Monday, February 27, 2012

Who are these people?

New Jersey’s Chris Christie, one of the stillborn anybody but Romney folk and a current supporter, declared on MSNBC: You can’t compromise your principles because people won’t know who you are.  He was referring to Rick Santorum’s going along with fellow Senate Republicans in supporting legislation, which he now contends ran contrary to his own beliefs.  Christie has a point.  Full disclosure, I haven’t followed the governor’s career closely enough to judge how he measures up against that high bar.  Regardless, his comments dovetail with something I’ve been thinking about of late.  Who are these people who run for office — all of them?  

Before getting to that, let me digress a moment to suggest that going along, as Mr. Santorum did while in the Senate, was the norm not the exception; it remains so.  Indeed voting or acting on conscience is so rare that John F. Kennedy devoted his best selling Profiles in Courage to the few senators in our history who did.  I guess you didn’t need to be reminded of that work to know that, his claims notwithstanding, Rick Santorum is no John Quincy Adams.  In fact, what the entire Republican primary campaign brings to mind is not Kennedy’s book but the title of that the long running radio show (1934-54) Let’s PretendIt’s a contest in which none of the players, including Christie’s man, seem to be concerned one bit about the even more enduring (on radio and then on TV) Truth or Consequences.  No courage, ample pretend and little concern (to carry my broadcast analogy further) for what Sargent Joe Friday called, just the facts.

Getting back to the identity question, have you noticed that much of this and other campaigns focus on the inconsistencies between what candidates say on the stump and what they have done either in office or in their private professional life?  Romney recently told the CPAC gathering that he was a severely conservative governor.  Then who was that guy who signed Massachusetts’ progressive healthcare program into law?  After leaving the House, the trash and burn faux populist Newt Gingrich raked in huge fees not lobbying for Fannie and Freddie.  While in the Senate, the fiscal conservative Santorum was a consistent supporter of deficit increasing earmarks.  And to keep this non-partisan, Barack Obama was a vocal critic of both Iraq and Gitmo on the 2008 campaign trail.  As president, it took three years to exit the first and he still hasn’t accomplished closing the second.

There is something in our politics or perhaps in any politics that works against a candidate being totally up front on the campaign trail.  We like to attribute this lack of candor to some kind cynicism — you can fool all of the people most of the time.  Focus groups not conviction produce robotic pronouncements telling us what we’d like to hear.  There is much to that argument.  But perhaps something else is at work that may come closer to the truth: an unspoken but nonetheless effectual compact between the voters and the candidate.  We don’t really want to know who these people are any more than they want to reveal themselves to us.  Why is that so?  Because that’s the way we largely function in many, if not most, of our everyday relationships.  For example, if that applies do you really know your boss or the people who work for you?  Do they know you?  Isn’t that not knowing often a matter of choice?

The idea that ignorance is bliss is a pretty good description of how we function, and perhaps necessarily so.  I’m not saying that such ignorance is a good thing, only that it’s a reality.  Few of us are totally open books, certainly when it comes to those beyond are inner circle.  And we all have inner circles whether they are comprised only of family or include some close friends and perhaps co-workers.  One of the large issues of our time is whether the Internet and specifically Facebook are invading our privacy, revealing too much about us.  We all know where their children come from, but we really don’t want to know about the sex lives of our family members and friends.  Perhaps Charlie Rose and Lara Logan’s revival of Ed Murrow’s dreadful Person to Person will gain an audience, but few viewers should be deluded into thinking they are really gaining access into the home, much less inner life, of the interviewed celebs.

As the late and charismatic Sarah Lawrence professor William Campbell knew well, we all need myths. And we all recognize that our heroes have a thousand faces.  In that regard, those who lead us tend to be composites of who they are (or may be) and who we want them to be.  They conspire to create an image but we are willing co-conspirators.  In that sense I am always somewhat amused when pundits contrast how reserved/opaque Obama and Romney are in contrast to say Bill Clinton or perhaps George W. Bush.  One certainly couldn’t say either Reagan or Bush Senior, both extraordinarily private people, were open books.  Who are these people?  The answer is we don’t fully know and never will.  Again, that may not be a good thing, but it is probably an inevitable component of public life.

