A New Era of Accountability

In response to a reporter's question at a press briefing late last week, President Bush took umbrage at the suggestions that his administration's deeds don't match his words with respect to accountability.

The reporter specifically identified three examples of non-accountability: (1) the failure of the Maliki government in Iraq to meet benchmarks of political progress; (2) Scooter Libby's escape from any substantial penalty for committing perjury; and (3) the continuation of Alberto Gonzales in office. Bush responded by (1) ignoring the question about Iraq; (2) asserting that Libby has been held accountable because he was convicted; (3) and claiming that Gonzales shouldn't be held accountable because he didn't do anything wrong.

Those answers are sufficiently ludicrous that I'll let them speak for themselves. Here I'll just give a film recommendation for those interested in being reminded of this Administration's commitment to accountability.

Charles Ferguson's "No End in Sight" tells the story of the descent into chaos in Iraq, with devastating commentary from administration insiders. The principal villain is Donald Rumsfeld, whose breathtaking arrogance led to the critical mistakes that, according to Ferguson, created the insurgency: Insufficient troop levels to secure the country after the overthrow of Saddam; deliberate disdain for occupation plans drawn up by the State Department and other experts; and the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi armies, thus loosing thousands of angry, armed men on the population when those very same men could have helped secure the country. Rumsfeld's key partners, besides VP Cheney, were Paul Wolfowitz and Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer III. Wolfowitz was not only a key figure in dreaming up the war, but is shown testifying in favor of the lower troop numbers on the ground that surely it can't take more troops to secure a country that lacks an army than it takes to overthrow that army---a point that was apparently known to be false by anybody with any experience at all. Bremer, who himself was critical of the low troop numbers, at least after he left Iraq, is shown making decisions without consulting with any of the people with the knowledge to help. Thus, Bremer participated in the decision to disband the Iraqi army and to de-Baathify Iraq by purging professionals who had only joined the party to keep their job.

Bremer and Wolfowitz were held accountable by receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rumsfeld hasn't been awarded a medal yet, but President Bush has never to my knowledge even criticized a single decision Rumsfeld made before his resignation last year.

It's also worth noting that "No End in Sight" is not an anti-war film as such. Its point is not that the U.S. should not have invaded Iraq in the first place but that having decided to do so, the Bush administration utterly bungled the job. It's possible that the invasion was doomed from the start, but that is not the perspective of the film or the people who appear in it.

Nor does the film even have a clear-cut policy prescription for the present. It takes no position on whether the "surge," soft partition, immediate withdrawal, or any other strategy is the least bad of the remaining bad options. What many viewers will infer, however, is that people who have done such a terrible job so far, and who have not remotely owned up to it and attempted to make amends, lack all credibility.