November 30, 2005

Ignatius's Flatulent Fatuity

Hatched by Dafydd

I must confess, I don't particularly follow David Ignatius's column in the Washington Post. A quick romp through some of his archives tells me I haven't missed much: Ignatius appears to be an off-the-shelf anti-Bush liberal in the mold of, say, Joe Biden; not all the way over to Pat Leahy or Ted Kennedy, but definitely farther left than Joe Leiberman. If you know what I mean.

I could have skipped the trip down memory lane and learned everything I needed to know about Ignatius from today's column, linked by Power Line's Paul Mirengoff: "Rice's Rising Star." Paul boils it down to saying that "if Colin Powell didn't exist, the MSM, in conjuction with the State Department, would have to invent him." He's right, as usual; Ignatius's piece simply simpers over the little nuggets that he thinks indicates Condoleezza Rice is more Kissingeresque than Wolfowitzian (the nuggets are carefully plucked from a bucket that contains a lot of contrary indicators, but no matter). But I think it's worse than that: with its evasiveness, misleading implications, and downright fabrications, it reminds me of the worst of -- well, of Robert Fisk of the inaptly named Independent in the U.K.

Let's dive in, shall we?

While President Bush continues to talk about "staying the course" in Iraq, the nation's top diplomats and military commanders have in fact been changing the course this year to fit changing circumstances. They are planning on significant reductions of U.S. troops once a permanent Iraqi government is chosen in the Dec. 15 elections.

Now, what could the implication of this bit be? I suppose what Ignatius means is that when Bush says "stay the course" he means "never make even the slightest change in troop levels, deployment, personnel, location, mission, or diet. Everything in stasis. Nothing can ever change. Ten years from now, we'll have the same troop level... in fact, the very same soldiers! Nobody will even be allowed to visit the toilet."

I suppose that must be what Ignatius takes from the phrase "stay the course," because elsewise, the predicate would be a grand non-sequitur. I'm not sure what is Mr. Ignatius's native tongue, but the univerally accepted definition of "stay the course" allows for "slighly changing the course to fit changing circumstances, so long as you're not making an inexplicable U-turn in the middle of the road." Similarly, if you're driving along Glendale Avenue, and I tell you to "stay the course," you are still allowed to turn your steering wheel sufficiently to follow the street as it bends; and you can even stop at red lights along the way.

The real question is whether "planning on significant reductions of U.S. troops once a permanent Iraqi government is chosen in the Dec. 15 elections" is or is not the very course that Bush set upon in the first place. In Bush's speech to the Anapolis midshipmen today, he said "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." This phrase caused a slight shiver of déjà-vu... has he ever said that before?

August 2005: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

June 2005: Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

February 2005, State of the Union Address: We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.

(He should have just thought of saying "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" last February; he could have saved himself a lot of wind.)

I must say, that seems pretty consistent to me, Dave. Almost like, I don't know, staying the course.

What is intriguing is that the administration's emerging position isn't all that different from the critique offered last week by Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden. Both are talking about cutting U.S. troop strength, relying on Iraqi security forces and brokering a compromise among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Aha, Ignatius has latched onto the dirty, little secret of the Bush administration: the president always looks to Joe Biden for a lead! I'm not sure how exactly this fits into the timeline above; what was Joe Biden (D-DE) saying about our Iraq strategy prior to the State of the Union address nearly a year ago?

On the other hand, I suppose we should consider the faint possibility that the arrow of causality may point the other direction... that Joe Biden (and John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, and all the other Democrats who still make some effort not to appear as mad as a hatter) simply parrots the current Bush agenda -- but whines a lot about it. I'm sure there must be some other explanation, however; one certainly wouldn't expect as distinguished a statesman as Joseph Biden to plagiarize someone else's thoughts.

Rice stands at the intersection of the Iraq debate. Watching her try to find a balance among Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, not to mention Democrats and Republicans, I am reminded that in her younger days, she was a figure skater.

Another illuminating metaphor from Captain Left-Turn. But what is its purpose?

