Dan Rather grimaces whenever pronouncing the man’s name. Mo Dowd, the New York Times’s anti-testosterone columnist, is so crazed by him that she writes lousy poetry attacking him. John McCain says he has no confidence in him, and the most prominent members of the Ankle-Biter Caucus — Trent Lott, Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins — all line up to take their shots at Big Dog Donald Rumsfeld, the man they love to hate. Even Wade Sanders — one of the Swift Boat vets who campaigned for Kerry — is in on the act. Sanders sounds a lot like Lott, Hagel, and Collins. Or is it the other way around?
The harpies of the left — and the opportunists of the right — realize that because the path to victory or defeat in any war is strewn with setbacks and mistakes, Rumsfeld is much more exposed to their flak than newly reelected President Bush. Rumsfeld stands for everything they despise about President Bush: decisiveness, directness and — most unforgivably — impatience with those who most richly deserve it. Like the CIA, the State Department, and the U.N., just for starters. Mr. Rumsfeld actually had the audacity to call Old Europe by its proper name and, according to Ken Timmerman’s book, The French Betrayal of America, was fond of quoting your humble servant’s words, “Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion. You just leave a lot of noisy, useless baggage behind.” Oh, the horror.
THE LATEST KERFUFFLE resulted from a session Mr. Rumsfeld had with soldiers in Iraq on December 8, where he answered a soldier’s question about the scarcity of armor for light vehicles in Iraq. If you listen to MoDo, CBS and John McCain, you would believe Rumsfeld told the soldier, “that’s a stupid question, and we don’t worry about it because we don’t give a damn about your life or safety.” But that’s not even close to what he said.
The “question” — really a short speech written by a reporter — said, “Our soldiers have been fighting in Iraq for coming up on three years. A lot of us are getting ready to move north relatively soon. Our vehicles are not armored. We’re digging pieces of rusted scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass that’s already been shot up, dropped, busted, picking the best out of this scrap to put on our vehicles to take into combat. We do not have proper armament vehicles to carry with us north.”
Mr. Rumsfeld responded honestly and at length. He said he talked to the commanding general on the way out to meet the soldiers about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. He said, the vehicles “have been brought from all over the world, wherever they’re not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I’m told that they are being — the Army is — I think it’s something like 400 a month are being done. And it’s essentially a matter of physics. It isn’t a matter of money. It isn’t a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it.
“As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe — it’s a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment.” In short, an honest answer from a concerned leader. (You can read the transcript of the whole session here.) And, though you’ll never learn this from the ankle-biters, Rumsfeld received a standing ovation from the troops when the session ended.
EVER SINCE THE FALL of Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld has suffered one media feeding frenzy after another. When the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal broke, he and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Dick Myers were subjected to a six-hour marathon of congressional hearings in which they were subjected to little speeches by little men aimed more at scoring a sound bite on the evening news than at getting answers. He has been accused of spending too much on the war, and too little. His faults are found in every failure on the battlefield and in the nation-building process we are pursuing in Iraq. Few know, and fewer still care, about the facts of the latter.
In the planning for the Iraq campaign, Mr. Rumsfeld proposed a plan in which a provisional government would have been formed before the invasion, and would have taken over immediately, reducing the need for American presence, and making our presence that of one ally helping another. A competing plan, advanced by Colin Powell and George Tenet, chose an extended occupation with Iraq ruled by a MacArthur-like consul, and gradual turnover of Iraq to an interim government chosen by the major representatives of the Iraqi population. The President chose the latter, the wrong plan, and then stuck Rumsfeld with the job of implementing a plan Rumsfeld knew was not likely to succeed. In the past twenty months, the interim government wasn’t formed as predicted, because some of the major Iraqi leaders — most notably leading Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani — refused to play L. Paul Bremer’s diplomatic games. Worse still, the President hasn’t yet decided to deal with the insurgency at its sources. Without the support of Syria and Iran, the insurgency wouldn’t be able to continue under the constant pressure of Coalition military action.
Now, with the Iraqi election scheduled in about five weeks, Rumsfeld is still struggling to push the Iraqis into democracy, and with mixed results. Predictably, the U.N. — whose function it is to assist new democracies in running elections — has refused to help bail America out of a situation that the U.N. opposed. In Iraq, a nation of about 24 million, tens of thousands of election assistance representatives should be on the ground. Instead, the UN has — so far — provided fewer than fifty. And, somehow, to those who oppose the President and the war we are fighting, that’s all Rumsfeld’s fault. Nonsense.
FORTUNATELY FOR MR. RUMSFELD, and for us, the President has spoken forcefully in support of Rumsfeld and the job he is doing. And for every CBS there is a Mitch McConnell. For every New York Times or CNN, there is a Pete Domenici, a Bill Frist, a Kay Bailey Hutchison and a Jim Inhofe. And a Jeff Sessions. All of those senators have spoken out in Mr. Rumsfeld’s defense, and quieted the media feeding frenzy. For a while.
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is one of Rumsfeld’s most respected and outspoken supporters. He took time from his Christmas Eve shopping trip to talk to me about the current attacks on the Big Dog. Sessions said Rumsfeld is a “remarkable man. He’s been the point man in the war on terror from the beginning.” Rumsfeld “understands the military and its need to transform.”
I asked Sen. Sessions what motivates Rumsfeld’s critics. He said there were three reasons. First, he said, “the Democrats are determined to find fault” in the war and how it is being run. Sessions sees that in any war, the enemy evolves and so must we. He said, “Rumsfeld, the President and all of their team have to be on top of this and able to change tactics at a moment’s notice.” He’s confident they are, and are getting the job done.
The second reason, Sessions said, is that “people who have been supportive of the war, including some editors, are now more difficult.” Many of those who advocated the Iraq campaign most vehemently are now afraid that they’ll be blamed for its failures and the sacrifices our troops are called upon to make it succeed. Though Sessions didn’t say it, it’s clear that some of those vehement advocates of invading Iraq — including one notable neocon magazine — are political cowards. Sessions said, “The second-guessers enjoy coming out and shooting the [politically] wounded.” It’s not hard to figure out who he meant.
The third reason is that there is always “some temptation to play for the media.” If you’re a Republican senator, the best way to buy a place on Meet the Press is to criticize the President. Because the President is in so strong a position, it’s not possible to damage him — yet — by carping about the daily problems in Iraq. That leaves the people who are running the show as the only practical target, and that means Mr. Rumsfeld.
MR. RUMSFELD SUFFERS from one of the faults his boss often displays: loyalty to those who are not loyal to him, and those who don’t do their jobs well. It’s unheard of to be three years into a war and never to have fired a general. The military leadership Mr. Rumsfeld works with is not of his creation. Those generals rose to prominence under the Clintons, and many are more politically minded than warrior-like. Neither Rumsfeld nor the President has fired a single one, despite some bad decisions and — in the case of former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki — not only bad judgment but political campaigning against the President’s plans and objectives. Shinseki should have been fired, but wasn’t. Too many of the Clinton-chosen bureaucrat-generals remain on duty today, though warriors should long ago have taken their place. Military transformation means transforming the generals, not just the hardware.
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