[Mb-civic] Richard Cohen The Presidential Medals of Failure
kevin at walzworkinc.com
Thu Dec 16 08:17:45 PST 2004
Presidential Medals of Failure
By Richard Cohen
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page A37
This is the question I asked myself as, one by one, the pictures of
the latest Presidential Medal of Freedom awardees flashed by on my
computer screen. First came George Tenet, the former CIA director and
the man who had assured President Bush that it was a "slam-dunk" that
Saddam Hussein's Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then came L.
Paul Bremer, the former viceroy of Iraq, who disbanded the Iraqi army
and ousted Baathists from government jobs, therefore contributing
mightily to the current chaos in that country. Finally came retired
Gen. Tommy Franks, the architect of the plan whereby the United States
sent too few troops to Iraq.
One by one these images flicked by me, each man wearing the royal-blue
velvet ribbon with the ornate medal -- one failure after another, each
now on the lecture circuit, telling insurance agents and other good
people what really happened when they were in office, but withholding
such wisdom from the American people until, for even more money, their
book deals are negotiated. (Franks has already completed this stage of
his life. His book, "American Soldier," was a bestseller.)
I braced myself. Could Bernard Kerik be next? Would we skip the entire
process of maladministration, misjudgments in office and sycophantic
admiration of the current president and go straight to the celebrated
failure? After all, what seems to matter most to this president is not
performance -- certainly not excellence -- but a matey kind of loyalty
and obsequiousness, of which Kerik had plenty.
"Bernie," Bush called out at a White House ceremony last year.
Kerik, who was walking away, stopped. "Yes, sir," he said.
"You're a good man," the president said.
It is this manly affection that explains how Kerik came to be
nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security. The president
liked him. He was the president's kind of guy: a wayward, messy kind of
youth and then -- wow! -- this explosive career, coming out of the
starting gate like Seabiscuit, another runt with something less than an
elite East Coast pedigree. What's more, he had been recommended by Rudy
Giuliani, another very tough guy who, everyone somehow forgot, is a man
hobbled by awful judgment, in people as well as in himself.
Had the president given the awards a moment's thought, he might have
asked himself what he was doing. A pretty good argument can be made
that Tenet was incompetent. He not only failed to prevent the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11 but he failed to protect the president from what
has to be a historic embarrassment: the failure to find weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq.
As for Franks and Bremer, they cannot -- on the face of it -- both
deserve medals. Since coming home from Iraq, Bremer has said the United
States did not use enough troops there. "We never had enough troops on
the ground," he confided to the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers
in October. This allowed the looting that broke out shortly after
Baghdad was captured and the subsequent insurgency. For the record,
Franks -- prodded by Donald Rumsfeld -- is the guy who never had enough
troops on the ground. Which one deserved the medal? Easy. Neither.
The White House medal ceremony was really about George W. Bush. It had
a slight touch of the absurd to it, as if facts do not matter and
failure does not count. The War to Rid Iraq of WMD has now become The
War to Bring Democracy to the Middle East. No one is ever held
accountable, because the president will not do as much for himself. He
admits no mistakes because he is convinced that he has made none. The
terrorist attacks themselves, for which Tenet should have been sacked,
are no one's fault because they cannot be the president's fault. He was
warned. Condi Rice was put on notice. But, still, who could have known?
To make these awards in the face of failure -- the mounting American
death toll, the awful suffering of the Iraqis, the looming possibility
of civil war, the nose-thumbing of the still-at-large Osama bin Laden
and the madness of making war for a nonexistent reason -- has the
creepy feel of the old communist states, where incompetents wore medals
and harsh facts were denied. For this reason Bernie Kerik -- three
months in Iraq building a police force as good as rhetoric can make it
-- seemed as likely and appropriate a recipient of a presidential medal
as any of the others.
Maybe next year.
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