Should Rumsfeld apologize?

Tom Ricks reflects on the American reaction to 9/11 – “Rumsfeld, America, and apologies” – and how his own sense of the world has changed:  “I never expected to live in a country whose government officially embraced torture.”  He points to a “crack” by Donald Rumsfeld, a typical right-wingism on President Obama’s supposed compulsive apologizing for America, and suggests that, as proud of being an American as he, Ricks, might be, it would be easier to be even prouder if not for Bush-Rumsfeld policies.  He concludes:

Torture and other abuse of people under American control was more than a crime, it was a strategic blunder: You can’t win a war by undermining your own values, the things your country stands for. (Nor should you start wars on false premises, btw.) If that were not enough, the inept conduct of the war overseen by Rumsfeld in Iraq for three years until he was defenestrated late in 2006 almost certainly helped enflame the insurgency and so resulted in the deaths of American soldiers. Maybe he could apologize for some of that?

Ricks’ post led a Spanish reader, Pasaxe, citing his own country’s history of extra-judicial measures against “ETA terrorists,” to ask how Americans felt about Bush Administration policies.

Now, it’s no secret that I’ve pendulumed far away from many positions I held and argued even up to a year ago, but I’ve still not re-thought my past positions on torture/interrogation – in short, modified Dershowitz:  Violence by operatives of the state in defense of the state will occur whether we want it to or not, so it should be put under democratic control and supervision, including the inevitable use of forms of physical coercion in extreme situations.

Pasaxe’s question provides a possible departure point for beginning the re-assessment  For now, I’ll just share the same observations I left as a comment at Ricks’ blog, under the heading “Americans were split,” and see if any of you all can help me move them along further:

You can’t have a popular culture that embraces TV shows like 24, just to cite one high profile example, and expect anything remotely approaching a uniform condemnation of “enhanced interrogation.” In addition to representing a position of moral ambiguity on the question of physical coercion in the abstract, that show also typified a socio-political reaction to a sense of being under threat and a resultant willingness to take any means necessary, or possibly necessary, to remove the threat: 9/11 mission accomplished.

For many Americans, typically gravitating to the political right, of course, it’s pure “realism” to say that it’s an ugly world and “those people” are savages who don’t understand anything else but force and anyone who thinks differently is a lily-livered ivory-towered pointy-headed leftwing multiculturalist and so on. On that note, I think it’s reasonable to suspect both that a significant portion of the population presumed that we were already quietly torturing, and, furthermore, that they were right on two levels: The group of 24 fans includes some portion of military and law enforcement personnel not always, to say the least, working under close and careful supervision. Second, the populace would be right in the sense that we have long used information obtained by allied regimes and non-state actors who were not restrained by oversight in any way.

Finally, the “it’s a cruel world, get used to it” reaction obtains substantial support not just from our own customary hypocrisy about not getting our hands dirty but letting others do so for us, but from our willingness to set aside human suffering, caused by our direct and indirect acts of military and non-military violence, that objectively far exceeds anything done under interrogation procedures. The critics of torture have a valid and important moral point, but we are already schooled to set aside violent and in some cases massive destruction of life, limb, and fortune among civilian populations as “collateral damage.” For that matter our economic system/consumer society is built from the ground up on the displacement and off-shoring of exploitation, massive social and environmental disruption, and so on. In short, our culture doesn’t, at the bottom line, have much difficulty absorbing reports on the water-boarding of 9/11 accomplices or even the sexual humiliation of detainees in Iraq.

So, Ricks may be right. Maybe Rumsfeld ought to apologize. A drop in the ocean.

End comment.  I’ll just add:  How can we have an honest confrontation with “official torture,” either to make a truly meaningful apology or to put in place a sound and durable policy, if we are not willing to address the full moral context that made the resort to torture, and still makes it, not just possible but virtually certain?

UPDATE:

On a lighter note, Alexis Madrigal posts this Rumsfeld classic – an authentic memo that Rumsfeld himself provided from his own site:


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63 comments on “Should Rumsfeld apologize?

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  1. Some of what you raise relates I think to the immediacy of the relationship between the torturer and the one being tortured. Certainly we have the capacity now to devise remote methods of torture, but perhaps whatever justification torture may have relies on its putative effectivess and possibly the one being tortured requires the immediate relationship to provide the info. That’s merely my off the cuff speculation and isn’t grounded in anything I’ve read.

