Should Rumsfeld Stay?

Jeff at Notes on the Atrocities has written a post in which he commits what he calls “liberal apostasy” by arguing that Rumsfeld shouldn’t resign. His argument is mostly political–

Strategically, I question the value of firing a Defense Secretary six months before an election. Things are critical in Iraq now, and the distraction and vacuum created by his departure won’t improve things in the short term. In fact, it’s a lot easier to see how the absentee oversight of the past year will only worsen if Rummy gets the ax. There’s a certain calculation here–I wouldn’t make this argument if I thought Bush was going to win re-election.Also, I don’t think it helps Democrats to score a political victory. Their target isn’t Rumsfeld per se, but the policies of the Bush administration. Trying to get Rummy fired is an effort to win a symbolic victory at the expense of the ideological war. Rummy is a footsoldier in the neocon rationale for invading Iraq; while getting him fired would be a rebuke of that rationale, it would remain symbolic. It’s far more potent politically to have the shamed Rumsfeld in the administration where he is an ongoing symbol of Bush’s Iraq failure. Remove him and the Bushies can move on. Keep him, and you have a constant reminder that this administration let torture happen (or worse–encouraged it).

–but I must say I have my doubts that ‘shame’ will play much part in Bush’s re-election, at least as far as Rummy is concerned. The shame that will count is the shame of the country that Abu Ghraib was allowed to happen, a shame that has to be laid right at Junior’s door or it doesn’t count for much. Rumsfeld is a side-issue.

I also don’t buy the ‘distraction’ argument. To be blunt, I think it’s silly. The situation in Iraq is so bone-balls screwed up that whether a new SecDef ‘distracts’ from the effort or not hardly matters. The idea that the ‘absentee oversight’ of the BA could get any worse is almost irony. A change of command would dump re-organization and cleaning-up duties right in the laps of the military authorities where they belong. Myers, Sanchez and Abizaid are under the gun; they’ve got no choice now but to straighten out the mess, SecDef or no SecDef.

Jeff allows as how there’s good reason for Ruymmy to go–‘The one mitigating argument, and it’s a very good one, is that the world needs to see Rummy’s head on a plate.’–but thinks that in the end it could backfire.

I agree that the biggest consequence of this debacle is our damaged standing in the world–and therefore our increased vulnerability to terrorists. But firing Rummy won’t actually change the policies that have enraged the world. The key neocons–Cheney, Condi, Wolfowitz–are still guiding policy. Rummy was actually an old cold warrior–more a Kissinger type than a neocon. Firing him may please the world, but it could have grave consequences in removing heat on the abysmal policy rationales that got us here in the first place.Rummy’s ultimately responsible for the torture. But firing him won’t prevent similar abuses in the future. Perversely, keeping him on the job may.

I doubt it. There’s no reason to believe Rumsfeld is in any way chastened and because of it is liable to be more careful or change his stripes. Maybe Jeff didn’t see or hear the end of Rumsfeld’s day of testimony. Going by the beginning you just might get the idea that he realized something was wrong, or at least that he wasn’t going to get away with pretending there wasn’t. Stay through to the end and you find the old Rumsfeld emerging from his temporary shell, snarling and snapping contemptuously at any suggestion that what happened was unusual or that he was in any way responsible for any of it.

But to say I disagree with Jeff’s reasoning is not to say I disagree with his conclusion. I don’t, but for an entirely different reason: The fact of the matter is that if Rumsfeld goes, whoever succeeds him is almost certainly going to be worse. A lot worse. If you doubt this, stay up into the wee hours tonight, lock your doors, pull down your shades, and turn off all the lights. Then, into the deep, dank, depressing darkness of 3am, whisper the name ‘Paul Wolfowitz’ and feel the chill in your spine, murmur the epithet ‘Richard Perle’ and experience the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. This is what I call the ‘Robert Bork’ argument: don’t reject a bad candidate when you have reason to suspect his replacement will take you a few steps further down toward Hell.

Those calling for Rummy to resign are speculating dreamily about a Powell replacement. This is fantasy, people, It ain’t gonna happen. The NWB’s are still very much in charge, as Jeff says, and Powell isn’t one of them. Cheney will go before Powell takes over Defense, and Cheney’s going nowhere.

We might as well leave Rumsfeld right where he is. We have nothing to gain by driving him out, which is why he’ll go whether we urge it or not: Junior needs him gone, for all the reasons Jeff points out. He’s an albatross around the campaign’s neck, and Karl knows it. Bush has to at least give the appearance of cleaning house, and Rummy–with Paul and Richie waiting in the wings–is the most dispensable scapegoat at hand. Oh, he’ll go alright, and he knows it. And Jeff is right about this: It won’t be a victory for us.

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