It’s not surprising that generations of presidential historians have written and spoken countless words aimed at unearthing the real Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln  or Richard Nixon.  For them the mystery of public figures has been key to making a good living, for which I’m sure they are each personally grateful.  But it is also hard work.  Robert Caro has devoted nearly three decades of his and his researcher wife’s life just to Lyndon Johnson who, despite his gregarious nature, remains one of the most enigmatic figures of our recent history.  Intimate JFK associates Kenny O’Donnell and Dave Powers published a memoir Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye.  Its title was taken from an Irish ballad and it spoke to Kennedy’s tragically short life, but again evoking a suggestive truth that even their close friend remained somewhat of a mystery.

The irony of Governor Christie’s rebuke is that its subject may be most transparent figure of the current presidential race.  We may not know the real Romney nor necessarily want to know the real Gingrich or any of the other now defunct GOP contenders, but there is little doubt about the identity of Rick Santorum.  To his credit, and perhaps to our horror, he has been totally up front about his fundamentalist religious views.  He decries our educational system — he and his wife have home schooled their children.  He opposes contraception and abortion and, while eight children (one died) is no record, they certainly have more offspring than the average American couple.  While believing the government should pull back, he nonetheless thinks it should play a substantial role in social matters because, like Mr. Justice Scalia, Santorum believes our laws come from God.  Perhaps nominee John Roberts put one over on the Senate with his self-portrayal as a respecter of precedent and settled law, but Santorum hasn’t played that game on the campaign trail (for the most part).  We know that he would bring some modicum of theocracy to the White House, even if in campaign mode he claims that not to be the case.  More on that subject to come.

Monday, February 13, 2012


One can’t help but wonder if they were using some form of birth control when the still married Newt was carrying on a multi-year affair with Callista.  Of course what people do in their own bedroom isn’t any of my or any one else’s business.  To me that privacy is truly sacred.  So I wouldn’t be raising this question were not for the former Speaker’s hypocritically and opportunistically accusing the President of an outrageous assault against religion.  This is the same Mr. Gingrich who was beating the drums for Bill Clinton’s impeachment while he was having that affair.  Now the former Speaker isn’t the only one distorting the Administration’s position on extending equal healthcare benefits to all those who qualify, or put another way, not discriminating against them just because they happen to work for an institution which has Church sponsorship.   The modifications announced by the President will, despite short-term noise from the right, likely put the issue to political rest.

To some degree Gingrich and the other Republican candidates’ hyperbole is just a sideshow, another manifestation of the wild rhetorical excess that has characterized their primary contest.  The real central player has been, and continues to be, the Catholic Church.  Its bishops, according to the New York Times, had been gearing up for months.   And this isn’t the first time Church hierarchy has entered the fray in the midst of a Presidential election campaign.  No less than the future pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ordered that John Kerry, a supporter of reproductive health choice, be denied Holy Communion in the midst of his 2004 contest with George Bush.  Are these two interventions related — coordinated interference with our politics?   I don’t necessarily think so.  True in both instances choice was at issue — the first abortion and the second contraception.  But, unlike as with Senator Kerry, the current uproar would have as easily come in a non-election year.

To be specific, I’d suggest all the talk of religious liberty is nothing more than a smokescreen.  What’s really at stake is something much larger and far more significant than the implementation of the new healthcare legislation.  It speaks to the very health of the Roman Church and perhaps of religion in America altogether.   The key fact to keep in mind here is not that Church doctrine disallows contraception. It is that according to a Guttmacher Institute study 98% of Catholic woman use or have used birth control.   That is an astounding statistic.  Perhaps equally revealing is that while Catholics constitute 24% of the population, they accounted for 28% of abortions in 2008-9.  In contrast, 51% of Americans are Protestants, but account for only 37% of abortions.  These statistics — especially talking comfort from the 98% number —  explain why the Administration may have underestimated the potential pushback against their ruling.  Remember the insurance coverage requirement applies only to religion-sponsored but essentially non-sectarian institutions: service agencies, hospitals and universities.  Each employs and serves non-Catholics, and each benefits from taxpayer financial support in one form or another.  Churches, seminaries and other purely religious institutions are exempt.

