Saturday, April 15, 2006
Mything the Point of "Not On My Watch"
NOT ON MY WATCH
That's Something Men Say. Hard men with a soft spot like John Wayne, James Arness, Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis. It's the sort of reassuring thing they tell the kid so he'll bunk down and catch some shut eye. Beaten, bruised, bone-tired but brave and indomitable they scan the surrounding darkness for danger and thoughtfully savor their coffee. The coffee is a metaphor for their life. It is cold, crappy and leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, but they enjoy it anyway. They know it may be the last cup they ever drink.
Samantha Power's book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide takes a hard look at a hard topic and asks the hard question, "What does America do when faced with evidence of genocide?" Unfortunately, the answer is somewhere between "nothing" and "too little, too late."
For some unknown reason, a National Security Council aide sent a memo to President Bush summarizing Power's chapter on Rwanda and Clinton's failure to stop the genocide in 1994.
For obvious reasons, word leaked out and it became well-known that President Bush penned a clear response in the memo's margins. He reportedly wrote, "NOT ON MY WATCH."
When this story first circulated in 2001, Bush was riding high in approvals. He had been re-cast from cheerleader with bullhorn rallying the kids to Leader With Bullhorn Rallying The Troops. Although no one actually asked him what the notation meant, everyone interpreted it as a strong statement of principle. People read it as a moral Maginot Line. It was a perfect example of the Compassionate Christian's Righteous Anger. It was the kind of thing you'd expect from a Texas Ranger.
Time passes; things happen and people start asking questions. First off, we have the ongoing genocide of Darfur. When Colin Powell used the "G" word at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on September 9, 2004, it set off a whole flurry of speculation. People were positively breathless with anticipation as they waited for the next shoe to drop. They didn't have to hold their breath too long to learn this was just the political equivalent of a Hallmark Moment. By Christmas, Powell was gone and the issue disappeared with him. The killing continues.
Here's why I bring all this to your attention: Recent events have forced everyone to accept the fact that Dubya is capable of using language just as deceptively as Slick Willy. Whatever happens in the Plame Game, one thing is crystal clear. George Bush initiated a multimillion dollar investigation even though he knew he was the guy they were looking for.
To Joe Six Pack-- and everyone else -- comments like "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it." Sound an awful lot like "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
When reporters, cops, and scientists are caught making misleading statements in the public record, everything they ever did becomes the subject of scrutiny. We don't hold our politicians to that standard because we expect them to lie like used car salesmen. But when a president runs on a platform of restoring honor and dignity to the Presidency, I think it's fair to go back and take a fresh look at that notation.
It's possible he meant it the way people interpreted it when he wrote it, but since then he's changed his mind. I'm not sure he deserves the benefit of that doubt.
Maybe he meant, "This did not happen on my watch... so what?"
Maybe he meant, "This will not be an agenda item on my watch."
Maybe he meant, "I won't resort to this on my watch."
We'll never know for certain, because unlike Bush, we don't claim to have the gift of looking into men's souls and judging them good. Mere mortals can only judge men by what they do and the consequences of their actions.
The cruelest lies are often told in silence.
-- Adlai Stevenson
Mything the Point:
"Examining unexamined beliefs America accepts on faith value"