Don't Know Much About Algebra

By MAUREEN DOWD

New York Times

January 21, 2005

Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, has been pilloried for suggesting that women may be biologically unsuited to succeed at mathematics.

He may have a point.

Just look at Condoleezza Rice.

She's clearly a well-educated, intelligent woman, versed in Brahms and the Bolsheviks, who has just been rewarded for her loyalty with the most plum assignment in the second Bush cabinet.

Yet her math skills are woefully inadequate.

She can't do simple equations. She doesn't even know that X times zero equals zero. If you multiply 1,370 dead soldiers times zero weapons of mass destruction, that equals zero achievement for Ms. Rice, who helped the president and vice president bamboozle the country into war.

Was Condi out doing figure eights at the ice skating rink when she should have been home learning her figures? She couldn't have spent much time studying classic word problems: If two trains leave Chicago at noon, one going south at 20 miles an hour and one going north at 30 miles an hour, how far will each have gotten by midnight?

Otherwise, she might have realized that if two cars leave the Baghdad airport at noon on the main highway into the capital of Iraq, neither one is going to get there with any living passengers. Our 22 months at war have not added up to that one major highway's being secured.

It's lucky for Ms. Rice that she's serving with men who are just as lame at numbers as she is. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz couldn't be bothered to tally correctly the number of dead soldiers when he testified before Congress. And his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, didn't realize that using an autopen signature on more than 1,000 letters to the relatives of fallen troops added up to zero solace.

Our new top diplomat has obviously not mastered fractions. When she asserted during her confirmation hearing that 120,000 Iraqi troops had been trained, Senator Joe Biden corrected her, saying she was off by a bit. His calculation of trained Iraqi troops was actually 4,000 - hers was 30 times that. Maybe she's confusing hyperbole and hypotenuse.

Her geometry is skewed if she thinks she'll now be more powerful than Rummy and Dick Cheney. Doesn't she know that the Pentagon has more sides than her Crawford triangle with George and Laura?

She could at least have read "The Da Vinci Code." Then she would have learned about Fibonacci numbers, a recurring mathematical pattern in nature. When you invade a country, you should expect an insurgency. Or, as Fibonacci might have calculated it, if you kill one jihadist, two more arrive to take his place; if you kill three, five more pop up; if you get five, eight more appear, and so on.

The incoming secretary of state and her colleagues are, alas, also lousy at economics. After Bush officials promised that the postwar expenses would be covered by Iraqi oil revenues, we find ourselves spending $1 billion a week of our own money.

Ms. Rice and her fellow imperialists know so little about physics that they arrogantly jumped into "spooky action at a distance," turning the country they had hoped to make into a model democracy into a training ground for international terrorists, a nucleus for a new generation of radioactively dangerous fanatics.

How could they forget Newton's third law: for every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction?

The administration needs a lesson in subtraction. How do we subtract our troops and replace them with Iraqi troops while the terrorists keep subtracting Iraqi troops with car bombs and rocket-propelled grenades?

Condi may not know Einstein's theory of relativity, but she has a fine grasp of Cheney's theory of moral relativity. Because they're the good guys, they can do anything: dissembling to get into war; flattening Iraqi cities to save them; replacing the Geneva Conventions with unconventional ways of making prisoners talk. The only equation the Bushies know is this one: Might = Right.

It is puzzling that if you add X (no exit strategy) to Y (Why are we there?) you get W²: George Bush's second inauguration.

At Condi's hearing, she justified the Bush administration's misadventures by saying history would prove it right. "I know enough about history to stand back and to recognize that you judge decisions not at the moment, but in how it all adds up," she told a skeptical Senator Biden.

Problem is, she's calculating, but she can't add. For now, Sam Cooke is right about the Bushies. They don't know much about history.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com