The absence of compliance by virtually all Catholic women with such a core teaching speaks to the Church’s diminished hold on its followers.  In fact, each and every one of these women are sinners, assumably subject to discipline.  Remember the Church wanted to deny John Kerry Holy Communion.  By that logic 98% of Catholic women might be similarly punished.  After all, Kerry was merely supporting reproductive choice he wasn’t be necessarily engaging in it.  The same can’t be said for these women.  Since they face no punishment, we have to conclude that the Church, well aware of the statistics, has been averting its eyes from their sin.  It would seem that they opted for a pragmatic decision in that regard.  But the idea that the Church should de facto be sponsoring family planning through insurance simply went too far.

Few concerns have occupied Pope Benedict more than what he characterizes as cafeteria observance.  The idea that individuals should be able to decide which beliefs and customs to incorporate into their lives undermines the authority of the Church and ultimately of its infallible pope.  The Church is not a democracy and its ways are not optional.  But it goes further than that.  Disobedience, a laxity in observance, results in dilution.  It isn’t simply that 98% of Catholic women are employing birth control, but that doing so opens a Pandora’s box leading directly to a religious black hole.  It stands to reason that the Church’s lapsed members don’t come from the ranks of strict observers but from those who take unto themselves how their religion is to be practiced, which rules are to be followed and which are to be ignored.  The same holds true for any religion.

I would submit that, regardless of what they say, it is this treacherous road not religious liberty that evoked the bishops’ reaction.  For the Church, covering family planning is tantamount to officially sanctioning the faithful’s disobedience.  It’s probably not an exaggeration to suggest that their outcry constitutes an emergency measure, applying a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.  We all know that procedures like that can only carry so far.  The source wound must ultimately be addressed.  Interestingly, were it not for the current controversy many of us may not have been aware of this 98% disobedience statistic.  It would be wrong to extrapolate that similar numbers apply to other Church doctrine or practices.  Nonetheless, the statistic exposes a meaningful fissure in the religious wall, one that extends to other faiths who are also losing ground to those opting out of religion.

Let’s consider one more perspective on the current controversy and the window it may open on why people are turning from religion.  Catholic women don’t live in a vacuum.  They are as concerned about their individual rights and the historic domination of men as anyone else.  It can’t be lost on them that the doctrines that prohibit family planning have been promulgated and policed by men — celibate men who eschew marriage.  Obviously none of these men have experienced childbirth and all that implies nor have they had to provide for their family.  58% of women who have abortions already have one or more offspring.  They know what it takes to bring up children, what challenges and sacrifices are involved in doing the best for even a single child.  And beyond this issue that concerns modern women, the Church also holds fast to its sexist position regarding the ordination of female priests.  In the end, family planning and an all-male priesthood are internal matters for Catholics.  There religious freedom does pertain.  But they do illustrate the kind of disconnect that exists elsewhere and that, among other issues, is turning so many away from religion.  The bishops have these broader concerns of dilution and they are right to feel alarmed.  It’s unsurprising that they are on the defense.

Whatever the underlying reason for the Church’s reaction to the health mandate, the issue of religious freedom has been raised and should not be ignored.  In this current debate and in the one about abortion the rights of the religious are bandied about.  It is a conversation always driven by those who follow religion, and specifically a certain kind of religious doctrine.  But what about the rights of the religious who believe differently and who strongly support reproductive choice?  And more to the point, what about those of the non-religious?  That group of so-called nonbelievers is always left out, effectively treated as second-class citizens.  That’s a serious omission because the Establishment Clause equally protects both the religious and non-religious.  The Administration’s ruling with regard to the coverage of contraception covers institutions that purport to serve all citizens.  So the rights of all have consequence.

The Republican candidates charge that the President is waging a war against religion.  Leaving aside how preposterous that is, let me suggest the reverse.  In invoking religion and religious beliefs as they do in a public context, these men are waging war against those who exercise their right not to be religious.  In evoking God in all of our names, they are infringing on those who deny God’s existence.  Is that the case?  I don’t really think so, but arguing war against the non-religious is just as credible as implying that Barack Obama wants to destroy religion.  And speaking of smokescreens, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that this claim is just another example of suggesting that somehow he is the other — not like us.  You can easily read the war against religion talk as code, and you probably wouldn’t be wrong.

I’m happy that all those Catholic women will be given equal access to cost-free reproductive health.  The fact that they follow a different faith than 76% of their fellow citizens should not diminish their equal rights under our common law.  Perhaps, instead of expending so much energy in claiming a loss of their religious rights, the bishops should turn their attention instead to why 98% of self-identified Catholic women can’t accept this doctrine.  Again that’s an internal matter, but I’d surely be thinking about it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Which planted seeds count most?

