Entry from February 3, 2011

The “Style” section of today’s Washington Post headlines a story by Bradley Graham about a former Secretary of Defense’s newly-published autobiography, Known and Unknown, thus: “Rumsfeld remains largely unapologetic in memoir.” It would be interesting to do a count of the memoirs of political figures over the years to find how many in the history of these dismal documents have ever been apologetic. Even without such a study I will wager a considerable sum that the number is not large. One that is ostensibly contrite — In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1996) — was written by Mr Rumsfeld’s predecessor, Robert McNamara, and Pratap Chatterjee, author of Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation is positively incandescent that Mr Rumsfeld did not emulate his mea culpa. “If only Donald Rumsfeld had the integrity of a McNamara,” he writes in The Guardian.

Integrity? But what if he doesn’t think, as Mr Chatterjee obviously does, that everything he did in office was wrong? How would it be a sign of integrity for him to confess to misdeeds he doesn’t believe he has committed? Mr Graham mentions a number of areas in which Mr Rumsfeld does see that things could have and should have been done differently, not all of them things done by others, but presumably he’s wrong about this too. Only an abject confession to culpability for every item in the now-familiar catalogue of what Mr Chatterjee calls “crimes” — Abu Ghraib, Halliburton, Blackwater, “Stuff Happens”, “You go to war with the army you have” — would be enough to suit him. The media consensus about the war in Iraq is now as firmly locked into place as the media consensus on Vietnam, and the worst crime of all (as McNamara eventually realized) was to act as if it might be as mistaken as it supposes Mr Rumsfeld to have been.

That’s why the Washington Post headline writer expects readers to expect Mr Rumsfeld, in defiance of form, to be apologetic — to the point where his failure to be so is headline news. The media demand that the principal actors accept the media’s narrative about Iraq rather than their own, and that narrative is one of failure. Not just failure, either, but ghastly, horrific, catastrophic failure — failure so stunning that the mere words “Mission Accomplished,” once applied quite innocuously to an ancillary combat role played in a land battle by a naval warship, has the ironic power of a thousand suns. Most people are dimly aware, in spite of the media, that something called “the Surge” happened after Mr Rumsfeld left office and that Iraq has subsequently been, if not a model democracy, at least relatively peaceful and rather glad to be rid of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. But to the media it will always be 2006, and the military and diplomatic stumblings of the first three years of the U.S. occupation will always be “crimes.”

The same media consensus is also responsible for the fury in the British media over the Chilcot inquiry into Britain’s participation in the Iraq war and occupation. Tony Blair has been vilified in the British press far more than Messrs Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney have been in the American press, at least recently, for the same reason: he stubbornly refuses to confess to his crimes but instead continues to insist that he did what he thought was right. Refusing to accept the media consensus has itself almost the status of a war crime. The excellent John Rentoul of The Independent refers to the formulators and guardians of this consensus as the LBLM&C, or “London-Based Liberal Media and Culturati,” who, having decided that Mr Blair is a war criminal are beside themselves with rage that he is still able to take a different view of the matter.

Today Mr Rentoul writes of the Chilcot inquiry’s winding up of testimony in order to go away and write a final report on the evidence given to it that “the Rebuttal Service can put its feet up for a while, as we wait for the Iraq Inquiry to draft its report, although I should expect the LBLM&C to find ever more excuses to recycle 101 ways of saying ‘We didn’t agree with the war’, even though it was eight years ago and no one has changed his or her mind for at least the last five.” I think he’s right. The media’s continual scolding of anyone who had anything to do with the war for not changing his mind is beginning to look like obsessive-compulsive behavior itself.

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