From Abu Ghraib to Scooter Libby to Katrina, the Bush Administration has seemingly been on the brink of debilitating scandal for the last year. But to the consternation of Democrats and progressives everywhere, none have yet proved fatal. And presently, it would seem, this situation with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is looking more and more like a win-win for the Administration with each new general that jumps on the resignation bandwagon.
Now, instead of having to answer questions about his failing and deadly occupation of Iraq, all President Bush has to do is defend the crotchety Secretary of Defense who has been ultimately responsible for every embarrassing, tragic and torturous US Military related event that has taken place in the last five years. And Rumsfeld, no longer faced with questions about an impending Iraqi civil war and the mounting US military and Iraqi civilian deaths, can use his press briefings to joke about the calls for resignation and trail off on tangents about past glories while his hand-puppet General Pace plays the straight man.
In a recent briefing, Rumsfeld took the first question regarding the criticisms as an opening to launch into a ten-minute, 1,500-word monologue. In the response, which covered a decision he made as Defense Secretary 30 years ago, NATO reforms, his role in transforming the Army into a modular brigade combat team force, and the amazing strides the Marines have made within the US Military, Rumsfeld could only spare five words on Iraq: “We’ve got a war in Iraq.” (Was he just reminding himself?). In what other scenario could the Secretary of Defense spend more than half of a press briefing, in a climate in which even the President is admitting to mistakes made in both the invasion and occupation of Iraq, without ever having to defend his decisions or explain how he plans on fixing the problem? All that’s left is for Rumsfeld to utter the Bush Administration mantra — “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”
On the other hand, if Rumsfeld was to resign (at press time he was still the Secretary of Defense), Rove, Bolten and whoever replaces McClellan (personally I’m rooting for former Pentagon spokesperson Tori Clark because she might literally tear Helen Thomas’ heart right out of her chest and hold it up while she looks at David Gregory as if to say “there’s a new sheriff in town”) would be able to spin the news any which way they like. Option A: It was entirely Rumsfeld’s decision, and Bush, despite unwavering support of his Defense Secretary in the face of criticism, was simply granting the last wishes of a tired old man. Result: Bush comes off looking like a strong but compassionate leader, the former generals, and their legitimate and well thought out criticisms, go away and whomever he chooses to replace Rumsfeld can enjoy a honeymoon period that lasts until the end of the Administration’s time in office. Option B: Bush is such a strong and confident leader that he is willing to admit that the time has come for a change, even if that means accepting the resignation of one of his closest friends and colleagues. He will do anything it takes to ensure a successful outcome in Iraq. Result: The press takes the “new and improved Bush” storyline and runs with it, the administration gets some much needed relief from having to defend itself against its actions in Iraq so it can focus all its energies on its plans for Iran, and Bush is able to replace Rumsfeld with a hawk who has the clean slate and political capital necessary to launch a new offensive.
The one result and the only thing the retired generals have been calling for that has no chance of being realized is any significant change of course in Iraq. What could a new Secretary of Defense do? Pull out? No chance. Send in more troops? From where? Stop the sectarian violence? Too late. Sure, they might be able to gain a better consensus among current military leaders as to what needs to be done to properly train Iraqi forces and prevent civil war. But that is assuming that Bush puts the right person in charge, and based on his track record (see Brown, Chertoff, Bolton, Whitman, Myers, and on and on) there is absolutely no reason to believe that will happen.
Of course, the Rumsfeld factor will only be a win-win for Bush and Co. if the Democrats let that happen. The unprecedented criticism by recently retired, high-ranking, former generals and members of the Administration should continue if not intensify. But someone, anyone, in the Democratic Party should be putting the resignation talk into context. They (and please not Harry Reid. Is it possible to be marginalized before ever having any influence in the first place?) should be explaining that this has less to do with Rumsfeld and everything to do with the 25 million people in Iraq who continue to wait for the electricity to be turned back on, the roads to reopen, the schools and mosques to be safe enough to enter, and a cohesive and independent government to be formed. And for the US servicemen and women and their families, for whom statements such as “that, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future Presidents and future governments of Iraq,” only cause more sleepless nights that even AmbienCR can’t cure.
Rumsfeld should go. That is clear and much overdue. But the direct and justified criticism of the Administration’s handling of the Iraqi Occupation and current Iran-related scheming cannot go with it. Rumsfeld didn’t blow it all by himself. He had plenty of help and the rest of the gang is getting ready to do it all over again, with or without his miscalculations, senility and belligerence.