What's Does Life After Rumsfeld Mean?

Now that the American electorate has spoken through the November midterm balloting, and spoken rather loudly at that, there will, of course, be consequences. With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, the first major change is in the leadership at the Department of Defense.

President Bush, just a few days ago, announced his full support for his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and insisted that the secretary would stay throughout the remaining two years of Bush’s term regardless of what the election results might bring.

However, while Cabinet officers serve at the “pleasure” of the President and last only as long as that warm feeling emanating from the White House remains, the path is always a two-way road. It has seemed highly likely that Rumsfeld would decide on his own that it was time for him to go and he has wasted no time now in making that decision.

Was Rummy, as his friends know him, really the problem concerning Iraq? Well, we are about to find out and this columnist thinks the answer will be a resounding “no”! In many ways this a very sad result for America, in spite of the often loud and in some cases almost hysterical cries for the secretary’s head. Donald Rumsfeld is an extremely able man and he knows the ways of official Washington better than almost anyone else. Indeed he has spent almost his entire adult life serving Presidents in various capacities from White House chief of staff to cabinet secretary.

Additionally, he is a refined, cultured, warm and decent man with a quick wit and an enormous intellect. No doubt he is demanding, direct and often abrasive as well. He demands results, he demands that one defend their point of view and back that up with solid facts and reason.

Nevertheless, the lack of an immediate “victory” in Iraq will most likely be his legacy. It is doubtful, though, that anyone could have made that happen and it is certainly open to debate as to whether we ever should have been in Iraq in the first place, or whether we should have stayed once we had toppled Saddam. But those were executive decisions; it was Rumsfeld’s job only to carry out the policies of others.

Just this past week, the military newspapers, the Army Times and the Navy Times called for Rumsfeld to step down. Many of the enlisted personnel, including high ranking officers, felt that Rumsfeld has not stepped up and protected the troops to the full extent of which his office is capable. Lack of proper equipment, lack of adequate numbers of troops, extended stays by already over-worked military divisions, and the Abu Ghabi scandals have all led to the feeling that Rumsfeld is not the man for the moment.

When one examines the record on Rumsfeld’s watch at the Pentagon, it must be noted that in this brutal Arab conflict which has involved so much of our U.S. military, the fact is that we have lost only a little more than 3,000 personnel in almost five years of war. That is terribly high in the sense that any death is an enormous loss, but extremely low when placed against our losses in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

That this resignation will be seen as a sign of weakness and a sign of U.S. defeat by the insurgents in Iraq is a foregone conclusion and this may well mean even more violence and daring attacks on U.S. interests by al Qaeda, Hammas, and other radical anti-American groups.

Whatever Donald Rumsfeld chooses to do now, he deserves a long rest and he deserves the respect of the American people for being the architect of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a very bad man indeed.

President Bush’s new choice to lead the Pentagon is Robert Gates, who is no outsider and certainly no stranger to the inner circles of power in Washington. Indeed, Gates was appointed by President Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, in November, 1991 as the head of the CIA.

During Gates’ two-year tenure as director of the CIA, he proposed many reforms and many of those took root, but mostly not until after he had left the post in January 1993 upon the incoming of the Clinton Administration. What he did do was to ward off a lot of the worst ideas put forth by congressional oversight committees, ideas that would have seriously disrupted the ability of the Agency to gather information covertly and he did that by pre-empting Congress with his own concept of managerial reform. He never lost the senior President Bush’s confidence and it will certainly be interesting to see what he brings to the Defense Department table as the Pentagon now prepares for major changes after Rumsfeld leadership over the past six years.

It is interesting to remember the flap several months back, in the summer of this year, over the appointment of a military man to run the CIA. At the time there was much hand-wringing over the thought that U.S. Air Force General Michael C. Hayden would be allowed to run a civilian agency and that the military might exercise too much control over this largely autonomous agency.

I wonder if there will be such a flap now that a “Company” man is about to take control of the military? It is doubtful, as politicians and Americans rush to embrace anything new in an effort to get away from what they see as a decaying situation in the handling of the Iraq war. However, the truth is that President Bush has simply replaced Rumsfeld with another Washington insider and one who is every bit as dedicated to the cause of fighting on in Iraq as was his predecessor. And thank goodness for that because any sign of American weakness will bring more of the enemy all the more closer to our own doors.