    But still morally, the immediacy of the relationship has meaning as illustrated by the Trolley Problem.

    Maybe more later.

  2. You can’t have a popular culture that embraces TV shows like 24, just to cite one high profile example, and expect anything remotely approaching a uniform condemnation of “enhanced interrogation.”

    you still need to get out of the German aisles

  3. @ fuster:
    I think you may be in denial. Forget 24, what about the opinion polls, one after another?

    Just after the “underwear bomber” was apprehended, I put up a reader poll at HotAir. The respondents were nearly unanimous behind “water-board now while his information might still be useful.”

  4. @ CK MacLeod:

    what am I in denial about?

    is it that people will tolerate torture if they’re persuaded of it’s desirability?

    or am I denying that popular television shows depicting fantasy violence is a reflection of the spirit of the folk a proof of support for real violence?

  5. Dunno – I think both underlying propositions are accurate, and furthermore interrelated. There is substantial support for the resort to torture in extremis – overwhelming support under certain definitions of the relevant terms. In my opinion, popular cultural artifacts can both reflect and enhance or consolidate that support, and pin down the definitions.

  6. @ CK MacLeod:

    reread the sentence that I quoted. it’s very different from

    In my opinion, popular cultural artifacts can both reflect and enhance or consolidate that support, and pin down the definitions.

    You can have a popular television show such as Gunsmoke without having popular support for law enforcement officials hanging out in bars and romancing old hookers and engaging in gun duels on main street.

  7. @ fuster:
    Wasn’t a huge fan of Gunsmoke, but many aspects of the show clearly reflected and probably reinforced consensual or dominant values. That people liked black and white TV shows didn’t mean that they were in favor of lives without color, but that wasn’t what Gunsmoke was about.

    24 was rather mono-maniacally about “Jack,” the volunteer torturer willing to do what the lily-livered ivory towered types over and over again turned up in states of denial about. But he hardly was the first and I doubt will be the last action hero taking the law into his own hands and, ahem, violating the rights of very, very bad guys.

  8. Seeing that Assad, looked the other way while Salafis preached jihad
    against coalition forces, and organized ratlines into Iraq, it’s not such
    an insignificant point, Libyans not as readily as Egyptians, usually made
    the lower rung of AQ management, with a few exceptions, much like
    Al Tunissi, the Butcher of Mahmoudiyah

  9. Virtual certainty—a fitting end note for a confused essay about the confusion of what constitutes ethical action in our system of justice and whether that we should be applying rules from a state of war or criminal justice or rules regarding treatment of military prisoners or of criminals or of suspected criminals.

  10. In conclusion—-Should Rumsfeld Apologize???

    No, Mr Rumsfeld, we expect you to die

    silently

    except maybe for a last agonized scream of

    “Goodness gracious. Torture is messsssssssssssssyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”

  11. His objections were more of practicality, he wasn’t like that weasel
    McNamara that didn’t even believe in the mission he sent 600,000 Americans on to. He felt the chain of command, demanded that the ‘buck stop with him’ yes Bush refused twice. He had his differences with Chalabi, but didn’t regard him as evil incarnate, as some demand,
    He doesn’t roll that way.

  12. The phrase “in for a dime in for a dollar” comes to mind. Once you advocate the war within which acts of torture can be justified, you are in for a dollar. The solution is to oppose acts of war in any form for any reason. Keep your dime in your pocket. Then you don’t end up writing, as Fuster describes it, a “confused essay.” This is why so may political debates are so insane. They take place as if the “in for a dime” part was a given.

  13. fuster wrote:

    Virtual certainty—a fitting end note for a confused essay about the confusion of what constitutes ethical action in our system of justice

    Taken as a whole, that was a rather confusing comment. Not entirely sure how to parse it.

    As for the virtual certainty part quoted above, what I said and believe is that, in a country where a) large numbers are prepared to condone the use of physical coercion in extreme situations, and b) from the top to bottom we are ready to take whatever convenient excuses to look away from objectively much worse things, it will end up being employed, either by volunteers or under whatever ad hoc legal rationale, even if it’s not under a true or manufactured “ticking bomb” scenario administered at the highest levels.

