(7:30 PM.) This morning I was teaching Clausewitz once again, and returning to his caution to commanders at every level to keep their heads when all around are losing theirs, and to recognize, in the chaos of combat, the truly critical problems that must be solved. I have tried to take those maxims in my own life over the years, not least in the posts I make here. But the last two days have seen a coincidence of frightening events that have left me rather shaken, and wondering whether the United States will indeed face something comparable to the secession of the southern states of 1929 or the banking crisis of 1932 in the next few months.
The first crisis is the threatened implosion of the Democratic Party (an event that played a key role in bringing the Civil War about, by the way), as the Clinton campaign ever more desperately tries to reverse the fairly clear verdict of the voters. During the last 48 hours Geraldine Ferraro, who officially takes part in that campaign, has made and reiterated the astonishing statement that Barack Obama has only gotten where he is because he is black. Coming from the woman whose selection as Vice Presidential candidate in 1984 was not only admitted to be but embraced as tokenism, that statement--made on behalf of a woman who would not be where she is but for her marriage--strikes me as the most appalling note of the whole campaign. Meanwhile, evidence is accumulating that Republican votes played a very important role in the outcomes last Tuesday both in Texas and in Ohio--not a promising development as a new Democratic majority tries to regain power.
Secondly, there is the Spitzer scandal. In 1998, at the height of the Lewinsky frenzy, I wrote an op-ed suggesting how American history might have been different--no Louisiana Purchase, no allied victory in the Second World War, and no civil rights act of 1964--if the press in earlier eras had paid so much attention to sex as they were now. No one would publish it. (I shall try to find the draft and publish it here soon, although it may be lost.) I continue to believe, first of all, that conventional morality will never master sex, and secondly, that politicians, for a variety of reasons, are clearly prone to sexual excess, and that we should be wise enough simply to accept that. I am also shocked, frankly, that the investigation into Eliot Spitzer's finances was not dropped (perhaps after a friendly word had been sent to the Governor) as soon as the authorities realized what they were dealing with. The whole client list of the Emperor's Club, I am sure, would make interesting and non-partisan reading. Nor have I forgotten that a male prostitute, "Jeff Gannon," entered the White House several dozen times during the Bush Administration for reasons that were never fully explained. As long as we still live in an era in which sex can destroy any political career, we are at risk.
But the last event, which triggered this unusual evening post, was the resignation of Admiral William Fallon as Commander of Central Command, the military region including the Middle East. Fallon has long been known to be against an attack on Iran, a point reiterated in an Esquire article about him last week by one Tom Barnett. I have never met him, but he sounds like the finest type of military leader we produce, one with his feet firmly on the ground, with a real sense of the national interest, and with courage. He was also one of the very last Vietnam veterans in the military. Secretary Gates has announced that the rumors of a difference of opinion between Fallon and the President were too much of a distraction for him to continue. I wish I could be sure that that was the reaction, but I fear that the change of command is indeed a prelude to the attack on Iran which the Vice President has reportedly urged upon the President on the grounds that no successor would have the courage to carry it out. (It is even more disturbing that the Vice President himself is traveling around the Middle East, officially in order to encourage the Middle East peace process and try to bring down the price of oil.) The past few months have given us the feeling that the Bush Administration was ready to fade into history. That may not be the case.