Defense strategist Harlan Ullman writes a regular “Owls and Eagles” column for the Washington Times, and I frequently learn a great deal from it.
I have come by an early draft of what will appear in his column tomorrow — titled tentatively “It is Bush’s War, Not Rumsfeld’s”.
I won’t print the whole article, but I will post some of it and add the link to the Washington Times when it is up tomorrow.
Ullman makes a compelling case that the zealotry to unseat Rumsfeld should be focused on the President and the many other institutions and players who had a hand in the reckless way this war was pursued. Ullman is interesting because he is the person credited with coining the “shock and awe” strategy for military invasions, but he has been a strong and consistent critic of the Bush White House and the Pentagon for the manner in which “shock and awe” was applied.
Just to be clear about my own views, I disagree with Harlan Ullman and think that Rumsfeld is a titan in these matters and that responsibility for many of the errors and misdeeds of this war needs to be fixed, to a significant degree, on him. One must begin somewhere, and it’s not enough to argue a defense of Rumsfeld that others should be held accountable as well.
Nonetheless, Ullman makes several points that should be considered — – particularly that that this was a Bush/Cheney war:
Last week’s political sandstorm in Washington swirled around Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s future. A handful of retired general officers, though no admirals yet, called for the secretary to go on the grounds of mishandling the war in Iraq. President Bush predictably offered strong support for Mr. Rumsfeld as did a handful of other retired flag officers.
In this brouhaha, three important ingredients are so far missing in action. First is recognizing that the war in Iraq is Mr. Bush’s, not Mr. Rumsfeld’s. Second, accountability for the errors, misjudgments and mistakes in conducting that war and its aftermath cannot responsibly be laid at the feet of only one person. Third, we continue to ignore what lies ahead in Iraq, an ignorance that could prove fatal to the entire endeavor.
A disclosure is in order. Recall that as the summer of 2001 passed into autumn, the drumbeat for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation was building. Sometime after September 11th, in opposition to this clamor, this column called for the secretary to “press on” in his quest to transform the department of defense. He did.
Now, nearly five years later, the nation must appreciate that American policy and actions in Iraq and the Middle East have been defined, approved and authorized by the president. While Rumsfeld was a principal architect, the responsibility for the war rests above the secretary’s pay grade. The buck does stop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Second, a good number of other people were intimately involved in the take-off that led to the invasion of Iraq. If Rumsfeld should go, what about the vice president or the current secretary of state, national security advisor and the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff? As key members of the team closest to the president, have they no responsibility or accountability here? And what about other members of the cabinet? If the nation is at war, why is the defense department the only agency acting that way? Why should other cabinet secretaries not be held accountable for demanding similar levels of commitment from their departments?
There is also the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If Rumsfeld becomes the lightning rod for failed policy, surely Congress cannot be absolved of responsibility. By decisive majorities, both parties authorized the war as well the nearly half a trillion dollars of funding so far spent on Iraq. And what about holding really substantive hearings? So shouldn’t the Speaker, majority and minority leaders of both houses and committee chairmen and ranking members have their feet metaphorically held closely to the accountability fires?
Ullman is absolutely correct that there is a long list of co-conspirators and collaborators who bear responsibility for America’s crappy plight — many of them Democrats in fact.
However, an important point that I think my friend Harlan Ullman glosses over is that the military is seriously fractured right now. There are few times in history where the officer corps has been so divided between what course the nation should go — and regarding what shape the military itself is in.
I do hold Donald Rumsfeld responsible for much of our current mess, but whether others agree or not with that view, few can argue that there is a crisis in confidence in Pentagon management.
When that happens — no matter who is right and who is wrong — management needs to be shaken up. Confidence and stability can be re-established with a new team at the helm.
While Democrats would do better electorally with a continuation of the the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, the nation itself will suffer significantly with two and a half more years of what we are seeing unfold today.
While the buck should stop with the President, Bush and Cheney are likely to keep their positions until the end of their terms, but Rumsfeld is not only expendable — he should be jettisoned, yesterday.
— Steve Clemons