What’s Your Motivation?

First of all, thanks to everybody who came out to the Wil-Mar Community Center on Tuesday night for a romantic evening of talking about that love machine, Douglas Feith. I don’t have pictures, unless Christian (*waves*) wants to e-mail me the ones he snapped before I could stop him, but it turned into a really fascinating back-and-forth about Feith’s Iraq screwups, what we need to do to fix this country of ours, and something I’d really like to expand on, which was the notion of motivation.

I’ve gotten this question a few times: Was Feith smart or stupid, was Feith evil or deluded, why, why, why did he do what he did. And while I usually place him somewhere around my favorite of all Shakespearean flaws, hubristic and book smart but street stupid, I have a real problem with the increasing emphasis on the question, and here’s why:

I’m not sure it matters.

Oh, certainly motive is important in the context of Feith’s eventual war crimes trial, and it would be useful in preventing someone like him from ever again exerting such influence in government if we had a detailed personality profile of particularly his species of failure. And it does matter to a great extent what he did and what he was directed to do, and by whom. If I had my way a team of prosecutors would be examining those questions right now.

But as to what Feith himself was thinking and feeling … look. Governing is a job. These guys — Feith, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Franklin — were all hired to do jobs. And while it might be interesting to know whether or not in their spare time they torture kittens or whether they cry themselves to sleep at night over all the blood on their hands, what matters is not what they feel or even who they are so much as what they’ve done. What matters … the fruits of his labors.

Whether he thought dark thoughts as he helped create a quagmire in Iraq or not, the dead are dead. The libraries burned, the prisoners were tortured, the children are orphans. Is he evil? Is he stupid? Is he simply one of a team of greedy looters or a malicious genius or … I find, the more I learn about him, the less I care. In the face of what he’s done, what mitigating circumstances could give comfort, lessen the sting? What good intentions would undo the damage, what evil ones make it worse? Is there really any reason he could give, any facet of his personality which could come to light, which would make it all okay?

His defenders may choose to define him by other things: whether he loves his children or treats his dog sweetly. I tend to favor the body count as a more accurate summation of his dubious accomplishments.

Number the dead. That’s his epitaph.