Captain's Quarters Blog

« The Russian Betrayal Series (Collect Them All!) | Main | Retired Generals Defend Rumsfeld »

April 14, 2006
Ignatius Makes A Case

I have struggled the past couple of days about what I think regarding the full-court press by former generals calling for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. When Rumsfeld took the job as Defense Secretary prior to the war on terror, I fully expected that some generals would retire and fire broadsides at him for his plans to overhaul the DoD. Rumsfeld is a radical innovator, and the changes he proposed to transform the American military from a Cold War barrier to a nimble and flexible rapid-response force in the new global environment was bound to make old-school brass very uncomfortable.

The generals that now speak out against Rumsfeld are from that part of the military most likely to have objected to his reforms. Also, the criticisms they have levelled at the SecDef have more to do with the policy of the administration than with Rumsfeld's performance in carrying them out, although not exclusively so. I do not think that their rise to command rank during the Clinton administration -- if in fact that is true in all six cases -- has anything to do with their antagonism for Rumsfeld, but rather their lengthy service in the Cold War mindset. Partisan politics do not appear (to me) to be at the heart of their objections, but rather a personal dislike for Rumsfeld and a disagreement about the best structure for the US armed forces. (I'd also add that this does not make their motives suspect in the least; I believe their criticism is based on what they truly believe is in the best interest of the country. It doesn't make them right, however.)

One argument made by Rumsfeld's supporters is that changing the leadership at the DoD would be foolish during war. Ironically, I think this is actually one of the weakest arguments that have been offered for retaining Rumsfeld. First, this war on terror is almost certain to outlast the Bush administration. In 2009, no matter what happens or who gets elected, Rumsfeld will leave and another SecDef will follow him at the Pentagon. A change at that level seems less worrisome than a change in overall war policy, and that gets set by the President.

And that leads me to David Ignatius' column from this morning, which has been on my mind all day long. Ignatius has supported Rumsfeld and his reform efforts at the DoD, but Ignatius makes a pretty good case that Rumsfeld's continued presence endangers not just those reforms but also the critical political support for the war on terror:

The retired generals who are speaking out against Rumsfeld in interviews and op-ed pieces express the views of hundreds of other officers on active duty. When I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent. Based on my own conversations with senior officers over the past three years, I suspect that figure may be low.

But that isn't the reason he should be replaced. Military officers often dislike the civilians they work for, but in our system strong civilian control is essential. On some of the issues over which he has tangled with the military brass, Rumsfeld has been right. The Pentagon is a hidebound place, and it has needed the "transformation" ethic Rumsfeld brought to his job. I'm dubious about the Pentagon conventional wisdom that we needed 500,000 American troops in Iraq. More troops were necessary, but they should have been Iraqi troops from an army that wasn't disbanded.

Rumsfeld should resign because the Bush administration is losing the war on the home front. As bad as things are in Baghdad, America won't be defeated there militarily. But it may be forced into a hasty and chaotic retreat by mounting domestic opposition to its policy. Much of the American public has simply stopped believing the administration's arguments about Iraq, and Rumsfeld is a symbol of that credibility gap. He is a spent force, reduced to squabbling with the secretary of state about whether "tactical errors" were made in the war's conduct.

The Bush administration has rightly been insisting that the Iraqis put unity first and that in forming a permanent government they remove ineffectual and divisive leaders and replace them with people who can pull the country together. The administration should heed its own advice.

Like it or not, fair or not, Rumsfeld has become a political liability for his efforts to both carry out unpopular reforms and execute a war with ebbing political support. Rumsfeld has a flinty, no-nonsense attitude that draws hosannas from conservatives but clearly has severely rubbed some in Congress and the Pentagon the wrong way. He has become the bearer of the political burden of the war and the focal point for those who see the need for change.

Under normal circumstances, Bush could ignore the catcalls from politicians as so much partisan sniping. Condoleezza Rice has received much of the same kind of treatment from Democrats on the Hill. However, Rice does not have former subordinates appearing on national TV talking about her management style, or former fellow Cabinet members telling the press about her manipulations of the debate.

But most of all, Bush has approval ratings for both himself and the war effort sliding down into the low 30s. With thin support such as that, the White House will find nothing but tough sledding on the Hill regarding any new foreign-policy initiatives, especially regarding Iran. Congress will not take him seriously because the voters do not support Bush the way that they did in 2001 and 2003.

And the war on terror is too important to allow that condition to continue.

Ignatius argues that Bush needs to make a dramatic change in order to bring Congress back in line on the war and to reassure the electorate that fresh eyes will review the military plan for it. This administration takes great delight in saying that it does not govern by polling, but the truth is that all of Congress and one-third of the Senate stands for re-election in November, and you can be assured that they are reviewing the polls right now. What they see is an electorate that wants change, and they will react accordingly.

Ignatius may well be right, and I think that conservatives may get too stubborn to see the political issue clearly. I admire Rumsfeld greatly, and wish that the situation did not bring us to this question. But if replacing Rumsfeld with another SecDef with a better relationship with Congress and higher credibility with voters can assure our full and unified commitment to the war on terror, then bringing in John McCain or Joe Lieberman may be the best move for the war. The only way we can lose this war is to lose it here at home, and that means we have to remain focused on that which brings us closer to consensus without sacrificing the goals we have established.

ADDENDUM: I agree that replacing Rumsfeld would be seen as a tactical loss in domestic politics, which is why I'm so resistant to it, along with losing Rumsfeld's innovative vision. However, that tactical loss would last a short time, while the change could bring longer-lasting political strength, depending on who replaces him. If the Bush administration can increase support for the war through other means, then I'd favor that approach. I think Ignatius makes a good point about the potential here for significant improvement.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 14, 2006 10:24 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry is

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ignatius Makes A Case:

» The Captain Veers Off Course from Big Lizards
Captain Ed appears to join the Ignatius Chorus calling for Bush to throw Rummy overboard "in order to bring Congress back in line on the war and to reassure the electorate that fresh eyes will review the military plan for... [Read More]

Tracked on April 15, 2006 3:49 AM


Design & Skinning by:
m2 web studios

blog advertising


Proud Ex-Pat Member of the Bear Flag League!