RUMSFELD’S WORDS CONFIRM what critics of the war have been saying. The invasion of Iraq was a costly diversion from the broader war on terrorism, and not the central front as President Bush has claimed. Rumsfeld frets that the religious schools known as madrassas are turning out terrorists at a faster clip than U.S. forces can capture them.
Rummy’s revelations are exquisitely timed. Just as Bush is complaining about the national press “filter,” along comes Mr. Filter himself with a sour assessment of the administration’s success in combating terrorism. This is classic Washington. You have to read the entrails. Did Rumsfeld intentionally leak this memo? Was he getting back at the White House for that little reorganization deal they pulled a few weeks ago that seemed to move him aside to make room at the top for Condoleezza Rice?
It’s hard to believe that Rumsfeld would go to these lengths to strike a bureaucratic blow at the White House. “He laid a giant turd on the front doorstep of all the happy talk,” says a Senate Republican aide. If Rumsfeld didn’t intend for this memo to get out, then it was a “revenge of the toes,” the aide speculates. “He stepped on so many toes that this was somebody’s way of getting back at him.”
Either way, the truths that Rumsfeld put to paper in the memo leaked to USA Today reflect the hard reality of our engagement in Iraq, and should be the public posture of the administration. The fact that Rumsfeld dares to say the administration lacks “the metrics to measure” progress in fighting terrorism is the most chilling aspect of his frosty analysis. “It seems the harder we work, the behinder we get,” he says. They can put that on the administration’s tombstone.
On Capitol Hill, even the most stalwart Republicans are tired of the Bush White House’s arrogant dismissal of Congress’ legitimate role. Bush and his top guns have kept congressional leaders in the dark on Iraq, minimizing the costs and the commitment. Rumsfeld’s memo is not of the magnitude of the Pentagon Papers, but it qualifies as an eye-opener just as the Nixon-era document leaked to the New York Times peeled back all the happy talk and shared the sordid tale of Vietnam. “When you tell everybody everything is going fine and internally you have doubts, it raises questions about credibility,” says a Senate Republican.
Madam President: Shattering the Last Glass Ceiling
by Eleanor Clift
Rumsfeld has been annoying just about everybody in Washington since he joined this administration. The result is that he has few friends in high places. He treats ranking members of Congress who ask him for information with the same imperious attitude he uses with the media. “Anytime he gives us his presence, he acts like it’s a gift, like we’re getting in his way,” says a Democratic staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Rumsfeld’s handling of the controversy over remarks made by one of his top generals likening Islam to Satan crystallizes much of the problem. Bush had to spend valuable time on his Asian trip convincing leaders that Lt. Gen. William Boykin was not speaking for the U.S. government. Boykin is Rumsfeld’s point person on intelligence, a job that demands clear-eyed, hard-edged thinking free of ideological or religious bias. It’s no place for simplistic comparisons between good and evil.
In a speech that Boykin regularly gives, he tells the story of an aerial photo he took over Mogadishu that, when it was developed, revealed a black smudge over the city. Rather than accept the mark as a thumb print from whomever processed the film, Boykin became convinced that it was a sign of the evil hanging over the Somali city.
The Defense Department Inspector General is investigating whether Boykin violated any rules in speaking out as he did while in uniform. But what many are wondering on Capitol Hill is whether Boykin has the judgment to be in the position that he holds. No one in the administration has condemned him. The closest Bush came to voicing criticism was to say that Boykin’s views are not his views.
Rumsfeld and Bush are cut from the same cloth. Neither can bear to admit a mistake. That’s why Rumsfeld’s memo conceding mixed results in the war on terrorism is so remarkable. The administration is trying to pass this off as just another example of Rumsfeld’s in-your-face style. He asks the tough questions. He likes to provoke people to think outside the box. That may be accurate, but the hard truths he put out there for public consumption are prompting a reevaluation of the war, and may be the beginning of the end for Rumsfeld and for U.S. engagement in Iraq. Let’s hope Rumsfeld’s next memo is titled: Exit Strategy.