Friday, October 24, 2003

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The shots across Don Rumsfeld's bow

Is it my imagination, or is the Beltway souring on Don Rumsfeld faster than a postseason bullpen collapse?

True, a lot of defence policy wonks were never thrilled with him in the first place. Right before 9/11, the scuttlebutt about Rumsfeld's impotence as SecDef was so loud that Tim Noah started the Rumsfeld Death Watch at Slate. Of course, Rumsfeld's performance after the September 11th attacks silenced those murmurs.

However, now Rumsfeld's enemies and rivals leaking like crazy. In the past week alone, there was the Sy Hersh story and the the leaked memo.

Today's first example is this New York Daily News story:

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld angered the White House yesterday with a leaked memo questioning whether the U.S. was winning the war on terror.
"This has put Rummy in a bad spot," one Bush administration source said.

"Before this he had personality and policy problems," the source said. "Now he has a credibility problem because he's acknowledged that they've all been putting on a happy face about Iraq."

It was the latest blow for the beleaguered defense secretary. Earlier this month, the White House switched responsibility for rebuilding Iraq from Rumsfeld to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"The President isn't happy," but he won't fire Rumsfeld, a Bush official said.

Josh Marshall points out that the administration source is likely, "some Bush One type at or in the orbit of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" who's close to Daily News reporter Tom DeFrank.

However, this New York Times report suggests that Rumsfeld's problems go beyond Bush I types. The story mostly quotes people in the legislative branch, but there's more:

On issues that include General Boykin (who has likened the war against Islamic militants to a battle against Satan) and his own views about the war on terrorism (and the gap between Mr. Rumsfeld's glossy public assessments and the more roughly hewn private views that leaked out this week), senior Republicans have joined Democrats in openly complaining that the Pentagon has left them in the dark and vulnerable on critical and sensitive political issues....

White House officials have also made clear that they are increasingly frustrated and impatient with Mr. Rumsfeld, particularly after he publicly criticized the president's closest foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, earlier this month in an internal power struggle that the defense secretary made public.

A Republican who is close to the White House said the view there had been that Mr. Rumsfeld "went off the deep end" in his reaction earlier this month to Mr. Bush's decision to designate Ms. Rice as the overall coordinator of Iraq policy. "The worst thing that can happen in Washington is if you're a cabinet member, you think you're bigger than the president," the Republican said. (emphasis added)

Check out Eleanor Clift's Newsweek analysis as well. The Daily News story insists that Rumsfeld's job is safe because, "sacking Rumsfeld would give the appearance of admitting that Iraq is as big a mess as his critics contend." Still, if I was Tim Noah, I might want to crank up that death watch meme again.

UPDATE: Drezner gets no results from Tim Noah, but gets some from Time and Newsweek.

posted by Dan on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM


"The worst thing that can happen in Washington is if you're a cabinet member, you think you're bigger than the president..."

The worst thing that can happen is to start calling 'em as you see 'em instead of wrapping everything in multiple layers of PR spin.

Rummy writes what might be the most sober and honest asssessment of the situation in Iraq of any administration official to date, and he's the one who's gone off the deep end.

God help us.

posted by: uh_clem on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

The fun isn't in the Rumsfeld Dead Pool, the fun is in speculating on who will replace him. I'll bet you it won't be Wolfowitz either.

posted by: Gary Rogers on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]


The Beltway goes in for fads just like the media, and they overlap. Furthermore the lefties float a lot of trial balloons hoping some will fly. This one hasn't gotten beyond the wishing stage yet.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Only in Washington could the news that officials are admitting that the moblization and redirection of the entire country's intelligence and military forces is *failing*, be soft-pedaled next to the coverage about speculation that the guy who said it might get fired for saying it. The media has a basis alright. It's the Moron-Basis where you miss the stuff Right-In-Front-Of-Your-Nose. The 4th Estate is in deep trouble.

posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Rumsfeld writes the kind of memo any good CEO would write to his senior staff and gets rammed for it. You have to wonder if it won't have a chilling effect on leadership at all levels. What, you're not allowed to ask hard questions and expect honest answers?

posted by: Howard Owens on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

When you've got a bunch of people lying and public credibility is on the slide, the first man out with the truth is going to earn the most trust - at the cost of being targeted as a traitor or example by the censors in the clique.

