Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Would the right answer be: Stop thinking so much and get back to supporting the president?

Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers held a global town hall meeting today for the Defense Department, with questions piped in from around the world. A friend alerted me to this question, a real beaut:

Q: You talked earlier about people who think that America's what's wrong with the world. That's of course a basic part of the extremist propaganda message. And it worries me that democracies are kind of -- it kind of scares me that democracies are susceptible to that way of thinking, because we're self-critical. If you think back to the '20s and '30s in Europe, the British and French became convinced that the Nazis' grievances against them were legitimate. And when the time came to enforce the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and to save Czechoslovakia, they were crippled by self-doubt, and instead of doing the right thing, they let their policy be guided by what might not -- what might or might not make the Nazis angrier.

What can we do, as citizens and as a department, to make sure that self-criticism doesn't turn into a paralyzing degree of self- doubt?

The questioner implicitly equates criticism of our effort in Iraq and of U.S. actions on the world stage with the disastrous appeasements of the past. It’s a sly twist of the knife – Rove couldn’t have phrased it better. Who is this questioner, anyway? Needless to say, the ability to debate ideas and question the decisions of those in power is one of the core strengths of our democracy, not a weakness. Expunging self doubt is a dark road. A little self-doubt can come in handy when you are otherwise intent on driving yourself over a cliff.

Rumsfeld doesn't take this bait, and doesn't need to - the question says it all. His answer is sort of nonsensical. He basically says, Americans shouldn’t be swayed by emotional reactions and should keep their eyes on the ball:

SEC. RUMSFELD: ... If you think about it this way, we have staked everything on the idea that people, given sufficient information -- accurate information; inaccurate information; good, positive things; terribly negative, worrisome things -- people, given sufficient information, will find their way to reasonably right decisions over time. They may move off for a period, but they'll come back.

This is a good, if inadvertant, distillation of Bush administration philosophy: Give people both accurate and inaccurate information and they'll reach the right decision.