April 19, 2006
Baseball and Rummy

In which shamelessly regurgitating memes I encountered while surfing the Rumsfeld beat leads to a couple of predictions.

Baseball and Rummy

Will he or won’t he? Lose his job, that is. The two things most conversations I hear seem to be about are spring baseball fever — in many ways baseball is best in the spring, when every team is full of promise — and Rumsfeld versus the generals.

Even the media seems to have become bored with Rumsfeld’s shtick. Wasn’t that long ago they were laughing on cue and calling him avuncular. Were they just scared of him? Or maybe it was the loss of access that frightened them. They talk a good I. F. Stone game, but their actions are more like Bob Woodward’s. (The Wikipedia says that, in addition to being the only American journalist to challenge LBJ’s account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Stone wrote a book alleging that the Korean War began when South Korea initiated hostilities by means of unprovoked attacks, a motif that recurred in the Gulf of Tonkin. I’ve read the four-volume Nonconformist History of Our Times that’s sitting on my shelf, and I didn’t know that.)

I expect a lot of media folks began to feel used as they realized that the reasons for war they helped to publicize were false, and were known to be false by the originators of the propaganda. It’s bound to be uncomfortable to see yourself in the role of useful idiot, especially when the issue is war. Also, there are a certain number of rats who’ve recently come to realize that the ship is headed in a suboptimal direction.

Yes and No

Most pundits I’ve read seem to doubt that Bush will dump Rumsfeld, especially at this particular moment. If Bush is really about to invade, or has already invaded, Iran, he needs his Secretary of Defense. Plus there’s the Cheney connection, and the required Senate hearings on Rummy’s replacement, which would undoubtedly turn into a review of the situation in Iraq. Weakend, yes, Rumsfeld is significantly weakened; but that’s reality, so the fantasy-based crowd in the White House can safely ignore it.

However, it’s looking increasingly bad for the Republicans’ chances of holding both houses of Congress in November. Bush is dragging down the party; not alone, of course, he’s got an army with him, including DeLay, Abramoff, Safavian, Cunningham, Ney, and so on. And Iraq is dragging him down.

I figure Rove can probably finesse the corruption question, if only because his allies control the media; they just won’t talk about it very much. Or they’ll do what one of Josh Marshall’s readers noticed, and hide the party affiliation of Republicans under investigation while prominently identifying Democrats. I imagine Karl can muddy the waters enough that this issue alone won’t kill him.

What will, in my opinion, is bleed-over, connecting the corruption issue to the honesty issue. The pundits have often remarked that even people who disagreed with Bush’s policies considered him honest; but of course those days are long gone. Now, even people who agree with his policies consider him dishonest. And once people consider you dishonest, it’s hard to convince them otherwise.

A New Paradigm

If the Republicans were both smart and honestly patriotic, they’d do what Carl Bernstein recommends in Vanity Fair, and start an inquiry into the possibility that the President committed illegal acts. If they don’t, the Democrats are more likely to win one house of Congress, and begin an inquiry of their own that will have the Republicans howling (some of them, like DeLay, from jail cells).

Realistically, though, a group combining neocons and premillennial dispensationalists seems to be aiming for a Constitutional crisis that will make Bush vs. Gore look tame. If the administration manages to start a war in Iran, it will be a Rubicon moment: we’ll either defend our republic by throwing out the traitors, or we’ll have an empire.

The thing is, people are watching this movie that claims to be new but includes a suspiciously large number of recognizable scenes, and they’re speaking out. As folks like Daniel Ellsberg, John Dean, and Ray McGovern have asked them to, people are speaking out, or leaking vital information. I think this is a wonderful thing, and the best available proof that a large democratic community could work, if we ever get around to trying the experiment. People are taking responsibility for things they don’t have complete control over. If it works, a new paradigm will have been born, and governments will have to be much more circumspect in their war-making.

We Might Really Stop This One

What’s really going on here, in my opinion, is a debate over whether to attack Iran. The generals speaking out are not just concerned about the effect of incompetent civilian leadership on the war in Iraq; they’ve been planning for a war in Iran. They understand the state of the US military and the difficulties Iran would present; and they can see that such a war would be a mistake several times the size of the invasion of Iraq. Top commanders in Iraq have already said we’re not going to win there militarily. They really don’t need another born-to-fail mission.

Suppose a big enough stink is made about Rumsfeld, one that doesn’t die down, that Bush has to keep addressing the issue. That, plus Plamegate, could keep enough administration energy focused on political damage control that there wouldn’t be enough left over to start a war.

Thing is, right now it sure looks like Rummy will hurt the Republican party in November. Suppose eventually the White House is forced by the party to throw Rumsfeld to the wolves. But they wait long enough that hearings for the next SecDef will be held by the new Congress, which means Rumsfeld stays in office until the new person’s selected; that is, they say he quits, but he continues as an interim Secretary. Or maybe he has a heart attack and retires, sometime in October.

In September, the White House announces that security in Iraq has improved to the point that the US will pull 50,000 troops out over the next six months. In October, 5,000 troops actually come home, with 24/7 coverage from cable news, parades, and the whole bit.

I’m actually optimistic enough to think that most people will see through it, especially given their current views that Bush lied to start the war. But innoculating the body public by discussing the possibility of October Surprises might still be in order.

To counter the Big Lie you need facts, and you need them widely distributed. The combination of Seymour Hersh reporting on secret war plans, retired generals (and lieutanant colonels) talking about what happens in the Pentagon, and regular folks like us discussing the implications and the possibilities has, I think, a chance this time.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at April 19, 2006 02:04 AM
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I was lucky enough to know I.F. Stone slightly, and of course I admire him greatly. I think I've read all his books, certainly including "The Hidden History of the Korean War." It convinced me at the time, since his record of being right was greater than that of any other journalist of his day (and mine, for that matter.)

But when the Cold War ended and secret Soviet documents came out, it became plain that Izzy was wrong on this one. There's no doubt that much of America's political leadership, Republican and Democrat, was expecting and half-hoping for such a thing to happen, but there's also no possible doubt remaining that the North invaded. It was a real provocation, not a phony one like the Gulf of Tonkin or the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" summoned up from the void by this crowd.

Posted by: Jerry Doolittle on April 19, 2006 1:49 PM
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