THESE ARE TIMES when
President Bush and Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld could probably use some encouragement. They should
short note by Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill. It was May 1941
World War II was going badly. Churchill was Britain's Bush and
Rumsfeld, prime minister and minister of defense. Eden was his
secretary and friend. There had been disasters in Greece and
discouraging naval battle with the warship Bismarck, and hard
fighting in Iraq, where the British were battling Nazi-backed Rashid
Ali and Luftwaffe bombers that were helping him out. "My dear
Eden wrote, "This is a bad day; but tomorrow Baghdad will be entered, Bismarck
sunk. On some day the war will be won, and you will have done
more than any other man in history to win it."
By "tomorrow" he meant
"soon"; his predictions all came true. But for now, it is indeed
a bad day.
Too many Democrats and some Republicans
are acting as if Abu Ghraib
means that the Bush administration is in trouble. They are wrong. It
means that America is in trouble. And when America is in trouble,
public official is required to help.
The bestial murder of
Nicholas Berg has nothing to do with Abu Ghraib. Absolute evil is self-seeding; nothing causes
it any more than we cause
rats to spawn or the black plague to blossom. But certain
help it thrive--such as the worldwide seething toxic stink of America
Hatred, or the ongoing struggle by so many thinkers (especially
Europeans) to legitimize terrorism (all those torn-to-pieces Israeli
innocents dismissed with a shrug or a smirk). Perhaps the murder
Berg -- 9/11 compressed into one single act, a black hole of infinite
wickedness--will at last bring American moral showboating to an
all love to tell the world how much we care. It's so easy, so
Perhaps we will now get serious.
Because of Abu Ghraib, America is
(temporarily!) down and out and
getting kicked in the head by every two-bit moralizing moron in the
universe, while her thoughtful Euro-friends twist the knife by
informing us that hundreds of dead American soldiers might just as well
have stayed home; America's rule is no better than Saddam's.
We need to
hear from America's political leaders, loud and clear: "Yes, we
abominate the Abu Ghraib crimes but will not accept your
forgetting what America has paid to liberate Iraq, will not allow
foreign nations to slander the United States, will not permit you
to forget what we and the British have accomplished: a world
without Saddam Hussein; a vastly safer, profoundly better world.
And no one
will be allowed to dishonor American soldiers and this nation by
telling us 'you're just as bad as Saddam'; that lie will never go
We need to hear those
things especially from Democrats. For the world to know that this
nation is united, Democrats have to speak. They
haven't. The message has not been delivered.
Let's go back a few
weeks. What were we thinking? Maybe the war in
Iraq was a mistake, or maybe it was fought the wrong way (I didn't
think so, but many serious and discouraged Americans did) -- but we all
knew this for sure: Thanks to
American and British sacrifice in money
and blood, Saddam was gone and Iraq was on the road to being free, and
we could all be proud of that. A blood-black stain on
had been washed away.
Then some photographs
appeared, and the world saw ugly
crimes--crimes of the sort Americans particularly hate, bullying crimes
of the strong against the weak. Of course it was right to
criminals and demand investigations and accountability. Such
were easy to express (how many people are in favor of prisoner
abuse?), but public officials did need to express them. So far so
But there was something
else these officials needed to express. "We
will not tolerate the world's using the crimes at Abu Ghraib to smear
America, or belittle the price we have paid in Iraq." In the prevailing
climate of moral showboating, those sentiments were hard to
express; and almost no one bothered.
The moment we saw those
pictures we knew (every last American knew) that the punch in the
gut is on the way.
People who never cared a damn what Saddam did to his prisoners would be
choking back tears of outrage. Americans hold themselves to a
moral standard, of course. But
most Americans suspected that the
world's reaction had as much to do with America Hatred as it did with moral
We knew that people would forget what we have achieved in Iraq, and
what it has cost us in arms and legs and eyes and blood. We knew
enemies would light into America and do their best to turn the world
against us and against our troops--whom we had seen risking their lives
to liberate Iraq and make it safe--not to mention the civilians who
hazarded life and limb to get clean water flowing, oil pumping, power
on, schools open, streets policed, the economy inching forward, and
democracy coming steadily closer. We could all anticipate
like the one that appeared in the May 8 Irish Times: "The
shaming of America. George Bush's boast of shutting down Saddam
Hussein's torture chambers in Iraq rings hollow now." We knew our
enemies would use those photos to smear our whole Army, our whole Iraq
campaign, our whole nation. Much
of the world (after all) operates on
America Hate the way a car runs on gas or a tick on blood.
