Tuesday, July 07, 2009

lighten up, buddy

I'm not normally a fan of Bob Herbert's columns because they tend to wander into the obvious but today's piece is interesting and fully damning of Robert McNamara. What strikes hardest is the accusation that McNamara must have found it hard to look in the mirror knowing what he knew and doing what he did. The admission by McNamara that he knew the war was a massive mistake, yet he continued execution of that mistake, is probably something lost on the public as his death is being overshadowed by Michael Jackson Tribute Month. My first association is to Colin Powell who we may not remember as being a huge cog in the war machine but whose actions were the straw that broke the dissenters. By the time Secretary Powell sat down at the UN to give his "brief" on Iraq there had already been plenty of time for the Bush Administration's quality to be questioned. The number of Americans, who were ready to walk away from Bush/Cheney and probably the Iraq War, was growing rapidly. I think that as a country we were back to realizing just how inept we felt the Administration had been between Jan 2001 and Sep 11, 2001 and there was a realization that what happened between 2001 and late 2003 wasn't so much leadership as it was a course of events. The war in Afghanistan was justified to most but it wasn't going awfully well and there was still no way out or any endgame in sight. The idea of Iraq was lunacy yet we fell for it because of Powell's UN appearance. He was the one who unwittingly or not, and I don't believe he was played for a fool, brought enough independent and wavering Americans onboard the war idea. As he walked away after that first term – having been the cheerleader for the war and the man who essentially got Bush re-elected – I often wondered how he looked in the mirror every morning. I had great hopes for Powell but I vividly remember watching his testimony that day while I was sitting in a hotel lobby on Crete ; I was shocked to see and hear everything he provided. It was shabby information that wouldn't have passed muster to the most basic intelligence officer or analyst, and I know because I was the most basic intelligence analyst type. But you know what? It didn't pass those desks because they were removed from the process and the rest were bullied by the herd-to-war executive branch. What makes it all the more egregious when comparing McNamara and Powell is that Powell had spent his life in the military; working, supporting, and protecting the troops – he knew the cost. McNamara, if you discount his advisory service in statistical analysis, was a desk jockey with no real military experience or interaction. For Powell to know the dangers of this war and yet still saddle-up that day at the UN and spout the party line is a massive reflection on his failure to continue doing what had been his life's work. No amount of post-event analysis or dramatized Hollywood scenes where "Powell" is trying to speak truth-to-power will undo his mistake; any more than McNamara's mistake is undone by his admission. We can debate all day long the issue of war execution with Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, and Myers, and etc. and their overall responsibility for what happened, and that responsibility is whole, but the accelerator was the sale made by Powell. Could he have stopped it? Who knows? Could he have resigned and chosen to not be a part of it? Yes. In the end, I think he now claims that working from the inside was in the best interest of the country but that's a weak stance. I'm sure McNamara felt that working from the inside on something he knew was wrong and horrific was the best option; what good did that do? I'll never be convinced that Powell's best position wasn't to be a vocal opponent of a war he felt was wrong. I believe his position as an outsider, had he left the Administration, would not have been questioned as sour grapes or a case of a disgruntled employee as so often happens. He made a choice – McNamara made a choice – and they were both horribly wrong. And it isn't the being wrong that the most grievous result, it's the dead bodies, ruined lives, and broken families.

No comments: