Monday, April 17

Shit Still Floats

David Brooks, "The Good Fight, Done Badly," April 16; "Rumsfeld's Blinkers," March 16, The Paper of Record

I've been wracking my brain--in the sense that in my youth we called taking a bad hop in the testicles "getting wracked"--to find a fitting metaphor for Dave's latest column, for the shallow and dishonest analysis of endlessly shifting surfaces. Like last week's bizarre denunciation of sociological explanations (from David Brooks! Using Tom Wolfe!! as a paragon!) we again find Our Mister Brooks jumping off from pop novelizations (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) and pop sociopsychoanalysis (The Organization Man) to land on another weird world of his own manufacture, one where Richard Nixon and George W. Bush--and Donald Rumsfeld, his ostensible target--are anti-establishment rebels:
Athletic, heroic, he never met an organization he didn't try to upend. He made it to Congress in the early 1960's and challenged the existing order. He was hired by Richard Nixon and quickly reorganized the Office of Economic Opportunity, slashing jobs and focusing the organization. He wrote to Nixon that he would upset the education bureaucrats and destroy "their comfortable world."

As his career went on, he took his streamlining zeal to the Pentagon, and then to G. D. Searle & Company, where he dismissed hundreds of executives, spun off losing businesses and streamlined the bureaucracy.

Rumsfeld's style appealed to political leaders who were allied with the corporate world, but hostile to self-satisfied corporate fat cats. Nixon loved Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, the rebel in chief, quickly hired him.

I've spent thirty-five years arguing with these people, only to discover too late I'm a frog in a beaker and the water temperature has been going up imperceptibly all these years. Conservatives, in the days when I didn't automatically surround that with quotes, were people who clung to notions about half useful and half crackpot, in which, as is usual in such cases, the crackpot predominated. Suddenly they're people who leap from supposition to supposition contradicting, even denouncing, positions they held as recently as two hours ago, a pace of reinvention that would have given the young David Bowie vertigo.

George W. Bush, rebel-in-chief! Here's Brooks' capsule description of the Anti-Organization Man:
At about this time, smarter and more daring young men were also entering the work force. But these renegades rebelled against the organizational mediocrity they saw around them. They may have looked and dressed like all the other corporate cogs, and they tended to go into business like the others. But inside they were hostile to stultifying organizations, and contemptuous of protective, slow-moving bureaucracies. They saw themselves as anti-Organization Men, as bureaucratic barbarians who would crash through the comfy old routines and wipe out corporate sloth.

Sounds like the flyleaf of every Bush biography ever written, don't it? George W. Bush, Slothbuster! The man whose hostility to stultifying organizations and contempt of slow-moving bureaucracy caused him to fire Donald Rumsfeld when:
Unfortunately, we've learned that though Rumsfeld is a perfect warrior for peaceful times, his virtues turn into vices during wartime. War is nothing but a catalog of errors, and in fluid, unpredictable circumstances, the redundancies of the World War II style of organization actually make sense. When you don't know what you will need, sometimes it is best just to throw gigantic resources at a problem. You can adapt later on.

Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.

Sorry, I should have suggested you try to focus on the same spot with each revolution of the head. They say it cuts down on the nausea. Try to catch your breath. I feel a couple of triple toe loops and a flying camel comin' on.

It's instructive that when Brooks was writing a month ago his starting point was Cobra II:
The officers on the front lines saw the same thing the smart pundits saw, and in more detail. But Rumsfeld and Franks stifled the free exchange of ideas, and shut out the National Security Council.

Our time frame here, by the way, was the week of March 24, 2003, and the "smart pundits" who were predicting "the U.S. was not in the midst of a conventional war, but was in the first days of a guerrilla war," include Michael Kelly and David Ignatius.

Cobra II may be a top-five best seller, but it'll never reach anything like the audience which last week heard about the growing list of retired general officers calling for Rumsfeld's head. So last month Rumsfeld was arrogantly ignoring sharp-eyed pundits who saw the truth on the ground, but this month, with the more general and more generally correct understanding that the real criticism comes from competent military minds, he's just suffering from a character flaw, highly valuable under most circumstances but unfortunately misplaced here.

Allow me to return for a moment to David Ignatius and the late Michael Kelly, because their inclusion stunned me (unlike, say, the predictable absence of any anti-war pundits who'd been crying quagmire all along). I don't know of an unlocked door in the corridors of WaPo archives, so all I could get was the short summary of Ignatius' piece, which includes the following:
U.S. strategists had assumed that in their race toward Baghdad, they could initially bypass many of the smaller towns and cities of southern Iraq. As Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Koenig put it, relaxing in the shade of his amphibious vehicle parked along the road north toward Nasiriyah and Baghdad, each U.S. combat team has a "bypass criterion" that allows it to focus on the biggest battles, and leave the little ones for later.

Similarly, a tough battle was being fought for the city of Basra, with Iraqi forces showing stronger than expected resistance. Some analysts had expected Basra to be a cakewalk for the coalition, because its largely Shiite population dislikes [Saddam Hussein]. Basra will doubtless fall soon, but probably not in the act of anti-Hussein insurgency some American planners may have expected. The danger is that it will feel like a defeated city, rather than a liberated one.

These aren't Cassandra-like utterances about an insurrection of many years duration. They don't even qualify as punditry. It's more like straight reporting, and anyone paying the slightest attention knew on Day Two that the failure to take Basra (and be greeted as liberators) did not bode well. We are talking here (as Kelly no doubt was about Najaf) about unexpected, and possibly catastrophic, threats to US lines of communication that developed as we sped towards Baghdad. Everybody knew about this.

Really, if you're careful you can boil a frog slowly before he escapes, but I've never heard anyone suggest you can plop one down in a bucket of horseshit and convince him it's a nice warm pond. There's no mystery to why we didn't go into Iraq with sufficient troops, just as there's no mystery why we didn't just send more after David Ignatius informed us of the dangers of war. We didn't have them, we don't have them now, and raising sufficient numbers means a draft. Even if we accept that the conduct of the war was all Rumsfeld's fault, the decision to go to war wasn't, and that was the real mistake. If anybody can find an example of Kelly or Ignatius warning us about that ahead of time, I'd appreciate an email.


Anonymous said...

Bobo pushes the envelope for me, right along with W: I can stomach no more than 3-4 seconds of either on teevee before I begin iwth the shouting and the swearing and such.

Anonymous said...

OK, just shush on the "D" word, there.

So have we exposed our military's great weakness, then? Our punditry's great weaknesses are always pretty much hanging out there.

You might be interested in this post on Adventus today.

Anonymous said...

I know we say this a lot around here, but we haven't gotten an answer yet, so I'll say it again: Why in the name of God does Brooks have a column, let alone a nationally read one?

Nobody listens to my neighbor who sits on the bench by the pond every day muttering about how the ducks want to steal his teeth; Brooks' "wisdom" is equally relevant and coherent and insightful, not to mention likely to ever happen.

Frankly, I'd rather see my neighbor get a column. He's harmless and reasonably functional, unlike the idiots who dragged us into a war and are promising to do so again.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, I should have suggested you try to focus on the same spot with each revolution of the head."

See, when you say things like that it makes me laugh so hard that I almost forget how truly screwed up the world is. Thank you!!!!