Friday, November 19, 2004
There are a lot of different moral values out there other than the ones prescribed by evangelical Christians. And maybe, just maybe, it's time for progressives to start talking about our moral values.
Frame it with religion if you want. There's a lot more in the Bible, for example, that encourages liberalism than conservatism: caring for our neighbors. Turning the other cheek. Thou shalt not kill. The meek shall inherit the Earth. The generally dim view of usury and greed. Being stewards, and treating the Earth with respect.
In politics, what we are really talking about is not just the personal behavior (or level of public devoutness) of our politicians. That's significant, of course; just ask Bill Clinton. But we also need to examine the moral implications of policy decisions.
Let's go there. President Bush's nominee for attorney general, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, is somehow considered less polarizing than the man he would replace, John Ashcroft. Yet Gonzales is the guy who wrote the memo justifying use of torture against prisoners in the war on terror, calling the relevant provisions in the Geneva Conventions barring such practices "quaint."
Providing a legal justification for torture is something that offends my moral values.
You want morals? What's the moral justification for a war that, in the name of their so-called liberation, has claimed the lives of 100,000 (and counting) Iraqi civilians? What's the moral justification for economic policies that allow the wealthy to skate on paying their fair share of the bill for the common good, while racking up a debt that our grandchildren will be paying for decades to come? What's so moral about a fabulously wealthy country in which children go hungry and health care access is a dubious proposition for the nearly 50 million uninsured? Where are the morals in policies designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer?
Maybe I'm just dumb or hopelessly naive, but I don't understand how it can be that all the folks who messed up foreign policy in the first Bush administration, especially over Iraq, are being either promoted or kept in place. The ones who had the intelligence and courage to oppose what was happening are being given the boot.
There was some hope that once past the election President George W. Bush would hold those who made mistakes accountable. Fat chance. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who warned Bush that if he broke Iraq he would own it, is out. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who told Bush that Iraq would be a cakewalk and democracy would flourish, is still in.
Condoleezza Rice, who, as national security adviser should have made certain that the prescient State Department reports on the postwar period were paid attention to but did not, has been promoted to secretary of state. And her deputy, Stephen Hadley, whose specific job it was to plan for the postwar period, is the new national security adviser.
The CIA, which certainly made its share of mistakes but also warned that some of the intelligence the president's advisers were using was soft at best, unreliable at worst, is being pilloried. Its employees are being warned "to support the administration and its policies in our work" or get out.
The most egregious case is at the Pentagon. Rumsfeld failed to anticipate the problems of post-war Iraq (although he was warned of the problems). He allowed his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, to rely on the analysis of Ahmed Chalabi, who had not been in Iraq in decades and was considered untrustworthy by the CIA. He claimed he could ignore the Geneva Conventions when it came to treating certain prisoners, actions that led to the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.
And, perhaps worst of all, he ignored the advice of his own generals who told him he would need considerably more troops in Iraq to stabilize it after the war. Rumsfeld should have been fired months ago, but now he is staying on to stabilize the situation in Iraq. And all his neoconservative appointees are still there and in line for promotions.
I'm beginning to think these may be the End Times after all.
During the campaign, President Bush and his team made an unorthodox choice, to set aside any air of humility and admit to no errors in office. Repeatedly asked the if-you-had-it-to-do-over question, the president was consistent: Do nothing differently. This stance prompted political observers to wonder whether this really reflected the president’s belief or was simply a concession to not ruffling the feathers of his base.
The expected return of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld answers the question: This administration is blind to its own failures.
The huge flaw in our enormously important endeavor in Iraq has been a shortage of troops. That shortfall was most crucial in the first weeks after Baghdad’s fall, when the coalition could not secure the streets or borders. If that had been done then, much of the insurgency might never have taken root. Once that rebellion brewed up, had it been met with deployment of more overwhelming U.S. force, it might not be the threat it is today.
This is a reflection of Secretary Rumsfeld’s philosophy that America can showcase a military where fewer people do more fighting — a view he stuck to even when warned by career military officers that more people on the ground would be necessary.
That failing should have been enough to warrant a new team at Defense. But the total mismanagement of prisoner abuses — from lax supervision to mishandling the public revelation of Abu Ghraib — should have cost Mr. Rumsfeld his post already.
Instead, the administration that prides itself on advocating an “ownership society” accepts no ownership of its mistakes. For its major errors, there has been no accountability.
Four more years.