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Sunday, September 26, 2004

 
Chain of Command Book review, pt. 2: Regime Change



'There are many who believe George Bush is a liar, a President who knowingly and deliberately twists facts for political gain. But lying would indicate an understanding of what is desired, what is possible, and how best to get there. A more plausible explanation is that words have no meaning for this President beyond the immediate moment, and so he believes that his mere utterance of the phrases makes them real. It is a terrifying possibility.' [Seymour Hersh, "Chain of Command," pg. 367]



Hersh, who documented so well Nixon's lies in "Price of Power", is one of the few people in a position to actually make that judgement. Those of us who view "Price of Power" as a statement about Nixon (and Kissinger) the man therefore may take Hersh's assessment seriously. While Hersh has a reputation as a "muckraker", he's extremely well-qualified and well-sourced to do it, and as a result his writing reveals much more than just stories about people exercising poor judgement. His books tend to flesh out the intangibles of a person's character that are really only visible through that person's judgements and actions. Since the Bush administration is one of the most secretive in U.S. history, that's sort of judgement's been hard to make. Until now, we've had to rely on a carefully scripted and polished public presentation of Bush and his administration. Now, we have the behind-the-scenes history of U.S. dealings with the world since 9/11. As the paragraph quoted above indicates, this history is not very flattering to Bush.

One of the major themes in "Chain of Command" is the lack of control Bush seems to have over the bureaucracy. It appears that he's ceeded large swaths of decisionmaking power to his cabinet officials, especially in the Pentagon. Among these, several have simply not done their job. The most glaring example of this is Condelezza Rice, who should be exercising more control over the various agencies that fall under her stewardship, but whose bickering has endangered many lives and led to numerous operational blunders in the War on Terrorism.

The lack of leadership from our leaders has left America in an extremely precarious position. Or, to quote Robert Gallucci:


'"We haven't been this vulnerable since the British burned Washington in 1814."' [ibid, pg. 311]


The Bush Administration is portrayed here as inexperienced, ideologically rigid, and dangerously incompetent in dealing with the threats that now face the United States. The failure to contain Pakistan's proliferation efforts, the burning of bridges with Syria, the narrow focus on getting politically valuable targets while ignoring the necessary groundwork to actually win in Afghanistan and Iraq, the airlift of high-level Pakistani ISI and Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership out of the Tora Bora region -- all these point to an administration that is too concerned with its own skin to make the tough decisions necessary to win wars. While none of these are easy situations to deal with, the Bush Administration has consistently ignored the advice of the most respected and knowledgable professionals inside and outside of government. The Administration has done this in pursuit of its goals, whether those be Rumsfeld's insistence that the war in Iraq could be fought with mostly Special Forces and airpower, or whether ideological opposition to Syria precluded the U.S. from receiving valuable intelligence about Al-Qaeda.

When I first started reading "Chain of Command", I though the title was rather odd as I'd been under the impression that it would mostly be about the abuse at Abu-Ghraib. While there is much about Abu-Ghraib in the opening chapter, it doesn't pop up again until the very end of the book. This might be confusing to some who are looking for a clearly-defined storyline to follow, and Hersh's story tends to jump around. To be sure, most of the writing here is a compendium of Hersh's articles in the New Yorker from the last few years. Since those were written as seperate pieces, it is understandably difficult to draw them together into a coherent narrative. So, do not read "Chain of Command" and expect to get an a through z story that culminates in the Abu-Ghraib abuses. Instead, it is best to view it as an alternative (and much more realistic) account of Bush Administration's dealings with the rest of the world since it took office. I should note, though, that the Bush Administration isn't the only one that dropped the ball. Clinton's administration also made several key mistakes, such as not pursuing U.S. intelligence assets in Afghanistan and continually sidestepping Pakistan's proliferation efforts, that contributed to the current state of the world.

Therefore, "Chain of Command" is the story of how the U.S. government has been hijacked by a few ideologically motivated individuals. The results of their policies are the current scandals and quagmires that endanger the United State's security. Therefore, as Hersh points out in his Epilogue, there needs to be a change in administration.


A quick note: Some of you may have noticed that I included in the title of Part 1 a reference to "racism". Hersh touches on this briefly, noting that the second-class status of arab immigrants in Europe contributes to their radicalization. I've been mulling it over, and I think it's appropriate to say that the label "terrorist" is often applied with racial overtones attached. The ANC were "terrorists", so labeled by the Apartheid government of South Africa and its supporters in the U.S. I'd originally planned to weave that theme more into my review of the book, but since Hersh doesn't touch on it much after that brief mention I decided that it wouldn't be appropriate. However, I do think racism plays a role in the U.S. in determining who, exactly, is a "terrorist" and not just an "extremist" or a "fundamentalist". Since I've also been reading Joseph Lelyveld's book "Move Your Shadow" recently, I've seen echoes of anti-terrorist rhetoric in South Africa's justification for the Apartheid system. There's a synergy of sorts in reading these two books at the same time that poses some interesting questions, but since it's outside the scope of Hersh's book, I've included that discussion here instead of in the main body of the review.

Andrew 10:41 PM : |



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