"The shaming of
America. George Bush's boast of shutting down Saddam Hussein's torture
chambers in Iraq rings hollow now."
The hell it does. Anyone who
equates Saddam's bloody decades of torture
and mass murder to the crimes at Abu Ghraib is the same kind of fool
who once preached the moral equivalence of America and Soviet Russia,
or of America in Vietnam and Hitlerism. Imbecility is
And it's hardly
irrelevant that the Army did discover and announce
the crimes itself. No one had to order any generals to
prosecute the criminals. That was already happening. No
chance of the criminals escaping. The military's record in recent
suggests that the opposite danger is more acute: Innocent soldiers
might be punished because of a runaway public relations
Remember Tailhook and the naval careers it destroyed to make ideologues
Think back to 9/11 --
America was in trouble; possibly official malfeasance was a factor, no
one knew; but we did know that it was the duty of every U.S.
public leader to speak for America, right away.
(As someone shouted during the parliamentary hour-of-crisis debate that
led to Churchill's promotion to the premiership: Speak for
And U.S. public leaders, Republican and Democrat, did speak for
America. The country was proud to see Gephardt and Daschle
around with Lott and Hastert. The Democrats had lost the White
but rose to the occasion. The world noticed; the nation was
When Abu Ghraib broke,
America was in trouble again. Once again she needed all
her government officials to do their duty, all public persons to stand
up and defend her. But last week was no 9/11. The Democrats
rise. They sunk. No one blamed them for condemning the
demanding investigations. But we needed to hear more, and
didn't. Senator Tom Daschle said, "I think that is
inexcusable. It's an
outrage. It's wrong." And Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said,
have a full investigation to get to the bottom of this outrage."
Senator Carl Levin said, "The actions of these individuals have
jeopardized members of the Armed Services in the conduct of their
mission, and have jeopardized the security of this country."
all true. But it was not enough. And there was worse.
echoing America Hatred at its ugliest, said that "Saddam's torture
chambers have reopened under new management, U.S. management."
world noticed; the nation was quietly heartbroken.
Republican smugness is
not in order. It is a moment for Republicans to ask themselves:
Have we ever, at any moment in recent decades, let the nation
down like this?
I don't think so.
But if somebody knows differently, tell me. (No
crackpots, please.) This is not a time for party preening.
It is one of
the sadder moments in American history.
But as Anthony Eden
reminds us: "Some day the war will be won."
THE PRESSURE on Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is fierce,
because Abu Ghraib hit at a moment when many people were certain that
the Iraq war had bogged down. And it had bogged
down. It is in
the nature of wars that they bog down occasionally. But that is
reason to sack the man who has run this stupendously complex, difficult
operation with (on the whole) amazing success and integrity . Perhaps
Rumsfeld and other Bush officials did not make quite clear
enough beforehand that war is no picnic. But many Americans had
heard rumors to that effect. And the record will show that the
secretary has in fact admitted (possibly under oath) that he is not
perfect. Republicans who hint around that the defense secretary
indeed have to be cut up and thrown to the dogs are doing the nation no
Churchill got into
parliamentary trouble repeatedly during the
Second World War, but thank God the House of Commons did not sack
him. In the Second World War, Britain did not merely bog down,
and often. If 1940 and '41 had their awful moments, 1942 started
worse. In January the House took up a no-confidence motion that
have deposed Churchill--British troops were reeling before the Japanese
advance, and worse was to come. Before long Singapore fell, "the
greatest disaster in British military history," Churchill called it;
130,000 British and Allied troops were taken prisoner. And later
same year Rommel captured the Libyan port of Tobruk: A British garrison
of 35,000 men surrendered to a smaller Axis force. "One of the
blows I can recall during the war," Churchill said. On such
Britain was discouraged, disheartened, humiliated. Yet somehow
Parliament managed to restrain itself and not axe Churchill.
Churchill is one of
history's greatest leaders, almost certainly its
greatest minister of defense and a genius writer and orator. So
we know, Bush is no Churchill and neither is Rumsfeld; they haven't
been tried as Churchill was. But until a bona fide American
comes along, they are doing fine.
Gelernter is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.