    Col West was rewarded for his voluntaristic “enhanced interrogation” of an Iraqi captive with a seat in congress and a vocal nationwide fan club.

  14. That’s actually the most measured and sensible comment, in a fortnight
    from you. The use of said techniques should be restricted, in a phrase,
    ‘safe, legal, and rare’ but they should be available on a limited basis

  15. @ miguel cervantes:

    ultimately, miggs, it was not. the army choose to do the right thing in separating him from service, and did in the most lenient way possible.

    just for the halibut, has West ever complained about his treatment?

  16. @ fuster:
    West’s approach is to treat the whole thing as something to be proud of, an opportunity for his usual blustery bullshit, and to treat the divorce from the service as amicable, almost normal: He was just too good for the Army as it was, but that doesn’t mean that the Army isn’t great! Put together a campaign film of former comrades talking about what a great guy he is.

    His fans think he’s presidential material, but I think he’s more likely to end up a B-1 Bob Dornan type.

  17. fuster wrote:

    you have an opinion on what you would have done?

    Strapped on a bomb vest and taken as many of the invaders as possible with me, for the glory of Allah, of course.

    What I mean is that it would be as likely for “me” to end up in that situation as to end up having to decide bob’s Trolley Problem – so it doesn’t compute. Do I believe I could possibly compromise my perfect ideals to save my buddies? Of course. Have no real idea what I’d do in his shoes, but the story comes across as fishy.

    I don’t judge him by it – I judge his conduct as a politician from his conduct as a politician, and I consider it embarrassing and deplorable.

  18. @ fuster:
    That does indeed qualify as one whopper of a link. Could be the longest I ever did see. But somewhere there’s probably a contest for amalgamating the longest possible links, and that one wouldn’t even get you in.

  19. With apologies to Miggs…
    CK–
    I’m sure it gives you pause that Miggs was agreeing with so much of what you wrote in the post and subsequent comments here. Something to consider.

  20. Well it’s been a long since the Czar doesn’t seem like he’s been broadcasting from Pandora, so I give him points for that. Scott,
    Now Ricks did happen to miss the Anbar Awakening, one of the more
    significant stories of the decade, possibly because he was too wedded
    to the ‘narrative’, there have been times that even Nir Rosen, has been more prescient than him, and that’s bending the singularity,
    (the aftermath of the last Iraqi election). Now you have a lot of imagination, in certain areas, and yet in others, the parameters are limited.

  21. @ CK MacLeod:
    CK MacLeod wrote:

    I think he agrees only with the bottom line on the particular issue.

    That is the main thing that should give you pause. Although, I still stand by the “in for a dime” point. Of course violence is justified if you’ve already justified the violence. So in a way, once the rules have been established (that we’re being violent), I don’t see your points as illogical. The problem is that they stem from a fundamental falsehood: that peace can be established through war in the first place. Even WW2 didn’t establish peace. In fact, the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and everything linked to it in the Middle East) is still part of the violent non-solution of WW2.

  22. miguel cervantes wrote:

    Now you have a lot of imagination, in certain areas, and yet in others, the parameters are limited

    True. My politics don’t come from a very imaginative place. So you’re on a roll, Miggs. We’re all agreeing with you today and vice-versa. Must be an astrological thing. Are you a Sag like George?

  23. Scott Miller wrote:

    Of course violence is justified if you’ve already justified the violence. So in a way, once the rules have been established (that we’re being violent), I don’t see your points as illogical. The problem is that they stem from a fundamental falsehood: that peace can be established through war in the first place.

    Who said anything about seeking “peace” through war? The warriors don’t seek peace, they seek victory, or, in less absolute but still teleological terms, a better position than the one they would be left to occupy if they merely surrendered.

    But “in for a dime” isn’t about subjective agreement with some logic or set of rules. It’s about being implicated objectively regardless of what you say or think. That’s partly why bob’s Trolley Problem is relevant. It’s not just the question of whether or not water-boarding KSM yielded life-saving intelligence – and not just in regard to the direct victims of possibly averted terrorist attacks, but the future victims of escalated retaliation. It’s also a question of whether refusing to torture is merely pretending to refuse to torture, leading to more and worse torture. What if the choice, in the real world, comes down to 1 Al Qaeda bigwig being water-boarded under medical supervision, then being held under civilized conditions while awaiting civilized trial… or countless actual and suspects AQ operatives, accomplices, and innocents being subjected to medieval agonies and death?

