Last night, the venerable Union League of Philadelphia awarded its prestigious Gold Medal to an American whose track record of public service has been deemed by the cream of the city’s tuxedoed establishment to be an inspiration to us all.
That would be Donald Rumsfeld.
I can understand the Union League’s reasoning. If President Bush can award the Medal of Freedom to CIA director George Tenet (the guy who declared that the evidence of Iraq WMDs was a “slam dunk”), and if Bush can award the Medal of Freedom to Paul Bremer (who quickly disbanded the Iraqi army, thereby sowing the seeds for the ensuing insurgent chaos that afflicts us still), then why should Philadelphia’s elite insist on stronger award criteria?
Indeed, why should merit be considered the prime qualification for a Gold Medal, much less any other kind of prize? As a concept, that is so old school. Hang out with any losing Little League team these days, and you quickly discover that every kid gets a trophy, even the one who batted .100 and let every ball squirt between his legs.
So let us join the Union League applause for Donald Rumsfeld, and celebrate some of the various whiffs and errors that apparently won the hearts of the city’s besotted swells. They could've rolled this video at the black-tie soiree:
Here’s the Gold Medal winner on Feb. 7, 2003, predicting that the impending Iraq war “could last six days, six weeks, I doubt six months."
Here he is on Feb. 20, 2003, predicting that the American troops "would be welcomed," as happened in Afghanistan, where people in the streets were "playing music, cheering, flying kites."
Here he is a few months later, declaring that we had found Hussein’s WMDs: "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."
Here he is, even before the war began: “…as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
Here he is, on June 27, 2005, seeking to defend Vice President Cheney’s claim that the anti-American insurgency was in its last throes: "Last throes could be a violent last throes, or a placid and calm last throes.”
Here he is on NBC News, that same day, talking about how, during the prewar phase, he had drawn up a list of "15 things that could go terribly wrong," including oil fields set afire and a mass exodus of refugees. When asked whether he had also listed the dangers of a robust insurgency, he replied: “I don’t remember if that was on there.”
And here's a rave review of Rumsfeld, from the editors at the conservative National Review magazine. Put these words in the video: "Rumsfeld has made serious - perhaps catastrophic - mistakes...(Insufficient) troops on the ground, this was a terrible mistake...(He) showed very little interest in planning for post-combat stability operations in Iraq. This was an error too, one for which we are still paying and from which we may never recover...All of this has brought us to a perilous position in which defeat seems more likely than victory."
In fact, let's put Philip Carter - former Army officer and adviser to the Iraqi police - into the video, too: "Iraq dominates the list of Rumsfeld errors because of the sheer enormity of his strategic mistakes. Indeed, his Iraq blunders should have cost him his job long before the 2006 midterm elections....Rumsfeld's failures transformed the Iraq war from a difficult enterprise into an unwinnable one.....These were not tactical failures, made by subordinate military officers. Rather, these were strategic errors of epic proportions that no amount of good soldiering could undo."
Hence his prizeworthy qualifications. So bravo to the Union League, which is merely embracing the elastic contemporary definition of merit. Or, as Rummy himself would put it:
You go to the podium with the winner you have, not the winner you might want or wish to have at a later time.