April 11, 2006

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Fareed Zakaria, on George Stephanopouloses show Sunday:

Look what the report seems to suggest is what we've always really known is that the accounts that the mainstream media are providing are not selective, that Iraq is not doing well....the media and everybody whose ever been to Iraq has pointed out that there is a real problem in the heart of the country comprising about 30-35% of the population at the very least, and when you read this you begin to wonder are Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney really seeing the same world out there in some kind of fantasy land of their own?

Meantime, Scott McClellan today:

Q Okay, one other question on Secretary Rumsfeld, when you were talking before. This is now the second or third retired general to come out in recent weeks and say that he should step down. Does the President still have confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld? And if so, why, given all of these top military officials saying that he mishandled the war?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President thinks Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job, having overseen two fronts in the global war on terrorism. We have liberated 25 million people in Afghanistan and 25 million people in Iraq. The Secretary has also been leading a transformation of the military, to make sure that we're better prepared to meet the threats of the 21st century. And the President has great appreciation of the outstanding job he's doing.

Look, like Dan Drezner "I think I'm at the point where I don't want any more legacies from the Bush administration". Because, among other things, any sentient adult who would describe Rumsfeld's stewardship of the Iraq War as "outstanding" or a "great job" is unfit to be anywhere near the Oval Office, and certainly not planning a major operation in Iran.

Or, of course, hiding behind his incompetence. As commenter Joseph Britt put it very well in comments recently in this blog:

Cabinet members get fired or are pressed into resigning in every administration, sometimes because they are ineffective or have become political liabilities, occasionally because the policy direction they represent is one in which the President has lost interest. Rarely do their departures change significantly the character of any President's administration, for the very good reason that in most administrations a Cabinet member's influence is directly related to the quality of his relationship with the President. The Cabinet member's departure follows the decline of that relationship and the waning of his influence; it does not precede it. Because of this, other players in an administration have time to position themselves to fill the vacuum of authority that can result when a department head leaves.

There are a couple of reasons why Rumsfeld's case is different, but they come back to one salient fact, that being the extraordinary weakness of George W. Bush as President. First of all Bush has delegated virtually all war planning and management of the military to Rumsfeld; his own relationships with uniformed military officers or other Pentagon officials appear to be neither numerous nor deep compared to those of other wartime Presidents. Secondly he relies to an unusual -- really, an unprecedented -- degree on his Vice President to advise him on the political and diplomatic strategy behind the war. Vice President Cheney, a former Rumsfeld subordinate, has been the Defense Secretary's strongest backer.

The unusual position this has allowed Rumsfeld to assume helps to explain key American policy moves throughout the Iraq war, and in other fields as well. The point I want to make here is that his departure now would not be like any other Cabinet Secretary's departure -- it would leave a huge hole in the middle of Bush's administration, a vacuum that could only be filled by someone Bush trusted enough to delegate approximately as much authority as that he has given to Rumsfeld. Apart from Cheney himself, there is no such person.

Now, does that mean I disagree with Greg that Rumsfeld should resign? Not really. Actually, I thought he ought to have been asked to leave when the Abu Ghraib abuses were first publicized, a time when the disruption caused by his departure would at least have brought with it some compensatory political benefits overseas. All I'm saying is that what the sudden departure of a man who has served as a kind of Deputy President for over four years would leave a situation in which many decisions now finally made in Rumsfeld's office could not be made, military leaders that have by and large allowed themselves to be run by Rumsfeld would be left to jockey amongst themselves for position and influence in his absence, and -- from Bush's point of view this factor must loom especially large -- the President's tenuous grasp both on what is happening in Iraq and what is happening in the military would be further exposed.

The Emperor has no clothes.

