If you could distill this administration down to one single thing, it would be this: a complete inability -- indeed a pathological aversion -- to changing course, even when the current course is taking us over a cliff.
Combine that with rank incompetence, and you've got quite a potent -- and deadly -- combo. It was on full display last night during the president's speech on Iraq and last week during Donald Rumsfeld's multiple public appearances.
First the president's speech.
The president's "new direction in Iraq" speech rehashed the same tired material he's been using on Iraq for years. Indeed, it was a veritable Greatest Hits collection. He even invoked the terrorist formerly known as Osama Been Forgotten two times. Even more shockingly -- though not unexpectedly -- he played the "conflate 9/11 and Iraq" card again and again and again and again and again. Five mentions in all for the terrorist attack that had absolutely nothing to do with the war in Iraq -- supposedly the topic of the speech. Here's a sample: "The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lesson of Sept. 11."
And now on to the secretary of defense.
It's time to cancel the Rummy show. Remember when it was fun to watch Don Rumsfeld come out and do his preening Master of the Universe act? Actually, I never thought it was that much fun -- and I was always surprised by how much the self- loathing press loved Rummy's cocky, cutesy little put-downs and the jabberwocky nonsense answers he'd use to duck a question without uttering a single word of substance.
But he intimidated them, humiliated them, and so they subserviently accepted their role in the Kabuki theater performances his appearances became. But with two to three soldiers and dozens of Iraqis dying each and every day, his smug verbal pirouettes are no longer so endearing. As time goes on, it's become clear that he sees his role less as making sure our soldiers vanquish the enemy than making sure he vanquishes the press and the straw men he puts so much rhetorical energy into creating.
There he was at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, spinning and spinning. But no one's laughing anymore. "Timing in war is never predictable," he said. "There are no guarantees," he said. That wasn't what Rumsfeld was saying back at the beginning, when he said he "doubted" it would last as long as six months.
Rumsfeld then propped up this latest made-of-straw beauty: "Success in this effort cannot be defined by domestic tranquility." Who on earth is saying "domestic tranquility" is the goal? How about: "An end to dozens of deaths a day, with the carnage continuing as far as the eye can see."
It's now beyond dispute that the enemy Rumsfeld is most suited to fight is the latest straw enemy he has created in his mind. It's then that he's at his most effective -- like a 9-year-old at the arcade, delighting in mowing down imaginary foes with his BB gun. Then he wants a little prize for his efforts. Tragically, we've got a real enemy to fight, and Rumsfeld is clueless about how to do it. One person who has clearly had his fill of Rummy is Ted Kennedy, who pointedly asked: "Isn't it time for you to resign?" After a pregnant pause, Rumsfeld answered: "I've offered my resignation to the president twice."
He should keep trying. Bush has already gotten a four-year pickup, but it's time to pull the plug on the Rummy dog and pony show. Or, better yet, move his all-too-real reality show from the Pentagon to Fox -- where the body count will be significantly lower. And they can use a laugh track to sweeten the deadly silence his tired routine now provokes.