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November 23, 2006
Rummy's Exit Reflecting On Bush

The abrupt departure of Donald Rumsfeld may have delighted critics of the war in Iraq, but dismayed many in Washington DC, especially others who serve at the pleasure of the President. Robert Novak reports on questions being asked about George Bush and the one quality of leadership that has garnered him the most admiration -- loyalty:

Donald Rumsfeld, one week after his sacking as secretary of defense, was treated as a conquering hero, accorded one standing ovation after another at the conservative American Spectator magazine's annual dinner in Washington. The enthusiasm may have indicated less total support for Rumsfeld's six-year record at the Pentagon than resentment over the way President Bush fired him.

Rumsfeld had recovered his usual aplomb as he basked in the Spectator's glow. But the day after the election he had seemed devastated -- the familiar confident grin gone and his voice breaking. According to administration officials, only three or four people knew he would be fired -- and Rumsfeld was not one of them. His fellow presidential appointees, including some who did not applaud Rumsfeld's performance in office, were taken aback by his treatment. ...

The treatment of his war minister connotes something deeply wrong with George W. Bush's presidency in its sixth year. Apart from Rumsfeld's failures in personal relations, he never has been anything short of loyal in executing the president's wishes. But loyalty appears to be a one-way street for Bush. His shrouded decision to sack Rumsfeld after declaring that he would serve out the second term fits the pattern of a president who is secretive and impersonal.

Lawrence Lindsey had been assured that he would be retained as the president's national economic adviser, but he received word around 5 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2002, that he would be fired the next day. Before Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill embarked on a dangerous mission to Afghanistan, he requested and received assurances that he would still have a job when he returned. Instead, he was dismissed in tandem with Lindsey.

Bush has a reputation of almost obstinate loyalty to his appointees, but that might be a little overstated. Novak's reminder about Lindsay and O'Neill shows a bit of a pattern to Bush's end game with his appointees. Remember "Heck of a job, Brownie"? The axe apparently makes no noise on the way down, and if Novak recounts the circumstances of O'Neill's dismissal accurately, it's no wonder that he got so bitter in his memoirs.

With Rumsfeld, it seems that we got the worst of both worlds. Bush held the decision to fire Rumsfeld for months, apparently hoping that he could outlast the midterm wave long enough to keep his Congressional majorities before making the change. While terminating Rumsfeld in the last days of the cycle would have been politically disastrous, a change over the summer might have allowed the GOP to at least hold the Senate, given the impact of the Iraq war on the elections. Instead, Bush reiterated his support for Rumsfeld, convincing voters that he had not listened to their dissatisfaction.

And then, instead of giving Rumsfeld some time to absorb his fate, Bush announced his termination the day after the elections. He gave the Democrats Rumsfeld's head without any real benefit in return, at least not publicly. Worse, the abrupt change in direction humiliated the SecDef that had served Bush faithfully for over five difficult years. Even if a change needed to be made, it should have been handled with more class, more dignity, and more recognition of Rumsfeld's service, rather than an affirmation of his status as albatross.

Bush comes by this honestly, in a manner of speaking. People think of Bush as a dilettante prior to his run for Governor, but that was only true during his younger years. He reportedly worked in his father's campaigns and White House in an unofficial capacity as hatchet man. Bush 41 had trouble cutting loose employees and appointees who transformed from asset to political liability, but W had no problem tackling that for his father. He's got a pragmatic streak that allows him to judge these decisions dispassionately, even cold-bloodedly. That may have its virtues, but it leads to debacles, and Rumsfeld's termination is one of those instances.

We might expect his Cabinet appointees to keep their resumes updated, or to start looking for other opportunities before the axe falls on them. They certainly know now that a public defense of their appointment by the President means that someone will be measuring the drapes soon afterwards.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 23, 2006 9:57 AM

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Novak: Rumsfeld didn’t know until the day he was firedAllahpundit That’s not what we’d been told. NYT, November 9th:Just days after telling reporters that he would keep Mr. Rumsfeld on for the rest of his term, Mr. Bush said that [Read More]

Tracked on November 23, 2006 11:07 AM


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