Whether or not Donald Rumsfeld leaves the Cabinet is almost beside the point now. This is because the whole Abu Ghraib affair has gone past that tipping point so typical in Bush Administration scandal dynamics. You know, that point where things have become so totally partisan and so totally stalemated that no one is even listening to each other anymore.
That's too bad because we need to discuss the real issue at hand: how the tenure of Don Rumsfeld brought the US to the brink of defeat in Iraq and what needs to be done about it.
Think I'm exaggerating about the situation in Iraq? Well, don't take my word for it; listen to Sen. Lindsey Graham
's (R-SC) wake-up call:
"...if we lose [in Iraq], I'll just lay it on the line the best I can--if we're unable to bring a democratic form of government in some form to Iraq, then that will be like Dunkirk."
Make no mistake: Graham isn't talking about Abu Ghraib. He's talking about a war effort gone wrong, a military campaign balancing on a knife's edge between success and disaster; he's talking about an Iraq that is in danger of sliding into protracted chaos.
Are we in danger of losing the war? And if so, why? And what part did Donald Rumsfeld play in that? And if he played an integral part in bringing us here to this dismal point, what should be done about it?
Let's take the questions in order.
- Are we in danger of losing the war?
In Sunday's Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks writes this:
Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are." In other words, we're winning the battle but losing the war.
Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.There's more:
A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. 'The American people may not stand for it - and they should not.'It isn't just the military that is going through a sober re-assessment of our position in Iraq. Public opinion on progress and worthiness of this war is at an all-time low.
Many would scoff at polls; but as history (and the Powell Doctrine) instructs us, "there must be strong support for the campaign by the general public," otherwise we risk failure and the waste of everything good we've achieved up to now.
In other words, we are in danger of the greatest loss of all -- the loss of the peoples' faith in their government. If we lose that, then the war truly is lost.
- How and why did this happen?
Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) respected member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee had this to say on Sunday:
The administration mounted a very effective force and team that got us to Baghdad, but the criticism now is they didn't have enough troops, as many in the military were telling them, to maintain the peace once we got there.Abu Ghraib is relevant here because it is symptomatic of the same problem.
Sen. Biden again:
[In Guantanamo]... we had 800 guards and 600 prisoners. In Iraq, we have thousands of prisoners with only a few hundred guards.This isn't anything new. The Rand Corporation, General Shinsecki, numerous major studies all said before the war that we needed a ratio of 40- or 50- to one, similar to what we had in Germany, Kosovo, even as recent as Afghanistan.
But we didn't do that in Iraq.
- And what was Sec. Rumsfeld's role in it?
This war will be remembered as Don Rumsfeld's legacy. Rumsfeld is the chief architect and main advocate for a war that would be fought with a very lean fighting force.
He dismissed the advice of his generals, who offered it well in advance of the start of the war, who said we needed a force double the size of the one that we sent.
Yet Rumsfeld insisted and believed we could do it with fewer troops, despite what the Powell Doctrine proved in Gulf War I. In fact, the entire Iraq War seemed determined to refute almost everything in the Powell Doctrine:
Essentially, the Doctrine expresses that military action should be used only as a last resort and only if there is a clear risk to national security by the intended target; the force, when used, should be overwhelming and disproportionate to the force used by the enemy; there must be strong support for the campaign by the general public; and there must be a clear exit strategy from the conflict in which the military is engaged.Listen to Sen. Biden again:
Had we gone down through northern Iraq with the 4th ID, there would be no Sunni Triangle. Had we had more troops in there from the beginning, as Shinsecki suggested, there would not have been the looting. Had the troops been there, they would have had tons and tons of more weapons.
- What should be done about it?
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Times today carries an editorial that states:
Gen. Myers, Sec. Rumsfeld and their staffs failed to recognize the impact the scandal would not only have in the US, but around the world. On the battlefield, Myers and Rumsfeld's errors would be called a lack of situational awareness -- a failure that amounts to professional negligence. This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level. This was a failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability is essential, even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war.Rumsfeld's recommendations have been bad right from the start. And we're all paying the price for that in blood and treasure.
