The politics of war: Readers respond to "Missing in Action," by Tim Grieve, and "Be Very Afraid," by Mark Follman. Plus: Rice's "total inability" to accept responsibility.

Salon Staff
April 13, 2004 1:44AM (UTC)

[Read "Missing in Action," by Tim Grieve.]

If a man who can't swim jumps in the water and you hope he'll drown, the best thing to do is simply let him drown. Pointing out to bystanders that the man was stupid to jump in the water when he didn't know how to swim will only prompt someone to jump in to save him. Bush will sink to the bottom without any assistance on Kerry's part.


Kerry famously said: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" All one need do is remove one's nationalistic bias to see where Kerry is coming from. There are Iraqis dying for Bush's mistake as well. Do they not deserve the benefit of a careful and well-considered withdrawal? Will leaving them high and dry help humanity in some way? Have a little compassion. This isn't some theoretical exercise -- there are human lives at stake.

I believe Kerry when he says that Congress thought they were handing Bush a negotiating tool and nothing more. Who in their right mind would act the way Bush has acted? And if this weren't an election season, it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear Kerry admit that he made a mistake in trusting the president. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it? And it's always easier to second-guess someone else's actions than it is to walk in their shoes. John Kerry is a good man. Give him a break, all right?

-- Mark Freeman


Thank you for this timely article on Salon. I've been thinking the same thing for the past two weeks -- it's just terrible: Kerry promised he would fight for us, but he's laying back, and giving away the farm by talking, lecturing even, on stuff like the budget.

And then there was the other day on Chris Matthews' "Hardball," when Kerry gave a long convoluted answer to his opponent's question about oil, and what exactly he would do. Instead of just redirecting the question back to the Middle East, which is where everyone's mind is (or should be), we got an alternative-energy lecture! I'm a fan, but I thought it was ridiculously off topic. The country is in a state of panic about the escalating events in Iraq, and we have no idea whatsoever as to what Kerry's plan is -- if he has one.

I could not be more disappointed by this turn of events. I think there are several others, Howard Dean, John Edwards even, hell, Al Sharpton, who could do a better job of stating the Democratic position. Whatever it is. I have no faith anymore that we can win. I think people are too terrified to think. I don't know what the answer is in Iraq, but I do know that the people in charge will not do the right thing, whatever it is.


-- Loretta Jacobs

I don't understand this article at all. There are so many variables in play that will influence the outcome of the election in November that it seems foolhardy to spend a lot of time staking out a position this early. Bush is doing a hell of a job making the case against the Iraq war all by himself without Sen. Kerry's help. Since every Kerry statement or ad will be met with five ads bought with the $200 million in campaign funds that the Bush camp has, Kerry is simply being smart not to engage the issues right now, given the Republican smear machine. I am very comfortable letting principles take a back seat to politics when it is so early in the campaign, and the stakes in November are so high.


-- Bruce Emory

Personally, I can't imagine a worse idea for Kerry than to try to insert himself into the current crisis in Iraq. If the situation stabilizes, then those who talk about civil war will look as foolish as the retired generals who criticized the original invasion when it briefly slowed down. A bad situation will suddenly look good compared to the dire predictions that didn't come about.

If the situation doesn't stabilize, then, sadly for all involved, there will be no need to editorialize.


-- Arthur Simon

[Read "Be Very Afraid," by Mark Follman.]

To understate or diminish the terrorist threat is to ignore reality. However, the neo-gothic foreign policy of this administration ignores nearly all the proven fundamental and foundational tenets of the Republic. They use fear and patriotism, the world's most dependable motivational tools, to deflect attention away from their lack of credibility and essential rootlessness. A truly bizarre coalition of lapsed Trotskyites, crypto-fascists, Christian Armageddonists, Zionist apologists and lecturing military bean-counters have stamped a confusing melange of warped ideology upon America's international projection. Both political parties have been infected by a suspended belief that is aided and abetted by the constant and crushing appetite for money.