Posted by Gregory at April 11, 2006 06:06 AM | TrackBack (0)

"Other war time presidents"... This comparison is painful, eh? The CEO president indeed: I thought CEO:s either reacted to changing circumstances or were fired. "If the facts change, I change my opinion, what do you do, sir?" Well, the facts have not changed in the mind of George W. Bush, and we don't care about the ground - unless we are talking about the base. The base is everything. So, things are fine, no mistakes have been made and the summer and fall offensives will hopefully lead to succesful midterms. We have criminal incompetency - if this really would be wartime (it's just pretense luckily, this is no war), we would be reaching the outer limits of treason already. But luckily accountability is dead.

Posted by: llwyd at April 11, 2006 07:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

llwyd, you don't consider wars on concepts (poverty, drugs, terror, pornography, commies, whatever) as real wars? Or is it because Congress never declared a state of war?

Posted by: Franco at April 11, 2006 02:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So, let's see. In the author's view, fifty million people are still oppressed by Saddam and the Taliban, there's no government or army in Iraq and American casualties are growing, not declining, and a million Iraqis and a million Afghans have not returned from other countries to enjoy relative peace and security. And Rumsfeld is to blame because all these things haven't happened. Only they have. At some point intentional blindness to the facts becomes delusion.

Posted by: Robert Speirs at April 11, 2006 03:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When I read posts (or articles) like this one, I can only wonder how much the author knows about American military history and our wartime presidents.

I don't like to put things that way, because that lowers my argument to the level of this post. So here's a simple question: Does Djerejian believe that the following wars were managed brilliantly?

Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War

Let me mention just one small detail from World War II from Ambrose's "Victors" (much of which he may have written):

"Trench foot put more men out of action than German 88s, mortars, or machine-gun fire. During the winter of 1944-45, some 45,000 men had to be pulled out of the front line because of trench foot -- the equivalent of three full infantry divisions" (p. 301)

Nearly all those cases could have been avoided it the front line troops had better boots. (Many of the better boots were grabbed by those far behind the lines.)

I could give many similar examples for every one of the wars that I listed -- as could almost anyone with even an amateur's knowledge of the wars. The idea that other American wars were conducted brilliantly is as absurd as the idea that the conduct of this one has been an unbroken series of failures.

Abuse, however emotionally satisfying, is not a substitute for evidence and reasoned argument.

(BTW, if you are interested in knowing something about the conduct of World War II, a good place to start would be Rick Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn", which covers the American part of the North African campaign.)

Posted by: Jim Miller at April 11, 2006 03:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To talk about the failure in Iraq is not a matter of discussing a war that was fought brilliantly, or not, nor is it a matter of "tactics" or operational skill. It is a matter of a war that was conducted with no clear end state in view.

Basically, we decapitated and destabilized Iraq. We have given out various reasons. But we really did nothing to deal with the aftermath. These are strategic failures. The finger pointing concerns the head of the DOD, POTUS, his vice president, and the rest of the cabinet.

We could of course punish the above for failing to properly plan, or make contingencies, for the mess that Iraq became on the ground after we destabilized it (and which, indeed, was predicted would happen in 1991; this Operation Iraqi Freedom retroactively justifies all of us who demurred on a March to Baghdad at that time.) However, the American people failed to do that, and re-elected the same crew. So much for that.

However, the problem now is that the same crew is giving signals that it intends to carry out more decap-destab operations, now in Iran, and who knows where else. This is the real drumbeat behind wanting to fire Rumsfeld now, to ensure that, if POTUS must get this country involved in yet another conflict, it is at least done right next time.

The problem with this approach is that Rumsfeld's incompetence is no longer an issue. The war, in the sense that the other wars enumerated were wars, has been over since May, 2003. What we are dealing with now are the consequences of our thoughtless decap-destab operation, and this is not a DOD problem per se.

To put another way. We did not have the troops to properly occupy Iraq in 2003, and we certainly don't have them now. We are in Iraq now, because we are there, but there's certainly nothing more we can do there. It's a mess: but our position is static, we are only ensuring that it won't get worse by being in the neighborhood.

