George Will’s column today calls for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld: “No flinching from the facts.” His case against Rumsfeld is built on the lawyer’s anticipated defense of one of the soldiers charged in the prison scandals — a pretty thin reed on which to hang a column this consequential:
The lawyer’s client probably will offer — this should deepen Americans’ queasiness — the Nuremberg defense: I was only obeying orders. If the abuse was the result of orders — or of the absence of them — fault must extend up the chain of command.
The chain of command of course extends to the president; it doesn’t stop with Rumsfeld. And just about every element of Will’s indictment of Rumsfeld — an indictment infused with praise of the kind Marc Antony showered on Brutus in his Shakespearean funeral oration over Julius Caesar — logically extends to President Bush himself.
Indeed, Will’s column is a critique of American “empire” — the rubric under which Will subsumes the foreign policy goals of the Bush administration. According to Will, it is the American goal of empire that results in the misconduct depicted in the infamous photographs. Addressing Americans in the third person (what nationality is he?), Will asserts:
[T]hey should not flinch from this fact: That [photographic] pornography is, almost inevitably, part of what empire looks like. It does not always look like that, and does not only look like that. But empire is always about domination. Domination for self-defense, perhaps. Domination for the good of the dominated, arguably. But domination.
I may be a slow learner, but the concept of “domination for self-defense” as a form of empire is one that requires more explanation than Will provides.
It is also unclear to me how Will is able to distinguish imperial misconduct photographically from misconduct in a cause that is simply worthy. Here he puts me in mind of Peter Hurkos, the world’s foremost psychic; his forte was “psychometry,” the ability to see past-present-future associations by touching objects. Will claims to be able to deduce national motives from photos of a few soldiers misbehaving.
Two weeks ago Will called, sort of, for an early exit of American forces from Iraq, even if it were to lead to civil war. Will argued that “in Iraq, civil war might be preferable to today’s combination of disintegration tempered by violent Sunni-Shiite collaboration against U.S. supervision.” But it is impossible that civil war would be the finale to the withdrawal Will calls for; civil war would end in the probable division of Iraq into parts dominated by Iran and/or Syria.
George Will is a smart man; he knows that civil war would be a temporary condition whose probable outcome is the evil against which our current difficulties in Iraq must be compared. Why does he pretend otherwise?
Today Will advises: “Listen to the language. It is always a leading indicator of moral confusion.” I wonder if this advice does not apply more to Will’s column than to its ostensible subject.