December 6, 2005
Has to Go
Subjecting the newly declassified White House ``National Strategy
for Victory in Iraq'' to a cynically inspired computer search, I
find that the name ``Donald Rumsfeld'' is missing from the document's
35 pages. A reasonable person would be confounded by this. How can
we have ``Victory in Iraq'' if the man in command has already brought
may be too strong a word, but if so, that's only for the moment.
If, in fact, U.S. troops pull out of Iraq anytime before their
mission is accomplished -- the plan of some Democrats and the
wish of a few Republicans -- then defeat is surely what this debacle
will be called. Even if that does not happen, any victory that
comes three years and more than 2,000 U.S. military deaths later
than promised cannot be considered a triumph. Call it what you
will, but at the very least it's a tragedy.
man who has had prime responsibility for Iraq, for planning for
the war, waging it and then occupying the country, remains precisely
where he has been all this time -- as the head of the American
military, the secretary of defense, the very honorable (but not
very capable) Donald Rumsfeld. His mistakes, miscalculations and
arrogant dismissal of dissent have cost American (and Iraqi) lives
and prolonged the conflict. If there has been a worse secretary
of defense, it could only be Robert McNamara. History has hung
Vietnam around his neck like a noose.
Iraq will be Rumsfeld's constant companion. He will be faulted
for insisting on fighting the war on the cheap -- both in terms
of manpower and money. He did not bring enough troops to the task
and when one of his senior generals, the Army chief of staff Eric
K. Shinseki, warned before the war that the occupation would require
``something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers,''
he was quickly steered to his next assignment, a retirement community.
A four-star had been humbled and all down the line the brass got
the message: stick with the program.
was Rumsfeld's. Early on, it meant that the Bush administration
eschewed ``nation-building,'' which was some sort of do-gooder
enterprise favored by the dreamy Clinton people. Rumsfeld gave
a speech titled ``Beyond Nation-Building,'' which said the U.S.
was out of that line of work. Unfortunately, it is precisely what
the U.S. needed to do in Iraq. The Pentagon left it to others.
plan, the U.S. never had enough troops on the ground -- still
doesn't, actually. It was Rumsfeld who thought the U.S. would
get into Iraq and then, swiftly, get out -- leaving nation-building
to the United Nations and similar agencies, maybe the Boy Scouts.
He dismissed the looting that stripped Iraq bare following the
war, setting the stage for chaos and lawlessness that persist
to this day. He made Jay Garner the viceroy of Iraq and then replaced
him with L. Paul ``Jerry" Bremer, who sacked the Iraqi army
and much of the bureaucracy -- a huge mistake. Under Rumsfeld,
just about nothing has gone right.
who should pay for the debacle of Iraq is George Bush. Unfortunately,
the American people re-elected him and that, as they say, is that.
But Rumsfeld serves at the pleasure of the president. He is a
man of substantial charm, not to mention monumental self-confidence,
but no one can claim he has been a success. He has failed at the
task he set for himself -- a swift victory in Iraq. Almost nothing
has turned out anything like he said it would. If he were still
the CEO of GD Searle & Co., he'd expect the board to fire
him. The same standard should apply at the Pentagon.
in this case is the president. By sticking with Rumsfeld, Bush
presumably thinks he is showing that no mistakes were made in
the handling of the war -- that the plan is on course. Unfortunately,
no one believes that. Common sense rebuts it. If Bush is going
to continue to call on Americans to die in Iraq, he at least has
to show that he recognizes his mistakes and is willing to change
what needs to be changed. (Didn't he learn anything at Harvard
Business School?) The sacking of Rumsfeld would be one such signal
-- a sign this intellectually apathetic president is willing to
question his assumptions, challenge his convictions and admit
that he has been wrong. When it comes to Iraq, if the U.S. is
going to stay, then Rumsfeld has to go.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group