Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Follow up to the last post: on further reflection, Bush probably will tough it out for the sake of toughing it out, and Rummy won't resign. As I think about it, Bush approaches all of these sorts of things as a game of chicken, and I don't think he'll flinch here. And he may be right - politically speaking - to do so in this case. If Rummy goes, that'll look like weakness, first of all, and second, he'll have to get a new SecDef confirmed in the middle of the election campaign. That's not a palatable thought. Better to tough it out for the sake of toughing it out. Better to just say to the country: the system works. The military discovered the abuse, is investigating it, will prosecute the malefactors, and will make public all relevant information, as it has so far.
That's probably politically right, I say. It's not really right, because there are really two issues at issue with Abu Ghraib (apart from the propaganda disaster of the whole business, which isn't an "issue" in its own right). First, there were clearly a handful of people who are sadists who took advantage of the situation to perpetrate abuses that have truly outraged. But second, grossly inadequate training, staffing and supervision, combined with what appears to be a policy of applying psychological pressure through humiliation and terror - faked executions and the like - to detainees with suspected high intelligence value to create a culture where abuses of varying degree of seriousness were widespread. In other words: the few bad apples are part of the story, but they are not the whole story. To the extent that Rumsfeld stands by the policy, I'd like to hear the defense. To the extent that the deficienciess of manpower, training, etc. had a profound impact, I'd like to hear about that, too.
No one thinks Rumsfeld personally ordered people stripped naked and faced with snarling attack dogs, much less physically abused or even killed in custody. Nor should anyone question the seriousness of the response to the situation once it came to light within the military, which so far seems exemplary. The legitimate question is whether these events were easily forseeable and preventable within the context of fighting a guerilla war in Iraq, and whether the Secretary of Defense didn't do what should have been done to prevent what was forseeable.
Senator Lindsey Graham had it right: blaming this all on low level people just isn't right, and is a disservice to the ordinary GI. The sorts of people who should take a bullet for the cause - politically, I mean - are political appointees, not grunts.