We may bomb Iran, but that will not be Rumsfeld's responsibility. All he will be responsible for is to ensure the bombers hit their targets. That he can probably do. We do not have the ability to do anything other than drop bombs on Iran.

Don't get me wrong. Rumsfeld should be fired, so should the entire crew. But the American people reelected POTUS and this entire crew of incompetents so we are stuck. Firing Rumsfeld, or Cheney, or whoever, at this point, will not fix the problem we created in Iraq. It will only make Rumsfeld a scapegoat for decisions and intentions that were settled above his pay grade.

The war was fought on the cheap. It was fought on the cheap because the American people did not, and do not, want an expensive war: one that calls for mobilization, shortages, rationing, taxes, and above all a draft. If POTUS wanted a war, therefore, he had two options: do it anyway, and hope it worked, or attempt to galvanize the American people to a proper war footing. The latter was never even attempted.

So we are left with a destabilized -- actually, two destabilized -- nations in the Gulf area, and we are responsible for the situation. We cannot improve the situation, and we cannot leave. We have neither the manpower nor the money to do much else, and we have neither the one nor the other to do anything anywhere else, except to rattle sabres.

The above is only fixed when (a) we generally withdraw, (b) we use our defense resources effectively, and (c) when this administration is replaced. For that you have to wait 1000 days, and two weeks.

Posted by: Steve at April 11, 2006 04:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


A few comments - first, the Iraq War was a 100% war of choice, decided on Sep 12, 2001. There was a lot of time for preparation, time that previous military leaders would have gladly given their left hands for. Time that many US soldiers died for, in the past.

This administration deliberately didn't prepare for that war; deliberately told everybody who knew anything to STFU; deliberately didn't change course as information came in.

This administration sold the war on the basis of two lies - Saddam having WMD's, and ties to Al Qaida. Both were known lies - the adminstration cooked the books very well done to mislead us.
Note: it wasn't to liberate people; the GOP doesn't do that, and, as a matter of fact, prefers dictators to democracy. The administration also mislead the American people as to the length and difficulty of this war.

Once the American people realized what we had gotten ourselves into, of course support has dropped. And as the cluelessness of this administration has become apparent, more and more people have realized that we aren't winning this war - we're not even sure how many sides we're fighting on a given day!

Posted by: Barry at April 11, 2006 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Okay, you've proven to my satisfaction that there were flaws in America's conduct of WWII. (Given that it was roughly 10x the size of the conflict in Iraq that seems like shooting fish in a barrel...) And so?

First off, that has little to do with the substance of the post.

Secondly, although WWII may not have been conducted brilliantly, it was conducted successfully. And if WWII had gone this poorly over three years after America's entry, Stimson would've been out the door. As Rumsfeld should be.

Posted by: Jon Marcus at April 11, 2006 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does Djerejian believe that the following wars were managed brilliantly?

Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War


The idea that other American wars were conducted brilliantly is as absurd as the idea that the conduct of this one has been an unbroken series of failures.

This is an excellent argument not to get into wars of choice.

Abuse, however emotionally satisfying, is not a substitute for evidence and reasoned argument.

Thank you for providing evidence and well-reasoned argument in favor of avoiding wars that are avoidable.

Also, I have to congratulate you for getting so many people to take you seriously.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 11, 2006 04:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So what do you all think that Cheney & Bush think they're accomplishing in Iraq?

Suppose (as seems pretty obvious) that they knew when they planned the war that Saddam didn't really have nuclear weapons, and he probably didn't even have any left of the chemical weapons he got under Reagan's watch and with Reagan's blessing, and suppose they knew he was a deadly enemy of alQaida and of Wahhabi and Salafis in general, and of Shia fundies as well.

1) Did they attack Iraq in order to change it to a more controllable puppet state?

2) Did they attack Iraq in order to control it and fix it back to using dollar-denominated oil transactions?

3) Did they attack Iraq because Bush Jr wanted to avenge his Daddy, or wanted to show he could conduct the same war as his Daddy only even more so?

4) Did they attack Iraq as a follow-up to their attack on Afghanistan, to try to gain control of the Caspian/Black Sea oil pipe negotiations?

5) Did they attack to keep war going on, to keep the profits flowing into Haliburton and oil companies -- to keep war profiteering?

(#1 seems most likely to me.)

(#2 I don't know enough about, but I'm a bit dubious)

(#3 sounds unlikely unless you really buy that Bush Jr is calling the shots, which seems unlikely)

(#4 sounds poorly thought out)

(#5 I'm a bit dubiuos about, but I'm not clear enough of the economics involved, esp. of the role of the Bin Laden finances -- Carlyle Group? Do they employ Bush Sr these days?)

Posted by: Frances at April 11, 2006 06:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Franco - yep, it could just as well be War on Comedy. Strange how the current crew seems to be conducting object lessons of traditional conservatism: what things should not be done and how they should not be done... Maybe it is because the neocons inherited so much of the mentality of Marxism (though they could certainly do with some of, a fraction of, Lenin's delivery). As compared to most actual war time presidents this present one does not learn from his mistakes, ideology or lack of intelligence or both seem to prevent normal Anglo-Saxon empirical rationalism. Nothing is remembered and nothing learned. Natural, of course, when you think that he has done no mistakes: things are as perfect as anyone can reasonably think.

Posted by: llwyd at April 11, 2006 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


" I can only wonder how much the author knows about American military history and our wartime presidents."

Last time I checked, Lincoln went through just about every general in the Union Army until he was satisfied. Bush can't even accept Rumsfeld's resignation.

Secondly, absent from your list was the First Gulf War, which I think would obviously be most analagous to our present conflict. And while it was fought for different reasons and purposes, it too was a war of choice and one that was amazingly well executed and prepared.

Posted by: Josh Sproat at April 11, 2006 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think Britt/Zathras' comments on Bush and Rumsfeld were very insightful. The point that really hit me was that Bush doesn't have any close relations with anyone else in the military, so he is completely under Rumsfeld's influence.

As to the dispute about about errors in war, the key question is why errors are being made. If it is because the wrong man is making the decisions, then the president should replace him with someone better. And example would be how Lincoln went though several generals before he found that Grant could actually go out and win battles.

In the case of Rumsfeld, as I have said before, the problem is that we are conducting an occupation and a counterinsurgency campaign, and engaged in nation building and democracy promotion, but the fellow in charge doesn't believe in any of these, and so not surprisingly does a quite poor job at all of them.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 11, 2006 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush and Rummy are brothers in transformation. I appreciate the cogent analysis of your commentator, but he overlooks the fact that Bush wanted to shake up the military right away, and Don was the management freak to do it.

Bush's presidency has been an attempt to be great.

Safe to say, they bit off more than they can chew.

Posted by: Chris at April 11, 2006 08:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's October surprise - it's coming: Things may not look too bright for the US president right now, but George W Bush is poised for the strongest political comeback of any US politician since Abraham Lincoln. Republicans will triumph in November's congressional elections because by then Bush will have bombed Iran's nuclear installations, and Americans will rally around him again.

Posted by: post pc at April 11, 2006 10:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Miller writes: "Nearly all those cases could have been avoided it the front line troops had better boots. (Many of the better boots were grabbed by those far behind the lines.)"

There's a big difference. Bush has run slacker wars, putting in a fraction of the resources and effort required. Nobody could credibly claim that Roosevelt ran WW2 as a slacker war, the entire nation was mobilized.

Given the vast scale of what Roosevelt *did* accomplish, it's far easier to cut him some slack for the problem with the boots.

But Bush has attempted far less, so the blunders are far more substantive and stand out more.

I mean, Roosevelt's administration could point at the thousands and thousands of ships, planes, guns, tanks, jeeps (and a few atom bombs) they'd quickly constructed and deployed as an excuse for messing up the logistics of distributing some boots.

Bush? He has no such excuse for his logistical failures, which are really elementary failures of planning.

