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Saturday, February 19, 2005

When You Play Gin Rummy With This Group You Always Lose

Ok, let’s talk about Donald Rumsfeld. He had a pretty telling question-and-answer hearing in Congress a couple days ago. It’s interesting how throughout the history of the United States the Secretary of Defense either is one of the highest profile persons in government, or all but forgotten and anonymous. In fact, I’m guessing that Rumsfeld is perhaps the best known member of the Bush administration except for George Bush himself. How many people can name Clinton’s Secretary of Defense?

And it’s not just the fact that we’re tangled up in two wars and facing the prospect of a couple more – Rumsfeld is generally one really irascible old man. I guess you could compare him to your wrinkly, old uncle who gets really drunk and then starts picking fights with everyone – you can pretty much ignore the old bastard, unless, of course, he’s your Secretary of Defense.

Now, Rummy gets a lot of flak for his I’m-an-asshole-but-you-can’t-do-anything-about-it-so-take-this! attitude towards everyone from regular soldiers (‘you get shipped home in the box you have, not the one you’d like to have’) to congressmen (‘wow! I really can just say ‘fuck you!’ to every question they ask me and eventually they will just go away’).

He gets tons of hate from the Left – hated for everything from his mismanagement of the war (and his ‘fuck you’ attitude to anyone who points it out) to his seeming callousness towards dead soldiers (‘I could sign this condolence letter to his mother, but damn, my fingers are all tired from signing all those checks to Halliburton!’). The Right vacillates between lightly condemning him to an uneasy endorsement (‘Well, he is a tough guy…’).

But hold on, I’m not here to pile onto the hate heap, there are plenty of columns talking about that, I’m going to talk about why Rumsfeld is the right guy for the job – why I even *gasp* kind of like him. “WTF?!?”, you’re going to say, “The Bloogeyman’s off his nut”. I’m not saying that I’m sending Rummy love letters or anything, but let me take you through why I think that Rummy’s an important part of the administration. When it comes down to it, the Bloogeyman prefers the boogeyman that is out in the open to the one that is still hiding in the shadows.

I’ll admit that that’s kind of warped way of looking at things - to ignore some of the obviously incompetent or just plain horrible things Rummy has done (“But Mister Bloogeyman, his fuck ups are so many and so obvious!”) - but first lets look at what his part is in all this. Who sets the policy and who follows it? Sure, Rummy had a say in the decision to go to war, how to set up the war, and how to execute it – but it was Bush and Cheney who were the final decision makers – it’s their policy. The Bush administration, as we have all come to know and treasure, will never give anyone a straight answer on anything. They’re like a guy at the bar who will keep buying you drinks, joking with you and generally having a good time, only to stab you in the back later and take your wallet. Rummy’s kind of like some guy who steps out of a dark alley, shows you a knife, says he’s gonna stab you, stabs you, and then tells you he’s stabbing you as he turns the knife. Which is better? Well, there’s really not much difference in the end result (you’re still face down in your own blood and puke in a back alley, minus your wallet), but at least in the second case you know what’s happening and maybe, just maybe, you have a chance to take some action to prevent the end result.

It’s interesting to see how people pile onto Rumsfeld (even Republicans from time to time), but refuse to point a finger or raise a hubbub in regards to Bush. I’ll sit there and watch as everyone - newspapers, TV, Democrats, Republicans, bloggers – denounce or distance themselves from Rummy because of his latest gaffe or straight-talk but refuse to take the logical step and apply blame where it really needs to reside. Frankly, everything Rumsfeld says or does represents the Bush administration view of things and Bush’s policy (remember, he did submit his resignation twice – both rejected by George Bush). Rush to war? Bush. Don’t think about adequate troop levels or supplies? Bush. Don’t bother signing condolence letters to the families of the dead? Bush. Give Congress the finger if they try to question you? Bush. Give soldiers the finger if they want armor? Bush. Hello everyone, it’s Bush, Bush, Bush!

The only difference is that while Rummy tells it to you straight (through words or actions), Bush wraps everything in warm, fuzzy platitudes about honor, sacrifice, liberty, and freedom. And, there are actually times when Rumsfeld is right about things and the look on people’s faces (especially rank and file Republicans’) is priceless. Complaining about a “war” in which 1,500 soldiers have died? Shut the hell up, Rumsfeld basically tells you. When you kill over 100,000 people and lose 1,500 that’s not a war, that’s an administered beating, pretty much a massacre. When people complain about casualties to Rumsfeld he’s probably thinking, “Good lord, you fucking babies, stop complaining every time someone dies – 30,000 people died a day, every day, for six years during World War 2 – that was a war” What he actually says is “Well, sure they[casualties] bother me but remember they're volunteers.” When someone complains about inadequate armor he’s probably thinking, “Can you ever stop whining? I mean, the insurgents are running around in tee shirts and tennis shoes and you want me to armor your fucking toilet?!?” What he actually says is, “As you know, you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want”.

Oh, and here are some excerpts from his friendly little Q&A session:

Two dozen members of the House Armed Services Committee had not yet had their turn to question Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at yesterday's hearings when he decided he had had enough.

At 12:54, he announced that at 1 p.m. he would be taking a break and then going to another hearing in the Senate. "We're going to have to get out and get lunch and get over there," he said. When the questioning continued for four more minutes, Rumsfeld picked up his briefcase and began to pack up his papers.

The chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), apologized to his colleagues for a rather "unusual" situation.

With the Bush administration asking Congress this month to write checks for half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon, you might think the secretary of defense would set an accommodating posture on Capitol Hill. But, to paraphrase Rumsfeld's remark in December about the Army, you go to budget hearings with the defense secretary you have, not the defense secretary you might want or wish to have at a later time. And Donald Rumsfeld doesn't do accommodating very well.

Asked about the number of insurgents in Iraq, Rumsfeld replied: "I am not going to give you a number."

Did he care to voice an opinion on efforts by U.S. pilots to seek damages from their imprisonment in Iraq? "I don't."

Could he comment on what basing agreements he might seek in Iraq? "I can't."

How about the widely publicized cuts to programs for veterans? "I'm not familiar with the cuts you're referring to."

How long will the war last? "There's never been a war that was predictable as to length, casualty or cost in the history of mankind."

The hope is that at some point everyone - Congress, soldiers, people, Democrats, Republicans - will realize that this is actually not how they want war and foreign policy run. That this level of respect for Congress and, ultimately, the American people is not acceptable. However, the blank, stunned look that people get when confronted by the bare, hard truth is only superseded by the faux outrage that they whisper afterwards. But outrage is nothing if not coupled with action. And, as Bush said, the moment for accountability and action has passed.

I’ll leave you with another nice little Rumsfeld exchange along with the translation:

In Europe last week, Rumsfeld joked that he was no longer the "old Rumsfeld" who disdainfully referred to France and Germany as "Old Europe."

But Wednesday, he made it clear that the new Rumsfeld would not be a softy. When he scolded Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) by saying she incorrectly described his role, Tauscher inquired: "Is that old Rumsfeld talking to me now?"

"I think so," Rumsfeld said, smiling.

"I'd prefer new Rumsfeld," she requested.

"No, you don't," he said.

That’s the Bush administration saying ‘fuck you’ to everyone – you had a chance to vote for a new path, but you didn’t so shut the hell up ‘cause we’ll tell you what you prefer now. At least Rummy has the guts to say it to your face.