Saturday, December 18, 2004

Column 15: Medal of Freedom

It is polite to give any new administration, even a second term, time to get its act together, and to refrain from too much criticism during that time. Usually the new administration uses this period to heal the wounds of the campaign.

It seems “them days is gone forever.” Since the election the Administration and its allies have shown themselves to be sore winners, to the point of their local representative’s calling it a“gloat-fest,” and the actions of the administration, even before the second term officially begins, have made it clear that they don’t care about criticism. The President is purging his Cabinet of any possibility of alternative views, appointing new Cabinet members from his political intimates. He appointed Bernard Kerik to Homeland Security, making it clear that he admires Mr. Kerik, and who wants to probe too deeply into the President’s choice? In short order we find out that the nominee has mob ties, illicit affairs, nanny problems, law suits, you name it. Oops.

And consider the rhinoceros in the Oval Office – the thing no one can miss, but no one is allowed to talk about. Is there anyone who does not recognize that the war in Iraq has been a mess from the beginning? Even the President can’t miss this one, but he is leading the way in a campaign of denial unparalleled since Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” Rumsfeld gets immunity while everyone else in the Cabinet is being voted off the island, then the President awards the Medal of Freedom to Franks, Bremer, and Tenet.

According to the Medal’s website, "this great honor is reserved for individuals the President deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." The award is "given only after careful thought, always sparingly so as not to debase its currency." (emphasis added)

The 9-11 Commission blamed the CIA and Tenet for intelligence failures that prevented us from stopping the attacks. Before the invasion, it was Tenet who described the existence of WMD as a "slam dunk." Paul Bremer led the postwar effort in Iraq - we know how well that is going - and General Franks violated the first rule of military leadership by taking Iraq with no plan for what to do once he took it.

So with regard to “debasing its currency,” we have these three well-meaning but arguably incompetent men joining the likes of Justice Thurgood Marshall, Admiral Zumwalt, Rosa Parks and Bob Dole as Medal Recipients, when what we should be getting is an honest assessment of their records.

As for Rumsfeld, everyone from John McCain to Norman Schwarzkopf is outraged at his prosecution of the war, his relationship with the Military, his callous disregard for the troops’ welfare, and his general arrogance. He continuously avoids responsibility, such as blaming the lack of armor for troop vehicles on the Army, as if the Defense Department has nothing to do with it. Senator McCain – POW, decorated war hero, Bush supporter - has said publicly that he has no confidence in Rumsfeld. But to axe Rumsfeld would be to admit that mistakes have been made, and this President, when asked in a Town Hall debate to name three mistakes he’d made in his first term, could not admit to one.

Jefferson is reputed to have said that people get the government they deserve. Given that just under half of the country did not vote for this President, we must ask ourselves, what did we do to deserve this? I believe that we have stood on principle, on what we considered morally higher ground, while the Right took command of the dialogue. We have four years to put the situation to rights. It has also been said that “the truth shall make you free,” so we will need to keep telling the truth, pointing to the facts, and not allow our voice to be stilled.

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