Friday, July 23, 2004

Failure of Leadership

I know there's something slightly unseemly about jumping on people when they issue a mea culpa. Still, there's something about the partial "it wasn't really my fault and besides it wasn't just me and how can you hold me responsible" mea culpas that just absolutely enrage me. Consider even the liberal Richard Cohen today:

Well, I did. I'm not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack -- more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.

Nations and peoples can lose their heads. The easiest way to explain how Hitler came to power is simply to say that Germany went nuts. That's the most extreme example. But something irrational overcame the United States after World War I and the anti-radical Palmer Raids, or the decision, following Pearl Harbor, to incarcerate Japanese Americans. McCarthyism was another period of collective insanity. I know we are a great and brave country, but sometimes we react to threats by simply going to pieces.

It's great that we have multiple commissions looking into intelligence failures, but none of those commissions will come close to the greatest intelligence failure of all -- our inability to use our heads when we most needed to. The terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit -- or maybe more than a bit. We eventually went into a war that now makes little sense and that, without a doubt, was waged for reasons that simply did not exist. We did so, I think, because we were scared. You could say we lacked judgment. Maybe. I would say we lacked leadership.

Okay, kudos to Cohen for a few things. First, it's nice that someone remembers anthrax, which the media have shoved down the memory hole because despite it dominating the news for a couple of months it failed to fit the official narrative which has since developed (the perps are believed to be not-so-swarthy and Bush likes to claim there has been no major terrorist attack since 9/11). And, second, yes, it's nice that someone admits that they were gripped by a wee bit of insanity. But, it's the last few sentences which just make me batshit crazy:

You could say we lacked judgment. Maybe. I would say we lacked leadership.

Yes, we did. We lacked leadership from people in leadership positions like Richard Cohen. Yes, obviously the Bush administration's leadership was horrible for many reasons. But, Richard Cohen writes a column for what is the most influential foreign policy newspaper in the country. He is an opinion leader. He can't just say "if only Daddy had made me feel better and done the right thing" and wash his hands of it.

On November 30, 2001, a mere 50 or so days after 9/11, Richard Cohen wrote a column entitled "...And Now to Iraq."

Those weapons -- plus the ultimate inevitability of nuclear ones -- are precisely why Hussein must go. He is too evil to be allowed to menace us with weapons of mass destruction. He invaded Iran. He invaded Kuwait. He used chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians. He has murdered his critics, his opponents and -- just to keep people off balance -- anyone at random. He has not been linked to the anthrax deaths here, but that's precisely the sort of thing he's capable of doing and what, given enough time, he will do.

Richard Perle, the former Reagan administration official and the Zelig-like character who appears over the shoulder of countless op-ed writers, makes a good point (over my shoulder) when he says that the danger is not merely that Iraq will go nuclear but also that it will hand off the device to some terrorist with a suitcase. Then, as with anthrax, we will not be able to find the source.

Is that likely? I don't know. But I do know that Hussein tried to assassinate George H. W. Bush. I do know that Bush's son is now in the White House. I do know that Hussein is a sociopath -- not irrational but reptilian in both instinct and conscience. We have seen his type before -- Hitler, Stalin and, in his hideously overachieving way, Milosevic -- and always waited almost until it was too late.

We do not have that luxury now. Sept. 11 taught us what terrorists can do. Afghanistan taught us what we can do. In due course, Saddam Hussein must get our message: Uncle Sam Wants You.

Yes, there was a failure of leadership.