Covering the Economy: Gasoline Prices
Party of Stupidity Watch I

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Economist Edition)

The cossacks work for the Czar, goddamit!

We watch as the Economist continues its flame-out. Today it plays fast-and-loose with reality by trying to make Donald Rumsfeld the scapegoat for everything that has gone wrong in Iraq--for Cheney's and Bush's decisions as well as his own: September 11th transformed a has-been into a national hero. Mr Rumsfeld immediately captivated the country by running into the burning Pentagon to rescue the wounded. And he kept it captivated with a series of press conferences that projected a mixture of defiance and determination. This was American manliness at its best. The staid Wall Street Journal called him a "hunk"...

The word "hunk" appears not in the--admittedly somewhat staid--news section of the Journal, but in the bizarre over-the-top wingnut-dominated editorial section, and it appeared in a column by Claudia Rosett that ran not in the main edition of the Journal distributed in New York and Washington but only in the European edition. "Lexington" knows full well that the editorial section of the WSJ is not "staid."

Then came the Iraq war and the disgrace of Abu Ghraib; and this paper, among many critics, called for Mr Rumsfeld to go.... [T]he current furore can't be brushed aside.... The secretary of defence has become a liability that Mr Bush's troubled administration can no longer afford: a distraction at home and a barrier to success in Iraq. There is now widespread agreement on what he got wrong. His biggest mistake--the fons et origo of all the others--was to try to fight the war with too few troops. His second-biggest was to make no proper provision for restoring order afterwards. But there is no shortage of other mistakes. Mr Rumsfeld misread the intelligence in the build-up to the war, and much of it was simply wrong in any case. He failed to plan for the occupation. He ignored the growing insurgency. He disbanded the Iraqi army, scattering 300,000 armed and unemployed men into the population.

But Rumsfeld did not decide to fight the war with too few troops. Cheney and Bush were his bosses, and decided with Rumsfeld to fight the war with too few troops. Rumsfeld did not misread the intelligence. Bush and Cheney decided to misread the intelligence.

The more interesting question is why he messed up so comprehensively. The most obvious reason, of course, is arrogance. Mr Rumsfeld suffered from exactly the same problem as another whizz-kid CEO turned secretary of defence, Robert McNamara: iron self-confidence. He junked the army's carefully laid plans for invasion (General Zinni's plan called for at least 380,000 troops, for example, far more than Mr Rumsfeld sent). He dismissed warnings from General Shinseki that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win the peace. He ignored pleas for more troops on the ground. And he surrounded himself with similarly one-dimensional strategists such as General Franks and yes-men like General Myers.

Another reason is bureaucratic turf wars. Henry Kissinger once described Mr Rumsfeld as the best practitioner of the art of bureaucratic infighting that he had ever seen, which is no mean compliment; and he certainly did a brilliant job of elbowing Colin Powell and the State Department aside, putting control of post-war reconstruction in military hands for the first time since the second world war. But he had no idea what to do with his new-found power. Without the State Department's experience of post-war reconstruction, gathered in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Mr Rumsfeld veered all over the place...

Again: Bush and Cheney and Rice decided to place post-war Iraq in the hands of the Pentagon rather than Foggy Bottom. They agreed with Rumsfeld's assessment of the situation.

The cossacks work for the Czar. The Economist plays journalistic three-card-monte in the hope that it can get its readers will forget that fact.

Certainly George W. Bush doesn't forget that. As Tim Russert said, a source “close to the President” told him that Bush “won’t fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself.”