The Gaza agreement was Rice's first real "Kissingerian" moment, and in some of her public comments, she's sounding like a realist in the Kissinger-Scowcroft tradition. The idealistic, belligerent approach of the neoconservatives isn't much in evidence in her State Department.

Oddly, it's also not much in evidence among the neoconservatives. One mostly finds an "idealistic, belligerent approach" among left-liberals in academe, Hollywood, and at the mainstream media... particularly in op-ed columns in the Washington Post.

Colleagues say that she's running the department with confidence and that she's as good at administering her own agency as she was bad at coordinating interagency disputes when she was national security adviser.

Do these "colleagues" give any examples of the latter? How did Condi stack up to, say, Sandy? With colleagues like these....

Oh, wait. I get it: the "colleagues" Ignatius means are his own co-workers at the Post. Foolish me.

Bush doesn't do nuance on foreign policy, but that's not so at Rice's State Department.

Bush appointed Rice and evidently is happy with her "nuance." Do I detect a faint whiff of "Smirky the Wonder Chimp"-ism from Mr. I? Any "nuance" emanating from Bush's foreign policy must of course come from the dame, not from the president.

The Bush-is-a-moron meme is so usefully self-referential: because Bush is a moron, any cleverness in his policies comes naturally from the cabinet official, not Bush; but lo! If the president can't even define his own policies, doesn't that prove that he's a moron after all?

This reminds me of the passage in Mark Twain's wonderful account in Roughing It; but nothing else of this column reminds me of great literature. Twain visited Salt Lake City and obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon. The book professes to be "AN ACCOUNT WRITTEN BY THE HAND OF MORMON, UPON PLATES TAKEN FROM THE PLATES OF NEPHI" (the caps are Twain's). And if that is not sufficient pedigree, the testimony of three witnesses is attached. Twain responds:

Some people have to have a world of evidence before they can come anywhere in the neighborhood of believing anything; but for me, when a man tells me that he has "seen the engravings which are upon the plates," and not only that, but an angel was there at the time, and saw him see them, and probably took his receipt for it, I am very far on the road to conviction, no matter whether I ever heard of that man before or not, and even if I do not know the name of the angel, or his nationality either.

Following which is yet another testimonial, this time by eight more witnesses who testify to the veracity of the first boxed set of three witnesses. A total of eleven witnesses (five of them Whitmers) to say they've seen the plates -- which subsequently vanished. Twain again:

And when I am far on the road to conviction, and eight men, be they grammatical or otherwise, come forward and tell me that they have seen the plates too; and not only seen those plates but "hefted" them, I am convinced. I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.

I think that's the proper approach to take when reading a new column by David Ignatius (did he change his name from Whitmer?) -- make sure you have three witnesses to testify to its veracity... say, Robert Scheer, Paul Krugman, and Gore Vidal. Then scrounge up eight more assorted editors of the Nation, the New Republic, and Mother Jones. And ensure that the original manuscript of the column is inscribed on copper plates that subsequently stroll off.

At that point, even I would be prepared to believe it!

Back to the Angel Ignatius:

Rice's biggest test as secretary of state will be Iran, the center of the volcano that has been shaking the Middle East for the past 30 years. Here again she is pursuing a policy more nuanced than administration rhetoric might suggest. While maintaining a hard line toward the mullahs in Tehran, she is also trying to draw Iran into a network of cooperation on regional security issues.

There he goes again. Is there anybody in the room buying this idea of Condi Rice, Rogue Secretary? (Or should that be Rouge Secretary?) Does anybody truly believe that she's out there, on her own, with no controlling legal authority -- some starkly beautiful but mad concatenation of Al Gore and Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now? I stir. I shift in my seat. I grow restive.

Rice has authorized her ambassadors in Iraq and Afghanistan to meet with their Iranian counterparts to discuss overlapping interests.

She didn't order them killed and eaten? Where was her neocon mind?

In an administration that has been in the doldrums lately, to put it mildly, Rice has been an unusual success story. The figure skater who learned to stay upright on a thin blade is gliding into a perilous new year as the problems of Iraq, Iran and Syria converge.