  24. CK MacLeod wrote:

    What if the choice, in the real world, comes down to 1 Al Qaeda bigwig being water-boarded under medical supervision, then being held under civilized conditions while awaiting civilized trial… or countless actual and suspects AQ operatives, accomplices, and innocents being subjected to medieval agonies and death?

    or maybe it’s if there’s not a choice between civilized alternatives then there’s unreally a civilized choice.

    Both!! The answer is both, right, right???
    any prizes?

  25. World War 2 ended the threat from Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Shinto Japan, Scott, now you are right that the issue of Israel wasn’t resolved then, since it was the result of the loss of the former.

  26. CK MacLeod wrote:

    The warriors don’t seek peace, they seek victory, or, in less absolute but still teleological terms, a better position than the one they would be left to occupy if they merely surrendered.

    True. But the politicians who sell the war to the public, or just find a way to make it happen no matter what, sell it in context of it bringing peace. So I guess the question has to do with the dime’s ownership. Who owns the dime?
    @ miguel cervantes:
    You still didn’t tell me what your sign is, Miggs.
    fuster wrote:

    or maybe it’s if there’s not a choice between civilized alternatives then there’s unreally a civilized choice

    If I understand that correctly I like it as a response to CK’s usual “in the real world” idea. If I was Colin, I would seek to explain to CK that his “in the real world” idea is itself a fabrication.

  27. @ Scott Miller:
    You can call the “real world” a “fabrication,” but that doesn’t change anything, it just re-defines “anything” as fabricated. The claim of fabrication is itself also such a fabricated anything, to the extent that it can be dealt with at all.

    It’s the familiar skeptic’s fallacy – participation by way of a denial of participation.

    But the politicians who sell the war to the public, or just find a way to make it happen no matter what, sell it in context of it bringing peace. So I guess the question has to do with the dime’s ownership. Who owns the dime?

    I think you have that backwards. Politicians often have had a more difficult time selling peace to whatever public than selling war. Doing nothing would have been a very hard sell for the Bush Administration after 9/11, or to FDR after Pearl Harbor. One reason that World War I dragged on and on, grinding up a generation, is that people on all sides were generally in favor of fighting on. Right now in Libya, Xadaffy has been demanding “peace.” His people prefer, for now, to fight.

    The word peace has two meanings. The word we use in English goes back to the Latin, pax, the same root as “pact,” and thus refers to the terms of an agreement between combatants putting an implicitly temporary end to fighting. In the ancient world, treaties might simply put a stop to fighting for a set number of years, with payments from one side to the other, territorial or trade concessions, maybe an exchange of hostages. The other meaning of peace refers to actual conditions of peace, and ends up being connected to ideals of a better – more just, stable, holy, etc. – order of things.

    Sometimes seeking one kind of peace excludes the other or makes achieving it more difficult. Sometimes one leads to the other, or makes the other superfluous, or is thought to. Very many people, often including many who place the highest value on versions of the second kind of peace, reject the idea that mere absence of violence is the highest good.

  28. @ CK MacLeod:
    Interesting points. I didn’t know that about the word peace. That would explain why the word is rarely used in spiritual prescriptions. Instead of advocating peace (shanti), what spiritualists advocate is “non-violence.” Plus, there are people like Krishnamurti who taught that in addressing the issue of non-violence even in context of advocacy implied its opposite and was, therefore, problematic.
    CK MacLeod wrote:

    Politicians often have had a more difficult time selling peace to whatever public than selling war

    Not true. That idea has been pushed in the media (backed by corporations that benefit from war) and you’ve fallen for it. For example, Kerry was behind what’s his face–the Healthcare lawyer candidate–because the guy whose name I’m forgetting was opposed to the Iraq war. Kerry changed his position, sold himself as anti-war and went ahead in the poles and only after he had victory in his hands did he come out as a relative hawk. Same thing with Obama. The numbers are there. Over 50 percent of the people were opposed to the war from way back and we have backed candidates who said they were opposed and then somehow, we end up with no real choice because both candidates have ended up being for the war every time. Your idea about the skeptic’s fallacy is as familiar as the supposed fallacy, going back to the Greeks, but I will, for the most part, spare you my familiar point about powerless males aligning themselves with violent ideologies just to make themselves feel less powerful.

