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William Fisher: Capitol Kabuki

Capitol Kabuki

By William Fisher

Senator Joe Biden has always been a favorite of mine. The Delaware Democrat is one of our most knowledgeable voices in foreign affairs. And he speaks plain English, not John Kerryish Senate-speak.

Part of Biden's 'solution' to our Iraq problem is his plea to President Bush to 'level with the American people'. The president, he says, should go on primetime national television and tell us the truth about what's going on in Iraq, what it means, what's required of our citizens, and what is the administration's 'strategy for success'.

He adds that he doesn't expect any mea culpas from Mr. Bush. And he believes the United States could still win in Iraq, "but only if the White House corrects course, rather than just promising to 'stay the course'." But this week's news brings us yet more sad reminders of the virtual impossibility that any such 'leveling' is likely to happen anytime soon.

In my view, the choicest reminder was the appearance of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his top generals before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This was Capitol Kabuki at its very best. And if the subject weren't so dead serious, it would be great fodder for Jon Stewart.

To provide a bit of context for this hearing, it should be noted that it came three days after Vice President Cheney told us the Iraqi insurgency was "in its last throes", two days after Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durban took the senate floor to apologize for invoking the 'Nazi, Stalin, Pol Pot ' analogy to describe the Bush Administration, a day after Bush's 'architect ', Karl Rove, accused liberals of searching for therapists to help us understand the 9/11 hijackers, and on the same day as a leaked CIA report warned that Iraq is turning into an even more effective training ground for terrorists than Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

Enter the dramatis personae, each with his prepared statement at the ready.

First, Rumsfeld and the Generals, each poised to reassure us that we are making progress in Iraq despite all the challenges; then the Committee Democrats, wanting desperately to ask tough, probing questions but somewhat constrained by political correctness lest there might be the slightest hint of denigrating 'our men and women in uniform'; then their Republican colleagues, mostly panting to salute Rummie, the brass, our troops and the Commander-In-Chief for their magnificent leadership.

Was there ever a more predictable piece of Kabuki Theater on Capitol Hill? In the end, what did we learn from sitting through these painful four hours? We learned that none of the generals were prepared to take on the Vice President, despite what they gingerly acknowledged was overwhelming evidence from other generals that Mr. Cheney simply got it wrong. The top U.S. regional commander said the insurgency was undiminished, and ever more foreign fighters were entering the country.

We learned that Senator Robert Byrd, the Methuselah of the Senate, was tired of being lectured and sneered at by Mr. Rumsfeld. "I can't answer a (voter' s) question with a sneer." We learned that the Defense Secretary does not believe the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq, and that he rejects demands that the Bush administration set a timetable for the withdrawal of our 140,000 US troops. Troop reductions would "throw a lifeline to terrorists, who in recent months have suffered significant losses and casualties, been denied havens and suffered weakened popular support."

We learned that Pentagon commanders are worried about the growing sophistication of the bombs and other devices used against U.S. troops.

We learned that the Defense Secretary doesn't think he should resign for what Senator Ted Kennedy charged was a series of "gross errors and mistakes" that had made Iraq an "intractable quagmire". Can quagmires be intractable? We learned that the Pentagon crew visibly cringes at the use of the dreaded "Q word", so redolent of Vietnam.

And we learned that the generals are surprised at how many American commanders and soldiers are asking whether the military was losing support at home for their missions overseas. "They worry we don't have the staying power to see the mission through."

Having imparted all this hot-off-the-press information, the Rummie's Rascals then took their show on the road and gave virtually the same performance before the House Armed Services Committee.

The Commander-in-Chief will reported take to the tube some time next week to explain Iraq to the people. I have no idea what he'll say, but I suspect we just sat through a pretty good preview.

We'd learn more at the movies!


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