Don't Worry. Just Back Off.

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Go ahead, people, you have your orders from Napoleon Bonaparte, I mean Donald Rumsfeld. "Back off" and "relax." Book a cruise to Chillsville. Don't worry your pretty little heads about the debacle in Iraq, because "it's complicated, it's difficult." Are mere mortals going to be able to get their minds around a problem that even Albert Einstein, I mean Donald Rumsfeld, finds complicated? Let's be realistic here.

We should all thank our lucky stars that "honorable people" are willing to do all this super-advanced thinking for us. Aristotle, I mean Donald Rumsfeld, was kind enough to phrase it that way rather than spell out what he really meant, which was "people who are smarter than you."

I realize that a few news cycles have come and gone since the secretary of defense held that stunning news conference at the Pentagon last week, but it was such a telling moment -- such a revealing glimpse behind the curtain -- that it deserves to remain fresh in our minds, even amid the distracting cacophony of eleventh-hour electioneering. There, in just two words, you have the Bush administration's approach to the war in Iraq. Indeed, you have the Republicans' theory of government:

Back off.

Could anyone else have summed it up so efficiently? Maybe Tony Soprano, but his vocabulary can't be printed in a family newspaper. The basic style of leadership is the same, though. I'm the boss, so shut up and do as I say.

Republicans who have to face the voters next week, especially those who find themselves trailing badly in the polls, have been going AWOL from Rummy's brigade. Some, such as Maryland senatorial candidate Michael Steele, explicitly disown the Pentagon czar; others avoid mentioning his name and, when pressed, speak of him as if he were some kind of daffy uncle. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) made news Sunday when he ventured that "Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years." Boehner would be hard-pressed to find professional soldiers who agree with that assessment, but maybe blind loyalty in the face of overwhelming evidence will turn out to be a winning strategy. I have my doubts.

At least Boehner isn't trying to pretend that the disaster in Iraq is all Rummy's fault. Alexander the Great, I mean Donald Rumsfeld, may have authored the mistakes that have cost nearly 3,000 American lives, including more than 100 in October alone -- sending too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, failing to plan for an extended occupation, training Iraqi "security forces" that promptly turned into sectarian militias. But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and the rest of the Vulcans were with him every step of the way, and the Republican majority in Congress sang hosannas of praise like an amen chorus.

Now that most Americans oppose the war and want to bring the troops home before more young men and women die needless deaths, Republicans can't blame Democrats, because they froze them out of all the decision making.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert's immutable rule -- that any legislation brought to the floor had to be supported by a majority of the Republican caucus -- effectively muffled any concrete expression of the public's growing doubts about the war. What if substantial numbers of Democrats and moderate Republicans, enough to constitute a majority of the House, had questions about Iraq, or about torturing detainees, or about the whole course of this incoherent "war on terror"? Tough.

Back off.

The Republican majority came to Washington claiming a populist mandate but has ended up governing with the same breathtaking arrogance that Genghis Khan, I mean Donald Rumsfeld, let slip the other day. Congress is all about lobbyists, earmarks and pork. Democrats aren't immune to these depredations, of course, but if you aren't allowed to participate in any meaningful decisions, you can't be held responsible.

And at the White House and the Pentagon, fantasy reigns. President Bush famously pledged to stay the course in Iraq even if Laura and Barney the dog are his only supporters. Last week he said U.S. forces constantly change tactics to "stay ahead" of the Iraqi insurgents. Excuse me, but when have we ever been ahead of the insurgency? "We're winning" the war, Bush insists. Excuse me, but could you elaborate? In what sense are we winning in Iraq? Where are you seeing anything that resembles victory?

Silly me. Ordinary Americans just aren't smart enough to think about such things. Thank you, Sir Isaac Newton, I mean Donald Rumsfeld, for reminding us of our patriotic duty: Back off.

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