I find it hard to take the “autopen” controversy seriously, for the reasons the Trunk outlines below. I would guess that every Senator uses an autopen to sign his or her correspondence. (Of course, those Senators would argue that they don’t sign letters of condolence to the parents of soldiers.) Beyond the purely symbolic, I also find it hard to believe that many people are impressed by the claim that the Secretary of Defense is insufficiently sensitive. That’s pretty much what we want from those who run our wars.
It isn’t hard to figure out what’s really behind the attack on Rumsfeld. The Democrats, especially the Democrats in the press, want to demonstrate that they are still in charge, notwithstanding their electoral wipeout last month. In defending Rumsfeld, President Bush is defending his own electoral mandate.
It today’s Washington Post, David Ignatius expresses sympathy for Rumsfeld, even as he compares him with Robert McNamara:
The defense secretary has become the symbol of an accident-prone Iraq policy — and even more, of the administration’s refusal to admit or learn from its mistakes. The man who bears ultimate responsibility for Iraq policy isn’t Rumsfeld, of course, but Bush. But the president has just won reelection, and obviously isn’t about to fire himself. So Rummy makes a convenient scapegoat in chief.
That’s right, although Ignatius’ suggestion that Rumsfeld will be Bush’s scapegoat, as opposed to the Democrats’, shows no sign of coming true.
When detractors describe Rumsfeld as arrogant, I think they are mostly referring to his “refusal to admit or learn from [his] mistakes.” This echoes the Kerry campaign’s attack on President Bush: he never admits his mistakes. But it isn’t clear what mistakes the press and the Democrats want Rumsfeld to admit to. What they consider mistakes in Iraq, he probably doesn’t; more important, he doesn’t share their view that the entire Iraq war was a mistake, which is the real point of the attack on Rumsfeld.
As we’ve said before, the Democrats don’t fear that we will fail in Iraq; they fear that we will succeed. Their view that the war was a catastrophic blunder is now widely shared among the opinion elites, and maybe even among American voters; in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released today, 56% of respondents said the war, given what we now know about its costs, was “not worth fighting.” So the Democrats’ message has been heard loud and clear. Nevertheless, the left fears that the President’s policy ultimately will succeed. Elections will be held next month; terrorists are steadily being eliminated; Iraqi soldiers and policemen are being trained. My biggest concern about the war, that Iraqis might not have enough sense of Iraq as a nation to overcome divisions among Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, seems clearly to have been misplaced. The country appears to be both viable and governable.
So the left keeps hoping for Iraq to turn into Vietnam, while fearing that it may not happen. If Rumsfeld is fired, it will be taken as an admission that the war was misconceived, and that is how history–at least for the next four years–will record it, no matter how well things actually go in Iraq. The administration will finally have acquitted itself of the charge of failing to admit its mistakes, but at a terrible price.
President Bush understands this, which is why Rumsfeld isn’t going anywhere. Bush has four years to prove that he was right about Iraq, and he isn’t about to change course now.
UPDATE: In today’s New York Post, Amir Taheri has an excellent description of the main contenders in the Iraqi election, with an optimistic assessment of the election’s prospects.
UPDATE: Thomas Lifson has an excellent post at the American Thinker: Get Rummy.