Among the byproducts of the Republican primary campaign is that Bain Capital, and as a result financial firms in general, have drawn new attention, becoming a more substantive part of our conversation.  And then there was that November piece by Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel detailing how financial firms suck up our best and brightest college grads.  What she described is nothing less than a brain drain with significant long-term implications for American competitiveness.  Finally comes the long expected announcement of the impending and potentially record breaking Facebook IPO.

In some respects, these three — Bain, the brain drain and Facebook — may appear unrelated.  But they are.  Together they raise a very important issue for our country and its economy, namely the role and relative importance of money and invention.  Since the retrenchment of our manufacturing base, service and most specifically the financial kind has become a more dominant force in our economy.  New York City, but also places like Charlotte North Carolina, see them as core enterprises, essential to both employment and their tax base.  When Facebook goes public, Mark Zukerberg will emerge at 27 as one of America’s richest citizens and many of his co-workers will be  multi-millionaires.  The Times dubbed his COO, Sheryl Sandberg, The $1.6 Billion Woman.  But also making many millions will be a group of venture capitalists and of course the investment banking firms who are bringing the offering to market.  This is all part of the capitalist system.

It is easy, and often well deserved, to castigate financial institutions.  Wall Street and the big banks especially have contributed greatly to our current problems.  Their thirst for profit often at the expense of others has been well documented.  Interestingly Terkel suggests that it has employed its brilliant top university recruits to dream up the very esoteric financial instruments that are at the heart of the matter.  But that’s not the subject of this writing.  Rather what concerns me here is the relative value we place as a society on money, specifically those funds put against the development of new enterprises, and on the enterprises themselves.  In our focus on how essential seed money and finances in general may be, have we come to overvalue finance and undervalue what that money is claimed to have facilitated.

To put this in concrete terms, Bain Capital (and I’m using them here only as an example) put seed money in Staples and that undoubtedly was very important, perhaps even critical, at the time.  Likewise, Facebook, but also Microsoft, Apple and Google, relied on venture capital resources to help move their businesses from idea into reality.  The financial people involved, as we have seen in Romney speeches, look at these successes with some rightful pride.  Thomas Stemberg, Mark Zukerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page wouldn’t deny their contribution or minimize its importance.  It is also true that beyond money, some VC’s offer valuable strategic and management advice, both of which might make the difference between success and failure.  But in the end, what really made these innovative companies and others like them?  I’d say, it’s the creative idea seeds and vision to see what could be realized, not the money seeds.  There is a good reason we all know the names of these inventive icons but would likely be hard pressed to identify any of their investors or bankers.

The reason Mitt Romney is feeling the heat these days is not because of what he or Bain did, but because of the claims he has made.  To hear him one might sometimes think that private equity firms are in an essentially altruistic business — saving companies and creating jobs.  But private equity, and for that matter Wall Street and VCs, have a one fundamental goal — to increase wealth for themselves and their investors.  That may not make for a good presidential campaign message, but it would be refreshingly honest and, as such, might be subject to less criticism.  Warren Buffet, the much admired Oracle of Omaha, controls Berkshire Hathaway that owns lots of companies, each run by professional managers.  I’ve can't remember Buffett claiming that he creates jobs; though using Romney’s model he may be among the nation’s top job creators.   Buffett is an investor — the ├╝ber investor if you will — and his primary objective is to increase Berkshire’s share value and his own net worth.  He’s done pretty well at that and few of us begrudge his success.  The VCs of Silicone Valley may enjoy working with all those brilliant entrepreneurs and may share their enthusiasm for technology, but make no mistake; they are in it for the money.  They don’t make computers or write software.   I’m not making a valued judgment about what they do here, which is obviously substantial, just stating a fact.

