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Rumsfeld's war?

By Nicholas Stix
web posted January 3, 2005

Donald RumsfeldWell, it's official: Donald Rumsfeld has been declared the fall guy for the Bush Administration's prosecution of the War in Iraq. What was that, you ask? "Who made the declaration?" Why, it was those unlikely bedfellows, William Kristol, the New York Times, and Norman Schwarzkopf.

"President" Rumsfeld?

Apparently, everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, has been President Rumsfeld's fault: He sent insufficient numbers of men to win the peace, he was responsible for the "torture" at Abu Ghraib, and worst of all, he was insufficiently deferential to the G.I., Army Spc. Thomas Wilson, who asked him at a December 8 public assembly in Kuwait why all U.S. supply vehicles are not armored. What was once seen as refreshing candor is now attacked as "flippancy."

Don Rumsfeld is a tough guy who doesn't need me playing sob sister … but I will, anyway. The man certainly has flaws, which include being deaf to any subordinate who has original ideas, and who fails to sing along with Rumsfeld's choir of admirers; and using an auto-signature machine to sign letters to the families of soldiers killed in action. And yet, as far as I can see, the new campaign to run the Secretary out of Washington on a rail -- how many have there been? I've lost track -- has nothing to do with any screw-ups of his.

The New York Times' role in this is the most obvious. The Times has always hated Rumsfeld, because: 1. He is an aggressive, Republican advocate for the President's policies; and 2. See 1.

Since President Bush's convincing re-election victory, the Times has done everything but demand openly, that he clear out all Republican cabinet members, and replace them with Democrats hell-bent on sabotaging his administration. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has given Rumsfeld the full Times treatment: Open condemnation in his house editorials and by his lefty op-ed columnists, and thinly veiled condemnation by his "reporters" in alleged news stories.

Maureen Dowd's Miserable "Life"

On December 19, Times op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd sank so low, as to abuse Frank Capra's movie, It's a Wonderful Life, in a pathetic attempt at satire ("A Not So Wonderful Life"). Contradicting the spirit of Capra's Christmas classic, Dowd argued that the world would have been a much better place, had Rumsfeld never been born.

In Dowd's fantasy, the current secretary of defense is Democrat Sam Nunn, who unlike Rumsfeld, "consults with Congress." I've followed every president since Nixon, and I can't recall a single defense secretary who "consulted with Congress." What on earth does that phrase mean? Are we talking about some silly social ritual? Defense policy is set by the President. But Dowd doesn't mean "consult with Congress," anyway. She means ‘get bossed around by Congress.' But this is a Republican-controlled Congress that is so conservative, that if Dowd really pushed her luck, a contingent of Congressmen just might show up at the Times' doorstep, singing "God Bless America" and Christian hymns. If Congress' Republican leadership is unhappy with Donald Rumsfeld's stewardship at Defense, I've yet to see it.

[Nunn] caught Osama back in '01. He threw 100,000 troops into Afghanistan on 9/11 and sealed the borders. Our Special Forces trapped the evildoer and his top lieutenants at Tora Bora. You weren't at that cabinet meeting the day after 9/11, so nobody suggested going after Saddam. No American troops died or were maimed in Iraq. No American soldiers tortured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. No Iraqi explosives fell into the hands of terrorists."

According to Dowd, in the real world, Dick Cheney "anointed himself 43's vice president," but in her fantasy, without Rumsfeld in the Nixon Administration, Cheney never got the chance.

W. chose Chuck Hagel as his running mate. So without you and Dick there to dominate him, he was guided by his dad and Brent Scowcroft, who kept Condi in line. Colin Powell was never cut off at the knees and the U.N. and allies were never bullied. There was never any crazy fever about Iraq or unilateralism or "Old Europe." Here's Colin now, heading for the Oval Office.

POWELL: Merry Christmas, Mr. President. With the help of our allies around the world, we have won the war on terror. And Saddam has been overthrown. Once Hans Blix exposed the fact that Saddam had no weapons, the tyrant was a goner. No Arab dictator can afford to be humiliated by a Swedish disarmament lawyer.

