David Miller Online
Why Donald Rumsfeld must stay in Bush’s Cabinet
In the wake of his re-election, President Bush appears to be making noises about healing the divisions within both US society and the international community. He used his victory speech to call for Americans to unite and promised to be a healer not a divider, yet we have heard this before. Mr. Bush said something similar in 2000 after the Florida debacle but he has not been successful. The war in Iraq, his economic agenda and his appeal for the religious vote mean that Americans remain at even greater odds with themselves four years after Mr. Bush took office and with his administration unlikely to alter its policies, the divisions will not heal anytime in the immediate future. Therefore, if Mr. Bush ditches a figure such as Donald Rumsfeld from the cabinet in an effort to distance himself from the crisis in Iraq and make is government appear less hawkish and more friendly, then it is nothing more than an empty gesture to his opponents and one that cannot help the President’s situation or that of his country.
Although Mr. Rumsfeld served under Gerald Ford from 1975 through until 1977 and at 72 is the oldest Defence Secretary in American history, he came to prominence after the attacks of September 11. Along with Rudolph Guiliani and John Ashcroft, Mr. Rumsfeld became an almost permanent fixture in the media talking tough about America’s response to the attacks, the measures that the administration was taking to battle al-Qaeda and expressing his forthright views on governments who opposed the war, for example, France and Germany. Mr. Rumsfeld’s strength was that he appeared solid in a time of crisis and chaos. While the World Trade Centre and Pentagon still burned, he stood at the podium in Washington reminding Americans and the rest of the world that the United States would not be intimidated by such actions and would strike back at its enemies wherever they tried to hide. As the Afghanistan campaign began, he reminded all that the military option was necessary as the US was now at war and reassured us all that with him at the helm we had nothing to fear from the terrorists, rogue governments or weapons of mass destruction. The best analogy drawn of Mr. Rumsfeld during this period was that he reminded us all of our grandfathers, standing tall watching over us and protecting us from harm.
Yet his hawkish views soon got him trouble and this was compounded by the fact that as Defence Secretary he could translate his words into action. Had he been an opposition defence spokesman or a minor member of Mr. Bush’s cabinet he may not have come in for the criticism that he has, but he literally has his finger on the trigger. He could coerce the President into invading Afghanistan when others may have merely called for air strikes. He pushed his boss into carrying the war into Iraq while another may have been content with sanctions or allowed the United Nations more time to carry out its inspections instead of devising a plan that allowed the military to test its vastly superior weapons in real battle conditions. While others at his age began looking at ways of spending their retirement plan, Mr. Rumsfeld went to war.
Although he must accept a share of the blame for what happened at Abu Ghraib and the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unfinished, he must remain at his post. The reason for making this claim is not simply out of admiration for the man and his entertainment value whenever he gives a press conference but the fact that the United States is still fighting a war. Mr. Bush may have much work to do on the domestic front but his government has still to defeat the insurgents in Iraq and the al-Qaeda cells that have dispersed throughout the world. There is no easy solution to either and unfortunately, the US and its allies cannot just withdraw their forces and no other nations will step into the breach. The US must see both Afghanistan and Iraq stabilised and secure from the militants and this involves further military operations such as the one currently underway in Fallujah.
Given that the war will continue under Mr. Bush’s government, sacking Mr. Rumsfeld will not bring any dividends to the United States. If he is sacked then it is likely that someone equally as hawkish, for example, Condoleza Rice, will fill the vacancy and although the face might change the direction of US defence policy will not. If anyone else ascends to his job and reverses course then Iraq and Afghanistan will once again become breeding grounds for terrorists and the situation will be no better than before 9-11. This war will be ongoing for a long time yet and therefore, someone like Mr. Rumsfeld who cannot only manage the war but also believes in what he is doing needs to be prosecuting it for the next four years.