Restoring Our Honor
Thomas Friedman‘s [RSS] piece today by that title is amusing if rather silly:
We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq. We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world. I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today. I was just in Japan, and even young Japanese dislike us. It’s no wonder that so many Americans are obsessed with the finale of the sitcom “Friends” right now. They’re the only friends we have, and even they’re leaving.
This is clever but disingenuous. I can’t remember a time when America was particularly well liked in the world. Continental Europe has long resented us as young upstarts whom they perceive as uncouth, brash, and undeserving of the world leadership role from which we’ve displaced them. Russia and China have never liked us for a variety of reasons related to culture and power politics. The Arabs hate us because our very prosperity undermines the claims of their religion–and we side with the hated Jews, to boot. And the Japanese? They hate everybody.
The end of the Cold War has further estranged us from Western Europe, since they no longer need us to protect them from the Soviets. And, of course, having a Republican president further alienates us from the socialist culture that pervades Western Europe. On the other hand, our relationship with Eastern Europe is stronger than it’s ever been.
From that jumping off point, Friedman offers a strange solution:
That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Ã¢€” today, not tomorrow or next month, today. What happened in Abu Ghraib prison was, at best, a fundamental breakdown in the chain of command under Mr. Rumsfeld’s authority, or, at worst, part of a deliberate policy somewhere in the military-intelligence command of sexually humiliating prisoners to soften them up for interrogation, a policy that ran amok.
For one thing, I can’t imagine firing Rumsfeld would do anything to make Japanese teenagers like Tom Friedman more. Indeed, aside from having very marginal benefit in the Arab world, I see no connection between the problem Friedman identifies and this remedy. Secondarily, while I blame Rumsfeld for poorly handling the crisis, things happening at battalion level are well beyond his span of control.
While it’s an old maxim in military circles that a commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do, we’ve never taken it to this extreme. We don’t relieve company commanders when their soldiers commit crimes; we merely insist that they deal with the situation appropriately and convey to the rest of the unit that such conduct is unacceptable. Similarly, OSD is responsible for ensuring that we have a command climate that values human decency and obeying the laws of land warfare. As best I can determine from the evidence so far available, that climate still exists. If the ongoing investigations reveal that pressure was coming from a very high level to prioritize intelligence gathering over our national honor, then we can look at more drastic measures.