The role and objectives of the people who create businesses is totally different.  Of course they hope for a payday and, looking at what’s in the works for Zukerberg and his colleagues, that’s where the really serious money lies.  But these enterprise inventors, and that’s a word that fits many of the, are in it for whatever the business does.  That’s where all of their energy and passion lies.  For many of them, that business is not only devoted to delivering a product or service, but to changing the game.  Office products were sold long before Stemberg and his partners came on the scene, but their stores were disruptive changing the way we buy those products.  By the way, bricks and mortar Staples is second only to Amazon as an online retailer.  Perhaps Bill Gates didn’t invent the OS, but he made the personal computer it ran accessible and pervasive.  So, too, Steve Jobs may have picked up on a Xerox Parc invention but he brought the mouse in its various iterations into our lives.  Others may have preceded Google into market, but Larry Page and Sergey Brin made search a verb without which many of us could not function, or at least as well.  These people, along with the thousands who work with them, are change agents who touch our lives in a direct and profound way.

Now there is no doubt that there is interdependency between those who supply seed money and those who inventively create seed ideas.  But both their objectives and staying power are vastly different.  The money people may have some ongoing interest in the many businesses for which they provide capital, but it is a finite and timely interest.  Perhaps more important, they provide no direct service to the businesses’ customers or users.  Business creators and the management who succeed them are in it for long-term; their work (much as that can be for any mortal) is timeless.  The millions of people who lend their talent and give their working lives to the enterprise join them in this.  But the real point is that financial engineering of any kind doesn’t keep an economy vibrant.  We may well have achieved some supremacy in global finance, but it has been our innovation that really makes the difference.  Think of it, the functional computer, making information accessible and, most recently, social networking were all created in the USA.  That isn’t meant as a boast, though we should have some pride, but to explain why we are such a central force in the world.  Our inventions are far more important than our financial or military superiority.

The real problem ahead, the one of which Terkel wrote, is that the brain drain that we are witnessing as the best and the brightest enter the financial world rather than becoming inventors of the next Facebook is heading us in a very dangerous direction.  It is also somehow turning our values on their head.  Perhaps we don’t make that much stuff any more, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t making things of equal value and could do so in the future.  If we don’t address that issue in a serious way, the often-exaggerated downward slide of America might be more than just how we feel in challenging times, it may become a self-fulfilled prophecy.  The relative value we place on money and doing does matter.  Some seeds are moree valuable than others.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Strangers in a distant neighborhood ultimately lose their way.  On November 1, 1955 President Dwight Eisenhower deployed American military advisors to Viet Nam.  Six years later John F. Kennedy, confirmed our involvement by sending in 400 Special Forces to assist the South Vietnamese army.  The war would end twenty only years later after a series of escalations by two more presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.  It cost 58,151 lives and became the first major war that America failed to conclude in victory.

Viet Nam had a profound, fair to say watershed, impact on the American psyche.  Its high-cost-defeat undermined the self confidence with which we had emerged from World War II.  It had a far greater impact than the Korean conflict, this despite a relatively higher body count there — 36,516 in just three years of fighting compared to Viet Nam’s twenty.  Korea was also unpopular — the promise of ending it got Ike elected — but opposition may have evidenced a greater war-fatigue than anything else.  Perhaps more important, we were principally focused at the time on the Soviet menace.  It was after all the age of Joe McCarthy, of red bating and black lists.  Beyond shaking our self-confidence, I would argue that to some degree at least, the polarizing divisions within America laid bare by Viet Nam helped sew the seeds of what has come to mark our public discourse today.  It was then that the mantra of, are you with us or against us, was born.  In that, George Bush’s post 9/11 rhetoric was only a copycat.

Memories of Viet Nam were brought to mind this week when both Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and NATO made statements signally that our and their troops might be out of combat in Afghanistan by 2013 or 14.  This news coincided and contrasted with a report that Taliban captives, far from feeling defeated, contended to interrogators that they were in fact winning the war  — especially with regard to hearts and minds.  History is on their side, not ours.  If that weren’t enough of a reminder, every day brings escalating talk of military action against Iran, ginned up especiallyin this country by the Republican presidential candidates, but mostly by an unmistakable propaganda campaign being waged by the Israelis.

According to the Times, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon, referring to Israel’s attack on the Iran Revolutionary Guard missile base, contended that the system they hit was getting ready to produce a missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers.  Referring to Iran’s invoking the Great Satan, he contends that the planned missiles were actually, aimed at America, not at us (Israel).  Yaalon’s point is that we have as much to be concerned about as do they, perhaps even more so.  This follows the January 25 Magazine story (Will Israel Attack Iran?) in which its author Ronen Bergman was given full access to Ehud Barak and other of the country’s key leaders.

