Just Above Sunset
October 23, 2005 - End of the Week Political Notes

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There was one item in the last week that showed the shift in the political world - some who had previously been silent had just had enough. And now, given that the administration and the Republican party is on the ropes with possible indictments of key leaders looming, the house majority leader in court charged with felonies, the senate majority leader under investigation by the SEC and the Justice Department, the new nominee to the Supreme Court looking rather ridiculous and being ridiculed, and all the rest, perhaps this was inevitable.

In any event, Lawrence Wilkerson, on Wednesday, October 19, addressed the New America Foundation. Wilkerson had been chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005 and to some seemed the fellow who said out loud what Powell might have been thinking in his lonely position trying to talk sense into the administration. Cheney and Rumsfeld told the president what to think, and do, and Powell was cut out. Powell wouldn't bitch about it. Wilkerson did, for him.

And now he just let it all out.

You can watch (and listen) to the speech here (streaming video if you have a high-speed connection), or read the speech here (PDF format), or you can read a brief summary from Timothy Noah here at SLATE.COM from Friday of the week.

Noah's comments are instructive. He says that inside the Bush administration, Wilkerson has never been a team player, and last year told GQ Magazine - "I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians I don't like." Well, who does? And Noah calls "this the most blisteringly contemptuous critique yet of the Bush administration by a former high-ranking official there. (Second prize: Richard Clarke or possibly Paul O'Neill.)"

Key quote from the speech:


[T]he case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my study of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy didn't know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn't know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.


Noah's other notes:


Of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, Wilkerson said: "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man." Yet, with regard to Iraq policy, he was "given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw itself in a closet somewhere."

Of President Bush, Wilkerson said he is "not versed in international relations and not too interested in them either."

Of former national security adviser Condolezza Rice, Wilkerson said, "When she made a decision she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president."

Quoting George Packer's new book, The Assassin's Gate, quoting Richard Haas, former director of policy planning at the State Department, Wilkerson said, "To this day I still don't know why we went to war in Iraq." Haas declined to comment to me about the speech.



And via Bill Montgomery here we get more.

This worries Montgomery:


We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly. That's how serious we thought about it. We had a discussion in policy planning about actually mounting an operation to take the oilfields in the Middle East, internationalize them, put them under some sort of U.N. trusteeship and administer the revenues and the oil accordingly.


Yeah, well? Who is surprised?

I like this part.


Public diplomacy? Broken. Broken. But I will say this. I will say this. An Egyptian friend of mine said this to me: It's hard to say, "Oh, shit." (Laughter.) Okay?

And I think if I had Karen Hughes here or Margaret Tutweiler or Charlotte Beers - all of whom were undersecretaries of State for - or are undersecretaries of State for public diplomacy, they would say, "You're right; it is hard."

So if you're unilaterally declaring Kyoto dead, if you're declaring the Geneva Convention is not operative, if you're doing a host of things that the world doesn't agree with you on and you're doing them blatantly and in their face - as I said before, without grace - then you've got to pay the consequences, and the consequences are your public diplomacy people have a really tough job. And is Karen Hughes going to turn it around? I pray for her every night.


And this:


I'm not sure the State Department even exists anymore except in the minds of the Foreign Service. Yes, we have embassies around the world, and if you've been to one lately you know they look like concertina-wired Abu Ghraibs. They send a terrible signal. ? And our foreign policy, I'm not sure you can get around the non-utility of the State Department.


The comment from here above Sunset?

This is not news. It just confirms what others have said. And the talking heads on Fox News dismissed it all a sour grapes from a girly-man who doesn't understand real power - someone has to be in charge and who need a State Department anyway, as the bad guys only understand manliness and cruelty anyway?

The only news here is that this high-level guy laid it all out. Cheney and Rumsfeld run the government, the president is a useful cipher, and no one wants to understand much, they just want what they want.

The response from the right? "Yeah. So? Dick and Donald are real men."
It's all very tiresome and leads nowhere. More of the same. This is just a note that people are speaking more directly about how they think things should be run. Mindless and thoughtless brutality to get what we want is still ahead, by a nose. There's a bit in the middle. Subtlety and compromise are coming in dead last.

The other discussion of the week was prompted by Matthew Yglesias and Sam Rosenfeld in The American Prospect with this, these two guys ragging on "liberal hawks" saying the war was a really good idea, but it was executed so very badly - "Using force to build a pluralistic liberal democracy where none existed before could count as a moral justification for war if we had any sense of how to feasibly engage in such an endeavor, but the evidence from Iraq and elsewhere indicates that we do not."

In short - even if this war was a good idea, we have no idea how to pull off a "transformation" of this sort. We've never done it. We don't know how to do it. Maybe it cannot be done. You can find reactions here, here, here and here. There are many others.

The comment from here above Sunset?

As before, the chances of Iraq turning out to be a Jeffersonian democracy and all three sides living in harmony in a prosperous, secular, unregulated free-market, flat-tax capitalist Starbucks and Wal-Mart paradise, that transforms the whole Middle East, seems more and more remote every day. It may have never been possible. But if there's a chance, even a slim chance, why not try for that? Hell, one could spend a dollar and actually win the lottery. It's quite possible, though not probable.

The problem is the cost. It's a cost-benefit thing. Is three hundred billion dollars, and two thousand dead soldiers, and ten thousand maimed for life, just a lottery dollar to these guys? It's not their money, nor their kids' lives. And this could work out fine? The odd are against us.

And the discussion is pointless. Our leaders decided it was possible. They don't deal with things like whether it was remotely "probable" at all. They're an idealistic, hopeful lot. And their kids aren't dying. The chances were always more that wildly remote - they were infinitesimal - but why not go for it? Well, they're kids aren't dying for the longest of long shots.

Finally, the other big idea at the end of the week was discussed by Jonathan Chait here


I've been waiting for quite a while now for conservatives to come up with a theory to explain why large chunks of the Republican Party are, or soon will be, under indictment. The argument I've been anticipating has finally arrived, in the form of a long lead editorial in the latest edition of the influential conservative magazine the Weekly Standard.

The editorial, written by Standard Editor William Kristol and longtime conservative activist Jeffrey Bell, begins by acknowledging the uncomfortable fact that "the most prominent promoters of the conservative agenda of the Bush administration" are facing legal troubles of one kind or another. It cites the legal imbroglios of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. It neglects to mention David Safavian, the chief of staff at the General Services Administration in the Bush administration; conservative activist/superlobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon; and Reps. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) and Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and perhaps some others I'm forgetting.

Anyway, one conclusion you could draw from all these examples is that the Republican Party has gotten a bit corrupt. The Standard does not, however, draw this conclusion. Another possibility is that it's all just a coincidence. The Standard doesn't conclude that, either. Instead, the editorial declares, "a comprehensive strategy of criminalization had been implemented to inflict defeat on conservatives who seek to govern as conservatives."


This is nonsense. Chait has his views, but from here above Sunset, it seems obvious - no one is trying "to criminalize conservatism." Some criminals have wormed themselves into the conservative ranks.

Hey!  Guys!  Dump them!


Honest and principled conservatives are fine with those of us on the liberal side. We can disagree sensibly. Each side should dump its thugs, and let them go to jail.

Then maybe we can get something done to make things better. Sure, we'll disagree. But at least the riff-raff will be out of the way.

Maybe next week will be better.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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