Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Where's the Black Knight?

I hadn't thought that David Brooks was a Monty Python fan. You probably hadn't, either. Yet there is a distinctly python-esque argument being made by Brooks in his latest NYTimes article.

But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. Anybody who's seen "Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail" knows about the scene with John Cleese as Lancelot and Michael Palin as a king. Cleese just slaughtered half the wedding guests, completely randomly and for no good reason, and Palin (salivating over the prospect of making good with a Knight of the Round Table) says "this is a happy occasion! Let's not get into arguments about who killed who."

Take it away, Brooks:
And for the past 10 days, all of Washington has been kibitzing over the contents of Bob Woodward's latest opus, which largely concerns events that happened between 2001 and 2003. Did President Bush eye somebody else's dinner mint at a meeting? Was Colin Powell in the loop on Iraq? When did Bush ask the Pentagon to draw up war plans?

This is crazy. This is like pausing during the second day of Gettysburg to debate the wisdom of the Missouri Compromise. We're in the midst of the pivotal battle of the Iraq war and le tout Washington decides not to let itself get distracted by the ephemera of current events...

What's going on is obvious. The first duty of proper Washingtonians is to demonstrate that they are smarter than whomever they happen to be talking about. It's quite easy to fulfill this mission when you are talking about the past. It's child's play for a salad-course solon who spent the entire 1990's ignoring foreign affairs to condemn the administration piously for not focusing like a laser beam on Al Qaeda on Aug. 6, 2001.

It's harder to be a smart aleck about the future, especially in regards to Najaf and Falluja, where none of the choices are good ones. Do the Baathists win a victory every day they hold off our siege? Or if we take them out now, do we undermine Sistani? We Klieg Light Kierkegaards will give you the right answer — three years from now, after whatever option the president takes has been judged and found wanting.
"This is a war! We were attacked! Let's not get into an argument about who neglected what!". Just like Palin's, it's a transparent attempt to try to avoid blame (and explanation) for the actions of the past by using the distraction of the present. It's a nice game, because it means you can get away with whatever you want, as long as you wait long enough to claim "that's in the past, it doesn't matter". I'm sure Slobodon Milosovich would like to do the same thing, but that ain't going to fly, either.

(It's also a nice little distraction because there's really nothing official Washington can do about the situation in Iraq. It's a military issue, out of their hands. It's like bringing up the weather, except far safer for a Bush administration that play the old game of making things seem better in the short term, then trust that the long-term damage is forgotten..)

In this case, though, it's particularly perverse, because the books are really addressing the situation that we're in right now. Brooks is dodging around the "why" question, when the entire reason why the Woodward book and the 9/11 commission are important is because they get to the heart of the reason why Iraq has gone so terribly wrong- the tendentiousness and thoughtlessness of this administration and the President it serves. That Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and others neglected Al Qaeda in order to bring about their fever dream of an America-friendly Iraq is obvious enough, but you can't convict without evidence, and these things are evidence. Which David Brooks, and his political masters, desperately don't want people to realize.

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