I don’t want to address either Iran’s threat, which may be real or Israel’s absolute and legitimate right to defend its national sovereignty.  Nor am I suggesting that the magazine story was in any way instigated by Israel.  What struck me, however, was the similarity between these recent reports and the run-up to our invasion of Iraq.  Let’s all remember that whenever military force is used, and no matter by whom, there are bound to be unintended consequences.  Those who use force, justified or not, will assure us that such consequences will be minimal — always worth the risk.  Don’t believe it for one minute.

We were solemnly told about potentially falling dominoes, but Viet Nam was unwinnable from the get-go.  And of course, the North’s win did not produce dominoes falling or any catastrophe, quite the opposite.  So, too, was Iraq unwinnable and so is Afghanistan.  I said history was on the side of the Taliban view because in end, strangers in a distant land must, of necessity, go home.  Sometimes they go home out of sheer fatigue — Korea following closely on World War II — and sometimes because, well, it’s time to go home.  Time is always on the side of the natives.  Invaders may have some impact on their societies at the margin, but they will quickly revert to their own identity.  That truth can even be seen in Germany and Japan who recaptured their national narrative after 1945 and we can already see it in Iraq.  National pride is strong, as it should be, and foreigners and just that, foreigners.  Incursions in the arc of history are but a fleeting moment of time.  At some point invaders, even those who come with noble purpose can’t long sustain in a land not their own.

One of the reasons often given for the lack of success of conflicts in far off places is the cultural disconnect.  We Americans live in such a different place that we simply can’t understand, let’s say the Vietnamese or the Afghans.  That certainly is true, but hardly the whole story.  Consider for example a decision to invade Canada.  This is of course a far-fetched even preposterous notion, but I’d predict that national pride would still prevail.  Canadians may speak an English that is no more distinctive than what we see within our country, say between North to South and Bronx to Chicago cadences.  But in Ontario or Manitoba we would still be seen a foreigners and the local resistance would likely be no less fearless than we witnessed in Viet Nam or than we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the reasons that Ron Paul has been so captivating to many, especially younger, Americans is that he opposes our involvement in foreign wars.  His rationale for doing so — and to be sure his overall libertarian views — may be different than ours, but this part of his message strikes a chord.  It embodies a truth that many of us know.  It is also a truth, perhaps one might call it a potentially fatal flaw, that our system seems geared to repeating these mistakes.  Moreover, our leaders, despite what may be their best intentions seem locked into the same misbegotten cycle.  Just look at how President Obama has not been able to quickly extricate ourselves from Bush’s two wars.  Even after ending Iraq, we will still have a presence as do we more than half a century later in Korea, Japan and Europe.  Eisenhower attributed that the Industrial Military Complex

In the debate over guns, opponents of gun control often argue that guns don’t kill, people do.  True, but having a gun — the means — in hand as an option, is a game changer.  On a more benign level, given the option of using a screw driver or my electric drill, I will always plug in or battery up.  Having the means at hand weighs heavily, and that has played a huge role in the choices we’ve made as a country.  It certainly impacts upon what Israel may be considering in combatting Iran’s perceived or real threat.  And we shouldn’t be totally and one-sidedly hard on ourselves.  Many of our friends, not so armed as we, have induced us into fighting their battles.  We went into Viet Nam (or claimed that to be the case) because the French couldn’t do (or we thought) finish the job.

Having the means is alluring and it’s deceptive.  It often takes us down a path we should never have followed.  Bush and Chaney made the absolutely wrong decision about Iraq, and did so with a lot of bi-partisan and pundit support (Hilary Clinton and Tom Friedman, for example).  But I do think that they honestly thought it would be a cakewalk — remember shock and awe.  We can say with certainly that the operation was poorly planned and understaffed, a product of Rumsfeld’s arrogance, but the Pandora’s box it opened was an unintended consequence.   It represented a lesson of history not learned.

George Aiken, the moderate Republican (remember them) governor and then senator from Vermont during the Viet Nam years is credited with suggesting that we just declare victory and get out.  He never really said that in so many words, but was nonetheless hailed as a wise old owl.  It’s hard to be the biggest and toughest guy on the block and to admit defeat by the pipsqueak down the street.  Claiming victory in the face of the unwinnable battle takes real guts — first in saying those words and then in moving on.  Senator Aiken, where are you when we still need you most?