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Mac Deford: Don Rumsfeld and Al Capone

Don Rumsfeld and Al Capone


By Mac Deford

Should Rumsfeld be fired over the prisoner abuse scandal? Frankly, at this point, we're talking barn doors and escaped cows.

Here's a man who has not just overseen, but was one of the principal architects of, the biggest military and foreign policy fiasco since Vietnam; and Congress, the press, and some of the American people (is the rest of the country asleep?) finally seem energized to get rid of him because of some predictable actions by a bunch of poorly trained soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners.

I'm not downplaying the mental (and no doubt in some cases physical) torture of imprisoned (and no doubt in some cases falsely so) Iraqis, but for Rumsfeld to be forced out over this issue is the political equivalent of getting Al Capone on income tax evasion.

I'm sure we're all genuinely shocked at the pictures of naked Iraqi males being taunted by female American soldiers, but how shocked should we really be with these end results from an administration that sees itself as above the International Criminal Court, beyond the rules of the Geneva Conventions, and even willing to deny habeas corpus to American citizens.

Shocked? I'll tell you what's really shocking: Bush has reacted to the terrorist attack of 9/11 by pushing a policy that has created vastly more terrorists, has destroyed any possibility of a settlement to the Arab-Israeli problem which underlies much of the radical anti-Americanism in the Arab World, and has undermined our standing not just among Muslims but among our allies as well. And no one is held accountable.

We're now an occupying power of a major Arab country -- however much our leaders try to sugarcoat this with grandiose verbiage about democracy. Realistically, there is no good way to turn this debacle into a result that helps us win, or even stop losing, the war on terrorism. Put another 100,000 troops into Iraq? Sure, that might make a military victory possible. But Iraq was never about a military (ital) victory: it was, ostensibly, about the US helping an Arab country set up a democratic form of government that would create a pro-US groundswell in the Middle East, that would moderate the Arab view of Israel, that would foster a general pro-Western moderate Islam -- all of which would serve to undercut Islamic extremism and isolate Islamist terrorists. Has any of this remotely happened? Is there anything now we can do in Iraq to bring this about? Is there any option other than a strategy of choosing the least worst course (whatever, at this point, that may be)?

And the effects will ultimately go far beyond the Middle East. For the truth is, the world does indeed need a strong, morally self-confident America. There will be more Kosovos, where we acted, and Rwandas, where we should have, but a US bloodied and confused in the aftermath of this unnecessary pre-emptive war runs a real risk of slipping towards isolationism, the flip side of unilateralism.

Even George Will -- the self-righteous right-wing pundit and Bush administration mouthpiece -- admits that in an administration where there is no penalty for failure (I would add, a refusal even to recognize when there is failure), failures multiply. As he was forced to apologize publicly in front of Jordan's Abdullah for the photographic evidence that symbolizes the Iraqi disaster, Bush praised Rumsfeld as "a really good secretary of defense." That's reassuring,Mr. President. One wonders what would be going on in Iraq if we had a "really" bad secretary of defense. Well, maybe for starters, we wouldn't be there.

Sure, Rumsfeld should go. But Bush, tough-minded as he likes to portray himself, prefers to take the easy way out: he'll hang on to Rumsfeld. For to get rid of him, and then to go through the process of appointing a successor, would be to open up the whole issue of Bush's War -- the faulty reasoning behind it and its incredibly incompetent aftermath -- to the kind of public exposure, and accountability, that should have taken place before (ital) we embarked on this disaster.

No, Bush will hang on to Rumsfeld. And, perhaps, that's appropriate. For, if the buck -- on Iraq, not on prisoner abuse -- stops anywhere, it should be at the Oval Office. I've seen a number of bumper stickers recently saying "Support Our Troops," as if those of us who have been against the invasion of Iraq since it was first publicly mooted were somehow not supporting our troops. A friend of mine (from Salt Lake City yet: even there, they're beginning to catch on) recently sent me a bumper sticker which says, "Impeach Bush."

The two are not mutually exclusive. Put them together and you've got the big picture, "Support our Troops: Impeach Bush."

************

Mac Deford lives in Maine on the US East Coast and writes occasional pieces on the Middle East for a local newspaper. He is a former foreign service officer who was an Arabist before leaving the State Dept for private business 25 years ago.


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