up with the appearance that MA taxes its voter-base immensely.

Besides, it's a term people from Massachusetts itself came for their state. Yes, it was coined in the Dukasis era, but that's the funny thing about nicknames: they stick.

Rob H.

Don Quijote said...

Well, they do have the gas tax, the cigarette tax, the 5% Sales Tax (which results in most of Massachusetts purchases being made in New Hampshire), the Income Tax, Property Taxes, Excise taxes, and so forth.

So does every other state in the country. Where do you think the money to pay the school teachers, the police, the firemen, the roads, the hospitals come from?

Taxes is the price of civilization, how ever expensive you think it is, it's alot cheaper than barbarism.

Kelsey Gower said...

Anonymous, I believe the video Brin was referring to is here:

Katrina video

Tony Fisk said...

... Seen more clearly here, perhaps?

Rob Perkins said...

@Don Quijote

Every other State does not, in fact, have the list of taxes which Massachusetts has. Oregon lacks a sales tax, Washington an income tax, and property taxes themselves are severely constrained by constitutional limits (and by election rules which nearly always defeat a new tax unless the legislature passes it, or a supermajority of the voters wants it)

When I moved from "back east" (well, Kentucky) to Washington State a few years ago, we saw significant tax relief, relative to our income level and spending habits there vs. here.

It just isn't the clear idealistic picture you've painted. Ever. And while it's true that taxes pay for public services, if you've ever spent a lifetime watching that share inch up slowly (Our sales tax was 6.8% 20 years ago, now it's 7.9%), and NOT seeing improvements to the public services at all, well, you begin to wonder, and resist, and finally oppose those sorts of changes to the law.

And then, (as really did happen in Washington in '99), voters begin to repeal the taxes all on their own. In our case, we simply voted to exempt cars from the property tax, and reduced it for everyone from several hundred dollars a year to $30.

So, yeah, Taxachussets deserves its nickname, even if the people all still willingly pay.

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Argh . . . more evidence that the administration wasn't letting facts get in the way when justifying the war:


The memo also shows that the president and the prime minister acknowledged that no unconventional weapons had been found inside Iraq. Faced with the possibility of not finding any before the planned invasion, Mr. Bush talked about several ways to provoke a confrontation, including a proposal to paint a United States surveillance plane in the colors of the United Nations in hopes of drawing fire, or assassinating Mr. Hussein.

As the old joke goes . . . he wanted to be a War President in the worst possible way, and he did.

Jose said...

I frequently debate right wingers on a blog called Small Dead Animals. The crowd there is mostly made up of Canadians but there are a generous helping of Americans in there as well.

The weird thing I've noticed is that in a debate about the Iraq War or the War on Terror they tend to dance around any talk to Bush's competence. They much prefer to attack critics on the left as homosexual loving, baby killing moonbats than argue the subject on its merits.

Left to their own devices they don't want to think about things like torture or America's military leadership. They attack critics and look for excuses.

The latter part is most troubling. It seems that right wing anger over the Iraq fiasco has generated a lot of anti-Islam feeling.

This puts some of them in a weird position. One moment they can be singing the praises of the brave people of Iraw and the next they can be condeming them all as barbarians.

The tap dancing may be nearing to an end. Nagging doubts are growing in the right even if they don't want to admit them.

And there may also be a desire to end the culture war. Many are embarassed by things like Intelligent Design, mushrooming deficits, torture and even global warming.

I suspect that the right may be in the process of quietly conceding a bit of ground in the culture war.

Mark Brown said...

Our Host, David Brin, said:
...snip...go read “Rumsfeld’s Rules”... (link:
the well-meaning (or cynically manipulative) list of “wise sayings” published by the Secretary of Defense when he returned to that post in 2001, close to three decades after he reigned over our final humiliation in Vietnam.

...Markbnj sez: Oh David, You've gone from A wise professor, to a God, with this post, oh thank you. you've given me at least a month of RumSFeld posts.!

..Host continued...snip...Please, (get) wider attention.
The Rules should be read at two levels, for their cliched but genuine truth... and for their bitter irony. For one thing, the list makes clear that today’s Donald Rumsfeld has to be the Bizarro-opposite-guy to whoever wrote these rules.

Oh bless you Great Futurist in Chief!