Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Autopen

Is it a small thing that Donald Rumsfeld has been using an autopen to sign letters of condolence, instead of signing them by hand? Yes.

Does it really matter to families who have lost someone? Probably not.

But is it a revealing insight into our secretary of Defense? You bet.

It goes without saying that if this story had come out about a Democratic president's SecDef, the Republican end of the blogosphere would be purple with indignation, and rightly so. As it is, I've seen only a handful of cross words, from a pair of posters on a Lucianne.com thread and a few lonely voices at FreeRepublic. No mention whatsoever of the story at the Corner.

While it would have been impractical for the SecDef to sign condolence letters during World War II, the Iraq War is a low-grade enough conflict that it wouldn't take more than 5 or 10 seconds of Rumsfeld’s time every day to put down his John Hancock.

Signing these letters wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't bring back the dead. It wouldn't salve a family's grief. It wouldn't help win the war.

But it would be the right thing to do. And conservatives are supposed to care about that sort of thing.


Jimmie said...

I'll give you the biggest reason I'm not all that het up about it.

He may not sign the letters, but he visits the familes in person and he visits the wounded soldiers in person. Apparently this is something he's done (as has the President) all along, though it's gotten almost no media attention. That shows a great bit more heart than any letter ever will.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were debating this last night- it tires him so to see the level of 'scandal' played out on the news as though this is important. He also is frustrated when he views it in comparison to the notification given in other conflicts. I agree it is not a scandal, but it is poor judgement on Rumsfeld's part. And he is experienced enough to know better. And it is duplicitous to send something that looks like a signature, but is not. I agree with you- not the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

You guys at the Standard seem to have such a woody to get Rumsfeld. It all comes off as if you hate him because he's not nice to you. C'mon.
Robert E. Lee's famous line applies to you guys. When asked why he lost the war, Lee replied that all of his best generals were writing for the newspapers.

John Clifford said...

In previous wars, families of servicemen who were killed received telegrams with no signatures. Does anyone really think it matters to a grieving spouse or parents whether or not the SecDef or his autopen signed the letter? After all, it's not like Rumsfield is going to sit down and write every letter, look up the details of the serviceman's death, and ruminate on how best to phrase his condolences.

This brouhaha over the autopen is just another example of how the trivial is made important when it comes to politics. Rumsfield would not be any more effective as a SecDef if he had signed the letters personally; in fact he'd probably have been worse since he would have had less time to do what is truly important and that is run the Department of Defense very ably. Does anyone really think Donald Rumsfield isn't aware that people are dying over in Iraq? Or, is this yet another attack for purely political reasons that is meant to harm the SecDef and the Bush administration and hinder their ability to promote their policies and prosecute the war?

The aftermath of the Iraq War has turned out to be messier than anyone forsaw; so what? Anyone who actually knows anything about history understands that nothing in a war works out as expected. Our diplomatic maneuvers and France's machinations gave Baathists like al Douri the opportunity to escape to Syria with a boatload of cash at the start of the war. The Arab mentality means that enough Iraqis are embarassed and humiliated by the US' liberation of their country that they believe the only way they can regain face is to kill an American. Here at home, political enemies of the Bush administration make it difficult, if not impossible, to combat the insurgency in a manner that would be most effective and minimize both US and Iraqi casualties. And the naysayers' constant calls for unilateral disengagement only serve to further the resolve of our enemies; these people talk about how America hasn't learned the lessons of Vietnam while following the pattern of irresoluteness that caused Vietnam to be a debacle in the first place.

The ideal SecDef is the one who can cut through the clutter, figure out what the problem is, and act to solve it. Rumsfield is that, in spades... the most competent SecDef since Dick Cheney (perhaps more so since he didn't inherit the well-funded and well-trained Reagan-era military). Is it really important that his aides used an authentic facsimile of his signature on an optional letter? Maybe he should be hand-embroidering the flags used to drape each coffin. Would that make everyone feel better? Would that make our country any safer?