We are standing by as the military is expanded both globally and into outer space, while long-standing personal liberties and rights of privacy are curtailed or encumbered. We are expected to swallow bald-faced lies and accept that young American lives are being lost on the patently idiotic idea that democracy can be exported at gunpoint to a region that has shown a demonstrated inability to foster democratic ideals and sacrifices on its own. Proven environmental laws are weakened, taxes are cut while discretionary spending increases, the long-standing, proper public policy separating church and state is breached and we embark upon a doomed policy of militant isolationism. The office of a paranoid, secretive presidency has been inflated and the Congress deflated, while the Department of Defense and the State Department have been conflated. Is it no wonder that, as reported today in Salon, a federal law enforcement officer can demand a tape recorder of a journalist and erase comments made by a Supreme Court Justice during a public event?

These ideologues are masking their profoundly un-American activities with the best cover known to mankind: fear. As a Republican, I mourn the death of my party, but more important, as an American, I fear the radical dysfunction of my government. This self-proclaimed "war president" chuckles and mocks us and furthers the essential Raw Deal of his administration: "The only thing we have to fear is not fearing enough."

-- Dirk Sabin

[Read Joe Conason on Condoleezza Rice's 9/11 testimony.]


That Transportation Secretary Norman Minetta had not been advised of the "threat spike" implying the heightened likelihood of hijacking seems bad enough; but the real crime, speaking as a former airline employee, is that no one expected to face these hijackers was informed. Neither the pilots nor flight attendants, was told of the change in "chatter." Had they been told, they might have had a fighting chance to save their own lives and thousands of others.

Dr. Rice's assertion yesterday that "hardening cockpits" was the only real response and that it couldn't have been accomplished in the few months between January and September of 2001, suggests a total misunderstanding of the nature of Islamic terrorism and the physics of modern air flight. That the hijackers were willing to die and that an open door or two is all that's required to kill those onboard means that a "hard" cockpit is nearly meaningless, even now.

Like her boss, her shrill and narcissistic unwillingness to see clearly her part in what becomes more clearly a tragic conflation of ignored and misdirected information leading to the events of Sept. 11 should perhaps have the greatest impact on Americans. Not the mistakes themselves, but, with the exception of Richard Clarke, the total inability of Bush officials to accept even a modicum of responsibility.

-- Leola Miller


Joe Conason claims that Rice apparently did not provide any warnings that intelligence suggested a potential terrorist threat within U.S. borders. That's simply not true. As we all know, Attorney General John Ashcroft stopped flying on commercial airliners shortly before the attacks, due to a "credible threat." So there you have it: She warned the appropriate parties!

-- Scott Edmonson

[Read "The Performer Lost in Her Performance," by Alan Gilbert.]

This is a somewhat nitpicking correction to Alan Gilbert's article about his former graduate student Condoleezza Rice. I was a graduate student in the political science department at Stanford when Condi Rice was hired there. Nannerl Keohane, who is now about to leave Duke after serving a long term as its president, was my graduate advisor until she left Stanford to become president of Wellesley College.


Condi Rice was not recruited to become head of the arms control center, which is actually called the Center for International Security and Arms Control (CISAC). That position was already held by someone else in the political science department, as well as a co-director from the physics department. Dr. Rice was a member of the professional staff of CISAC, but a junior member.

This is a bit trivial perhaps, but professor Gilbert's recall suggests that a brand-new Ph.D. from the University of Denver was recruited to direct one of the world's leading centers on arms control, which was not the case. Dr. Rice did go on to a meteoric career at Stanford, eventually serving as provost.

One small story from Dr. Rice's early days at Stanford that is illustrative of her service as national security advisor: The assessment of her by doctoral students in the program at that time was that she was only interested in "great powers"; i.e., if you were a country without a big nuclear arsenal, she wasn't interested. That attitude seemed to persist until Sept. 11, 2001.

-- Gary Chapman

Salon Staff

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