Saturday, December 02, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld's Curtain Call

The outgoing Secretary of Defense offered new responses for our forces in Iraq. His suggestions counter the optimism that the Administration has consistently conveyed. Would his position have remained secure if this memo became public immediately before?

The NY Times continues to prosper from anonymous leakers of classified material. Their latest success prints in their Sunday edition--tomorrow, what a shock:
Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction.

“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” wrote Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”

Nor did Mr. Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course he suggested the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.

“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”

“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist,” he added. Mr. Rumsfeld’s memo suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House’s sharpest Democratic critics. (Text of the Memo)

The Times, as usual of late, forces far too much partisan opinioninto a factual story. Behold the AP's account--hardly a bastion of objective reporting, itself:

President Bush said Saturday he understands that Americans are upset about continuing bloodshed in Iraq even as it was disclosed that Donald H. Rumsfeld called for major changes in tactics two days before he resigned as defense secretary.

"In my view it is time for a major adjustment," Rumsfeld wrote in a Nov. 6 memo to the White House. "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

Existence of the classified memo was first reported by The New York Times on its Internet site Saturday evening in a story for the paper's Sunday editions.

Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff said he was not the source of the leak to the Times, but confirmed the memo's authenticity to The Associated Press late Saturday.

"The formulation of these ideas evolved over a period of several weeks," Ruff said in a telephone interview.

He said the options presented in the paper were Rumsfeld's personal ideas developed in conversations with a variety of people, not part of a formal Pentagon review that also is under way.

Ruff also emphasized that Rumsfeld does not endorse any one particular recommendation, and notes in his memo that "many of these options could and, in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others."

Additionally, the AP cites specific points that Mr. Rumsfeld made:

Specifics on his options checklist:

_"Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi government and the U.S. ... to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the U.S. public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made)."

_"Significantly increase U.S. trainers and embeds, and transfer more U.S. equipment to Iraqi security forces."

_"Initiate a reverse embeds program ... by putting one or more Iraqi soldiers with every U.S. and possibly coalition squad."

_Aggressively beef up Iraqi ministries by reaching out to U.S. military retirees and Reserve and National Guard volunteers.

_Conduct an accelerated drawdown of U.S. bases, noting they have already been reduced from 110 to 55. "Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007."

_"Retain high-end ... capability ... to target al-Qaida, death squads, and Iranians in Iraq, while drawing down all other coalition forces, except those necessary to provide certain key enablers" for Iraqi forces.

_Provide U.S. security forces "only for those provinces or cities that openly request U.S. help and that actively cooperate."

_Stop rewarding "bad behavior" with reconstruction funds and start rewarding "good behavior."

I find it interesting that both reports specify that Mr. Rumsfeld's plans for troop withdrawal coincide with Democratic critics of the war. Who do they mean. The WP, as recently as August, noted that the Democrats could not agree on an Iraq position:

Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush aggressively to withdraw troops.

Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush's handling of the war. A growing chorus of Democrats, however, has said this criticism should be harnessed to a consistent message and alternative policy -- something most Democratic lawmakers have refused to offer.

The wariness, congressional aides and outside strategists said in interviews last week, reflects a belief among some in the opposition that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush's options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives fear such moves would exacerbate the party's traditional vulnerability on national security issues.

The internal schism has become all the more evident in recent weeks even as Americans have soured on Bush and the war in poll after poll. Senate Democrats, according to aides, convened a private meeting in late June to develop a cohesive stance on the war and debated every option -- only to break up with no consensus.

The rejuvenation of the antiwar movement in recent days after the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq set up camp near Bush's Texas ranch has exposed the rift even further.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) broke with his party leadership last week to become the first senator to call for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by a specific deadline. Feingold proposed Dec. 31, 2006. In delivering the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday, former senator Max Cleland (Ga.), a war hero who lost three limbs in Vietnam, declared that "it's time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out."

Although critical of Bush, the party's establishment figures -- including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) -- all reject the Feingold approach, reasoning that success in Iraq at this point is too important for the country.

Regardless of the accuracy, or lack thereof, there remains Mr. Rumsfeld's final proposition. He clearly believed a new course in Iraq must occur. The President's "stay the course" mantra had failed to persuade even his own advisers, let alone the nation. Now that a Democrat-controlled congress prepares to open session in January, the Administration scrambles to present a credible strategy.

If the President new about Mr. Rumsfeld's recommendations before the Secretary's dismissal, then that act of political expediency is even more disgraceful. If the man had ideas on how to improve the situation, give the ideas a hearing and let we, the people, know about it. Instead, the President threw Mr. Rumsfeld under the bus. Meanwhile, others within his administration attempt to subvert the Baker panel's report before it officially goes public.

This disgusting display of Beltway Boon-dockle must end immediately. The American people and the Iraqis deserve well-considered leadership, not political gaming. Too many people's lives are at stake for business-as-usual.

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