Never mind that our problems "catching" Osama bin Laden in 2001, were due to President Bush eschewing unilateralism, in favor of delegating much responsibility to the Afghan Northern Alliance. (For which Dems have recently attacked him!) Or that it is logistically impossible for America to "throw 100,000 troops" into any country in less than several weeks' time, or to seal Afghanistan's borders, with any amount of manpower. Not to mention that for weeks after 911, Dowd's newspaper -- with her support -- tried to sandbag Bush out of sending any soldiers to Afghanistan, warning that it would be a "quagmire" in which we would be whipped and humiliated! (This was not Sulzberger & Co.'s fear, but their hope.) Or that Bush required no prodding from Rumsfeld, to focus on Saddam Hussein. (After all, the Times has approvingly supported the claims by discredited former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, according to whom Pres. Bush was obsessed, from the moment he heard of the 911 attacks, with getting Saddam Hussein.) Or that until recently, there were no weapons in Iraq of any interest to Dowd. And the biggest "or" of all: That far from being dominated by Rumsfeld and Cheney, Bush didn't even ask them if he should go to war against Iraq.

But it gets worse. Prior to the war, Hans Blix had insisted (along with everyone in both parties) that Saddam had biological and chemical weapons by the ton. And note the passive construction: "Colin Powell was never cut off at the knees and the U.N. and allies were never bullied." Cut off by whom? Bullied by whom? Dowd has to go passive, in order to avoid naming George Bush, the guy who according to her, is so passive that Dick Cheney forced his vice-presidential candidacy on him (how does one do that?), yet who cuts off people at the knees and bullies "allies" like Germany and France.

In her anti-Capra fantasy, all of Dowd's ruminations assumed that Bush was the president. But she has long insisted that the U.S. Supreme Court illegitimately "chose" Bush as president. So, shouldn't it be Al Gore who sent 100,000 troops to Afghanistan on 911, caught Osama bin Laden, won the war in Afghanistan, and never waged war on Iraq? There I go again, invoking logic, facts, and coherence, factors that are banned in Dowdland.

Oops. But according to Dowd, we weren't supposed to send any troops to Afghanistan. In Josh Chafetz' essay, "The Immutable Laws of Maureen Dowd," in the October 25, 2002 Weekly Standard, he shows Dowd playing the Times' pre-Afghanistan "quagmire" script to the hilt.

On October 28, 2001 [during the Afghanistan campaign], she asked "Are we quagmiring ourselves again?" Of course, she didn't offer an answer or any suggestions as to how to get out of a quagmire, if, indeed, we were in one. A week later, on the strength of a single misstep (the murder of CIA-friendly Abdul Haq), she wrote, "We're sophisticated; they're crude. We're millennial; they're medieval. We ride B-52's; they ride horses. And yet they're outmaneuvering us." No doubt spurred into action by Dowd's prod, American-backed forces captured Mazar-i-Sharif five days later, and Kabul fell four days after that. Just over a month after Dowd informed us that we were being outmaneuvered, the Taliban's last stronghold, Kandahar, fell."

In Dowd's Rumsfeld-free fantasy, American troops did not torture Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. In the real world, however, with Rumsfeld, American GIs also did not torture Iraqis.

Don Rumsfeld is still defense secretary, last I noticed. It never occurred to Maureen Dowd that you have to win, before you can gloat over your victory. Perhaps in her universe, the carts pull the horses.

A New Godfather?

Even neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, has demanded Rumsfeld's ouster; in the December 15 Washington Post, Kristol called on President Bush to fire the Secretary. The next day in the New York Times, alleged reporter Todd Purdum quoted Kristol as saying,

For me, it's the combination of the arrogance and the buck-passing manifested in that statement [to Spc. Wilson], with the fundamental error he's made for a year and a half now. That error, from my point of view, is that his theory about the military is at odds with the president's geopolitical strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we've got to win a real war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that's at the core of the president's strategy for rebuilding the Middle East…. His stubborn attachment to his particular military theory had really hurt the nation's ability to carry out its foreign policy.

