First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Who's Running This War?
It's no secret that I believe the War on Terror is essential, for us and for the future of Western Civilization.
It's also no secret that the standard "intellectual" position on the war is virulent opposition -- at least to the campaign in Iraq.
There are sensible reasons to have opposed the Iraq campaign from the start, and sensible reasons to regret it now.
Unfortunately, I hear almost none of the sensible reasons. Instead, I hear the kind of vitriol spewed in -- sadly -- John Le Carré's latest novel, Absolute Friends.
It's a moving story of how a disaffected young Pakistani-born Englishman and a very odd young German become involved in spying and counter-spying during the Cold War. But at the end, in a series of events that strain credulity, Le Carré deforms his story in order to deliver a screed against the War in Iraq, America, religion, and big business -- basically, the devil's pantheon of the P.C. establishment.
Le Carré's literary reputation was created by his refusal to take sides in his spy novels, devoting himself instead to creating well-rounded characters on both sides of the Cold War struggle.
But that's gone now. Filled with rage, apparently, he makes his fiction a servant to the political ideas of the people around him, which he apparently does not question, as he actually calls the Iraq War (if I remember the phrase correctly) "the most immoral war in history."
It would take a very strange definition of "immoral," "war," or "history" to justify such a statement. But that is the kind of thing we're hearing from the mouth-frothing wing of anti-American and/or anti-Bush intellectual crowd.
It goes right along with paranoid rumors like the one in Parade on Sunday, in a letter from a reader who repeated the rumor that the Bush administration already knows where Osama is, and they plan to "capture" him just in time for the election.
That's how weird the fanaticism has become. The opponents of the present administration have reached such a level of paranoid hatred that there is no action or motive so evil that they are not willing to ascribe it to their enemies.
It makes the wackiest accusations against Clinton during the Monica years look almost sane by contrast.
The sad thing is that real intellectuals would actually try to find out who the people are who are running this war, what their ideas are, how they got to the position they're in, and what we can likely expect to happen in the future, if this administration remains in power.
Just in case there is someone -- on either side of the debate about the war -- who actually would like to find the answers to such questions, let me recommend a couple of books.
Rumsfeld's War: The Untold Story of America's Anti-Terrorist Commander is written by Rowan Scarborough, and he is, to put it kindly, an enthusiast for Mr. Rumsfeld.
But this does not mean that he is not reliable in the facts he presents.
In fact, the title of the book, which is a less-than-sly jab at President Bush -- whose war? Really? -- gives us a clue: Scarborough is so gung-ho about Rumsfeld that he apparently loves everything Rumsfeld does, and therefore conceals nothing, since he thinks it all makes Rumsfeld look good.
Well, there are things about Rumsfeld that do look good. The guy is smart and capable. When he's in charge of the Pentagon, the Pentagon is definitely under civilian control. And when the President decides against him, he swallows hard and obeys.
But Rumsfeld is also unusually ambitious, even in a city that is the world's geographic center of ambition. When coupled with his extraordinary ability to turn the normal workings of government into a bureaucratic turf war, it makes Rumsfeld a tough fellow to work with.
And a tough boss to work for. Indeed, the message is clear: He loves to surround himself with smart people -- but his definition of "smart" seems to include the phrase "agrees with Donald Rumsfeld." Once he decides you're not smart, there is little chance of redemption.
By the end of this book, while I admired many things about Rumsfeld, I was glad I don't work for him.
I was also very glad that he is not and never will be President. Because he'd be lousy at it.
Governing, as opposed to heading a bureaucracy, depends on the ability to build consensus, not just shut down or shut out everyone who disagrees with you. A ruthless bureaucratic infighter can be quite effective by doing the latter; but that's the quickest road to failure that you can imagine for a President.
Still, it doesn't stop me from enjoying Rumsfeld's wit at press conferences; nor does it stop me from appreciating the good aspects of his transformation of the Pentagon.
While a few people whose toes he has stepped on have come back to lash out at the President -- one thinks of the star witness at the recent hearings -- the fact remains that he has been able to effect some important and beneficial changes in our military, and our victories in the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are not unrelated to his efforts.
