Thursday, June 02, 2005

Some Disassembly Required

The New York Times' Bob Herbert beat me to the punch today with his column "Truth and Deceit." (Maybe that explains why Bob's writing for The Times and I’m not.)

In the column, Bob compares the Nixon White House to the Bush administration--Vietnam/Watergate versus Iraq/Intelligence-gate. I may not have anything of significance to add to Bob's comments, but I'll give it a try.

I have no idea what Mark Felt's real motivations were in helping Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein break the Watergate story, or why he chose now to come out of the closet.

But I have a pretty good idea what his detractors are up to.

Former Nixon Speech writer Pat Buchanan blasted Felt, calling him a "traitor," among other things, and blaming him for bringing down the Nixon administration. Pat makes no mention of the things the Nixon administration did to bring itself down.

Convicted Watergate conspirator Charles W. Colson said, "When any president has to worry whether the deputy director of the FBI is sneaking around in dark corridors peddling information in the middle of the night, he's in trouble." Colson ignores the fact that what got Nixon in trouble was having his henchmen sneaking around the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the middle of the night.

And G. Gordon Liddy, another convicted conspirator, said Felt had "violated the ethics of the law enforcement profession" by taking his information outside legal channels. The G-Man didn't bring up the ethics violations committed by then FBI Chief Patrick Gray and attorney general John Mitchell when they passively and/or actively assisted in the cover-up.

What we have here is the classic GOP deny-and-accuse brainwash tactic that began in the Nixon administration and survives to this day. The people who committed the crimes take the moral high ground and condemn the whistle blowers.


Little surprise that the key figures in the Bush White House got their political starts in the Nixon administration, or that they've continued to hone the tactics they learned in that era.

The overwhelming burden of evidence shows that the Iraq invasion was decided upon by the Project for a New American Century cabal long before George W. Bush threw his hat into the ring for the GOP presidential nomination. We know that the intelligence on Iraq was shaped--largely by former members of the PNAC--to support the nomination. We know that Donald Rumsfeld ignored advice of senior military officers who cautioned that a quarter million or more troops would be needed to restore order to an ethnically, religiously, and politically divided Iraq. And we know that prison abuses in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq resulted from policy decisions made at the highest levels of our government.

We know this largely because of former and current government officials who "leaked" information to the free press.

Three decades ago, similar revelations brought and end to a corrupt, dishonest administration. But a funny thing is happening today. The administration is blaming its own misdeeds, mistakes, and miscalculations on "disgruntled turncoats" and the "irresponsible media." The sad part is, they appear to be getting away with it. A significant portion of the public seems perfectly willing to blame everything on the messengers and to absolve the perpetrators of all sins.

Why is this happening? I can think of two possible reasons.

We may have evolved into a nation of pasture grazers--a society of followers who would rather believe anything our leaders tell us than see through their "disassembly," and who obediently take out our frustrations on whatever scapegoats our leaders herd us toward.


We may have developed a lamentable but necessary pragmatism. Even many of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq and who are appalled at our leaders' mishandling of it believe our country's best course of action is to make what we can of a bad situation. Abandoning Iraq now would most likely lead to a civil war that would spread beyond Iraq's borders, making the Middle East a more chaotic and dangerous region than it was before.

My guess is that most of us fall into one camp or the other, and that some of us have a foot in both.

Wherever you fall in this spectrum, keep one thing in mind. If this Iraq excursion turns out badly, it won't be the fault of the media, or the Clintons, or China, or those who voiced opposition to the administration's policies and actions. It will be the fault of the bad men who started the war on bad pretexts and ran it badly.


James Corum's "War From the Top Down" in today's NYT is good reading for all students of the counter-insurgency problem in Iraq. Corum closes with:

"Counterinsurgency is not rocket science--which is unfortunate because America would be good at it if it were. A successful counterinsurgency strategy requires a return to military basics, especially well-trained officers. Unless we provide Iraq with good leadership, our plan to spread democracy, which looked so close to victory two years ago, will end in defeat."




  1. Excellent post, Jeff. I think too that part of the reason Team Bush has gotten away with so much deceit -- leading to thousands of deaths! -- on top of the fact that those doing the bad deeds cut their teeth during the Nixon era and are master manipulators -- that a lot of Americans simply don't like looking bad. They'd rather turn a blind eye and deny wrong-doing than admit that their government, their country, is fucking up the world, because to admit it is to become complicit... They're like the alcoholic who hates hearing the next morning, "You won't believe what you did last night..."

  2. Cap,

    I hate to think of a future where some of us will have to defend ourselves by saying, "But I was a good American."

    Thanks for stopping in and chatting.


  3. One clarification - I don't think Nixon 'had his henchmen sneaking around.' He found out about the bugging of the phone at Watergate after it happened (they were bugging the phone to get hard evidence the Dems were bringing hookers in for delegates?). Nixon could have prevented what followed by holding the people who did it accountable. Instead, he tried to cover it up. That was the big mistake he made.

  4. Okay, his henchmen were sneaking around behind his back in the middle of the night.

    Characterizing Nixon's subsequent actions as a cover-up is an enormous understatement--he had his fingers everywhere in the justice department, trying to block the investigation.

    At the end of the day, there was a lot more dirt on the Nixon gang than just breaking into the DNC HQ.


  5. Jeff:

    Yeah, it was a major cover-up, with Nixon having his peopletry anything to block the investigation. Felt did exactly the right thing. G. Gordon Liddy's comment about going through proper channels is ridiculous, because Felt's boss at the FBI was knee-deep in helping the Nixon administration. So who, in the proper channels, was Felt going to go to? There wasn't anyone.

    He did exactly the right thing, and the people who are criticizing Felt are way off base. I've heard all kinds of nuts calling in to political talk shows to take pot shots at the guy, rather than deal with the underlying scandal.

  6. That, to me, is the frightening part, Scott--the number of people who fall for this deny-and-blame tactic.

    In context of what the Nixon administration did, it really doesn't matter why Felt did what he did or why he did it the way he chose to.

    I've made this point before, but I'll make it again:

    Blaming Felt for the fall of the administration is like your teenage son, caught shoplifting, saying "Timmy's the one who snitched on me, blame him."

    People who wouldn't tolerate this from their kids are willing to accept it from their elected officials.


  7. And how about Liddy on every mofo talk show blasting Felt and not one interviewer, like Chris Matthews, calling Liddy on his own involvement in watergate, asking Liddy about *his* prison time for his involvement in watergate. not one follow up. not one probing question. just blast felt and call him a traitor and responsible for the US's loss in viet nam. it fucking makes me want to screeaaammmmm!

    revisionist history, alive and well in the USA.

  8. Yeah. And hey, tough guy, that Chris Matthews, huh?

    Another talking head goes on my permanent "slob" list.


  9. Matthews has always been lame in interviews. I can't stand him.