Friday, May 14, 2004

Sour Krauthammer

We already knew that Charles Krauthammer is an ethically vacuous dissembler prone to fits of bizarre narcissism and projection. So perhaps this latest column should not come as a big surprise.

But still.

Here, check it out:
The Abu Ghraib Panic

Democrats calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation invoke the principle of ministerial responsibility: a Cabinet secretary must take ultimate responsibility for what happens on his watch. Interesting idea. Where was it in 1993 when the attorney general of the United States ordered the attack on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, which ended in the deaths of 76 people?

Janet Reno went to Capitol Hill and said, "It was my decision, and I take responsibility." This was met with approving swoons and applause. Was she made to resign? No. And remember: This was over an action that did not just happen on her watch but that she ordered -- an action that resulted in the deaths of, among others, more than 20 children.

Well. Where to start, where to start.

How about by first pointing out that unlike Janet Reno, Secretary Rumsfeld has deflected all blame onto lower-ranking military personnel, while even leaving intact such walking disaster areas as Stephen Cambone, Jerry Boykin and Peter Schoomaker. Reno, in contrast, actually offered her resignation, but it was refused by President Clinton. (Her real mistake, it must be said, was in not firing Louis Freeh -- the Bush pere holdover whose poor oversight was at the core of the disaster.)

As for the notion that Reno's response was "met with approving swoons and applause," the rality is that a number of Republicans in Congress in 1993-94 did call for Reno to resign over Waco. These House members were considered part of the "far right" contingent, but their increasing empowerment by the GOP establishment was clear when more than a few of them (e.g., Bob Barr) could be seen parading before the Senate as members of the House impeachment committee in 1999.

It's useful, too, to recall the reaction from the far right, which began referring to Reno as "the baby-burning Witch of Waco" and "Janet Nero." Republicans such as Rep. Helen Chenoweth (who did in fact call for Reno to resign) led congressional hearings into the "abuse of police powers" that provided an official stage for an interesting mix of conspiracy theories, which overwhelmed any serious issues. And within a few years, all of this indeed migrated to the "mainstream" right, where sneering abuse of Reno became a commonplace for right-wing pundits. Of course, in 1999, Sen. Trent Lott, then the Majority Leader, in fact began issuing calls for Reno's resignation over Waco.

But the reeking lie at the heart of this column lies in this sentence:
This was over an action that did not just happen on her watch but that she ordered -- an action that resulted in the deaths of, among others, more than 20 children.

As I've just gotten done recounting, the fact is the assault plan that unfolded on the Waco compound was not the one approved by Reno. Rather, it was a secondary plan that had been placed in the wings as a backup, and was only to have been pulled out in dire circumstances. But it was the plan that the tactical unit preferred. Within minutes of the operation approved by Reno, the agents on the scene pulled the plug and resorted to their preferred plan. (One of the conditions under which they were allowed to do so was if the Branch Davidians fired on FBI agents; when this occurred about seven minutes into the gradual-gassing assault, Plan B went into effect.)

The final irony: The two Delta Force officers whose advice led to the formulation of the ultimately disastrous Plan B that Krauthammer decries here are none other than Jerry Boykin and Peter Schoomaker -- two figures now at the center of the Abu Ghraib fiasco.

So, just for those keeping score of things in Krauthammer Bizarro World:

Abu Ghraib is a fiasco just like Waco. Which is why Rumsfeld shouldn't resign, but Janet Reno should've. Even though Rumsfeld prominently involves at Abu Ghraib the same men who made Waco a fiasco.

No comments: