"The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms--he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date for the apocalypse."
That's Richard Hofstadter in 1964. Forty years later, here's Donald Rumsfeld:
This much is certain: coalition forces cannot be defeated on the battlefield. The only way this effort could fail is if people were to be persuaded that the cause is lost or that it's not worth the pain, or if those who seem to measure progress in Iraq against a more perfect world convince others to throw in the towel. I'm confident that that will not happen.
Only the media, says the most powerful secretary of defense in history, can lose the war in Iraq. By that logic, a year's worth of mistakes--an insufficient number of troops to provide basic security; an inability or unwillingness to demobilize militias; a preference for wishing deeply-rooted conflicts in Iraqi ethnic and religious politics away instead of providing a civil forum for their arbitration; the installation of pliant Iraqis onto a council subsequently made powerless; torture--are simply wished away. And there are more mistakes to come: Since November 15, the Bush administration has loudly promised Iraqis that they'll be in control of their country after June 30. Behind the scenes, the Coalition Provisional Authority has been ensuring that the U.S. will retain significant control over Iraq's political development. More overtly, of course, Iraqis will still see American armored vehicles rolling down their streets. And at that point, Iraqis will see us breaking a promise--granting sovereignty--that we will loudly be proclaiming we've kept. Given that 90 percent of Iraqis distrust us according to CPA's own polls, the already significant danger to our 138,000 brave men and women in uniform is compounding. And the secretary of defense would prefer to point fingers at the media:
You know, let me say one thing to follow on Pete's comment. I've been kind of following the headlines and the bullets in the television -- the big, powerful hits on torture and this type of thing that we've seen. Needless to say, I can't read all the articles, and so I'm no expert on what every person says, and I know headline writers and people dramatize things.To the enduring shame of the U.S., lawyers at the White House, Justice Department and Pentagon have authored memoranda interpreting torture as somehow consistent with the Constitution and our treaty obligations. (Please, point me to the references in the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions sanctioning the use of unmuzzled dogs.) And yet it's the media that's undermining the war effort by reporting that vile fact.
But in thinking about it all, and I have to be a little careful -- we know that there's still more investigations going on, and we're going to learn more information, so no one can speak with finality or definitively or conclusively at this stage. But -- and second, I have to be a little careful about what I say because of the risk of command influence. But let me just say this: I have read this -- editorials, "torture" -- and one after another. Washington Post the other day -- I forget when it was -- just a great, bold "torture."
The implication -- think of the people who read that around the world. First of all, our forces read it. And the implication is that the United States government has, in one way or another, ordered, authorized, permitted, tolerated torture. Not true. And our forces read that, and they've got to wonder, do we? And as General Pace said, we don't. The President said people will be treated humanely, and that is what the orders are. That's what the requirements are. Now, we know that people have done some things they shouldn't do. Anyone who looks at those photographs know that. But that's quite a different thing. And that is not the implication that's out there. The implication that's out there is the United States government is engaging in torture as a matter of policy, and that's not true. Think of the second group of people who see it. All those people in the region and in Iraq and in Afghanistan, that we need their cooperation, we need their help, the people in those countries, the people in the neighboring countries, and think how unhelpful that is for them to gain the inaccurate impression that that is what's taking place.
Third, think of the people who, for whatever -- whenever -- today, tomorrow, next year -- capture an American civilian or American military personnel and will use all those headlines about torture and the impact in the world that people think that's what's taking place, and use that as an excuse to torture our people. So this is a very serious business that this country's engaged in. Now, we're in a war, and I can understand that someone who doesn't think they're in a war or aren't in a war, sitting in an air-conditioned room someplace can decide they want to be critical of this or critical of that, or misstate that or misrepresent something else, or be fast and loose with the facts. But there's an effect to that, and I think we have to be careful. I think people ought to be accountable for that, just as we're accountable.
And about accountability: If you're never held to account, are you really accountable? Hereâs President Bush today:
I'm never disappointed in my secretary of defense. He's doing a fabulous job and America's lucky to have him in the position he's in.
UPDATE: This post has been corrected. Thanks to reader J. for pointing out that, contrary to what I wrote earlier, only forty years have elapsed between 1964 and 2004.