Aha, now I see why this strained metaphor was used earlier: so it could be used again later, producing equal gibberish. But familiar gibberish we remember from way earlier in the column. Alas, he didn't tell us a third time; if he had, then under the Snark rule, we should be obliged to believe it.

Does she truly speak for this administration on foreign policy? Can she make the Iraq balancing act work? The next few months will give us the measure of the Bush administration's second-term star.

Does David Ignatius truly speak for the quality of columnists in this once great newspaper? Can he figureskate the fine line between vague and vacuous without taking a spill onto the ice of absurdity? Will one more metaphor chill the entire discussion, leaving us wrecked on the rocks?

The problem with this entire column is that it seems vague but is in fact meaningless. The entire piece could be boiled down to Ignatius's fervant desire to see Bride of Powell in the State Department. But even Colin Powell wasn't the Colin Powell that Ignatius remembers: whatever Powell might have done behind the scenes, arguing for delay, inaction, and passivity, in public he always stood up and saluted when the president gave him his marching orders.

Condoleezza Rice is far closer to George W. Bush than Colin Powell ever was, and he is likely closer to the president and his vision than any head of State in my lifetime. She is not just close politically but has been a personal friend, almost part of the family, for years. She is certainly closer than Madeleine Albright was to Bill Clinton or George Schultz and Al Haig were to Ronald Reagan. James Baker did mangle a couple of George H.W. Bush's failed political campaigns, but surely Baker was no closer to Bush than to the many other Republicans whose campaigns he mangled. And Warren Christopher is not close to anybody, except perhaps Keith Richards, from whom he was evidently separated at birth.

Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance were not exactly buddies before 1977; likewise for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Dean Rusk was a career State Department man when Kennedy tapped him in 1960, and he stayed on through the Johnson administration; doesn't appear to have been close to either man.

Nope, as far as the best-buddies sweepstakes between presidents and their secretaries of state, Condi Rice and George Bush are it. To imagine that she is "growing in office" and defying President Bush is just cracked: to the extent that she is carrying out more diplomatic policies than she did as National Security Advisor, that simply reflects Bush's own decision, not hers.

Mr. Ignatius, like the brother in the poem, seems to have forgotten an important (if sore) point: the president's "kitchen cabinet" these days simply reflects the whim of the man in the Oval Office -- whoever he is. Gone are the days of William Henry Seward, who conducted his own foreign and military policy as Lincoln's secretary of state, often completely at odds with that of the president. Whatever Condi does is done for the good of the country, as determined by George W. Bush. And if David Ignatius thinks different, he had better tend more to his fiction than his "fact."

From deep 'neath the crypt of St. Giles,
Came a shriek that resounded for miles;
The vicar said "gracious!
Has Brother Ignatius
Forgotten the bishop has piles?"


(And now, having thoroughly alienated all LDS and Catholic readers, and having completed the sequence by admitting I ate bacon this morning, I lay down my pen. Keyboard. Whatever.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 30, 2005, at the time of 10:04 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Eg

Absolutely amazing!! Here I'd been thinking the Dem's were quick in their feeble attempts to rewrite history...well...they've certainly got nothing on exempt media.

Either that or both the Dem's and our media need to have everything - and I mean everything - carefully spelled out to them, like pre-school children with already recognized learning disabilities.

I’ve gotten to the point of being…well, almost…embarrassed for them. With the challenges we’re about to face in the very near future, I’m going to suggest that they annex a few acres across the Potomac and put in a large play ground; then bus the Dem’s and Washington’s media over each morning - so they can play on the swings and jungle-gyms during the day.

The above hissed in response by: Eg [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 1, 2005 2:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

Da Plan Da Plan! National Strategy for Victory in Iraq

Tatoo is hollering Da Plan, Da Plan Lots of strident voices have been raised, demanding Da Plan. Well here it is. The full document is a 38 page pdf file. Below is the Executive Summary. Enjoy. It's not Fantasy Island, it's The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq">

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 1, 2005 8:34 AM

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