April 23, 2006

The Decider's Foolish Decision

The normally quite sober Lexington puts its rather succinctly in the current Economist: "George Bush is a fool for keeping Donald Rumsfeld in his job."

Meantime, Peter Beinart in TNR suggests a "shock pick" to replace Rumsfeld: Brent Scowcroft. Fat chance! The merits of Scowcroft specifically aside, his piece is still worth reading in full, as is Lex this week.

Beinart excerpt:

But if you do think there's hope for Iraq, Rumsfeld must be fired immediately. And, since Bush presumably still does, it is amazing that he can't see the political logic staring him in the face. Bush prides himself on his loyalty. And, in certain circumstances, it is indeed admirable. One of Bush's finest moments came after he was walloped in the 2000 New Hampshire primary by John McCain, when he assembled his top advisers in a room and told them that he took all the blame, and no one would be fired. If Kerry or Al Gore had shown that kind of loyalty to the people who ran their campaigns, they might have gotten some in return--and one or both might have become president.

But reinforcing Bush's loyalty is a frightening intellectual parochialism and a near-pathological fear of appearing politically weak. And those less admirable qualities are blinding him to the fact that his give-no-quarter, stay-the-course, brand-the-critics-as-wusses strategy for selling the war has utterly failed. As The Washington Post's David Ignatius recently noted, Bush has been aggressively promoting his Iraq policy for months now. And the more speeches he gives, the more support drops. The public has turned off the television.

If there's any chance of getting them to take a second look (absent good news from Iraq, which seems depressingly unlikely), it starts with separating the debate over what we should do now in Iraq from the debate over whether we should have invaded in the first place. There are legitimate arguments for rapid withdrawal. But the withdrawal argument has also become a way for people to emphasize their opposition to the initial decision to go to war. Opposing continued occupation--like opposing the $87 billion supplemental in 2003--has become part of a larger effort to hold the Bush administration accountable for its disastrous mistakes.

The best way to disentangle the two debates would be to replace Rumsfeld with someone who opposed the war to begin with. Bush would have to invest that person with tremendous power. Ideally, his or her appointment would coincide with the dismantling of Dick Cheney's shadow national security staff--thus demoting Cheney to the level of past vice presidents. And he or she should also be given the authority to replace John Bolton, which would be a useful olive branch to an enraged Congress, not to mention the rest of the planet. Finally, Rumsfeld's successor should be given the authority to reconsider all aspects of Iraq policy--as Clark Clifford did when he replaced Robert McNamara late in Lyndon Johnson's presidency. (That is not to say a successor need decide about Iraq what Clifford decided about Vietnam: that it is unwinnable. Only that Clifford brought intellectual openness to a White House grown agoraphobic, which is exactly what the Bush White House has become today).

As I said, fat chance...

P.S. Don't miss this interview w/ Les Gelb either:


I think the generals, on balance, did a courageous thing. They spoke up and they broke that wall of silence that had been protecting President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld, who were making it look as if the military were really happy with their decisions. That had always been their defense. They said they gave the military whatever the military wanted. Well, that just wasn't correct. So that story has been largely shattered. And even though you haven't had more than six generals come forward to support it, and even though you haven't had resignations of active duty generals, I think the public understands that these people who have spoken out represent only the tip of the iceberg. It will make them think even harder and more critically about where the president is leading us in Iraq.
Posted by Gregory at April 23, 2006 03:48 PM | TrackBack (0)

If Bush picks someone who opposed the war as a new SecDef, I will be shocked. If Bush dismantles Cheney's shadow propaganda/intelligence network, I will be shocked.

I'm afraid it's gotten to the point where I'll be shocked if Bush does almost anything intelligent.

Posted by: frank_wallace at April 23, 2006 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brent Scowcroft is over 80 years old. His appointment as Defense Secretary really would be a shock. It might kill him.

Seriously, is it really so hard for people to avoid confusing the things they would do if they were President from the things this President can possibly do? This President would, of necessity, need to delegate a level of responsibility to a new Defense Secretary similar to that he has given to Rumsfeld. It is illogical to expect him to do this unless his new Defense Secretary is someone he trusts -- and the list of people he trusts is very short. Brent Scowcroft's name is not on it.

Now, I've said before here that I expect Rumsfeld to leave when he feels like it. That may be in January, 2009 or it may be late this summer or early this fall; if then, we will get very little notice. Nothing I've seen of this President suggests that he will take the choice from Rumsfeld's hands. But if he did, surely that would be enough, would it not? If Rumsfeld is gone and England or Negroponte replaces him, so what?

Removing a Cabinet officer when the policies for which he has been most directly responsible are clearly not going well may be too much to hope for from this President. Remaking the character of his whole administration is just fantasy.

Posted by: Zathras at April 23, 2006 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I can think of one scenario in which Bush remakes "the character of his whole administration."

If the GOP is sufficiently frightened of losing control of Congress in 2006, they might go to Bush and tell him that, if he doesn't do something to improve their prospects, they'll support Democratic calls for real, no holds barred, subpeona-ready investigations into everything from Iraq to the NSA surveillance program. And if the investigations uncover "high crimes and misdemeanors," the GOP leadership can tell Bush that the Party will support impeachment hearings.

The prospect of losing power in 2006, and possibly the WH in 2008, might be enough to light a fire under the GOP.

