Monday, May 10, 2004

The London Economist Magazine last week emblazoned its front cover with the two-word headline “Resign, Rumsfeld.” In so doing, it succinctly captured the gambit embraced lately by many prominent Democrats, anti-war critics, Bushophobes and opinion elites: seizing upon the pretext of the widely felt need to appease the Arab world in the wake of the Iraqi prison abuse scandal to take out the man who is, arguably, the president’s most effective cabinet secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The millions of Americans who greatly admire Secretary Rumsfeld and who understand — at least intuitively — the inadvisability of this agenda must respond by making known our desire and national need: “Remain, Rumsfeld.”

Losing “Rummy” at this juncture would have adverse consequences on three scores, in ascending order of importance:

1) The Practical: The loss of a visionary, decisive and highly capable leader at the Pentagon in the midst of a difficult phase of the war on terror would be gravely compounded by the effective inability to replace him any time soon. Sen. John Warner, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee — which would have to consider and act upon any nomination for a successor to Donald Rumsfeld — has made clear that it would be unlikely he could get a new Pentagon chief and his team approved and in place before the election.

Even if the mechanics and political environment were more conducive to swift action, it is not clear that people could be found to serve, given uncertainty about whether they would still have jobs after November’s elections. The alternative of having people who are currently in place — such as the extraordinarily able Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — assume additional responsibilities on an open-ended, “acting” basis is also, as a practical matter, unworkable since they already have more-than-full-time jobs.

2) The Political: Were George W. Bush to cashier Donald Rumsfeld, it would, of course, be but the beginning of the losses the former would sustain politically. His partisan foes are, after all, gunning for the president, not merely his subordinates. Never mind that the resignation of the principal architect of the war on terror would be tied to the prison scandal. The effort to discredit Mr. Rumfeld’s work more generally — the centerpiece of the Bush war-presidency reelection strategy — would be greatly advanced.

Fortunately, the Bush team appears belatedly to have come to its senses on this point. After putting out the word that the president had reprimanded Mr. Rumsfeld over the lack of forewarning about the damning photos from Abu Ghraib (what one observer called “chumming the water” for attacks on the secretary of defense), the administration began damage control. At first, it was a somewhat tepid presidential endorsement, largely offset by off-the-record statements suggesting National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice would be happy to see Rummy go.

Then on Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney — who has known Don Rumsfeld better and worked more closely with him for three-plus decades than practically anyone — accurately described Rummy as “the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had.” And Dr. Rice publicly declared, “The president strongly supports Donald Rumsfeld and so do his colleagues and I strongly support him.”

3) The Strategic: By far the most important reason to keep Mr. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon’s helm is that his departure would unmistakably exacerbate the challenges we already face in the Battle of Iraq and the war on terror more generally. Such an act of appeasement is unlikely to persuade those who hate us to stop doing so. It would, however, be seen by our enemies as further evidence that the United States is on the ropes. More to the point, it would likely embolden them to undertake redoubled, murderous action against us and Iraqis who want us to succeed.

Turbulence in the leadership of our military’s chain of command is not exactly good for its morale either. While some grumbling about the civilian leadership has begun to appear in the press, anyone is mistaken who thinks the troops’ fighting spirit will get better if — in addition to the relentless undermining of their mission by domestic critics of the war — they are deprived of the driving force in their chain of command.

The beautiful, new World War II memorial features a quote by one of our nation’s greatest commanders, Gen. George C. Marshall, that characterized his era: “We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.”

This vision is a guide for our times as well, and no one personifies it better — or should be encouraged to continue advancing it more — than Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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