Rumsfeld: Cynical and Morally Confused

“My ass is caught in a crack, so let the vilification begin!” I could have sworn I heard the statement being whispered in the background during the Decider-in-Chief’s recent interview. But even if I only imagined it, I hear the manifestation of it loud and clear in the latest words and deeds of Team Bush.

Secretary of Asshatery, Rummy D. Dumby, fired the first volley on Tuesday when he compared people having an honest disagreement with the administration’s policies to Nazi appeasers. His History According to Rummy posited that those who disagree with the administration’s policies are no more than “blame America firsters” who hate their country. The implication that anyone who dare brook the idea that perhaps the best thing to do in Iraq is to leave was clear. His suggestion that there is a “certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion” similar to the 1930s in today’s debate is well taken though.

I agree there is a “certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion” in our great country, but I think if Mr. Rumsfeld looked in a mirror – and providing the mirror didn’t crack from his ghastly visage – he would see that “cynicism and moral confusion” staring back at him wearing a pair of Ben Franklin bifocals.

It seems to me the greater cynic is the one who continues to make happy talk about a patently obvious military fiasco in attempt to win the hearts and minds of a populace long ago soured on it. I think a man who continues to send thousands to their death while lecturing them on going to war “with the army you have, instead of the army you might like” is on about as solid a moral footing as a child-abusing priest.

But aside from those historical precedents, I have another – Pearl Harbor.

Many in this administration, from El Jefe down, have accused those not supporting the war as being gutless cowards with no stomach for fighting a war. They lament the fact that people are appalled by casualties and are agitating for his bicycle-toned Crawford ass on a platter. But they conveniently forget that if moral clarity is present, Americans are more than willing to go to war.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans became a single body fighting a war with solid moral underpinnings with all the awesome power the country could muster. When the Twin Towers were attacked and the terrorists who supported it hid in Afghanistan, Americans again banded together and went to war, even many who personally found the Shrub an odious little Warren G. Harding.

But before the job was done in Afghanistan, the Chickenhawk-in-Chief decided to charge forward on the back of his great steed Cheney. He swung his sword high over his head and yelled to the Americans, “Onward, onward into the valley of death! We must crush Saddam!”

And a good percentage of people said, “huh?”

They asked, “What about Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden?” “I don’t even think about him no more,” the Commander said.

“What did they do to us,” they asked? “Nothin’ yet, but they gots them WMDs,” the Commander said.

“Are you sure,” the Americans asked? “Slam dunk,” he said.

“Do you have a plan to win,” the Americans asked hopefully. “Yup, they’s gonna throw flowers at our feet,” the Commander said.

“Um, why don’t we enlist the help of our allies? Surely they will see the validity of our cause and help us,” “Nope. Don’t need ’em. They’re a bunch of pansies anyway. Strictly old Europeans..except those Poles. I love a good polka,” he said.

And so America charged on, leaving a good piece of the American populace behind with legitimate and unanswered questions and taking with them people who believed what they were told because the Commander “seemed like such a nice Christian man”.

We went to war and the Commander and his generals began to lose each battle. When someone asked what happened, they told happy stories about all the corners turned and the successes blooming out of the scorched earth. “Why dontcha write more about all them candy bars we hand out to the refugees? People would be for the war if they knew that.”

When the people asked again about the war, the Commander got more than a little testy and said, “Trust me, this thing’ll turn around any minute.” When things dragged on several more years, the Commander and his generals were pretty damn snippy when asked again. “You impertinent gutless, swine! How dare you question the Decider-in-Chief?! Rummy, tell them what Nazi sympathizers they are!”

And Rummy did, just last Tuesday.

I though the speech was vintage Rummy, very cynical and morally confused.

A Decision Reevaluated

It’s no surprise that the mess in Iraq is at the top of the news. Many people thought it was a bad decision from the get-go and even some of the President’s most ardent supporters are now wondering just what in the hell he’s doing.

At the time of the invasion, I thought it was a mistake. I believed:

  • Far more important work in Afghanistan was incomplete.
  • The run-up to the war was recklessly fast and based on sketchy intelligence.
  • Saddam was not the immediate threat he was said to be, even though I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been working on WMD.
  • And finally, that the administration appeared to be dangerously unprepared to “win the peace”.

Although I was against the war, I agreed with Colin Powell who warned of the “Pottery Barn Rule” – you break it, you pay for it. I believed that once we crossed the border, we should fix what we’d hamfistedly brought down on the Iraqis. After all, they were innocent bystanders. They hadn’t asked us to invade. We took it upon ourselves to decide what was best for them and they were caught in the cross-fire.

Since then, much has changed. The rationale for the war has morphed from a search for WMD, to building a democracy, to fighting terrorists over there instead of over here. The near-daily reassurances from the administration have evolved from, “they’ll greet us as liberators”, to “mission accomplished, to building a democracy, to democracy taking a long time to build to, “We’re not leaving Iraq while I am in office”.

And during that time, the Iraqis and American have suffered and all the photo ops and catch-phrases doesn’t change that fact on iota.

Today, Iraqis have few of the day-to-day things they used to take for granted – dependable electricity, clean water, kids being able to play outside. Sectarian violence kills them by the thousands while we debate the finer linguistic points of whether we have a civil war on our hands. They spend long days looking over their shoulder for the next car bomb or firefight and we hear a steady chant of “stay the course”.

Our own troops have fared no better. They’re dying by the thousands defending a place that’s increasingly indefensible. Meanwhile, our troops stay longer and longer. Our military is stretched like a camouflaged rubber band, and new and potentially worse challenges wait in the wings.

