Political Animal



This morning a reporter asked Donald Rumsfeld if we would go to war without Britain. He said:

To the extent they are able to participate — in the event that the president decides to use force — that would obviously be welcomed. To the extent they’re not, there are work-arounds and they would not be involved, at least in that phase…

Now, to Americans this seemed like just another case of good old straight shooting Don Rumsfeld. After all, there’s been a lot of news about backbench rebellion in the Labor Party, ministers resigning if Tony Blair commits troops without UN approval, and Blair’s stress-induced ill health, so it’s only natural that the Pentagon is planning what to do if Britain does indeed decide to pull out of the coalition.

But the real story here is how Rumsfeld’s comments show once again the Bush administration’s almost pathological inability to understand how other people are going to react to what they say. In Britain, Rumsfeld’s remarks caused a firestorm and were the lead story at the Times, the Telegraph, the Independent, and the Guardian ? and probably every other newspaper and television broadcast as well. A few hours later, after frantic transatlantic calls, Rumsfeld backtracked and said he had “no doubt” of the full support of Great Britain.

What a way to help the only ally you’ve got. Blair’s situation is already dicey enough, and Rumsfeld’s comments have potentially provided just the nudge needed to cause Blair to lose the support of his own party.

Every time one of these guys opens his mouth we lose another ally, and when this is all over it may turn out that their bungling in Turkey was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. We lost the vote in Turkey by three votes, and this in turn probably demonstrated enough weakness to convince France and Russia to stand firm in their opposition to war. That in turn has sent Britain scrambling, and while we can surely prosecute the war on our own, the loss of both Turkey and Britain could delay the invasion long enough to allow even more opposition to develop. It’s still unlikely that anything will stop Bush from going to war, but at this point it’s at least possible.

And all because nobody in the administration can keep their damn mouths shut. It’s like watching a bunch of posturing teenagers in a schoolyard. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Bizarrely enough, Andrew Sullivan is on the same page as me. How likely is that?

FATHERLY ADVICE?….I’ve been getting a

FATHERLY ADVICE?….I’ve been getting a bunch of emails about George Bush Sr.’s speech at Tufts University along with pointers to additional stories, and it now seems even odder than it did yesterday. Here’s the basic timeline:

  • February 26: Bush Sr. gives his speech. The full text is here, and the Q&A is here. The next day it is reported rather straightforwardly by the Boston Globe as a speech that defends Bush Sr.’s record in Gulf War I and supports Bush Jr.’s approach to the upcoming war.

  • March 9: For no apparent reason, two weeks later Walter Pincus writes up the speech in the Washington Post and suggests that Bush Sr. “appears to have used a recent speech to send a subtle message to his son about the importance of maintaining multilateral relationships.”

  • March 10: Roland Watson of the London Times picks up the story, but in his hands it morphs into an “unmistakeable” message to Bush Jr. and an “ominous warning” about the danger of ignoring the UN. This is an especially odd spin since the Times is a conservative, pro-war newspaper.

  • March 11: Salon publishes a piece by Jake Tapper about the different diplomatic styles of Bush Sr. and Jr. That’s pretty standard fare, but Tapper also mentions the Tufts speech, saying that Bush Sr. “illustrated that the priorities that mattered to him are, shall we say, a tad less important to his son, including maintaining an international coalition behind a move against a sovereign country.”

What the heck is going on? For two weeks after the speech there was virtually no coverage at all, and now three stories in three days suddenly pick it up and suggest that it was actually a warning from father to son. Is this (a) just a coincidence? Or (b) did Pincus decide on his own to speculate a bit and the other two picked up on it? Or (c) did someone close to Bush Sr. call a few reporters and tell them that they missed the real story behind the speech?

UPDATE: Henry Farrell has some similar comments. Which I suppose isn’t surprising since we’ve been emailing each other about this all afternoon….

TORTURE….Here are a few practices

TORTURE….Here are a few practices that were once rather widespread and unremarkable but that are now considered entirely taboo in America and the rest of the developed world:

  • Torture

  • Slavery

  • Forced sterilization

  • Children working 12-hour days running a steam-powered loom

You can add your own favorites to this list, but the point is this: taboos define us a civilization. They are things that we recognize as beyond the pale, things that define us as monsters if we cross the line.

If torture is acceptable because it can sometimes be useful, then why not slavery? Or child labor? Or any of a host of other potentially useful but odious practices? Because this is not who we are. Torturing a terrorist might indeed produce a small amount of useful information, but for every bit of information it produces, it turns a thousand potential followers against us. It’s a Faustian bargain, and it’s a bad one.

We will win the battle against terrorism by drying up the terrorists’ recruiting pool, and we will do that by consistently demonstrating that our vision of humanity is superior to theirs. Torture is not the way to do that. It belongs to days long past, and that’s where it should stay.

UPDATE: And for anyone who thinks a “little bit” of torture might be OK, this post by Jonathan Edelstein demonstrates graphically what a slippery slope it really is.


HOW FAR WILL THE FRENCH GO?….Steven Den Beste continues his long, lonely journey to complete lunacy. Today he’s worried about continuing French opposition to our war and asks:

Do they see the stakes as being high enough so that they might actually threaten to nuke us?

It’s hardly even funny to mock him any more. He really needs to seek professional help.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy blogged about this too and ended up with this exchange in his comments:

Narniaman: I think you’re misrepresenting his case. He’s stating worse case scenarios, they don’t have to be completely plausible. Stranger things have happened.

Kieran: Stranger things have happened than France nuking the United States? Want to give any examples? The famous rain of frogs in Posset-on-the-Wye in 1537, maybe?

We are now officially in through-the-looking-glass-land.