Jewish World Review May 25, 2004 / 5 Sivan, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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America has a bad attitude! | We need an attitude adjustment to acknowledge that every bad thing that happens isn't necessarily someone's fault. That change is most pressing in Washington, where perspective is a rare commodity. Every problem is a huge crisis, and the first response is to cover one's posterior.

The final straw is the 9-11 commission, which has turned its sights on New York's police and fire departments.

Let's be clear here. Accountability is important. So is reality.

All too often, these kinds of investigations set a standard of impractical perfection.

The police and fire folks were the heroes of 9-11. They did the best they could in a trying situation. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was right to lecture the panel for its chutzpah. Sadly, that won't change its sorry mentality.

If this were an isolated instance, the whole thing might roll off my back easier, but the mind-set is all too prevalent these days. We are witnessing the latest example of an American ritual.

My news-media colleagues are largely responsible. We rightly press for explanations about why things happened and how they could have been averted. But we also legitimize the mentality that it's OK to come down from high after the battle and shoot the wounded. We feel the need to make sure someone takes the fall, regardless of whether anyone would have done the same thing, or worse, in his or her shoes.

It's a sick game.

These investigations invariably turn adversarial and reflect the view that all bad stuff could have been averted if only someone had done their job well.

Horse hockey.

Sometimes bad stuff can be averted, and sometimes it can't. If the standard by which we judge behavior is perfection, then none of us can meet it. Mostly, these investigations degenerate into the blame game.

To a degree, this extends to the Iraqi prisoner issue. We all know there were problems, that U.S. soldiers violated the Geneva Conventions and will be punished. But our "let's get a scalp" mentality is focused on whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should take the fall.

Obviously, even more than the 9-11 commission hearings, this topic is tied to partisan politics. The idea is Rumsfeld should resign because the abuses occurred on his watch, even though he's done quite well at his primary task - winning the war.

It's a loss of perspective because the situation highlights why Rumsfeld should stay in office. We won the war. The United States took the prisoners, not the other way around.

We won it quickly and with many fewer U.S. casualties than even the optimists had predicted, not to mention the doomsday scenarios of the pessimists - many of the same people now wanting Rumsfeld to resign. Last time I checked, the prime responsibility of the secretary of defense is to make sure that the U.S. military wins wars.

How our military treats enemy prisoners, although worth considering, ranks far, far lower on that totem pole. And rightly so.

If you want Rumsfeld's head on a platter because you think his redesign of the U.S. military to become a smaller, more technically adept and mobile fighting force is the wrong way to go, that would be intellectually defensible.

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If you think Rumsfeld is wrong to scale back U.S. troops in South Korea and Germany, that would be a good reason to join the jackals.

But if you opposed the Iraq war, think George Bush is a bad guy or GOP is a four-letter word, and are just making political mischief, that's another story.

Vote for John Kerry if you want. That's why we have elections. If he wins, Kerry will pick a Pentagon chief who will implement his agenda.

Wanting Bush to change personnel just to score political points is more than illogical, it's counterproductive to national security. Even if Rumsfeld left, Bush would appoint another defense secretary who would just continue the current policy. Cabinet members do what the president wants.

How would the United States be better off with a new guy having to learn the ropes while still carrying out the same policies? The American people seem to understand what is happening.

Polls showing a tight race between Bush and Kerry also find Americans strongly oppose having Rumsfeld resign because of the prisoner problems.

At least the people who matter - the voters - have some perspective. It would be nice if the politicians learned from them.

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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