Oh so predictably, the Washington Post tries to use Donald Rumsfeld’s classified memo on Iraq as a weapon against the Bush administration. And, just as predictably, the use of the memo for that purpose signals Rumsfeld transformation from chief villian to respectable analyst.
The Post offers several “takes” on the memo, all of which are designed to cast the administration in a bad light and all of which are wide of the mark. Its first take is that the revelation of the memo will undercut any attempt by President Bush to defend anything like a “stay the course” policy in Iraq. The Post relies here on Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution who says that “when you have the main architect of Bush’s policy saying it’s failing, that puts a lot more pressure on Bush.” But Rumsfeld didn’t say current policy failing; he said only that the policy “is not working well enough or fast enough.” President Bush has said the same thing, so there’s no added pressure.
Nor is the president attempting to defend a “stay the course” policy. He’s looking for different options — indeed, his decision to replace Rumsfeld with Robert Gates was generally viewed as an effort to get new recommendations from a new set of eyes. We don’t know what Gates’ views will be, but given his background, including his association with James Baker, no one is expecting “stay the course” recommendations.
Finally, Bush will be under no great pressure to adopt any particular parting suggestion by Rumsfeld. The constant and vitriolic criticism of Rumsfeld will undercut any attempt by critics to argue that Bush should adopt a course of action because Rumsfeld recommended it. The critics are intellectually dishonest enough to make such an argument, but it will not fly.
The Post’s second take is that “Rumsfeld’s ideas did not depart radically from the alternative strategies emerging so far from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.” To the extent this may be true, it’s because many of the ISG’s ideas do not appear to depart radically from the administration’s thinking. But Rumsfeld did not endorse either of the two ISG ideas (or reported ideas) that are objectionable to the administration — setting a withdrawal date (Rumsfeld says he opposes that idea) and seeking the assistance of Iran and Syria.
Just to cover all of its anti-administration bases, the Post concludes its piece by offering the views of Retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, who calls the memo a “laundry list” of current ideas whose only value is as “a tacit admission of desperation and of impending failure.” This comment contradicts the Post’s suggestion that the memo offers new ideas against which to scrutinize future administration decisions.
It is also incorrect. Rumsfeld did offer fresh ideas, the most interesting of which the Post, predictably, fails to mention. He recommended that U.S. forces should focus on quick strikes against our enemies — e.g. al Qaeda — and pull back from Iraq’s sectarian infighting. As I have argued, this is probably the only politically sustainable approach when it comes to remaining in Iraq. Sending more troops to stabilize Baghdad will lead to even higher U.S. death tolls without producing the kind of progress Americans justifably demand when the blood of Americans is being shed. In a city the size of Baghdad, militias will always be able to kill people and to blow things up in spectacular fashion. And MSM organs like the Post will be there to make the violence seem even worse than it is. Since our security isn’t threatened by sectarian infighting, Rumsfeld is wise to urge that we get away from the middle of it and focus on goals that are more important and more attainable.
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