LOSING THE WAR THE RUMSFELDIAN WAY….I guess one way of viewing Don Rumsfeld’s speech to the American Legion yesterday is that it was nothing more than garden variety election-year political pandering. Iowa farmers want to hear you swear undying fealty to ethanol subsidies and WWII vets want to hear paeans to blood and guts. Usually, they both get what they want.

Alternatively, and more persuasively, it’s one of the opening shots in the ongoing Dr. Strangelove-ification of this year’s midterms. In the same way that TV shows have to become ever more violent and risque in order to shock audiences who have seen it all before, Republicans must figure that the only way to make the terrorism card pay off yet again is to amp up the wingnuttery for an obviously skeptical and jaded public. And since terrorism is all they’ve got, that’s what they’re going to do. What other choice do they have?

However, at the risk of being suckered into responding to something that’s obviously meant as little more than crude base pandering, let’s take a look at one thing Rumsfeld said. In between the counterculture bashing that brought back memories of William Safire speeches written for Spiro Agnew, Rumsfeld asked this:

With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?

Why, no, we can’t. And needless to say, no one believes this. Not Democrats, not Republicans, not anybody. Osama and his pals are fanatics, and negotiating with fanatics is pointless.

But Rumsfeld’s speech was never meant to be taken seriously. It’s just crude agitprop designed to keep the proles from wondering if the Cheney wing of the Republican Party is actually doing anything to make the world a safer place. The question has never been whether we should open talks with al-Qaeda, it’s been what we should do to stop them from killing us. Should we fight a war in Iraq that’s served primarily as a recruiting bonanza for radical jihadism? Should we refuse to talk to the Middle East’s biggest regional power because we think that merely being in the same room with them is a sign of weakness? Should we encourage Israel to fight a fruitless war against Lebanon while simultaneously egging on American hawks who think a bombing campaign against Iran will fix all our problems? Should we spend homeland defense money on dumb projects in loyal red states instead of taking port security seriously?

Let’s see. How about no, no, no, and no? But those are questions Rumsfeld would prefer not to address since they put the spotlight on the fact that the Bush administration has accomplished nothing over the past five years except to make a bad problem even worse ? which is a pretty remarkable record when you consider how bad the problem was to begin with.

But al-Qaeda won’t be beaten by fighting a bunch of aimless proxy wars in the general vicinity of the Middle East. It will, eventually, be beaten when the non-terrorist population of the region decides to turn against al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies and deny them the support and shelter they need in order to function. Encouraging that to happen is the biggest foreign policy challenge of the 21st century, and because they’ve failed so miserably at it, it’s the one thing the Bushies most want to avoid talking about.

Which is, of course, precisely why we should talk about it. Loudly and relentlessly. It’s good policy and good politics.

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