Rumsfeld is positioning himself to survive this Administration. With that memo, he just distanced himself IMO from the War on Terror and Bush / Cheney who have hung the war around their necks. He may not exactly be friends with Powell, but right now they have more in common as realists and survivors than Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc. Rice is an opportunist, but loyal to the President. She'll stand by her captain while the ship goes down.

This act more than any other act so far indicates that this Administration is getting into a critical meltdown. Let's hope they can hold it together long enough not to screw up Iran and NK.

posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

While the sniping no doubt will continue, the Rumsfeld memo crisis is pretty much a dead end issue for Democrats.

Going after him for what he wrote in the memo -- that the U.S. needs to do more in the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan -- is a potential attack point, but then look at the Democratic presidential field. Only Lieberman and Gephardt voted for the $87 billion aide package for Iraq and Afghanistan. The others with votes didn't and Clark said if he had a chance, he would have voted against it.

Since the majority of Democrats overall did not back Lieberman and Gephardt on their votes, that leaves the party with a logical disconnect -- you hit Rumsfeld over not succeeding enough in the war on terror, but then you oppose additional funds for the war on terror.

That means someone like Tom Daschle can criticize Rumsfeld for what he said, but can't offer any other solution except to rely more on the U.N. and/or NATO forces in the war on terror. And whoever the nominee is for president, he will be asked if he's elected president and there is another major terrorist attack on the United States, what would he do if the U.N. and/or key European nations refuse to go along with any targeted counterattack.

If a Rumsfeld "death watch" ever pays off, it's going to have be on something other than what's come out over the past four days. This won't get it done, because only a handful of Democrats can hit him based on their own past statements and votes with any credibility.

posted by: John on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Oldman: that's not really sensible. Whatever else you may think of Donald Rumsfeld, at least concede he's not an idiot. Personally, I think the man has an innate sense of honor and loyalty that precludes the course you're suggesting, but one can refute your argument that he's positioning himself to survive a fall just in terms of cold-blooded interests. His best friend is Dick Cheney, and he's rubbed whole hosts of other people the wrong way. Who'll hire him if the current administration goes down, especially if he's tarnished as disloyal?

posted by: Ray on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

To the religious, facts are poison. The mystical Bush administration, which always has one foot in this world and one foot in the next, will shoot any messenger who reminds us that REALITY rules all.

posted by: Chip on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Donald Rumsfeld's audacity, brilliance, candor and wit set him apart in an age when those qualities are in short supply. The administration needs him, and the country needs him. He should be saluted both for reminding everyone that defeating Islamist terrorism and planting the seeds of democracy in the Islamic world are going to be a long slog, and for his part in the victories that have already been achieved.

posted by: Joe on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Dear Rav,

The memo proves that he's not an idiot. As for his sense of honor, I hold him in higher regard than just about any other Cabinet member barring only his semi-rival Powell.

Your logical failure incurs itself in assuming that this is a disloyal act. When Rice leaked to the NYT about Rumsfeld getting edged out, she drew first blood. As a notorious champion infighter, Donald was hardly going to take that lying down. The man is feisty.

Furthermore, he and Cheney may be having a friendly disagreement. Cheney may be choosing to follow the President on this on, and Rumsfeld may be backing off on a policy. Maybe he doesn't want to be the McNamara of the American 21st century, the Defense Secretary who knew better but couldn't get the cojones together to speak the truth. Also he's never been a neo-con and this memo reminds everyone of that.

As for who would hire him, frankly I would. Putting me aside, there are plenty of other Republicans and Americans sick and tired of the Administrations dishonesty. There is such a thing as integrity. By doing this act, Rumsfeld got both some of his integrity and some of his credibility back. If it all goes bad now, people will remember that he spoke out and have a place for him when the storm hits.

And that's life.

posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Both Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz have always struck me as being decisive and intelligent.

