Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Rummy not "sensitive" enough?

On Monday afternoon, President Bush gave what's likely to be his last news conference of 2004. In it he defended embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying:

I know Secretary Rumsfeld's heart. I know how much he cares for the troops. I have heard the anguish in his voice, and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm's way. He's a good decent man. He's a caring fellow. Sometimes, perhaps his demeanor is rough and gruff. But below that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military and deeply about the grief that war causes.

Now I admit that I haven't been following the criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld closely, but I was surprised to learn this:

Rumsfeld over the weekend came under barrage of criticism and accusations of being insensitive after admitting he did not personally sign his name on letters of condolence to families of more than 1,000 soldiers killed in Iraq but instead had them signed by auto-pen. Rumsfeld said in a weekend statement he would now sign them in his own hand.

How utterly bizarre. Why do I get the feeling that Rumsfeld's detractors are looking for anything--no matter how insignificant--for which to criticize him? Is Rumsfeld to be this administration's sacrificial lamb to appease critics of the war in Iraq? Was this lack of sensitivity the tipping point for people?

Okay, sure it would be nice if he signed condolence letters by hand. But if he does, does that make them any less the form letters they are? And if he doesn't, does that mean that he has to go? Is this what John Kerry meant by running a more sensitive war in Iraq?

When Rumsfeld said, in response to a question about lack of adequate armor "You go to war with the army you have--not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time," was I the only one who heard a slight castigation of the previous administration and its defense-cutting efforts?

The Washington Times provides a bit more context on the "gotcha" question. The soundbite heard 'round the world was only a small portion of the response:

Long-time Human Events editor Allan Ryskind recently observed that the sound-bite in question sounds entirely different in the full context of Mr. Rumsfeld's respectful and characteristically thoughtful answer.

The first thing he said was: "I talked to the general coming out here about the pace at which the vehicles are being armored. They have been brought from all over the world, wherever they're not needed, to a place here where they are needed. I'm told that they are being — the Army is — I think it's something like 400 a month are being done. And it's essentially a matter of physics. It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the Army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it."

It was only then that Mr. Rumsfeld made what was taken by the troops — who subsequently gave him a standing ovation — as an unexceptionable observation: "As you know, you go to war with the army you have. They're not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time." While the sound bite typically began and ended with those two sentences, Rummy added a further assurance: "Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate they believe — it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously — but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment." He went on in this deliberate, responsible vein for several minutes more.

Imagine the secretary's surprise when, after these remarks were selectively quoted and repeatedly broadcast in the most unflattering light, the manufacturer of armored Humvees announced he could actually increase production further. More public castigation of Mr. Rumsfeld followed.

Even though pundits like Bill Kristol and many in Congress, including Republicans Chuck Hagel, Trent Lott, and John McCain, have all stated that they have "lost confidence" in Rumsfeld, what really matters is what the President thinks. And the President is standing by his Rummy. I don't think Rumsfeld will be leaving this administration soon.

More: Hindrocket thinks the "Rumsfeld as scapegoat" scenario is the most likely and also believes that Rummy isn't going anywhere.
So the left keeps hoping for Iraq to turn into Vietnam, while fearing that it may not happen. If Rumsfeld is fired, it will be taken as an admission that the war was misconceived, and that is how history--at least for the next four years--will record it, no matter how well things actually go in Iraq. The administration will finally have acquitted itself of the charge of failing to admit its mistakes, but at a terrible price.

President Bush understands this, which is why Rumsfeld isn't going anywhere. Bush has four years to prove that he was right about Iraq, and he isn't about to change course now.


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