The Breakfast Table

Madeleine the Unready

Hi Ruth:

Set your mind at ease about the poor Iraqis: with this crew in the White House, they’re as safe as in their mother’s arms. But I’m not quite sure what to make of the rest of your message this morning. Are you suggesting that had the United States been more forthcoming in some way to someone, these outrages would not have occurred? Then you should go on to tell us to whom, and in what way? I quite agree with you that real security depends on good relations between countries. I gather, though, that you think that good relations in turn require the United States to scurry around the world mollifying every government or collection of crackpots that can lay hands on a truckbomb. My own guess is that apprehending and hanging the men responsible for the attack on the East African embassies would do much more to promote peace and security than any amount of international psychotherapy.

The thing that caught my eye this morning was a front page story in the Washington Times–a newspaper distinguished not only by the country’s best defense reporter, Rowan Scarborough, but also by the most elegant website. (Though not, alas, the most functional: that prize goes to the New York Times.) Scarborough notes that premature dismissals of armed forces enlisted personnel–that is, firing recruits before their first four-year hitch is up–has reached a record high of 36%. Coinciding as it does with a surge of early retirements of officers, especially from the air force, this high dismissal rate is worse than a waste of money: it indicates real weaknesses in America’s military. The Clinton administration deploys troops more casually than any administration since Lyndon Johnson’s: yet it spends less (1/3 less than in the mid-1980s), and has used the military as a blank canvas for social experimentation.

I didn’t like Madeleine Albright’s quote any better than you did, but for a very different reason: it’s the latest manifestation of Clintonesque empty bluster, bold talk covering up weakness of will and a depleted military. What do they think about all this in Canada? The same thing as non-Americans around the world think: they dislike and mistrust American strength–until about 90 seconds before they themselves need it.