In the Post, Kristol wrote,

In any case, decisions on troop levels in the American system of government are not made by any general or set of generals but by the civilian leadership of the war effort. Rumsfeld acknowledged this last week, after a fashion: "I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess that's fine." Except he fails to take responsibility….

These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.

Kristol ignores the fact that the "top person" is President Bush. And well he must. As a courtier, Kristol (whose father, Irving, is called "the godfather of neoconservatism"), whose "analyses" are always determined not by political reality or principle, but rather by calculations of his own potential political benefit, depends on the ruler's favor. And so, he must blame the ruler's mistakes on anyone but the ruler. Thus, once Kristol was sure that Rumsfeld was down for the count, he wanted to kick him a few times, so that Bush would think that Kristol had had a hand in the Secretary's demise.

Back in March, 2000, my colleague Jim Antle brilliantly skewered the philosophical and political poverty of Kristol's (and Kristol's then-Weekly Standard colleague David Brooks') strategy for the GOP. Kristol had supported Sen. John McCain's presidential candidacy against then-Gov. George Bush.

Jettison the boorish white Southerners -- a Weekly Standard bete noire held responsible for much of the GOP's troubles within its pages -- and their Christian right friends, as well as other elements of the Republican coalition easily caricatured by the Democrats. Replace them with a party that chablis-sipping sophisticates from the Northeast who dress like Tucker Carlson would be more comfortable with. Sprinkle generous amounts of happy talk about reform. Voila! A new majority is born.

Antle was just kidding about that "new majority" -- he emphasized that the Kristol-Brooks strategy would relegate the GOP to permanent opposition party status, though as he quipped, it would receive much more favorable coverage by the New York Times. Indeed, the Times later hired Brooks!

As if Kristol's attempt to wreck the GOP from within weren't bad enough, when McCain's candidacy was shot down by GOP voters on Super Tuesday in March, 2000, Kristol and others sought to egg him into what the Washington Times' Wes Pruden called a "third-party suicide mission," which would have guaranteed Al Gore's electoral victory.

(Note the parallel to Kristol's nemesis Pat Buchanan, who via mischief in Palm Beach County during the post-election Siege on America, sought to help Al Gore steal the 2000 election. Completing the parallel, Buchanan too has sought, of late, to prove his loyalty to George W. Bush.)

Considering that even foreign nationals have long demanded that Rumsfeld be sent packing, Kristol surely didn't want to be left off the bandwagon. (Justin Raimondo, who has long pushed the blood libel that Israel was "linked" to 911, and who is right almost as often as a broken clock, once correctly observed that "access to power" is all that neoconservatism is about. Gotta give the Devil his due.)

Let's be charitable, and fantasize that Kristol believes that by attacking Rumsfeld, he is directing fire away from the President. But if he believes that, he isn't much of a political analyst. (Of course, this is the same analyst who predicted that the President would win an Electoral College landslide in November's election.) The Secretary has long served Bush's political opponents as a proxy for the President. Taking out Rumsfeld would leave the President exposed to direct fire, would show that Bush is vulnerable to those most hostile to his administration, and would leave Rumsfeld's successor chastened by the awareness of the price of aggressively doing his job.

In any event, Bill Kristol didn't fool George W. Bush, who after 2000 will never trust him. Heck, to read the funny papers, you'd think I was the only voice not calling for Rumsfeld's ouster.

Fade Away, General!

Norman Schwarzkopf's role in this affair is the most disappointing of all. The General, who is one soldier who does not care to fade away, says that the Secretary "laid it all on the Army, as if he, the secretary of defense, didn't have anything to do with the Army and the Army was over there doing it themselves, screwing up." I don't see how one could honestly say that Rumsfeld was rapping the Army. It is no secret, however, that some of Schwarzkopf's old cronies from the Army general officers' corps dislike Rumsfeld, due to his having scrapped some of their white elephant weapons systems. And I doubt that if Rumsfeld had been Army, instead of an old Navy flier, Schwarzkopf would now be landing on him with both left feet. Those old inter-service rivalries crop up at the darnedest times.

