From my perspective, Donald Rumsfeld had some good ideas on technology and modern war at one time — and his and other’s notions on modernization and the revolution in military affairs made some sense to me.
But I also believe that the Pentagon has become the least accountable, powerful bureacracy in the history of the planet — and Rumsfeld has worsened the problem by an order of magnitude.
Just to be fair, I thought that for a ‘nano-second’ in time Rumsfeld demonstrated uncharacteristic honesty (at least in the introspective questions he posed) about the wrong-headed direction the administration had taken in the so-called war on terror. Cem Oezdemir and I wrote about this in a piece about the famous Rumsfeld memo.
However, there were many points before and during the Iraq War when it became clear to me that Rumsfeld had to go. Frankly, many others should go as well — but I strongly feel that the top guy has got to accept responsibility for this mess we are in, for the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and now for his impromptu interaction with the troops this past week.
The New Republic‘s Peter Scoblic puts America’s Rumsfeld problem quite nicely here. And even John McCain, whom I no longer think is pursuing the Department of Defense job, says he has “no confidence in Rumsfeld.”
I had a long talk tonight with a friend whose name I won’t mention who thinks that the best thing to hope for now is that everything gets much worse. He thinks we should stop trying to buffer the American public, the nation, and the world from the errors the Bush administration is making. He thinks that the only way for things to get better is for things to get much worse — so that Americans finally wake up and take their government back.
I’m less sure because I fear that we may be heading towards a dark and troubled future in any case and that dumping Rumsfeld for someone better, for example, may help at the margins.
But I have to admit, there are times when I think that the “let it all fall apart” view of some on the left is appealing. On better days, I still think, perhaps naively, that determined, reasonable people can prevail over the idiocy and “keystone cops approach” to government we are seeing.
This discussion I had today does make me angry — because I am having to defend a centrist sensibility that looks conservative to the most passionate on the left and yet looks wildly liberal to those in power today. But I am not angry with my friend; I’m angry at Rumsfeld and those who are not playing by the rules of our democracy.
Rumsfeld failed in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo, in the invasion of Iraq itself. Show the world that America also has “rule of law” and accountability and remove yourself, Mr. Rumsfeld, since Bush won’t do it for you (not unless you become a huge PR liability for him).
But even that — even dumping Rumsfeld from the Cabinet then — when he no longer brings popularity even from the most devout on the war-mongering right — is a crappy and cynical way to run this government.
American leaders need to do the right things, inspired by conscience and by a sense of the constructive and possible, rather than finally doing the right things (dumping Rummy for instance) when ultimately forced to.
I simply can’t imagine the circumstances in which any nations are going to trust our government for years to come. I can imagine some incremental improvements here and there, but only in the most optimistic scenarios which involve dumping the majority of the Bush administration’s cast of foreign policy characters. We might have had an opportunity if Rumsfeld had resigned after the Schlesinger Report on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
For now, I’m going to stick to my view that tenacious commitment to common sense principles in foreign policy can rise above the short-sighted policies of those who conducted this war with and occupation of Iraq.
I’m also very focused on who the next Republican and Democratic candidates are going to be. America and the world need better than we have at the helm today.
— Steve Clemons