That said, the content of the memo that was leaked was highly unimpressive to the say the least. The idea that we might face a "long hard slog" in Iraq shouldn't by any means being considered a revolutionary possibility. In fact, I find it either highly dubious or highly worrisome that the ideas expressed in the memo are only now becoming realizations to Don and Co.
In other words, either that veneer of intelligence is completely false and these guys are simply genuine morons, or that memo was a very deliberate way to try and get out of the box they had put themselves in over the last 5 months.

posted by: Waffle on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

This sounds like another slow news day press rumor to me.

In 1997 or 1998 I was at a Pro-Space Sunday afternoon training function prior to going out to a "March Storm" citizen-lobbying effort. We had a Congressional staffer, a professional lobbiest and a couple of devoted citizen space activists talking about "this rumor of a funding cut for Space Station."

The reporter (I think he worked for either AvWeek or Space News) told us he had been calling around trying to nail down a rumor about a major effort to cut station.

Sure enough, that Monday there was a network evening news story about a possible Station spending cut.

No one in that room realized they were all reinforcing each other in an echo chamber that became an "official story" because they were not "nailing down a rumor."

They were spreading it.

posted by: Trent Telenko on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

The now-famous memo should inspire discussion of what I will call the "Rumsfeld Gap," the substantial difference between the knowledge and ability of the Secretary of Defense and his chief.

To point to this gap is not to say Rumsfeld is always right (for example, on military transformation I've never thought he was much better than about one-third right). It is that George Bush is not Ronald Reagan, a psychologically secure individual who could deal with, for example, his OMB director running all the details of his budget proposals without worrying that people would start to think he, Reagan, wasn't the top guy. Bush is far less sure of himself, Iraq and the war on terrorism is far higher on the public's list of important things than Reagan's budget plan was, and Rumsfeld's dominant role is bound to rankle the President and those around him.

From Rumsfeld's point of view, he has already exercised enormous restraint in playing his public role since 9/11. From the White House, it cannot have passed notice that Rumsfeld's press conferences during the war made a much bigger and more favorable impression than Bush's own appearances have. The only way for Rumsfeld to avoid becoming the target of White House resentment would have been to avoid the public eye entirely, as Colin Powell has at various times during his tenure at the State Department, but in wartime this is not practical. If Rumsfeld were not explaining poliy and answering questions about Iraq and terrorism the administration would be without a voice except for the White House press secretary.

Added to this is the political risks of prolonging the deployment in Iraq, which touch on the first priority of Bush and most of the people who work for him, the 2004 campaign. This is not Rumsfeld's top priority -- another reason for him to be looked on with suspicion -- and this makes him an obvious target for White House political operatives looking for someone to draw public criticism away from the President.

Having said that, Bush cannot fire Rumsfeld. He is too dependent on him. The tension between the White House and Pentagon will however get worse before it gets better, and may soon become a major distraction to an administration that badly needs to focus on other things.

posted by: Zathras on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

I wish Rumsfeld was president. There. I said it. I have since I first encountered his press conferences.

I have much more faith in him than I do in Bush. He needs to corner Bush and teach him public speaking.

posted by: anderson on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Okay let's keep the lovy-dovey comments to a minimum and keep it real here. Rumsfeld has many flaws, as does Powell.

However the real story is that the most important political decisions about Iraq were political decisions taken from the top - as witnessed by reading between the lines of Garner's and Murtha's comments.

Rumsfeld has already been hung out to dry once by the Admin. While he is getting blamed for the military transformation idea that limited US military deployment, the truth was that it came straight down from the top to limit troop deployment for purely political reasons. Rumsfeld was the hatchetman - doing the dirty work of cutting State off at the knees, Iraq war policy, military head rolling, and pushing the Admin tough anti-"old europe" line. Even backing Boykin is coming from the top.

He was acting on orders. Now he's sick and tired of being the lightning rod for Cheney's marching orders. That is why he is distancing himself. Rumself is a smart capable manager - far more so than Cheney himself. However, he is not the Second Coming. Now he's done with being the fall guy because all of this stuff was just being done out of loyalty rather than guinine enthusiasm - and that's what the memo shows. That's the real behind the scenes story.

posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Using Marshall and Eleanor Cliff as sources is very risky. They don't have a brain between them.

