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Bush is a Fool for Keeping Rumsfeld

The defence secretary is one liability a battered White House can't afford

The Economist Magazine (UK) 22apr2006

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donald rumsfeld -- Bush is a Fool for Keeping Rumsfeld: The defence secretary is one liability a battered White House can't afford - The Economist Magazine (UK) 22apr2006

In the innocent days before Sept. 11, 2001, a popular parlour game in Washington was guessing when Donald Rumsfeld would be given the boot. The new secretary of defence had managed to alienate both Congress and the Pentagon bureaucracy. And the media were full of stories about his abrasive style and pig-headed arrogance.

September 11 transformed a has-been into a national hero.

Rumsfeld immediately captivated the country by running into the burning Pentagon to rescue the wounded.

And he kept it captivated with a series of news conferences that projected a mixture of defiance and determination. This was American manliness at its best.

The staid Wall Street Journal called him a "hunk." George Bush took to referring to him as "Rumstud."

Then came the Iraq war and the disgrace of Abu Ghraib and many critics called for Rumsfeld to go. Now he is under fire once again. As before, Bush has pledged support for him: "I am the decider and I decide what's best."

And Rumsfeld is fighting hard for his political life. He has dismissed the calls for his resignation as a passing storm and a silly fad. Why dismiss the defence secretary, he asks, just because "two or three" people disagree with him?

But the current furor can't be brushed aside. Six retired generals have publicly called for the secretary's resignation. This is extraordinary in itself. But it comes on top of a mountain of other problems.

Senior politicians such as Joe Biden and John McCain have been calling for his head for months. And a series of books most notably Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor have provided yet more ammunition for Rumsfeld's critics.

The secretary of defence has become a liability that Bush's troubled administration can no longer afford: A distraction at home and a barrier to success in Iraq.

There is now widespread agreement on what he got wrong. His biggest mistake was to try to fight the war with too few troops. His second-biggest was to make no proper provision for restoring order afterwards. But there is no shortage of other mistakes.

Rumsfeld misread the intelligence in the buildup to the war and much of it was simply wrong in any case.

He failed to plan for the occupation. He ignored the growing insurgency. He disbanded the Iraqi army, scattering 300,000 armed and unemployed men into the population.

The more interesting question is why he messed up so comprehensively. The most obvious reason, of course, is arrogance. Rumsfeld suffered from exactly the same problem as another whiz kid CEO turned secretary of defence, Robert McNamara: Iron self-confidence.

He junked the army's carefully laid plans for invasion (General Zinni's plan called for at least 380,000 troops, for example, far more than Rumsfeld sent). He dismissed warnings from General Shinseki that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win the peace. He ignored pleas for more troops on the ground. And he surrounded himself with similarly one-dimensional strategists such as General Franks and yes-men like General Myers.

Another reason is bureaucratic turf wars. Henry Kissinger once described Rumsfeld as the best practitioner of the art of bureaucratic infighting that he had ever seen, which is no mean compliment. And he certainly did a brilliant job of elbowing Colin Powell and the State Department aside, putting control of postwar reconstruction in military hands for the first time since the Second World War.

But he had no idea what to do with his newfound power. Without the State Department's experience of postwar reconstruction, gathered in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld veered all over the place.

The biggest reason that he made such a mess of things was that he was fighting the wrong war. His greatest passion was to "transform" the lumbering old army into a much lighter and more flexible force, and he seized on Iraq as a perfect opportunity to demonstrate it. In a few short weeks, American troops victoriously took Baghdad but then failed completely to impose control and end the violence.

The defence secretary's insistence on "lean warfare" made it impossible to seal the borders or stop the looting. His reliance on high-tech weaponry rather than boots on the ground made it difficult to crush the insurgency. And according to the non-partisan Schlesinger commission, his insistence on junking long-established planning procedures contributed directly to the disgrace of the prisoner-baiting at Abu Ghraib the chain of command was disrupted and commanders found themselves in charge of units that they didn't know.

The tragedy of Rumsfeld is that his vices are the flip side of his virtues.

He was right that the American armed forces had barely woken up to the end of the Cold War.

He was right that the Pentagon bureaucracy is one of the most reactionary in the world.

And he was right that, with very precise air strikes based on good intelligence, minimum muscle could be used in modern warfare.

But Rumsfeld ended up suffering from the very problem that he saw in his critics: A failure to adjust his thinking to new circumstances.

He allowed "transformation" to distract attention from the war (army officers accuse him of "trying to fix the car while the engine's running").

And he mistook criticism as a sign of bureaucratic resistance. But this is a tragedy that America can no longer tolerate.

Getting rid of Rumsfeld is no guarantee that things will get better. But keeping him ensures they will get worse.

Bush made a huge mistake in not accepting Rumsfeld's offer to resign in the wake of Abu Ghraib.

Every day he keeps him in his job, he compounds his mistake and weakens his presidency.

source: http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=hamilton/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1145657413805&call_pageid=1020420665036&col=1112188062620 22apr2006

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