  29. @ CK MacLeod:
    Interesting points. I didn’t know that about the word peace. That would explain why the word is rarely used in spiritual prescriptions. Instead of advocating peace (shanti), what spiritualists advocate is “non-violence.” Plus, there are people like Krishnamurti who taught that in addressing the issue of non-violence even in context of advocacy we imply its opposite.
    CK MacLeod wrote:

    Politicians often have had a more difficult time selling peace to whatever public than selling war

    Not true. That idea has been pushed in the media (backed by corporations that benefit from war) and you’ve fallen for it. For example, Kerry was behind what’s his face–the Healthcare lawyer candidate–because the guy whose name I’m forgetting was opposed to the Iraq war. Kerry changed his position, sold himself as anti-war and went ahead in the poles and only after he had victory in his hands did he come out as a relative hawk. Same thing with Obama. The numbers are there. Over 50 percent of the people were opposed to the war from way back and we have backed candidates who said they were opposed and then somehow, we end up with no real choice because both candidates have ended up being for the war every time. Your idea about the skeptic’s fallacy is as familiar as the supposed fallacy, going back to the Greeks, but I will, for the most part, spare you my familiar point about powerless males aligning themselves with violent ideologies just to make themselves feel less powerful.

  30. @ Scott Miller:
    I haven’t fallen for anything, and you should know me well enough by now to know that I don’t make factual assertions in arguments like this one without a strong basis.

    As for popular support for wars, I said “often,” not “always,” and there is plenty of evidence backing up my argument, going back ever since there’ve been opinion polls, and in every other objective form: Wars are often overwhelmingly popular especially at the outset, and acceptance of defeat is often a very difficult sell. Even in the case you mentioned, and even assuming that there weren’t many other factors determining the nomination fight between Kerry and He-Who-Is-Better-Forgotten, the warmonger won, and the lesser-warmonger lost in the general election.

    Popular opinion can be very volatile and utterly shameless. The people who thought invading Iraq was a good idea in 2003 don’t necessarily feel any loyalty to their prior position.

    http://pewresearch.org/pubs/770/iraq-war-five-year-anniversary

    “Right decision” was still a majority opinion throughout the ’04 election. “Keep troops in til stabilized” was also, and even more consistently, the majority position.

    However, opinions about the wisdom of the war are not the same as opinions about specific alternatives for ending it. Though Pew didn’t compare detailed scenarios for exiting the conflict you can see a 10-point gap between “good decision” (38%) and “stay ’til stabilized” (47%). Pew didn’t poll on “run away fast as possible,” and even Obama had moderated his position by the time he was running against Senator Surge. We’ll of course never know, and may never have been very close to finding out, how actually running away would have affected opinion about actually having done so. Could have gone either way, depending on a number of factors.

  31. You are a thoughtful person. No doubt about that. But you have subjected yourself to a lot of what I consider to be misinformation. I believe Fuster is in agreement on this point. It’s complicated since you also have educated yourself so effectively. It wouldn’t surprise me if you are the smartest person there is being subjected to so much media misinformation. That has an effect. How could it not? But anyway, I’m going to supply a quote from a questionable source as well (Wikipedia) that gives an earlier date for when the majority of Americans opposed the Iraq war. So we have had no representation. My majority opinion has not been represented for 6 years. That will, in connection with Afghanistan, go on for another 4. Is it still just “denial” for me to reject the idea that I am a participant, especially when I have no choice about paying taxes? I don’t think so:

    Within the United States, popular opinion on the war has varied significantly with time. Although there was significant opposition to the idea in the months preceding the attack, polls taken during the invasion showed that a majority of Americans supported their country’s action. However, public opinion had shifted by 2004 to a majority believing that the invasion was a mistake, and has remained so since then.

  32. @ Scott Miller:
    The amphidel will have to speak for himself, but, if you’re trying to argue that wars are never popular, or even that “peace” is more popular than victory, and only the evil profiteers have ever said otherwise, I seriously doubt he’ll meet your expectations. If that’s not what you’re arguing, then what are you arguing?