The Exchange

U.S. Army Spc Thomas Wilson, left, speaks to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not pictured, during Rumsfeld's visit to Camp Udeira, 120 km (74 miles) north of Kuwait City, on December 8
U.S. Army Spc Thomas Wilson, left, speaks to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, not pictured, during Rumsfeld's visit to Camp Udeira, 120 km (74 miles) north of Kuwait City, on December 8

At the time, Matt Drudge reported that, far from expressing a G.I.'s honest sentiment, the question posed by Army Spc. Thomas Wilson at the December 8 assembly was a sucker-punch set up by Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Edward Lee Pitts, who had coached the soldier to ask it, a minor detail that New York Times "reporter" Todd S. Purdum failed to mention.

Specialist Wilson now insists that the question was all his own idea. We can debate whether the question came from Pitts or Wilson, but it was not Purdum's place to censor that debate. (Full disclosure: Todd Purdum is married to one of Bill Clinton's old press secretaries, Dee Dee Myers.)

Specialist Thomas Wilson (278th Regimental Combat Team): Yes, Mr. Secretary. My question is more logistical. We've had troops in Iraq for coming up on three years and we've always staged here out of Kuwait. Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles and why don't we have those resources readily available to us? [Applause]

Secretary Rumsfeld: I missed the first part of your question. And could you repeat it for me?

Wilson: Yes, Mr. Secretary. Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We're digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that's already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.

Rumsfeld: I talked to the General coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I'm told that they are being -- the Army is -- I think it's something like 400 a month are being done. And it's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it.

As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe -- it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.

I can assure you that General Schoomaker and the leadership in the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but that they're working at it at a good clip. It's interesting, I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who've been working on it hard at the Pentagon. And if you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up. And you can go down and, the vehicle, the goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops. And that is what the Army has been working on.

I don't know why Specialist Wilson said that soldiers have been "fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years," when the true number is 21 months, i.e., less than two years. That's already long enough, without exaggerating it.

Based on the reaction by the mainstream media to Rumsfeld's exchange with Spc. Wilson, I fear I must have missed something. Was Wilson shell-shocked? Did Rumsfeld go and pull a "Patton," and slap him across the face a few times?

What Right Flank?

Alleged reporter Todd Purdum's December 16 New York Times story was entitled, "Grumbling Swells on Rumsfeld's Right Flank," suggesting that conservative Republicans had attacked the Secretary. And yet, no conservatives were cited in the story. With the exception of Arizona Sen. John McCain, all of the politicians Purdum cited were moderate or liberal Republicans -- senators Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins of Nebraska and Maine, respectively. And while McCain is anti-abortion, he could not honestly be referred to as a "conservative." This, after all, is the man who is responsible for the "campaign finance reform" that gutted the First Amendment, while enabling the notorious "527s" of the just concluded election campaign, and who supports the Kyoto Accords, which seek in the guise of environmental protection to gut the U.S. economy, while permitting countries like India and China to pollute with abandon.Indeed, that McCain has long been the favorite Republican of the mainstream media alone is enough to dispel the notion that he is a conservative. Where were the social and religious conservatives who truly are on Rumsfeld's right flank? Purdum did not cite or even anonymously refer to any.

Another relevant group that the Times failed to mention was paleoconservatives, who are also to Rumsfeld's right. From the start of the War on Terror, paleocons have referred to Rumsfeld as the neocons' "dupe." I'm still waiting for someone to explain how someone can aggressively advocate for and implement neocon politics, without himself being a neocon. And while there are many terms one could use to criticize Rumsfeld (arrogant, high-handed, etc.), "dupe" is the least credible. Oh, but of course -- he's not a Jew! That's why paleos refuse to refer to Rumsfeld as a "neocon."

Firing Donald Rumsfeld may benefit Pinch Sulzberger, various paleocons, and the Democrat Party, but it will not help us win the War in Iraq. Not that the anti-Rumsfeld campaign was designed to help us win the war.

Nicholas Stix can be reached at add1dda@aol.com.


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