I was finishing up an interview early this evening when I flipped open my laptop to find that Richard Perle had resigned his post as Chairman of the Defense Policy Board. All I can say is, it's about time. At TPM, we've been on Perle's trail for the DPB shenanigans since early October 2001. But clearly our efforts were just -- as the folks in uniform might say -- reportorial triple-A compared to the transformational, big munitions Sy Hersh and others brought to bear in recent weeks.
As I said, it's about time.
Another point. The conventional wisdom right now isn't really 'things are going badly.' It's more aptly characterized as 'things sure look like they're going badly but it's too soon to know.' Let's unpack this for a moment. The specter of Afghanistan is hanging over the reaction to, and reportage of, this war. Back in Afghanistan things looked like we were in for a long, tough, bloody battle. And then suddenly everything broke free. Pundits who had deployed the Q-word (i.e., "quagmire") too soon felt awfully exposed when the Taliban simply collapsed. No one wants that to happen to them again. So everyone's keeping their powder dry.
But the Afghanistan experience hangs over this moment in a deeper way too. Back in Afghanistan, the folks at the Joint Staff really wanted to go slower. They wanted to bring up more men, more equipment, the whole bit. But Rumsfeld and his people said 'no.' They wanted to move much more quickly, relying on a mix of high-tech weaponry, quick-moving Special Forces operations, indigenous proxy armies, and agile, on-the-fly decision-making.
And something happened: it worked.
When people write the history of these years, I think they'll place great emphasis on this fact. Rumsfeld and his deputies didn't need a lot of convincing that they understood military affairs as well as or better than anyone. But this experience greatly emboldened them.
But it did more than embolden them. This part is harder to get at or know. But I think it subtly shook the confidence of some of the folks on the Joint Staff. Rumsfeld went for the Hail Mary pass and, amazingly, Paul Wolfowitz came down with the ball in the end zone.
Of course, this is an over-simplification. But it catches the outlines of what happened. And I think it played a key role on a variety of levels in allowing the Office of the Secretary of Defense to get the Joint Chiefs to go along with an Iraq war plan they were never comfortable with.
We'll be saying more about this ...
Meanwhile, self-parody seems to be the answer to our recent reverses in Mesopotamia.
When I was doing course-work in graduate school I studied a little 19th and early 20th century German history. What always struck me was that "crude Marxism" looked a lot less crude when you looked at it through the prism of late 19th century German history. You had the cartoonish reactionary leaders, the alliance of ancien regime with plutocratic capital. And a foreign military adventure was pretty much always the solution of choice when things looked iffy at home or the Socialists looked set to win a majority in the parliament.
In any case, you can see all sorts of examples now -- cropping up everywhere it seems -- that we're heading toward some similar Gotterdammerung of ridiculousness.
I was watching a British military briefing this morning when a reporter asked one of the British generals what he thought of the fact that the running of the port of Umm Qasr has apparently already been raffled off to some American company. The look on his face was priceless. Sort of the Blair tragedy writ small.
Now, we hear that California Congressman Darrell Issa, a major recipient of money from hometown cell phone goliath Qualcomm is lobbying the Pentagon to rewire (rewireless?) Iraq with Qualcomm's CDMA standard rather than the one now used in the country, GSM, which is preferred by European manufacturers. "Hundreds of thousands of American jobs depend on the success of U.S.-developed wireless technologies like CDMA," says Issa.
And to think that for a moment I thought we were about to turn Iraq into a parodic banana-republic where favored US campaign contributors got to line up for Iraq-pork!
And speaking of the rather shariah-offending concept of Iraq-pork, at least we're not going to try to evangelize Iraq by turning over aid distribution to evangelical faith-based organizations from the Bible Belt, right?
Here's another charmer from the always invaluable Beliefnet. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said yesterday that his organization, Samaritan's Purse, has an army of relief workers "poised and ready" to roll into Iraq to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the Iraqi people. He's in constant contact with the US government agencies in Amman to help coordinate efforts.
Graham says that he knows he can't just whip out the good book and start preaching the gospel in an Arab country. But "I believe as we work," said Graham, "God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son... We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."
That should go over well.
I mean, it's not like the Muslim Arabs have a chip on their shoulder or anything about the Christian West launching a new crusade against them to reclaim Arabia for the cross. So it shouldn't be any problem.
In all seriousness, obviously the US can't bar anybody with a Christian affiliation from doing relief work in Iraq. But optics seems to be the issue here. The American president is a deeply-believing born-again Christian. He's closely associated with Franklin Graham. Graham has repeatedly called Islam a "wicked" religion. And now Graham's missionaries are coming in behind US tanks invading Iraq.
If the Arab world had electronic media that tended toward sensationalism and inflammatory coverage this could really be a problem ...