  33. I am the epitome of balance, hint, Scott, Obama was against most interventions, his Chicago Reader op ed in 2001 as exhibit A, by 2002, he had come out for Afghanistan, yet against Iraq, In the earlier years of the war, he supported funding, curiously one of his benefactors, Rezko, had been in partner with a Baathist business, Auchi in London who in turn was in business with the Iraqi electricity minister ,Al Samarrai till he fell on hard times, (went to jail), then was broken out, and joined the insurgents for a time, that was around the time, he pushed for phased withdrawal, following the expert tutelage of Joe Biden

  34. @ CK MacLeod:
    No, that is not what I’m saying. In respect to the Frog, I was only enlisting him about you and the media. As you have pointed out, even the liberal media is warmongering. I agree. As “real world” neurologists point out, subjecting ourselves to electrical media of any sort is damaging and should be held to a minimum (like watching Laker games). But since that’s a big leap, as I’ve suggested before, check out Jill Bolte Taylor’s “Stroke” video. It’s part of the media, but it speaks to a different “real world” truth about reality. Bolte is a neuro-anatomist who had a stroke. Lost left-brain functioning. Check it out. She doesn’t just explain what happened to her, she relives it on camera. It’s the other side of reality. When a person subjects themselves to left-brain stimuli and left-brain perspectives all the time, no matter what, the perspective on reality and truth become horribly skewed. The left-brain sees things violently, in relation to authority (and victories). I realize that left-brain mentality sees the discussion of left and right brain awarenesses itself as being not in the real world, but check out the Bolte video. It’s a left-brain person expressing what it’s like to recognize a different reality. So I’m trying not to “argue.” The left-brain argues. I realize that when you have subjecting yourself to as much left-brain support as you have, it’s hard to get out of that prison. I’m advocating that you give a whole different part of yourself a chance and see if it doesn’t shift your perspective. Hegel and all the rest is left-brain. That information is fine as long as you also experience right brain reality. Creating poetry is the only language activity that is right brain, and even with that, the poetry has to be orally conceived and expressed.

  35. Scott Miller wrote:

    Creating poetry is the only language activity that is right brain, and even with that, the poetry has to be orally conceived and expressed.

    Yeah, that would explain why I’m drawn to poetry, especially the paort about oral conception.
    Speaking about that,I always try to speak before I think, I think.

  36. You speak of Sherman McCoy’s longlost twin, Howard DEan, whose campaign, disintegrated in one large ‘Yeargh,’ one night in Iowa.

  37. Since we received no comment from the Tsar about the stroke video, my left-brain is concerned that maybe he decided to give himself a left hemisphere stroke. Hope not. There’s nothing wrong with left-brain activity. It’s just a question of balance.

  38. @ Scott Miller:
    Freaks don’t stroke me out, but strokes kinda freak me out.

    Didn’t want to get into an argument with you over your declining to argue.

    Thinking may not be time after all to attempt to re-visit torture. Was thrown for a loss on First Down. Incomplete on Second Down. With lousy field position ran a Draw for minimal gain. Punt.

  39. Back in the 90s, we solved our problem with rendition, mostly to Cairo
    and later Damascus, we continued that after September 11th, sometimes they used us, to get the associates of Brotherhood members, like Ahar, but more often despite the threat the Salafi were to the Alawites, they washed their hands and let them wage war on us, in Anbar. We applied harsh techniques in tough situations, strongly supervised, where it was adhoc, it usually went horribly wrong

  40. @ miguel cervantes:
    We are at some unique conjuncture when the Don is providing me with hard details and informed observations filling out my abstracted framework: A vision of utopia from the crucible of torture – and purty durn holistically balanced and poetic, too, yask me.

  41. CK MacLeod wrote:

    A vision of utopia from the crucible of torture – and purty durn holistically balanced and poetic, too, yask me.

    I have to admit I find that bit of poetry itself oddly appealing. There’s something Coleridge-like about it. And, naturally, I knew you were trying not to argue. Don’t worry about it. Argue away. Left-brain awareness wasn’t built in a day.

  42. The world is ‘nasty, brutish, and short’ Nasser shouldn’t have tortured and killed Qutb, then again what was his alternative, Nogrishi Pasha’s death had to avenged by al Banna’s, Assad crushed Hama, which Friedman used as an argument to deal with him, I think, Setmarian
    and others settled in London and Madrid, and like the scorpion, they
    stabbed the Frog, it was in their nature,

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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