happened March 25 was that one Washington institution
quoted another to ask a third about accountability.
The questioner was PBS's Jim Lehrer, who cited
the late James Reston of the New York Times to
ask Donald Rumsfeld why no one in Washington ever
resigns for just being wrong. Rumsfeld, oozing
cockiness, turned the personal into the theoretical
and waltzed away from the question. I don't blame
him. If, say, a Japanese government had performed
as badly as the Bush administration has, there
would be no one left to turn out the lights.
his questioning of Rumsfeld, the nimble Lehrer
brought up Lord Carrington, the British defense
minister at the time Argentina seized the Falkland
Islands. Carrington admitted he had underestimated
the threat and his resignation was therefore in
order. If Rumsfeld had applied that rule to himself,
he would be thrice gone -- once for Sept. 11,
2001; once for the absence of WMD in Iraq; and
once more for not having enough troops in Iraq.
If he were his own subordinate, he would fire
from the president on down, no one in this administration
ever admits a mistake or concedes having been
wrong. Dick Cheney, whose slogan should be "Wrong
Where It Matters," nonetheless takes to the stump
to lambaste John Kerry. After all, the vice president
is the very man who warned us, assured us, promised
us that we must go to war with Iraq because, among
other things, that nation had an ongoing nuclear
weapons program. None has yet been found -- and
no apology from Cheney has yet been issued. He
was mistaken or dishonest. We await his choice.
his interview with Lehrer, Rumsfeld made the point
that the United States does not have the British
cabinet system or the Japanese culture regarding
shame and accountability. For all the talk about
the buck stopping in this place called "here,"
it usually never stops at all. But demanding resignations
begs the question. It is not heads the American
people want, it is humility.
is what's so lacking in the Bush administration.
The real reason -- the terribly secret reason
-- the administration was oh-so-slow to recognize
the terrorist threat was precisely the quality
so abundant in Rumsfeld: smugness. The Bushies
knew it all. The very fact that the Clinton team
told them to make terrorism job one led them to
denigrate it: What did those Clinton jerks know?
the Bush team had its eye on the ball -- missile
defense and, of course, China and Russia. Missile
defense was considered crucial, and opposition
to this Reagan-era program was deemed both ideological
and shortsighted. But it turned out that the "missiles"
that struck the United States had the logos of
American and United airlines on their fuselages,
and no star wars system could have stopped them.
It would have taken hard spy work and, as they
say, boots on the ground in Afghanistan. It would
have taken a little humility.
quality is precisely what commended the not-terribly-humble
Richard Clarke to many of the Sept. 11 families:
He apologized. He was sorry for what happened
and sorry that his efforts had not somehow managed
to avert a calamity. Lehrer cited Clarke's example
to Rumsfeld, who just didn't get it. In fact,
he recited all the reasons why Sept. 11 was really
not his -- or anyone else in the Bush administration's
-- fault. In spirit, he echoed Bush, who once
said, "Had I known that the enemy was going to
use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning,
I would have done everything in my power to protect
the American people." Yes, and had Custer known
he was attacking so many Indians, he might have
chosen to wash his hair that day instead.
is so perturbing about this administration is
not that no one of note has resigned or been fired
-- and some of them certainty deserve the ax --
but that there is not the slightest hint that
anyone (except Colin Powell) appreciates that
mistakes were made not out of sheer bad luck but
because the assumptions, driven by ideology, were
not missile defense, should have been the top
priority; al Qaeda was and remains the threat,
not Iraq. (That explains why Saddam Hussein is
in jail while bin Laden is still on the loose,
having slipped the noose in Afghanistan because
the Pentagon left the job to locals.) Iraq was
going to be a cakewalk -- the Middle Eastern version
of the liberation of Paris -- and somehow that
has not happened. In another country, some officials
would quit in shame. In this one they can't even
quit being smug.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Posted: April 26, 2004