Many, including me, have criticized the democrats for not being more active in proposing a successful exit strategy. Before rot crept into the administration’s Iraq “strategery”, I hoped that someone – democrat or republican – would be courageous enough to come forward and propose a more workable solution than, “let’s keep keeping on”. Unfortunately, none did and now I believe it’s too late.

So, I find myself reexamining my position on not leaving before Iraq was pacified and rebuilt. I still agreed that the effort would be long and arduous. I still understood that plenty of Americans and Iraqis would die on the rutted road to “democracy”. I still felt that leaving Iraq to chaos was morally wrong. Yet, I changed my mind.

Today, I believe we should leave Iraq. I’m still troubled by abandoning the Iraqis. I’m still troubled that Iraq will be a stinking morass for years to come. I’m still troubled by how many people will die in a war that was avoidable to begin with.

Yet, I changed my mind. All of those reasons to stay are still true, but they are trumped by one thing – staying only makes it worse for everyone.

At this point, regardless of what we do, Iraq will remain in chaos. The only unification the warring sects will find is a hatred of the American infidels. Their civil war will almost certainly spill over into surrounding countries. And, the terrorism Bush currently uses as a bludgeon on his questioners will only intensify.

If people want to call that cutting and running, so be it. I prefer to see as a competent general might. We’re up against a superior force causing a rapidly deteriorating situation only made worse by our very presence. Any good general – or Commander-in-Chief – must evaluate that situation and decide if an orderly retreat to fight another day is a better option than killing thousands of our own and many more thousands of Iraqi lives on a lost cause. This is not a fear-based position, but one of simple war strategy. You don’t continue to waste your forces in a single battle at the expense of the wider needs of the war.

I’ve reevaluated my position and come to peace with it. I would hope that our Commander-in-Chief would do the same, but I expect I’ll be as disappointed in that outcome as I was with the original decision to invade.

Unfortunately, it’s a familiar feeling.

So Many Questions Never Answered

Airplane crashes like the one in Kentucky always hold a special interest for me. I was once an aircraft mechanic. First, in the Air Force, then as a civilian working for the Navy, and finally, as a licensed mechanic for Comair, the airline involved in the latest crash. When planes go down, I follow the news with interest because I find the science and technology fascinating and familiar and the impact on the business interesting.

However, the biggest reason are the lives involved.

A flight crew from my Air Force base met their end when lightning hit their C-130 and blew approximately 24 feet from one wing. The plane went down, leaving a large, smoking hole and five families grieving the loss of their husbands, fathers, and sons. Back at the base, the maintenance Crew Chief who cared for the airplane daily was hit personally.

He took the crash quite hard, especially during the days when no one knew the cause of the crash. He stayed awake at night wondering if something he had done – some seemingly inconsequential detail – might have killed those five men. To “stay busy”, he requested to be assigned to cleaning up the debris for the investigation. Shortly before he left, I talked to him and he explained that it was his responsibility to be there and to answer questions. But, I knew the real reason – he wanted to answer the question of whether he had some part in the crash.

Like me, he knew the members of the young crew. We’d both traveled around the world with them, sharing stories and beers and hotel rooms in far-off locations. We knew the names of their children and that the loadmaster had recently broken up with his wife. We shared our lives in a deep way. We knew them as husbands, fathers, and sons because they were our family too.

The young airman’s experience cleaning up the debris didn’t soothe his fears. While pulling debris from a pile of twisted and melted metal, he found the remnants of a deployed parachute. Investigators determined that at least one member of the crew had enough time to don the parachute and try to jump before the plane hit the ground. Analysis showed the parachute had opened in a doorway, pulled the wearer out, and caught on the fuselage before the crash. Investigators could never determine who the crewman wearing the parachute had been.

Cleaning up the debris also didn’t offer a quick technological answer. It took several months to determine that lightning had been the culprit, but investigators were never able to determine why the wing exploded. After all, lightening regularly hits airplanes and the damage usually amounts to no more than a little scorched paint or a small hole.

C-130s of the day were known to have small leaks in the fuel tanks inside the wings. It’s not unusual and the amount of leaking fuel appeared to be small enough that an explosion should never have occurred. Analysts tried for several months to replicate the explosion and finally gave up. They chalked up the official cause to bad weather with a probable cause a lightning strike. Some of the remains were never recovered and the airplane’s young mechanic continued to worry until the day he left the Air Force – he probably continues to worry today.

For my part, I don’t worry, but I do think of the incident when airplanes crash. I think about how long the crew had to think about the crash before they ploughed into the ground. I wonder if they spent it screaming or praying as you often hear on cockpit voice recorders. I wonder what they were thinking before the ground grew large in the windshield. Did they think of ways to save themselves? Their families? Or, did they just go blank in a panic?

I even thought about these things when the terrorists rammed the World Trade Center. I wondered what went through their minds as they purposely sacrificed themselves to a cause I didn’t really understand. Did they think of the innocent lives they were taking? Were they scared? Had they come to peace with the act and were they waiting patently to meet Allah?

The story was the same for the recent crash.  I used to work for Comair and it was an airport I’d flown into and out of many times. I could see the hill where they came to their final rest in my mind and implicitly understood the runway intersection and what they probably looked like in the morning darkness. I could feel myself crunched in behind them, on a jumpseat, watching their hands on familiar knobs and buttons, watching the routine of just another takeoff turn into something terribly, terribly wrong. But part of me also skipped back nearly 25 years to another crew on another airplane and what their last moments on Earth may have held.

As I vividly see myself sitting in both airplanes, I still wonder about all the same questions. And, the answer is always the same…I don’t know.