The forced resignation of Donald Rumsfeld the day after the midterm elections says as much about the Secretary of Defense as it does about the President of the United States.
Almost seven months before the elections, six retired generals, including two who commanded divisions in Iraq, called for Rumsfeld’s resignation. In response, President Bush said that Rumsfeld was “doing a fine job.”
Two months before the midterm elections, Josh Bolten, the President’s chief of staff, told the Democratic leadership, who had demanded Rumsfeld’s resignation, “We strongly disagree.” By the President’s direction, he told the opposition party that Rumsfeld “is an honorable and able public servant [who] retains the full confidence of the President.”
One week before the midterm elections, President Bush said that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney “are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them.” Lying through his ever-present smirk, he said he planned to keep Rumsfeld until the end of his term; with Cheney, a constitutionally elected politician, he had no choice. The only comment the President hadn’t made the previous few weeks was, “Rummy, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
In an unprecedented shift of editorial philosophy, the Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Times, and Air Force Times, private publications with a pro-military slant, all called for Rumsfeld’s resignation.
President Bush praised Rumsfeld as “one of America’s most skilled and capable national security leaders . . . a superb leader during a time of change [whose] service has made America stronger, and made America a safer nation.” Because of him, said President Bush, “the world is more secure.” To the man who planned and executed the war in Iraq, the President said, “You will be missed.”
This was said about a secretary of defense who with the President and Vice-President lied to the people about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and then made up stories about Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda. This was a secretary of defense who boldly told the world that the United States planned to “shock and awe” Iraq, who said he doubted the war would last six months, and who isolated Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army’s chief of staff, who disagreed with his assessment of how many troops would be needed in Iraq. This was a secretary of defense who was furious when he heard about what happened at Abu Ghraib, but who had approved innumerable plans that paved the road to torture. This was a secretary of defense who once said, “It’s easier to get into something than get out of it,” but had no viable plan for occupation nor did he tolerate senior military officers who pushed for such a plan. This was a secretary of defense who had vigorous disagreements with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War. This was a secretary of defense who cautioned that Americans must not “divide the world into ‘them’ and ‘us,’” but like the rest of the Neocon Cabal believed, “If you’re not with us, you’re for the terrorists.”
But, this is also one of the brightest persons to have served in any President’s cabinet, a man who brought much-needed change to the Pentagon, and forced the military into accepting a 21st century reality for military preparedness. His intelligence and arrogance were never greater than in how he deftly handled the media. When inept reporters asked inane questions, Rumsfeld shot right back at them, sometimes with sarcastic humor, avoiding the political niceties that other cabinet officers were burdened with. Soon, he began asking and then answering his own questions.
Almost everything in Rumsfeld’s past suggested unprecedented success. He received both academic and military scholarships to Princeton. Upon graduation, he became a Navy pilot, retiring as a captain after three years of active duty, followed by almost 30 years in the Ready Reserve and Standby Reserves. He had begun his public career as a Congressional administrative assistant, and was elected four times to Congress as a Republican from Illinois. His public service includes serving as counselor to President Nixon, and as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and director of the Economic Stabilization Program. Nixon appointed him NATO ambassador, but the President’s resignation amid scandal led Rumsfeld to return to Washington, D.C., to become President Ford’s chief of staff and, for two years, secretary of defense. Under President Ford, he was the youngest secretary of defense; under President Bush, he became the oldest person to serve in that position. After Jimmy Carter was inaugurated president in 1977, Rumsfeld left government and became one of the more successful business executives, earning honors from the pharmaceutical industry, the Wall Street Transcript, and Financial World as the nation’s outstanding CEO.
George H.W. Bush had distrusted both Rumsfeld and Cheney; that was not the case with Bush the Younger who understood a political reality -- with Dick Cheney came Donald Rumsfeld; they had worked together, understood each other, and would be a formidable presence for the newly-elected and untested president. They, along with some of Bush the Elder’s confidantes, would have power, while the new president was in presidential day care for much of his first term.
The six years Rumsfeld was with George W. Bush is how the nation will remember the former “boy wonder.” But, it isn’t just Donald Rumsfeld who should carry the burden of the failure of this Administration in rushing into Iraq and then being trapped in a quagmire they created.
President Bush frequently refers to himself as a wartime president, embellishing the role of commander-in-chief. Josh Bolten told the Democratic leadership that Rumsfeld “has pursued vigorously the President’s vision for a transformed U.S. military” and has “played a lead role in forging and implementing many of the policies” in Iraq. The President said that his Secretary of Defense “has been dedicated to his mission [and] loyal to his President.” Donald Rumsfeld once said, “In the execution of Presidential decisions, work to be true to his views, in fact and tone.” He has done that. Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation won’t solve the problems that his commander-in-chief created -- either from indifference or incompetence, from naïveté or malevolence.
The people have finally spoken -- “Bushie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
Walter Brasch’s latest books are America’s Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Rights, a study of the PATRIOT Act; and "Unacceptable": The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina, and Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture. You may contact Dr. Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com.
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