And the prospect of the GOP turning on him, and leaving him to face the legal consequences of his MalAdministration, might be enough to light a fire under Bush. Esp. if the GOP promises to keep protecting him from investigations and such if he okays the deal.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 23, 2006 11:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

After six years I doubt that the Republicans will challege Bush. Also, the Democrats failed to question him with his high approval ratings prior to the Iraq war. Now that he is weak both parties are not really challeging Bush, they make spineless statements to show only minor oppisition. Jones(R-NC) and Murtha seem to be the only politicians to speak to their convictions. As a Democrat I find Kerry to be the worst.

Posted by: Rudi at April 24, 2006 01:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Beinart: "There are legitimate arguments for rapid withdrawal."

Except that everyone over there says there would be a civil war if we did that. That includes the Sunnis who hope the chaos would make it possible for them to regain control of the country.

As I have said before, problem with Rumsfeld is that he doesn't believe in anything we are doing in Iraq -- military occupation, counter-insurgency warfare, democracy promotion or nation building. He should be replaced with someone who 1) believes in all of those endeavors 2) has a good knowledge of their great difficulties 3) has good management skills.

Alas, I would be quite surprised if Bush does this. In fact, the recent breakthrough in forming the Iraqi goverment probably leads him to think things are going just fine, and so gives him one more reason to stick with Rumsfeld.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 24, 2006 01:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"As a Democrat I find Kerry to be the worst."

You might disagree with, or dislike, what Kerry has said about Iraq, but you can't accurately say he's only making "spineless statements" of "minor opposition." Kerry's challenge to the Iraqis (basically, "show some real progress or the US is out of there by mid-May") was specific; and he was one of the few to support Feingold's call for censure of Bush.

As for the rest of the Dems, I too wish they were doing more to oppose Bush. But they're the minority party, and the GOP has rewritten the rules in both House and Senate to shut opposition out from the legislative and oversight processes. In every committee where Democrats have tried to get investigations of WH misconduct started, the vote has always been "No," and it's always been along party lines. Short of resorting to the same destructive monkeywrench tactics the GOP routinely uses, there's not much the Dems can do.

Posted by: CaseyL at April 24, 2006 01:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Clark Clifford was right about Vietnam - it was unwinnable. Audio tapes of President Johnson has him saying the same thing. Johnson, for much of his administration, believed the war was unwinnable.

Posted by: Andrew at April 24, 2006 04:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Clifford didn't say it was unwinnable but that we had no clear strategy. It is true that McNamara much earlier had become disheartened ( hence the CYA Pentagon Papers) and Johnson was more interested in his "Great Society". The plan eminating from Clifford's recommendation was later to be coined"Vietnamization". This plan was working until Nixon resigned and Congress cut off all funds to SV. The millions of boat people after the Vietnam War is a testimony to America's immoral action to the people of SV by abandoning them in their struggle against the Communist NV who were still were supported by Russia and China.
Getting back to the Djerejian family anti-Rumsfeld caper: I guess the noted professor E. Cohen has given the Djerejian's and all the anti-Rumsfeld generals a failing mark in how Americans should conduct themselves in time of war. See his 4.24.06 WSJ article http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008275.

Posted by: Moose at April 24, 2006 02:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kerry supporting Feingold is tilting at windmills. Where was the support for Murtha. The same active generals supporting the generals questioning Rumsfeld were probably talking to Murtha. If Kerry stood with Murtha, Murtha's statements would have carried more weight. Jones and Murtha I respect, Kerry is another politician eating from a silver spoon.

Posted by: Rudi at April 24, 2006 02:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wow. That Cohen piece was vacuous. But I suppose padding out "Shut up and take it, B;tch!" to 800 words shows a certain talent.

Posted by: Jim Henley at April 24, 2006 05:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ah let the expletives begin.

Posted by: Moose at April 24, 2006 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Every poet needs to find or make a language adequate to the Age.

Posted by: Jim Henley at April 24, 2006 09:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks, Jim for reading that, for the sake of the rest of us. Not that I'd have read it. The Wall Street Urinal is not a font of wisdom.

IIRC, Beinart was a supporter of the war; this article is another piece of 'not my fault - I supported the *other* war!'.

Posted by: Barry at April 24, 2006 09:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, there have been more than one powerful reason put out for Bush keeping Rumsfield on as SecDef:

1) Rumsfield has too much dirt on Bush, probably covering pre-9/11 negligence on terrorism, his undoubted pants-wetting panic on 9/11, an authorization of torture and kidnapping, support for 'selective intelligence' to justify the war, massive negligence (temper tantrums?) as the war turned bad.

2) To replace the Secretary of Defence, Congress must confirm and hold hearings on the nominee. This would be too good a moment even for the Democratic leadership to not seize, and many of the GOP Senators will not wish to prominently oppose. In effect, it would be hearings on the war.

3) Cheney's role in this - remember this is the guy who selected himself for VP, and is supposedly tight with Rumsfield. How does he gain/lose?

Posted by: Barry at April 24, 2006 09:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


"Nothing I've seen of this President suggests that he will take the choice from Rumsfeld's hands. But if he did, surely that would be enough, would it not?"

I believe Rumsfeld is on record as saying he offered his resignation to Bush twice, but Bush wouldn't accept it. See http://www.cnn.com/2005/ALLPOLITICS/02/03/rumsfeld.resign/

I think the reasons for Rumsfeld still being there are what Barry said, and that Bush feels he cannot admit to the public that Rumsfeld has done a bad job. After all, freedom is on the march in Iraq. The real problem is that the Media don't report the good news. If Rumsfeld were to resign, it would indicate that all is not well; and that is not the direction in which their rhetoric has been headed.

Posted by: kilfarsnar at April 25, 2006 09:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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