Rumsfeld must go.
Many administration apologists would argue that Rumsfeld is being unfairly held accountable; Clinton Taylor
writes in the National Review that the people responsible for the following events were not held similarly accountable:
· Ruby Ridge
· The first World Trade Center bombing
· Khobar Towers bombing
· attack on the USS Cole
· failure to find Iraq's WMDs
· intelligence failures that led to 9/11
I suppose you could add the Oklahoma City bombing to the list too. But Taylor misses the point: None of these events was a war of choice.
Oddly enough, Taylor makes another point:
The connection between the abuse of prisoners and Rumsfeld's leadership is so attenuated as to be farcical. It's like calling for Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta's resignation because the baggage handlers at Denver stole your golf clubs.
Cute. Except it, again, misses the point: Rumsfeld should be relieved of duty (not for Abu Ghraib alone) but for his bungling of the war plan "by failing to plan adequately for the postwar period and not committing enough troops to the occupation."
Taylor has an answer for that too:
The jury is still out on this question; I tend to believe that no amount of troops is adequate to control the re-supply and reinforcement of terrorists from Iran and Syria and that any force would be stretched thin.
No amount of troops is adequate? That hardly fills one with confidence in Rumsfeld's original judgment and planning ability.
Another argument against Rumsfeld's ouster is that it won't satisfy anyone; in fact it will only whet the appetite of our enemies. Taylor asserts his point by mocking a recent Times editorial:
American success in Iraq (the Times asserts with a straight face) is far more important than one man's career. The world is waiting now for a sign that President Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened...Mr. Bush should start showing the state of his own heart by demanding the resignation of his secretary of defense.
Let the world wait. The notion that we should fire a competent and popular official on trumped-up charges to placate Brussels's or Khartoum's moral outrage is not only craven, it's useless.
Competent and popular?
Here's the thing: Rumsfeld's popularity might buy him a lifetime of public speaking gigs at $100 thousand a pop; his competence is another matter altogether.
has a similar list of reasons NOT to fire Don Rumsfeld:
Resignation would be utterly unjustified. The abuses in Abu Ghraib were in no way Donald Rumsfeld's fault.
Whether it is or not, it remains to be seen. According to Senator Hagel
, there are upwards of 30 ongoing investigations right now into the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
If Rumsfeld is implicated, we'll know soon enough.
Again, that's beside the point: Rumsfeld should be asked to leave because his entire record of planning and implementation of the Iraq war has led us to the brink of defeat.
Resignation would be pointless. The damage done by the Abu Ghraib pictures is irretrievable. The president could fire his entire cabinet, without changing a single mind in the Arab world - or for that matter Europe - about what happened and why.
Fire his entire Cabinet? Not a bad idea. But -- again! -- it isn't just about Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld didn't get the war itself right.And when your performance is that bad, you are relieved of duty.
Resignation would deprive the country of the services of one of the greatest secretaries of defense the United States has ever had. As Lincoln said when he was pressed to fire Ulysses Grant: We can't spare this man - he fights!
Grant fought all right. And he won. Will history judge Rumsfeld in the same way?
Resignation would actively damage the war effort.
Nonsense. The war is more than just Don Rumsfeld. If someone more competent replaces him, then who's to say we're worse off?
Yes, finally, resignation might damage Don Rumsfeld's legacy. He has served his country well. So we, in turn, should be willing to say, "Thank you Mr. Secretary, for your service. We'll take it from here."
Rumsfeld, in the end can take heart from this sage advice
Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance.
Pretty good advice from a guy who would know: Donald Rumsfeld himself.
Ara Rubyan, Challenger
(Anyone may post in the comments. Combatants, save the arguments for the battle, though. Judges should also refrain from critique/debate.)