In times of war, a leader who is tough and effective can also be unlikeable and ambitious, and the nation is, on balance, well-served -- as long as he doesn't pull a MacArthur and decide the President should work for him. And there has been no hint of this in Rumsfeld's past.
Ultimately, though, Scarborough's gung-ho view cloys. There is less to learn from Mr. Rumsfeld's life and career than Scarborough thinks.
A much more illuminating and valuable book is James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet.
Mann does a masterful job of tracing the interlocking careers of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condaleezza Rice, and the less well-known but scarcely less influential Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Armitage.
For instance, did you know that the fault line in the administration between those who dragged their feet on going into Iraq and those who pressed for it is one that is perhaps not terribly surprising: Colin Powell and Richard Armitage are the only ones in this list who both served in real combat in Vietnam, and they were the ones least willing to see us enter a war, however justified, without a plan for how to get out if our rosiest assumptions turned out wrong.
There are other patterns revealed by this book. It's interesting to see how entering government service can lead to extraordinary wealth. After serving at certain levels of government, if you have won the favor of influential people you can find yourself sought after as an executive or board member of important corporations, where your bonuses and stock options can make you independently wealthy in a surprisingly short time.
There are those who assume that these relationships are a corrupt bargain -- look at all the wild accusations about various corporations getting favored treatment because high administration figures once worked for them.
But I don't think there's necessarily any corruption. The payments these favored people received were not bribes -- they were standard corporate compensation for people who provide valuable services, and there is no hint that they are expected to go on providing such services after they move on to other positions. By contemporary business standards, they already earned, in full, everything they were paid. They owe nothing.
Their service is valuable to business because of the experience, knowledge, and network of acquaintanceship they gained in government service -- but it would be unreasonable to ban former government workers from taking their brains with them when they go.
It can even be argued that it's not a bad thing for such useful civil servants to become independently wealthy before returning to even higher positions in government. It means they are free to concentrate on their jobs without worrying about how they're going to provide for their families; it means they have nothing to fear from resigning or being fired; and it means they are virtually impervious to any attempt to bribe them. They just don't need any money now.
Of course, not all of these powerful people have found their way onto the corporate gravy train, in part because not all of them would have anything to offer a corporation. They serve in government, not because they're as ambitious or skilled at infighting as Rumsfeld, but because they are so doggone smart that even people who don't like them know that the country would be ill-served if they were not in key positions.
What is most interesting in this book is what these six leaders believe about foreign policy, why they believe it, and how it differs from the theories that have guided previous administrations. This cabinet is definitely not a legacy from Bush Sr., or from any other previous cabinet. They have a new set of ideas, and despite the important differences among them, there are key issues on which they see eye to eye.
To me, at least, the writing in Rise of the Vulcans seems impartial enough to be trusted. I'm not sure whether Mann agrees with any or all of them on anything. He has made the effort to understand them.
Those who read this book will be considerably better educated about recent American foreign policy in general and current policy in particular. They will also be extremely unlikely to make foolish and unfounded accusations or listen to paranoid rumors.
Because, even when I think the decisions of this administration have been wrong, they were wrong for a reason, not because they "love war" or want to "benefit oil interests" or any of the other ridiculous accusations we've been hearing.
They believe they're serving America's best interests. They also believe they are doing so under the leadership of a good President. Indeed, the most remarkable achievement of George W. Bush is that he not only had the ego strength to surround himself with people this smart, he also has the leadership skills to keep them working for him, even when -- as has happened to every single one of them -- he makes a decision contrary to their fervently argued advice.
There are sound reasons for questioning or opposing many of the war and foreign policies of this administration. But, especially if you loathe this administration and everything it stands for, I believe you need to know all the information in this book before you make any ad hominem attacks.
This book won't make you agree with these policy-makers. It might not even lead you to respect them. But you will at least be prepared to engage their ideas instead of indulging in name-calling and paranoid fantasies.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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