The Rat Pack
By William Rivers Pitt
Monday 06 November 2006
Blaming George W. Bush for everything that has gone wrong these last years is a lot like blaming Mickey Mouse when Disney screws up.
"There is probably some long-standing rule," wrote Hunter S. Thompson, "among writers, journalists and other word-mongers that says: 'When you start stealing from your own work, you're in bad trouble.'" Indeed. It is truly bad form to quote yourself, but I am at a loss to frame this situation without deploying that old line, which I used to throw out as the occupation of Iraq began spiraling into the horrific bloodbath we see on the news every night.
It is what it is, and I can live with the shame, because it's undeniably true. Mr. Bush is not running the show, and I can't think of a better way to say it. We saw this on 9/11, when he sat there like a pithed frog as the citizens he was supposed to protect and defend died in fire and dust in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. We saw this when Dick Cheney chaperoned him during the 9/11 Commission's interview of him. Neither man was under oath, but Dick was there anyway, because George can't be trusted to manage anything on his own. We saw this after Katrina, and we have seen it every day for three years of this Iraq war. It has become, by now, axiomatic: water is wet, sky is up there, and George W. Bush might as well be animate furniture for all the actual governing he does. Water him twice a week, turn him towards the light, and he'll be fine ... but for the love of God, don't expect leadership or vision from the man. We're dealing with a sock puppet in a three-thousand dollar suit, no more, no less.
The actual culprits are, of course, well known. Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld are the real ideological muscle behind this administration, with Paul Wolfowitz playing the role of Rasputin. Rice has some input, and Rove calls the shots. Water is wet, sky is up there, and that's the deal.
But what of the others, the smart boys in the back room whose white papers and dreams of empire fueled the mayhem and slaughter that has marked our passage through these years? These are the ones most people never hear about, the speechwriters and think tankers, the ones who grind the grist and make the arguments, the ones who truly craft policy. There are lots of them, and they are as much a part of the story as Dick and Don and Condi and Karl.
Usually, these folks get to operate behind the scenes. Today, however, the curtain has been rolled back and the smart boys have been exposed. David Rose has popped off with an astonishing Vanity Fair article titled "Neo Culpa." In it, the fellows who helped to design and implement the radical foreign policy catastrophe we currently endure, to a man, remove themselves from blame for all this and throw George W. Bush under the bus.
Ken Adelman, Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney and Richard Perle have spent many years waiting for the opportunity to road-test their wild ideas about how to deal with the world, and with the installation of the Bush administration, they finally got their big chance. Now that the wheels are coming off, however, they are trying to pretend that none of this has anything to do with them.
It is, in a way, uproariously funny reading. Some quotes from Rose's Vanity Fair piece:
"I just presumed," saith Adelman, "that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional. There's no seriousness here, these are not serious people. If he had been serious, the president would have realized that those three are each directly responsible for the disaster of Iraq."
"Ask yourself," saith Ledeen, "who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura (Bush), Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."
"(Bush) doesn't in fact seem to be a man of principle," saith Gaffney, "who's steadfastly pursuing what he thinks is the right course. He talks about it, but the policy doesn't track with the rhetoric, and that's what creates the incoherence that causes us problems around the world and at home. It also creates the sense that you can take him on with impunity."
"The decisions did not get made that should have been," saith Perle. "They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly. At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."
For the record, Ken Adelman served the Bush administration as an assistant to Don Rumsfeld, and was also a Reagan administration official. Michael Ledeen is fellow at the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute, and has served in the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. Frank Gaffney is another hardcore think tanker who has worked with The Committee on the Present Danger and the Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was an aide to Richard Perle, who was serving as Assistant Secretary of Defense. Perle is also a think tanker who served the Bush administration as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Each, in his own way, has worked to bend American policy around the needs and desires of the hard-liners within the government of Israel.
These are the four horseman of this neo-conservative apocalypse, and almost everything that has happened in the last several years can be laid directly at their feet. Compare and contrast, if you will, their statements in the Vanity Fair piece to their words from just a few years ago.
"I believe," said Adelman in a February 2002 Washington Post editorial, "demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps."