Rumsfeld is brilliant and so is Bush. I'm quite certain that both "leaked" memos were deliberate. Had those memos been sent to all media outlets, they wouldn't caused a ripple, but because they were "leaked," the media did what it does best, they started a feeding frenzy.

The CIA and the Pentagon have been put on notice that reforms are coming in the near future and get ready to implement them.

posted by: erp on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Using Marshall and Eleanor Cliff as sources is very risky. They don't have a brain between them.
Rumsfeld is brilliant and so is Bush.

Dude, lay off the Kool-Aid. You're starting to beleive your own PR.

posted by: uh_clem on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

"Rumsfeld writes the kind of memo any good CEO would write to his senior staff and gets rammed for it. You have to wonder if it won't have a chilling effect on leadership at all levels. What, you're not allowed to ask hard questions and expect honest answers?"

Posted by Howard Owens at October 24, 2003
10:00 PM

The major criticism that I've seen of this memo is that it would have been a very good memo. In Spring-Summer-Fall 2002. For it to come out now indicates that Rumsfield might be a year behind the rest of the world.

It only makes internal sense if Rumsfield believed in the 'roses and rice' scenario where the US would be down to 30K troops by the end of the summer, and the tidal wave of democracy topplying the dominos of dictatorships would be in sight.

posted by: Barry on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Mr. Oldman,

I find it hard to accept as credible your assertion that the Secratary was "hung out to dry" on transformation, when the Army - to pick just one of the DOD Departments- began talking of legacy, interim and objective forces (as grew out of the previous administrations 'RMA') as early as 1998.

Given that your first point of argument on this issue is demonstrably wrong, what would I be expected to beleive that he is a fall guy on Department of Defense matters, and by extention, on the 'outs' with the President?

posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Mr Wellesley,

The simple fact is that Shinseki was himself an adovocate of 'reform'. However he was undercut, because he wasn't extreme *enough*. That is why your point is bogus. The military may have been talking, but when it came to money it was balking at cutting the big boondoogle projects like Osprey, etc.

So whatever the army may have been saying, it was still funding big ticket tech items like the stealth dogfighter Raptor. Kaplan covers this well in one of his 'war stories' articles.

As for why you should believe me - don't. Instead believe Donald Rumseld himself. Recently he wrote another op ed. piece for the WaPo. In it he quotes the President several times - but he ends the piece almost with a plea that we need to really tackle the recruiting and propagandist roots of terrorism.

Which means clearly that he thinks we aren't doing that now - and by extension that the President's pursuit of Iraq has been a failure in that regard. This is perfectly in line with his memo. Which means that on the Op Ed page of the WaPo he just publicly put himself at odds with the President, for all the quoting of him.

DHR is as of now a dissenting voice against prime time Admin policy. The reason why we know is that he put himself down on paper on that position. Wake up Mr. Wellesley. Life is passing you by while you nap in your reveries.

posted by: Oldman on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Mr. Oldman, I am soyry to have wasted your time. You are normally very forthright and articulate on the various topics discussed, and I therefore assumed - wrongly - that you had the slightest idea of what you are talking about on this thread.

Your response speaks volumes, is there in 1's and 0's for all the world to read, and I don't have time to fisk you.

Perhaps your time will be better spent on the General Odierno thread, topside. You're taking a pasting.

posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

Ray writes: "Who'll hire him if the current administration goes down, especially if he's tarnished as disloyal?"

Rumsfeld is 71 years old and wealthy.

I don't think he's terribly concerned about his next job. He'll get a lucrative book contract after he leaves office, no matter what the circumstances, which would cushion the fall.

However, he'd certainly be in line for a cushy sinecure on the board of directors of any of a number of defense-related companies.

posted by: Jon H on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

I wrote: "Rumsfeld is 71 years old and wealthy."

In fact, at the time he was nominated to be Bush's SecDef, he was apparently worth between $50 million and $210 million, from his work as the CEO of various companies.

I think Rummy can look forward to a comfortable retirement.

posted by: Jon H on 10.24.03 at 05:11 PM [permalink]

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