Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why he stays

It's almost a waste of time to ask the question, "Will Rummy survive?"
Because it seems like a slam dunk that he will.

President Bush, in all likelihood, will stick with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for several fundamental political reasons:

1. If he dumped Rumsfeld, that would be tantamount to giving himself a devastating thumbs-down review. The war in Iraq is Bush's signature issue, the issue on which he will be judged by historians. If he removes the Pentagon chief who prosecuted that war, he would be telling the American people that the war itself was ill-conceived, or, at the very least, poorly executed. And, in terms of political damage, the buck would stop in the Oval Office.
All told, the firing would be a gift to the Democrats. (Conservative commentator John Podhoretz agrees, here.) Just imagine what the Senate confirmation hearings for Rumsfeld's successor would be like. Those hearings would become a stormy, high-profile examination of the Iraq war. In an election year, no less.

2. If he dumped Rumsfeld, those who are sympathetic to the dumpee would come forward to contend that the Defense secretary was being scapegoated. They would argue that, yes, Rumsfeld's longstanding crusade at the Pentagon (to develop a lighter, more mobile, more high-tech military) may have helped fuel his resistence to a larger ground game in Iraq and his relative lack of interest in postwar security issues....but they would point out -- rightly -- that Rumsfeld had only been trying to enforce the priorites established by the Bush team.
The fact is, candidate Bush gave a speech in 1999 calling for a lighter, more mobile, more high-tech military that would be focused on winning wars, not nation-building. That speech was drafted by a coterie of conservational national security think-tankers who had spent the Clinton era developing their ideas; by 1999, they had already attached themselves to Bush. Rumsfeld was not yet a member of the team. But he was ultimately tapped to carry out the team's vision.
So, again, Rumsfeld's removal would be widely perceived as a negative reflection on Bush.

3. If Bush dumped Rumsfeld, it would send a message that the Defense secretary's most credible critics were right. It's one thing to dismiss antiwar protestors like Cindy Sheehan, and to paint them as members of the so-called "loony left." It's a bit tougher to dismiss critics from within the ranks of the military, some of whom fought in Iraq.
The administration's most effective retort, thus far, is that these decorated dissenters are publicly imperiling the tradition of civilian control of the military. If Bush dumped Rumsfeld, he'd be giving up that argument. And there are plenty of conservatives -- defenders of tradition -- who would not be happy with Bush for doing that. The GOP needs their votes in November.

By the way, on a related topic:
It's not hard to see why top administration officials gravitate toward the conservative press when it's time to give interviews. Rumsfeld did a stint yesterday on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Never mind Rumsfeld's answers, they were predictable. Just sample some of Rush's questions, none of which seem to honor the old adage that the press should afflict the comfortable:

RUSH: "You were being hailed as a sex symbol in Washington (six years ago)...Today it's a far different circumstance, and it's a great illustration of just how things work inside the Beltway. What does it feel like to you to go through these ups and downs and to have practically the entire media jump on the case of these six generals demanding your ouster?"

RUSH: "...with the (Iraq war) news that you just gave us, it's much better there than it's being reported, and I assume that you're optimistic about the final outcome."

RUSH: "How would you describe the process and the progress there?"

RUSH: "I try to share with my audience as often as possible that people like you and the president know far more than the public knows about any number of events, simply because it's not possible for the information that you learn to be shared nor should most of it, and yet that would have to force you at some point to say, 'You know, we do have an anti-war crowd and they're loud and they're being affected by our enemy. But the American people, some of them, just don't know what we know,' and you have to stick with what you think is right, and that's where the whole democratic process I would think becomes challenging for you because you have to make a judgment: 'Do what's right or we listen to the people?'"

RUSH: "I met you a couple weeks ago in New York and I forgot to tell you something. I had so many people -- as I mentioned I was going to be at the Marine dinner, and I had so many people -- in my audience tell me to be sure to tell you how much they love and respect what you're doing. So let me do it now."

RUSH: "Mr. Secretary? Can I please follow you outside, and personally wash your limo?"
(OK, he didn't say that one. But he might as well have.)