Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 12, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Sanity Check
Robert Tagorda points us to polls showing a high level of public support for Don Rumsfeld in the Iraq prisoner abuse crisis. Which I would attribute, to some extent, to common sense: not blaming the head of such a vast organization as the Armed Forces for the behavior of every soldier. People get the fact that Rumsfeld, as it were, did not order the Code Red. In fact, it appears that, outside of the Abu Ghraib facility, nobody did.
Democrats screaming for Rumsfeld's head and looking to score points against President Bush would be wise to first ask themselves what they would want their guy to do in the same shoes. The facile answer is that a Democrat would never find himself (or herself) in the situation of having prisoners mistreated by American soldiers. One way to put that is that a Democrat wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq; while that is probably true, it's also true that many Democrats did vote for war (and some still support it), including the party's current presidential nominee. You certainly can't look at the broader situation - American troops sent into sometimes hostile territory and engaged in putting down an insurgency while building national institutions - and say no Democrat would ever go there.
The second idea is that this is somehow the fault of insufficient troop strength, and a Democrat would never have made the mistake of providing an insufficient number of troops. Even crediting this argument, this position is highly implausible (anyone remember Mogadishu, Desert One, or the Bay of Pigs? Democrats have often been accused of applying insufficient force).
The third, I suppose, is that the absence of formal Geneva Convention rules here was the problem, although I fail to see where such rules would be a substitute for better field-level supervision of individual soldiers.
All that really leaves is the charge that Democrats are better at supervision . . . which is also ridiculous. Bad stuff happens at lower echelons in any organization. Are we to believe this sort of thing doesn't happen in prisons in the U.S. under the supervision of elected Democrats? And have the Dems ever espoused such stringent "the leader must fall on his sword" doctrines for their own - did they call for the resignations of Janet Reno after Waco, Bill Richardson after Los Alamos, or are they calling even now for the head of Kofi Annan?
The fact is, this problem happened on the ground, and while the Administration's response after the fact may not have been pitch-perfect, it's been diligent, contrite and relatively open in ensuring that those responsible will be punished. I certainly haven't heard a realistic explanation of how the Administration has done anything particularly disappointing since learning about the abuses at Abu Ghraib.