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August 18, 2005

Rumsfeld is evil. Eeeevil!
Posted by David Adesnik

Rumsfeld_1 The latest round of speculation about a rushed American withdrawal from Iraq began more than three weeks ago with a WaPo report entitled US Signals Spring Start for Pull Out.  The story was irresistible.  Thanks to George Bush's constant and unequivocal declarations that we will stay in Iraq until we've won, any hint of a planned withdrawal carried with it intimations of hypocrisy.

The process of speculation rapidly intensified four days ago, when the WaPo ran a top-of-the-front-page story entitled U.S. Lowers Sights on What Can Be Achieved in Iraq. The essence of the story was that a "senior official" and "another U.S. official" had concluded that even an indefinite occupation could not achieve the objectives that President Bush had for Iraq.

As things now stand, progressive analysts seem to be 100% persuaded that the remarks of these unnamed officials represent the opening salvo in the administration's effort to declare victory and go home or, less kindly stated, to cut and run.  If you scroll down, you can see that Heather, Derek and Stanton have all elaborated some version of this hypothesis.

One scenario that none of these progressive hypotheses address is the possibility that the unnamed officials who spoke to the WaPo are not operating on behalf of the administration as a whole, but instead represent the agenda of an embattled faction within the cabinet.  In contrast, prominent pro-war conservatives have almost uniformly lain responsibility for all of this withdrawal talk at the door of Donald Rumsfeld.

Most vociferous of all is the criticism coming from William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.  In an editorial entitled Bush v. Rumsfeld, Kristol lashes out at the SecDef for his "weakness and defeatism".  As Kristol goes on to argue, the President himself seems to have decisively rejected much of the pro-withdrawal sentiment coming out of the Pentagon:

On Wednesday, speaking in Texas, the president used the word "war" 15 times, and the phrase "war on terror" five. "Make no mistake about it," the president exclaimed...

And so, the president added, "I hear all the time, 'Well, when are you bringing the troops home?' And my answer to you: 'As soon as possible, but not before the mission is complete.'" As the president said Thursday, "We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq."

For liberals and progressives who have little to no faith in Bush's ability to tell the truth, all of this tough-talk may seem nothing more than an elaborate charade designed to mask the impending cut-and-run.  But my sense is that Bush, much like Reagan before him, has no interest in this kind of charade.  If there is a message to deliver, he will deliver it himself.

In the blogosphere, Kristol's criticism of the SecDef has been echoed by intelligent hawks such as Greg Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch, who writes that:

Mr. President, this hubris-ridden, incompetent Secretary is increasingly becoming a major liability to you...

If a key member of your team doesn't understand that an Iraq characterized by civil war or dueling militias is a strategic and moral failure, he must be taken off your team. National interest must trump any residual loyalty...If [your] Defense Secretary is not on this page anymore, [your] Defense Secretary must go.

Although Greg shoots straight 100% of the time, I think one has to consider the possibility that a veteran infighter such as Kristol has decided to make Rumsfeld the scapegoat for all of this withdrawal talk even though, perhaps, Kristol has private concerns that the President may have more sympathy for Rumsfeld's position than his public statements imply. 

By the same token, John McCain has also issued an unequivocal denunication of any planned withdrawal while suggestiong that the Pentagon, and not the White House, is responsible for the current bout of speculation.  Yet when McCain made this argument during an interview with Chris Wallace, Wallace asked the Senator a fairly logical and perceptive question:

You seem to be suggesting that it's coming from the pentagon, and that they are pushing for withdrawals, when the political people at the White House, who you think would be the most sensitive on that issue, are saying: "No...we're going to stand firm."

Why would the Pentagon be softer in this regard than the White House?

Being his usual self, McCain responded "I have no idea...I can't explain it."  And, of course, from an electoral perspective it makes no sense for the Pentagon to be more dovish than the White House.  But I think the real issue here is ideology.  Rumsfeld has simply never signed off on Bush's democracy promotion agenda, either for Iraq or for the broader Middle East.  A fairly traditional realist, Rumsfeld has every reason, especially as SecDef, to oppose an occupation that has tied down almost our entire Army and left us with only air and naval forces capable of responding to a crisis in South Korea, the Taiwan Strait, or elsewhere.

