The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Greg Djerejian, at Belgravia Dispatch, has finally wigged out. The landfall of Hurricane Katrina seems to have been the catalyst:

Well, it's not unbelievable, sadly. It has become standard operating procedure with this Administration. Colossal missteps are made (no serious attention paid to what might happen if the levees were breached, no thought of moving to expeditiously evacuate the Superdome, no apprecation that basic law and order might be grossly imperiled if the city became submerged in floodwaters, no contingency planning for an insurgency in Iraq, no appreciation of the full ramifications of tossing aside the Geneva Conventions) and time and again there is a staggering lack of accountability. Well, here at B.D. we're sick of the empty bear hugs and cutesy nicknames, the circle the wagons damage control mentality, cheap ass-covering and rampant buck-passing, the guitar-strumming and talk of Trent Lott's porch looking all antebellum swell post reconstruction and Kennebunkport 'let them move to Texas' insouciance. Above all else, B.D is sick of the sheer spectacle of grim incompetence that humiliated this nation as New Orleans descended into mayhem reminiscent of wartime Haiti or Liberia--with hundreds if not thousands perhaps needlessly dying because of government ineptitude...

Mr. Djerejian was, at his peak, a leading and maybe even great blogger. His prose, while marked by a tendency to swerve into grammar-free insider jargon, was reliably serviceable; and his analyses were clearheaded and informed by a broad and professional understanding of the real issues of foreign relations.

Over the past year or so, Mr. Djerejian has become vocally dissatisfied with the American effort in Iraq. His objections are sound: first the prisoner treatment fiascos, then the apparent conflict within the administration and Pentagon as to whether we have sufficient troops, and the apparent inflexibility of the American strategy. He is animated by a particular dislike of Donald Rumsfeld:
A Secretary of Defense who has presided over the worst P.R. debacle since My Lai, who didn't even deign to contemplate the prospect of a post-war scenario characterized by the specter of a resilient insurgency, who went along with significantly under-manning the war effort--hasn't he dangerously under-performed?
But more generally, Mr. Djerejian is convinced that the pacification of Iraq is failing. Thus propels him to a belief that the administration should learn from its mistakes, and thus to calls for "accountability" -- in other words, heads must roll for the failures he perceives. He responds strongly against overoptimistic rhetoric:

But, with all due respect to Wretchard, it would have to be quite a "casual observer" indeed who would write so breezily of the "defeat of the Iraqi insurgency." This is such utter flimflam and snake oil, and needs to be called mightily lest too many people on the Thinking Right (of whom I count a good deal of Belmont's readership) buy into the "last throes" spinnage making the rounds.

So far, there is nothing really wrong here. It disturbs me that an observer as informed as Mr. Djerejian takes a pessimistic view; but that surely does not mean he is wrong. The real problem is that, in his own disappointment, Mr. Djerejian has become the very thing he would formerly have loathed: a stationary Washington insider, focused more on personnel and officialdom than on the action on the ground, full of sniping complaints but with nothing to suggest in the place of the policies he despises.

Getting bent out of shape is the easiest thing in the world: criticism is the second easiest. The difficult tasks of measuring success, shaping policies which can withstand criticism, and following projects through to completion have been dropped from Belgravia Dispatch's discourse. During Mr. Djerejian's attempt [apparently abandoned in midstream] to form a "conscience caucus" of Republicans and war supporters willing to actively oppose torture, I commented:

Mr. Djerejian: .... You have promised a few times in the past to articulate a proposal on what treatment is permissible for enemies not protected by the Geneva convention, but it seems you have been sidetracked into chronicling the latest horrors instead...
Until you write that proposal, there's nothing to say that's not mere repetition.

But no proposal, or even any hint of a policy, was forthcoming. This is not principled opposition, this is carping.

And now we must prepare for more of the same on Katrina. I would ask Mr. Djerejian: if President Bush had turned on Michael Brown, promising to fire him at the first opportunity, how many lives would have been saved? Who would have been helped? Was there anything whatsoever to be gained, besides a sop to those who are already focusing on the blame rather than on the relief? The question answers itself. Mr. Brown may well be a fool, but the horse has left the barn. The short-term alternative is an empty space in the org chart.

More level heads would stay focused on the progress of the rescue effort, and the hard economic choices ahead. More mature observers would be willing to wait until the crisis had passed, then give the administration a short but decent interval to replace inadequate officials. Belgravia Dispatch used to be a page you could open for such maturity and steadiness. Alas, no more.