I’m following with interest the brewing storm about Rumsfeld’s mismanagement of the U.S. military and the Iraq war in the form of six generals who denounced him and called for his resignation. No one that I’ve read so far has pointed out that all the officers whom I’ve heard of served in a single branch of the service, the Army. It should be no surprise to anyone who’s followed the “day of the long knives” infighting within the Pentagon over the past few years to find that the Army’s brass would hate Rumsfeld. He’s the one who forced Gen. Shinseki, Army chief of staff, out of a job and the service. He’s the one who’s incessantly criticized the Army’s warfighting capabilities. He’s the one who called the Army’s leadership hidebound, fossilized and out of touch with the needs of a modern fighting force. He’s the one who bullied Tommy Franks about the plan for the Iraq war.
All I can say is that my sympathies are all with the Army in this fight. And I have no doubt that more officers will come forward. And I have no doubt that this will embolden a few legislators to join them (at least I hope so). Note this absolutely tepid comment from the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, John Warner:
“Senator Warner believes that the decision of whether to keep Secretary Rumsfeld is up to the president,” said a spokesman for Mr. Warner, John Ullyot.
And I hope that this will turn into a groundswell of anger against Rumsfeld. It seems clear that Rumsfeld is history. Not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’
The NY Times reports George Bush’s ‘robust’ defense of Rumsfeld:
“Secretary Rumsfeld’s energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period,” the president’s statement read. “He has my full support and deepest appreciation.”
But what strikes me about this article and this statement is that it is almost irrelevant. For George Bush is no longer the center of gravity of national politics. Certainly, Bush hires and fires and will be the one to finally call for Rumsfeld’s resignation (may the moment come soon). But he is no longer driving this story or much of anything in DC.
And the funny thing is it didn’t have to be that way. Let me make clear that what I’m about to write comes from a dyed in the wool Democrat who’s rarely if ever voted for a Republican in 30 years of voting. I don’t support George Bush or any of the Republicans I’m about to discuss.
Bush didn’t have to fail so miserably in his presidency. He could’ve championed a conservative agenda that the majority of Americans (though certainly not me) would’ve endorsed for his entire two terms. To earn this support, he certainly would’ve had to changed his legislative priorities and policy positions somewhat. But he could’ve accomplished much if he’d trimmed his sails at several key junctures.
On November 4, 2004, the day after the election, I predicted in Hubris: Why Bush Will Fail, rather presciently (if I do say so myself) that Bush would overreach in his second term. That he would allow the hubris of his victory to go to his head. That he would pursue even more radical policies that would finally drive the American people from him:
It is an act of supreme optimism on the day after such a dismal election, when hope is in tatters and the Republicans have tightened their grip on the levers of power, to think of a future rise of the prospects of the Democratic party. But we should remember that every party goes through long cycles of being out of power; of seeming to be out of favor or out of touch with the electorate. Indeed, this election seems an especially stinging rejection. But this will not last forever.
I think that George Bush, Karl Rove and Tom DeLay will actually help bring that day closer by overreaching. Their hubris in this apparently sweeping victory will, as it did with Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America fiasco, cause them to propose a sweeping, stridently right wing political-social agenda: abolition of the estate tax, new tax cuts, privatizing social security, hard-right Supreme Court candidates, etc. They think this is a mandate. But if the Democrats remaining in the Senate and House can play their cards right (and admittedly they don’t have many good ones in their hand), the Republicans will overplay theirs. It is especially important that Democrats prosecute the campaign against Tom DeLay’s ethical and legal lapses vigorously. That is one of the biggest current chinks in their armor.
Bush needed to conduct a presidency more as a John McCain would’ve conducted one. Bush needed more nuance and more duality. In other words, he needed to be strong on national security but equally strong on civil liberties. I’m not talking about the empty rhetoric he’s used to defend the NSA spying scandal saying that he would never violate an American’s civil liberties unless it was justified. Look at John McCain: he supports the war on terror and the war in Iraq. But he opposed torture and though he hasn’t make any comment that I’ve seen on the NSA program, I bet he’s agin’ it. And he’s certainly no friend of Rumseld as he long ago stated he had no confidence in his leadership.
Tom DeLay’s scorched earth tactics in Congress, enthusiastically supported by Rove and Bush, also set the scene for a possible mid-term loss of the House to Republican control. If these guys had not been out to maximize every possible advantage for Republicans up to and possibly including illegal activities such as those DeLay and Abramoff are charged with–then their fall, when it came, would’ve been a lot softer and a lot farther in the future.
That’s because the Democrats are a party of wimps and ineffectual losers. Bush essentially had almost no legislative opposition to enactment of his policies. At least no effective opposition. His fall from grace is almost entirely of his own doing. It’s sad in a way (God, I can’t believe I’m saying that). Because he could’ve left office with a different legacy if he’d chosen to prosecute the war on terror after 9/11 differently.
Does anyone who followed Rudy Giuliani’s response to 9/11 (and I hate this man as well but have to give credit when credit is due) in NYC doubt that if he’d been president it’s likely things would’ve been much different? Here we have an example of two political leaders who faced deep tragedies (essentially the same tragedy). One rose to the task and the other fell by the wayside. Bush chose to take advantage of the event to pursue neocon strategies that predated 9/11 (notably toppling Saddam Hussein). Guiliani chose to sound themes that would bring the city together rather than divide it. This from a man who’s clearly partisan, but one who knew, at least in this one case, when was the right time to temper partisanship for a greater good.
In short, Giuliani knew how to appeal to “the angels of our better Nature.” While Bush knew only how to appeal to our baser nature with fear, paranoia and war. That’s why Bush’s presidency is lost.