Posted by: Jon H at April 11, 2006 10:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lincoln burned through generals like George Steinbrenner went through managers. Roosevelt dumped Kimmel, even if he was scapegoated for the national intelligence failure that was Pearl Harbor. Truman canned MacArthur when he turned detrimental to the Korean conflict.

Sure, you go to war with the leadership you have, but that doesn't mean you have to keep them when its obvious they're over their head.

Posted by: Dustbin Of History at April 11, 2006 10:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm sorry, but if you think the American public will rally around another bombing campaign, you're crazy. We bought Afghanistan b/c of its immediacy and connection to 9/11. Most bought Iraq b/c of the connection it had to WMD, etc. But you're foolish and gravely mistaken if you think Americans will stand for another war. See, once people lose faith in a leader, then every move is by default a bad one. Every move must be proven worthwhile; otherwise the default belief is that it's not. This is in contrast to the political climate in March 2003. To think that Americans will allow for another unprovoked attack and vote Republicans in to keep doing that is pure fantasy.

Posted by: Punchy at April 11, 2006 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know why you're worried about the US attacking Iran. The US is mired in Iraq.

You wouldn't expect Cheney et al. to spread a bunch of lies about a Middle Eastern country being about to acquire nuclear weapons as an excuse to launch a preemptive strike into a new country, while the US is still bogged down in another war in which it got lost.


Posted by: TR at April 12, 2006 03:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't know why you're worried about the US attacking Iran. The US is mired in Iraq.

You wouldn't expect Cheney et al. to spread a bunch of lies about a Middle Eastern country being about to acquire nuclear weapons as an excuse to launch a preemptive strike into a new country, while the US is still bogged down in another war in which it got lost.

At least not until time for elections :)

Posted by: TR at April 12, 2006 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

At what point does the military lose its patience and decides to stand firm against this admin? Would that constitute a coup? Are there intermediate steps of protest just short of a coup -- or are any modes of disobedience by the military against a civilian government considered a coup?

Posted by: chris at April 12, 2006 05:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Chris, I'd guess that a compaign of serious leaking would be the first step. We're seeing the start of that now, with many retired officers speaking out.

Posted by: Barry at April 12, 2006 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is ludicrous to ignore improving Israel's security as a factor in this war. Both Bush and Kerry mentioned it in their debates. Amusingly, Rep Jim Moran was savaged for saying the same thing about the time war started.

A point of information: Dick Cheney was booed mercilessly at the Washington National's game the other day. Quite a crowd-pleaser, that man.

Posted by: Skip at April 12, 2006 05:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The video on the Internet, of Bush panting and laughing at how he doesn't know what the rules of mercenaries are in Iraq vis-a-vis torture, and how funny Bush finds it that he doesn't know as much as the questioner (a student at... Duke?), tends to back up the assertion above that Bush trusts Rumsfeld to handle everything having to do with the US military and policy.

If, after the largest torture scandal in US history, he hasn't bothered to find out what the guidelines for torture in Iraq are, then he clearly isn't paying attention; it is irrelevant whether he is incapable of understanding or simply doesn't care, either way it supports the thesis that he isn't capable of functioning without Rumsfeld to take care of things for him.

Posted by: jcorbin at April 12, 2006 06:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the military could stand down and refuse an order to attack Iran, especially if the administration ordered the use of nuclear weapons. This would fall short of a coup (i.e. removing the government at gunpoint) but would send an absolutely clear message to both congress and the public that it's time to clean house. Opening the door into the constitutional twilight zone of the military ignoring civilian control is extremely dangerous and not to be taken lightly but may very well be better than ideas the neocon geniuses have planned between now and when they leave office.

Posted by: anon at April 15, 2006 08:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kind of bad either way, but it's a whole lot better if the military refuses to start an idiotic foreign war, than if it takes aggressive actions against the civilian government's orders.

Of course the worst is the military taking military action against the civilian government.

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