Once again, this explanation will presumably carry no water for liberals and progressives, who don't think Bush is the least bit sincere when it comes to his supposed support for a global democratic revolution.  But even though I think Bush is sincere and has been for a very long time, he is still a politician who has to reckon with the impact that his principles have on his approval rating.

Now, it is important to remember that liberals have been talking up a "cut and run" scenario since the fall of 2003.  Back then, they said that Bush would never risk running for re-election with our troops still on the ground in Iraq.  Then, as the election approached, liberals began to assume that Bush was concerned about looking weak but would pull out right at the beginning of his second term, so that he could focus on other priorities such as Social Security reform.

In short, there will always be some explanation available for why Bush's self-interest would dictate a rushed withdrawal from Iraq.  The question is, can we confidently say that the rise of Cindy Sheehan and the intensification of the anti-war movement has put the President under more pressure to withdraw than ever before?  Or is Bush thinking to himself that these are just the dog days of August, and that what Americans really want from their President is idealism and resolve?

PS Special thanks to MH for pointing out some of the editorials and blog posts quoted above.

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Comments

"The question is, can we confidently say that the rise of Cindy Sheehan and the intensification of the anti-war movement has put the President under more pressure to withdraw than ever before?"

I don't have time to write much right now, but I think a large part of it is related to the constitution drafting process -- as the Iraqi legislators whose election the idealists had cheered in January came to a draft document that didn't meet their naive expectations, and people began to focus on the fact that the largest political parties are (no surprise here) Islamists closely aligned with Iran.

It's just becoming harder and harder to maintain the fiction that Iraq is becoming what most Americans would consider a deomcracy -- and that has apparently soured many Americans on neo-Wilsonianism in general.

For the people who have been talking up the "Middle East transformation" theory, there's a reluctance to let go -- but the hard evidence is accumulating that this didn't work. It's isn't just about the insurgency -- it's that it's gradually sinking for most Americans that the Arab world has no interest in adopting Western values under military occupation.

Whether or not the most ideologically rigid "idealists" stick to their positions is immaterial -- the country, and the Democratic party, will gradually leave you behind. And I'll repeat a prediction that I made a couple of months ago here -- if and when you float your resume to the transition team after the 2008 election, the Truman Project won't be something you'll want to emphasize...

I thought pullouts in 06 were a strong possibility for practical reasons: not enough boots on the ground and no possiblity of a draft. Even people as dedicated to ignoring reality as George Bush can be made to see that a war cannot be sustained if there aren't enough soldiers. And Bush, of all people, must understand the I-support-it-but-don't-care-to-fight-myself mentality.
I doubt if career miitary people are "getting dovish". But I do think they have always been far more realistic than the faith-based ideologs of Bush World. If they say we can't sustain the current situation or improve things, it's because they know the facts on the ground and that's what they think.
The previous post is about "stomach" and "will". Bush's stregnth has always been the perception people have that he is steadfast, unflinching, resolute etc. Well maybe he is. His supporters also see him as brave. I don't. Actually I don't think many conservatives rate being considered resolute or brave; lots of hot air and a determination to blame others for their mistakes is more like it.
For example this war. There are roughly three points of view: the invasion and its premises were valid and we need to stay the course, the invasion was a mistake but we have to stay to help clean up our mess, and the invasion was a mistake and no more people should die for Bush's mistakes.
It seems to me that people who truly have the will or stomach to stay the course should also have the will and stomach to face facts and support politicallly unpopular but necessary solutions. Therefore , whether or not a person buys the crackpot neocon theory upon which the invasion was based, if one wants to stay and help make a good situation out of a bad one in Iraq, one must support a draft and a tax increase.
That's what separates the men from the boys, so to speak. What supporter of the war has the cajones to suggest that the war should be paid for with tax dollars, not debt, and that, if our military needs more bodies to do the job, they should be provided?
Not Bush. So much for stomach and will. Sure, he'll keep talking, that's what he does. He probably believes his own rhetoric. The the fact remains we can't "stay the course" if we don't have enough boots on the ground and wars aren't free.
I think there will be pullouts and that the problem facing the Bush administration is not how to extricate themselves honorably, but how to spin the blame for their failure on the media and the Democrats.