"Change - above all violent change," wrote Ledeen not too long ago, "is the essence of human history. Creative destruction is our middle name. We do it automatically. It is time once again to export the democratic revolution." Ominously, Ledeen is also the spiritual leader for those who think total war in the Middle East is the way to go. "The time for diplomacy is at an end," he wrote in April of 2003. "It is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon."
"I believe," said Gaffney two months before the Iraq invasion, "that when you find, as you will I hope shortly, that the Iraqi people welcome the end of this horrible regime, even if it comes at some further expense to themselves, knowing as they do that the alternative is more of the horror that they've lived under for the past two or three decades. You'll see, I think, an outpouring of appreciation for their liberation that will make what we saw in Afghanistan recently pale by comparison."
"A year from now," said Perle, "I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush." Perle also noted once that, "If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
Pretty much says it all right there. But we also have this: a slide-show presentation by Perle's Defense Policy Board to the decision-makers within this administration titled "Grand Strategy for the Middle East." The final slide of the presentation described "Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot (and) Egypt as the prize."
Gaffney and Perle were also centrally involved in the policy formulations that came out of the Project for the New American Century, or PNAC. The blueprint for this administration's Middle East policies can be found in the seminal PNAC white paper, published in 2000, titled Rebuilding America's Defenses. Other notable members of PNAC include Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Donald Kagan and Lewis "Recently Indicted" Libby.
In the aftermath of the conviction of Saddam Hussein, and the trumpeting of the menace to the world he supposedly presented, it is worthwhile to note what PNAC had to say about the man at the turn of the century. "Indeed," reads page 14 of the document, "the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
Got that? Hussein didn't matter. It was about carving out a permanent military presence in Iraq, the ultimate purpose of which would be to knock off every other regime in the region, friend and foe alike. Adelman, Ledeen, Gaffney and Perle husbanded these concepts all the way into the White House and the Pentagon, and now that their plans have been exposed as being horribly flawed, they are desperate to cut and run from their own undeniable responsibility.
"Huge mistakes were made," said Perle in the Vanity Fair piece, "and I want to be very clear on this: They were not made by neoconservatives, who had almost no voice in what happened, and certainly almost no voice in what happened after the downfall of the regime in Baghdad. I'm getting damn tired of being described as an architect of the war. I was in favor of bringing down Saddam. Nobody said, 'Go design the campaign to do that.' I had no responsibility for that."
Reading this, there can be but one unavoidable conclusion to make: these men, ultimately, are nothing more or less than the worst form of coward to be found in this country. They talk tough about global domination while sending other people's children off to die, and then run like rabbits when the scab is ripped off their festering ideology. That they said all those ridiculous things before and during the occupation is bad enough. That they have now attempted to blame it all on Bush, while denying their own culpability, is nauseating beyond words.
The best bit of all, perhaps, came after Rose's article hit the wires. A National Review "symposium" published on Sunday morning sprayed heated outrage from these four men over the fact that their thoughts about Bush and Iraq were made public. Each was apparently shocked - shocked! - that they might actually have to stand by their words.
"Concerned that anything I might say could be used to influence the public debate on Iraq just prior to Tuesday's election," said Perle on Sunday, "I had been promised that my remarks would not be published before the election. I should have known better than to trust the editors at Vanity Fair who lied to me and to others who spoke with Mr. Rose. Moreover, in condensing and characterizing my views for their own partisan political purposes, they have distorted my opinion about the situation in Iraq and what I believe to be in the best interest of our country. I believe the president is now doing what he can to help the Iraqis get to the point where we can honorably leave. We are on the right path."
These rats are trying to scramble off the sinking ship they helped put to sea, but don't you dare take anything they have to say about it, anything they ever said about it, at face value. They lack the courage of their earlier convictions, and flee even the chance to repent. They are neither here nor there, but nowhere. They are a vapid void where morality and simple integrity have not, and never will, find purchase.
If only the folks in the White House and Pentagon had known this a few years ago. They could have taken the words of Phaedrus to heart - "A coward boasting of his courage may deceive strangers, but he is a laughing-stock to those who know him." - and saved us all a great deal of death and sorrow.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.