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Heckuvajob Rummy

Donald Rumsfeld appears to have his back to the wall. Of course, it is a wall in the Pentagon, more formidable for protection than many, but it is a wall nonetheless. In the months leading to the invasion of Iraq, against the advice of senior military staff, he promoted the idea of a lightning quick strike, a la WWII Germany, using a light, fast, high-tech military behind an intense aerial bombardment. That it appeared to work well in the opening weeks of the war now appears no longer a vindication of a strategy that later went wrong, rather further evidence that the military's manpower concern was valid - invading an impoverished, largely disarmed country is easy; holding it while arranging for the transition of power takes serious effort and lots of boots on the ground.

Three years ago, one month before the actual invasion, Eric Shinseki told Congress that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed to properly invade Iraq. Wrong answer; his career as a functioning military officer effectively ended at that moment, thanks to Donald Rumsfeld. If you read the right-wing news, this number was pulled out of the air, and Shinseki was speaking out of turn and off the cuff. However, John Batiste, one of the retired generals that has stepped up to publicly criticize Rumsfeld in recent weeks, said on Good Morning America (commented on here) that Shinseki's statement accurately summarized twelve years of military planning on Iraq, planning that was thrown out by Rumsfeld in his desire to make war his way.

The Whitehouse and Pentagon spokespersons have played this as an organized smear campaign by disgruntled former employees - the kind of thing that can happen to any tough-minded and capable CEO. Those involved claim it is not organized, but I hardly see how it matters. In any case, it is much more than a smear campaign. By destroying Shinseki, Rumsfeld sent a powerful message to an organization that respects the fact that at the top sits the elected civilian government; public discussion of options outside those that came from the top would be viewed as dissent and treated as such. The very fact that Shinseki went public three years ago speaks to the frustration that the senior staff of the day had in dealing with Rumsfeld. This kind of atmosphere will stifle discussion in any organization, but in the military more effectively than most, owing to the soldier's respect for command structure, authority, and channels of communication. That it is retired senior officers, those without fear of reprimand or mistreatment a la Shinseki, coming out now is another indication of the fearful attitude within the organization.

To me, the really interesting questions revolve around why Rumsfeld chose the route he did, against the strategic advice of many of those under him. Is he simply an asshole that can't listen to underlings? I haven't read much about his private sector life, but there would be evidence of this kicking around, I'm sure. Was he under political pressure to mount as inexpensive campaign as possible? Remembering back to the time before the invasion, there was widespread support for the war in the US, was this because everyone thought it was going to be easy? Was he hoping to use as few troops as possible in order to have others at his disposal in case the other members of team "Axis of Evil" stepped out of line?

At any rate, Rumsfeld is left alone at the top of a war in which he quickly felled a government, but has been unable to put the pieces back together; and the organization he heads is discouraged, unable to meet recruitment targets, and involved in a costly long-term struggle that even if won, is still lost. What's more, the Iraqi adventure, which could have solidified the American presence in the Mid East has instead bogged down the military, harmed their credibility with the international community, and destroyed their ability to deal diplomatically with Muslim nations at exactly the time when such diplomacy is crucial.

George Bush has very few options left. Firing Rumsfeld would require an admission of some big, big mistakes; admissions that are like pulling teeth for him. There have been some muted admissions of late of mistakes in the conduct of the war, but none of the initial assumptions or strategic thinking - to now these have been off limits. He could always use the "criticizing Rumsfeld plays into the terrorists hands" defense, but this old trout ain't gonna swim too many more times.

There's always "you're doing a heckuva job, Rummy".

Nothing to add here. I just wanted to say that this is the best analysis of the Rummy situation that I've seen anywhere, including the Times. You don't need to read that rag, Kevvy, you're ahead of their curve. ;)

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