Republicans are starting to panic at thought of going into 2006 election campaign a year from now with American troops dying at anywhere near the rate they are now. They are right to do so. Americans have never been very happy about long drawn out conflicts, especially those that are ambigeous as to who is right & who is wrong. Americans historically believe, as the Ohio parents of a Marine killed recently in Iraq said the other day, that we, the US, should Win or Get Out.

Iraq looks like it will be something that will take years to settle. Iraqis are too "foreign, not like us" for most Americans to have much sympathy with. There appears to be no clear cut victory in sight, just more US lives lost in ambushes and bombings. By all opinion polls, majority of people do longer believe what the Administration says about Iraq and they are angry and ready to take it out on the Republican Party. People may not be in favor of cut and run, yet, and they may decide to support the troops being there for another year or two, but they are not going to support, come election time, the Party and the Administration that sent the troops there. It happened to the Democrats in Korea and Vietnam and unless the Administration bugs out next year from Iraq or at least withdraws the US troops to relatively safe bastions inside Iraq to hold down casualities, like they did before 2004 elections, it will happen to Republicans. Even if the US did bug out of Iraq, 2006 may well be a disaster for Republicans due to oil price hikes and accusations about American troops dying in vain.

Several signs of coming anti-Republican backlash. Recent close Republican victory in special election in Ohio's solidly Republican 2nd Congressional District.(Cincinatti) In this race the Democratic candidate, an Iraq war vet named Paul Hackett, ran a strongly anti-war campaign and only lost, 52-48 percent in a district that Bush last year carried with 64% of the vote. Anybody who thinks this is anything but a most Pyrrhic victory is realing deluding themsevles. Even before this, two previouly pro-war southern Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cong. Walter Jones of North Carolina, both of whom face re-election next year, have said that their voters are turning against the Iraq War. Cong. Jones has joined three other Congressman, two Democrat, one Republican, all three opposed the Iraq War, in sponsering a proposed Congressional resolution saying that US troops should withdraw from Iraq by fall 2006. Jones was the petulant blowhard who got French Fries on menu in the Congressional restaurant changed to "Freedom Fries" (Shades of 1917 and renaming sauerkraut, "Liberty Cabbage"!). Now the wind is blowing the other way and Jones is running with it for his political life! With events like these, no wonder the Republicans are sweating bullets.

I do support staying in Iraq and doing our best to defeat this insurgency that targets children and hospitals. It would be a disaster to allow such monsters to take over any part of Iraq. It is just that doing so will probably being unpopular with most Americans and at best, a hard sale come election time.

My Cat has gotten the Administratin's Iraq problem down perfectly. We cannot keep our troops strengths in Iraq at current levels for beyond two more years at most without expanding the Army and that means a Draft which is politically unthinkable. The Administration may well withdrawl from Iraq before the 06 elections, (perhaps this could be called "Saving Congressman Jones"!) and trust their smear machine to do its best to pin the blame on the Democrats and supposedly Liberal Media, as having once again, as in Vietnam, "Stabbed us in the Back"!

Psst...David...


1-800-GO-ARMY.

This is much ado about very little. The President's comments and Rumsfeld's (presumed) comments are not inconsistent. The tone is different, but administrations always adjust the tone to suit the audience.

The claims that we are still at war, and that we are going to "complete the mission", "stay the course", and "stay as long as we have to" are completely compatible with the claim that we are going to begin to draw down forces in the Spring and that some of the mission objectives have been adjusted.

From the beginning Bush has expressed himself in intentionally vague terms about the precise aims of "the mission", sometimes bordering on meaningless. A reporter asks, "Mr. president, how long are we going to stay in Iraq?" and he usually replies something like, "as long as is necessary, and not one day more." Statements like this carry almost to information.

One must say, though, that despite the persistent vagueness of his statements, Bush expresses those vague statements very forcefully and with steely-eyed determination. This creates the impression of strength and resolution, and suggests to listeners that the course is much more fixed and inflexible than it actually is.

