Like the pendulum of a syncopated clock, the Democratic Party oscillates irregularly between the only two issues its core cares about: abortion and discrediting the war in Iraq. Because the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito has been delayed until January, the usual suspects are lining up to demand the carving of Karl, the kicking of Dick, and the dumping of Don, all for failures, real or imagined, about Iraq.
Karl Rove's failure, of course, was in not being indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald two weeks ago. Nevertheless, say many Beltway insiders, the president should ask Rove to leave because, well, just because. The president's opponents want his administration to unravel, and -- Eleanor Clift is, apparently, the first to speak it publicly -- for Mr. Bush to be shamed in the same manner as the media's ultimate darling, Lil' Billy, was: by impeachment. As Clift writes in Newsweek, quoting either her inner self or an unnamed source,
Impeachment seems a bridge too far, but when the question was posed to a former senior member of the law-enforcement community, he didn't dismiss it out of hand. "Not at this stage," he told Newsweek, "but there are three more years left to this administration, and I can see it unraveling."
It's not going to unravel unless it tosses aside its key leaders: the Grumpy Old Guys. Rove isn't going anywhere (unless Fitzgerald strikes again). And neither are Dick or Don, because they are doing very well in managing a war in America's defense.
Last Wednesday, the Washington Post's Dana Priest reported that the CIA -- under authority granted by the White House -- was secretly holding and interrogating a number of terrorist suspects in prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. As Priest wrote, "Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "'waterboarding,' in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning." And, of course, Vice President Cheney is the villain of the piece because, as Priest reported, he and CIA Director Porter Goss asked Congress to exempt CIA employees from the McCain amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would restrict interrogation methods used on terrorist prisoners to those in the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. By week's end, Mr. Cheney was the subject of editorial cartoons portraying innocents locked away forever in secret jails. Fortunately for us, the VP has it right and -- surprise, surprise -- the WaPo has it wrong. Horribly wrong.
First, the misbegotten McCain amendment is opposed by the vice president, Mr. Rumsfeld, and Mr. Goss for many good reasons. It prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody, but fails to define those incredibly loose terms. Instead of trying to do so, it punts: McCain's amendment refers to the UN Convention Against Torture ("CAT") and U.S. reservations and declarations accompanying our agreement to it. But the U.S. reservations on signing the CAT -- which, by our Constitutional law limit our obligation to abide by it -- simply say that Article 16 of CAT (the one that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment) is not self-executing (i.e., has to be implemented by new law.)
Going into CAT, the reader discovers -- as the Congressional Research Service finds in its analysis of U.S. implementation of CAT -- CAT doesn't define those terms either. So what the McCain amendment does is precisely the opposite of what it purportedly intends to do. Instead of defining clearly how prisoners can be treated, it injects undefined terms that leave interrogators completely at the mercy of second-guessers in Congress, the courts and the media. Is waterboarding forbidden? Is taking a prisoner's Koran away for a time as punishment cruel and inhuman? Are sleep deprivation or the use of psychotropic drugs that do no lasting harm -- both of which are permitted by U.S. law absent the McCain amendment -- to be illegal? If the McCain amendment becomes law, no one will know until the first intelligence interrogator is tried and either found innocent or sent to jail.
The only sensible conclusion is that Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld and Goss are opposing a law that will hamper -- perhaps fatally -- our ability to gather intelligence from terrorist prisoners. And they are not only correct to do so, they are performing an essential service to our nation in this war. They are not torturers or advocates of torture. They're trying to win the damned war in accordance with our laws and trying to avoid officious intermeddling by those who, though their intentions may be honorable, are entirely unwilling to listen to reason. Which brings us back to the Big Dog.
The perpetual chorus of criticism of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is now joined by those who should know better, such as Bill O'Reilly, who apparently believe the Big Dog has grown too tired to do his job. Others, eager to prove Iraq a failure, point to the slow progress in "Iraqification," in destroying the Iraq insurgency, in the services' difficulty in recruiting, and everything else that has gone wrong since 9-11. And they are, as they have been consistently, wrong.
The "tired" SECDEF, to those who work with him, is still the Pentagon equivalent of the "Energizer bunny." If he's grown too tired to do the job, he's hiding it mighty well. The progress of training Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country is slow, but much more successful than it was in Vietnam (which, as I recall, was a war we lost. Ask Vichy John Kerry about that). The success is attributable to the fact that Rumsfeld has insisted that the Iraqis not only be trained, but that they be trained to train themselves. You can't take an Iraqi soldier -- inexperienced or otherwise -- and expect him to become, in only a few months, as expert in training others as the average Marine D.I. It will take many more months, perhaps years, to create the kind of self-sustaining forces that Rumsfeld demands the Iraqis become. But if we don't, Iraq will fall apart as quickly as South Vietnam did the moment American forces withdrew. Rumsfeld's willingness to take the heat on this -- despite being whipsawed by everyone from Congress and the media to Army oldthink devotees in the Pentagon -- proves redundantly the effectiveness of his leadership.
The oldthinkers -- including some, such as distinguished war correspondent Joe Galloway -- seem to think that the only way to save the Army is to bring it home and reorganize it regardless of the consequences to the war. I have had one such, a retired colonel for whom I hold the utmost respect, say just that. It's nonsense. Rumsfeld knows, and consequently so does the president, that the services have to be reformed while the war is being fought. And that is just what's going on. The services aren't going to be "broken," but they will be transformed even while in combat if their civilian leaders, especially Rumsfeld, are allowed to lead.
And that is what winning this war requires. Rove, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are providing the kind of leadership we must have if we're going to win not just in Iraq, but in the global war against terrorists and the nations that support them. Grumpy old guys such as they will get this job done. And if the media gag on the GOGs, so much the better.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).