US: Post an electoral pasting, & Rumsfeld's ousting by popular demand, Dubya still doesn't "get it"
Thursday November 9, 2006
On Tuesday, the voters told President Bush that they wanted him to come up with an exit strategy in Iraq. Yesterday, Mr. Bush accepted the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Announcing his decision, the president sounded cranky, and his insistence that Mr. Rumsfeld had done a great job was ridiculous. But everyone would like this to be the beginning of a new era, and it seems best to simply applaud the decision. Whether Mr. Bush understands what a failure Mr. Rumsfeld has been is far less important than whether he is really prepared to rethink the Iraq strategy now.
What was far more worrisome was Mr. Bush’s repeated insistence that neither he nor the American people would countenance withdrawal without “victory.” If the president still imagines that the American occupation will end in some kind of foreign policy triumph for the United States, neither the election nor Mr. Rumsfeld’s abrupt ouster have had any real impact at all. We’re still waiting for a sign that Mr. Bush has grasped the steady unraveling of his Iraq strategy as anything beyond a political problem.
The challenge for Mr. Rumsfeld’s chosen successor, Robert Gates, who was a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Bush’s father and then served as director of central intelligence, will be to bring home to the president how desperate the situation has become in Iraq and to see that the war’s conduct from here on is dictated by reality, not ideology.
That would be a truly revolutionary departure from the current era, when a succession of dubious Rumsfeld doctrines failed the reality test yet remained official policy.
Mr. Rumsfeld, you remember, was absolutely certain that Iraq could be transformed with less than half the troops that a generation of senior generals had thought necessary. He was wrong, but it was the Army’s top general who lost his job. Similar travesties played out over postwar planning and over reconstruction contracts. At some point, people must have stopped telling Mr. Rumsfeld what was really going on, fearing his wrath or retaliation.
Mr. Gates’s most urgent task, assuming he is confirmed, must be to reopen those necessary channels of communication with military, intelligence and foreign service professionals on the ground. After hearing what they have to say, he needs to recommend a realistic new strategy to Mr. Bush in place of the one that is now demonstrably failing.
That is not all he needs to do. He will have to rebuild a badly overstretched Army, refocus military transformation by trading in unneeded cold war weapons for new technologies more relevant to current needs, and nurture a more constructive relationship with Congressional oversight committees.
But Iraq must come first. Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure has to be followed by a major change in policy if American troops can be brought home without leaving a disaster behind.