In the same August 3 speech you cite, Bush also said "As Iraqis stand up, American and coalition forces will stand down." It seems to me that Bush and Rumsfeld are simply focussing on different aspects of the same basic policy, perhaps with different audiences in mind. The both expect some force withdrawls to begin in the Spring, with a greater share of the security mission falling to Iraqis. Bush prefers to emphasize the fact that this expectation does not amount to an actual "timetable", since he is on record as opposed to the setting of timetables. But obviously a Secretary of Defense has to make plans for the future, allocate resources, make budget recommendations, etc. as part of his day-to-day job. And this requires drawing up some sort of timetables, schedules, projections - or whatever you want to call them - that specify which forces will be deployed where, and during what periods of time.

I wrote:

Statements like this carry almost to information.

which should have read:

Statements like this carry almost no information.

"Perhaps it is not wise for the United States to commit so much blood and treasure to the struggle for democracy in Iraq. Perhaps. But it most certainly is noble."

Maybe if you keep talking about what a noble cause it is,
you can persuade Bush to stay longer.

Of course given the Iraq did the trick in the 2004 elections but might now cause problems in the 2006 elections it's time for the noble cause to up sticks and run for the exits......

The over speculation of what will be is all well and good, and we pretty much agree that Bush and his boys delivered this shit-storm to the doorstep of the American People.

But tell me:

Now with the coming tax increases after 2006, diminished prestige abroad, the missing war money, unpreparedness for global warming, inability to confront the looming energy crisis....My question as a pissed off citizen is, HOW DO WE HOLD THE BASTARD ACCOUNTABLE?

The 1-800-GO-ARMY comment isn't entirely snark, but touches at the heart of the issue, I think -- idealism and resolve are easy when all resolve requires is saying the right things. Idealism and resolve is more difficult when it actually requires real personal sacrifice. And we are rapidly approaching the point where it will no longer be possible to remain in Iraq without the first serious demands for personal sacrifice, as the military's increasing difficulties retaining and recruiting troops become too great to sustain.

I think few serious observers would argue that we have control over the security situation in Iraq. I think few serious observers would argue that we are unlikely to voluntarily be able to recruit sufficent manpower to establish control over the security situation in Iraq. And I think, barring another 9/11 style disaster and its attendant rallying effect, few serious observers would argue this trend is likely to change as casualties continue to mount. Given that even war-supporters are not exactly rushing to the recruitment offices and war-opponents are even less likely to, once all current troops finish their second rotations in Iraq -- and we begin what we historically know to be force-morale breaking third rotations -- what does the Administration do next? Who will fill the billets, if there are no volunteers?

If all it would take to solve the recruiting problem is raising salaries and benefits, then why is the Administration not doing so? If the Administration is serious in its resolve, what is it doing to address these very serious problems? I think even the least informed Americans are beginning to realize the entire set of inexorable conclusions laid out above -- and they don't like the answers. It is very easy to support enduring when its someone else doing the enduring. When the cost of enduring and the cost of resolve begin to look like something that one might personally have to pay, or one that one's children may personally have to pay, it, for lack of better words, quickly sorts out who really is willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Those who oppose the "chickenhawk" meme saying that the right to comment should not be limited to those who serve are, I think, missing the point. Anyone is allowed to have any opinion they please -- noone is arguing that. What the point of the "chickenhawk" meme is, is the simple question of why a cause one does not believe is worth personally dying for is worth someone else to die for. Why is their life better risked than yours? Why is a cause that is not worth ending your life, worth ending theirs?

It is true and reasonable that nobody rationally wants to die. But we have a mechanism in our country where we can all draw straws to see who has to pay the price for something we all collectively believe must be done -- the draft, one without deferrments. And if we cannot meet by volunteers the manpower needs we need to establish the security prerequisite to accomplishing anything, yet we wish to remain "resolute", then intellectual honesty demands that those manpower needs be met involuntarily. And a few war supporters are -- have been -- making that argument, that inexorable argument, all along. It is an inescapeable conclusion. If you can't recruit the men you need, you either get those men involuntarily, or you cut and run. That is what resolve demands. The Administration knows that as well -- rhetoric can't fill empty boots, and every month leaves us with more and more of them. We are rapidly reaching the point where further resolve will require us to face that question squarely.

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