Saturday, May 28, 2005


By William Fisher

Let’s give Donald Rumsfeld the benefit of the doubt. He’s not a war criminal. He never wrote any memo authorizing specific techniques for abusing prisoners. He doesn’t believe in abusing people. He’s an amusing guy. He used to be a media superstar in the Bush family firmament. The President called him the best Secretary of Defense in our country’s history.

But it’s time for him to go. And here’s why.

One of the principal reasons the United States has a Secretary of Defense is to maintain civilian control over the uniformed military. By that criterion alone, he has been a cataclysmic failure. And by that criterion alone, he might well be judged by history as the worst, not the best, SecDef in the nation’s history.

If the reason for having a SecDef is to control our armed forces, how did they ever get so out of control?

What’s happened on his watch is simply too egregious for Mr. Rumsfeld to get a pass.

The U.S. invaded a country about which it knew nothing, with too few troops and no awareness that there would even be an occupation, much less a plan for one.
In so doing, America created the world’s biggest job fair for terrorists.

We know that Rumsfeld believes you go to war “with the army you have, not the army you want.” Well, the army we had didn’t have the right kinds of troops in the right places at the right times. American soldiers didn’t have the protection they needed. Nor did they have the intelligence they needed. So people died and were maimed.

Then there was Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base, and Lord only knows how many other hidden military prisons. People were tortured. People became ghost detainees. People died. Even assuming they were the worst of the worst, prisoners in U.S. custody are not supposed to die. They are supposed to be protected. But die they did.

And it would be a major error to overlook the superb work of his non-uniformed Viceroy, L. Paul Bremer, who turned enemy soldiers into criminals by disbanding the Iraqi army. Who instituted the so-called De-Baathification program that fired all the teachers and street cleaners and electricians – people who were compelled to join Saddam’s party just to get a job. Who supervised the ‘training’ of Iraqi police and soldiers – America’s exit strategy – no doubt immeasurably helped by wannabe Homeland Defense Department boss Bernard Kerik. And who, as a modest token of appreciation for his many contributions, got the Medal of Honor from his president.

Then there were the omnipresent profiteers – the Halliburtons, the Blackhawks, and the dozens of other Defense Department contractors who did little and made millions.

And through it all, there was the Rumsfeld Review -- Donald’s Good News Bears performing their Daily Show at the Pentagon rostrum. Reporters could barely wait for the spin machine to start. It was a wonder to behold the questions evaded, ignored, left answered, the deftness at changing the subject, the assurances that there were now 140,000 (or was it 180,000?) Iraqi police and national guardsmen trained and that things were getting better all the time. The Donald’s quips disarmed even veteran journalists and turned the Pentagon press corps into a small army of un-uniformed stenographers, dutifully writing their embedded reassuring pieces in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary supplied by their colleagues on the ground.

So how does all this add up to civilian control of the uniformed military? It doesn’t.

If one of Rumsfeld’s major mandates was to make sure that a suit, not a uniform, would be accountable for all our shock and awe, it didn’t happen. No one is accountable.

The Donald told a congressional committee last year he would resign when he felt he could no longer serve effectively. That time has passed.

Time to think again, Mr. Secretary.