week the United States Army did the oddest thing
in this Age of Bush: It reprimanded six soldiers
in connection with the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal
-- not for what they did but for not knowing what
others were doing. An Army spokesman put it this
way: "They should have known. . . ." If that's
the standard, then half the Bush administration
will soon be gone.
first to get the accountability ax will be Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He certainly should
have known that a scandal was brewing in Iraqi
prisons, and he should have bothered to read the
Pentagon report detailing what went wrong. Instead,
the Pentagon tried to delay CBS's "60 Minutes
II" from showing pictures of prisoner abuse and
then, in an amazing public relations offensive,
sent the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard
B. Myers, on three Sunday talk shows to announce
-- a little bugle call here -- that he had not
read the report either. It had been available
is almost always the case, the Pentagon did not
tell the State Department that a wee spot of trouble
was coming its way because, as we know, the Pentagon
doesn't tell the State Department anything. Who
cares if a billion or so people in the Islamic
world have a snit? The Bushies hardly do diplomacy
anyway. It's for sissies. At a certain level --
a very high one -- the Bush administration is
as dysfunctional as it is cocky.
if accountability is going to be the new order
of the day, there's no telling where things will
wind up. What will happen to CIA chief George
Tenet, who assured the president that Iraq was
a virtual storehouse of weapons of mass destruction?
It was "a slam dunk," the spy chief said. He should
have known otherwise, but he did not. No matter.
Instead of a reprimand, Bush always expresses
confidence in him and probably has given him a
nickname, Slam Dunk George.
take Condoleezza Rice. Should she have known that
Bush was blowing smoke when he told the nation
that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger?
Yes, indeed. There was no such nuclear program
in Iraq, and it hadn't attempted to make that
uranium purchase. The CIA knew that, yet Bush
said otherwise. Once again, no reprimand. Instead,
she was rewarded with more sleepovers at Camp
about Dick Cheney? He was the leading hawk in
the White House, so anxious to go to war with
Iraq that Secretary of State Colin Powell characterized
him as feverish. The vice president repeatedly
insisted that Iraq had "reconstituted" its nuclear
weapons program. Should he have knownbetter? To
revert to Cheney talk, you betcha.
Rumsfeld have known that stabilizing Iraq would
require more troops than he allotted? Gen. Eric
K. Shinseki had said so, but the Army chief of
staff was brushed aside and treated as an eccentric.
Rummy and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, have known
that U.S. troops might not be universally greeted
with flowers, kisses and donations to the Bush
reelection campaign? It would have been prudent
they have known that Iraqi oil might not cover
the cost of the occupation? Probably. Should they
have had enough troops on the ground to prevent
looting and a general breakdown of law and order?
Well, some might think so -- but not, apparently,
and I can argue the wisdom of going into Iraq
some other time. What is not arguable, I think,
is that the invasion and occupation were marked
every step of the way by incompetence, smugness
and repeated mistakes. Yet the only people to
feel the opprobrium of the White House are those,
such as Richard Clarke or Joseph Wilson, who had
the nerve, the gall, the immense chutzpah to question
new accountability could be a wonderful thing.
It comes a bit late in the game, maybe, and will
almost surely be limited to expendable underlings,
but a supine Congress just might get the idea
and start asking some hard questions about how
things went so bad in Iraq. It might begin with
Rumsfeld and ask him a more pertinent version
of that famous question -- not what did you know
and when did you know itbut why, damn it, didn't
you know it in the first place?
2004 The Washington Post Company
Posted: May 14, 2004