The Rummy Mutiny
By MAUREEN DOWD
WASHINGTON — When Donald Rumsfeld was 10, his operating principle, as described by his dad, was: "If it doesn't go easy, force it." Not much has changed in the last 63 years. Goodness, gracious! Will that dadburn Rummy ever follow any of his own rules?
Rumsfeld's Rules offer many wise axioms that Washington's most famous infighter is ignoring as he engages in the Mother of All Infighting Battles against rebellious generals.
One rule advises: "Preserve the president's options. He may need them." Others include "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it" and "Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating" the mistakes of your predecessors.
History will long dwell on how America made the same bloody errors in Vietnam and Iraq within a generation, trading the arrogant, obtuse, wire-rimmed Robert McNamara for the arrogant, obtuse, wire-rimmed Donald Rumsfeld.
First the public began bailing on supporting the conduct of the Iraq war, and now top military voices are balking. Six prominent retired generals say that Rummy discounted the dangers in Iraq and managed with an intimidating style that left commanders feeling jammed into submission. He promoted sycophants like Richard Myers and Peter Pace, while slapping down truth-tellers like Eric Shinseki. Again, Rumsfeld's rules could have helped. There's one about the "indispensable" and "gracious" art of listening.
W. should have fired Rummy long ago, after the sickening news of Abu Ghraib and torture stories out of Gitmo. He should have fired him as soon as it became clear that the defense secretary who bungled the occupation and insurgency has no idea how to get out of Iraq and stop American kids from getting blown up day after day by homemade bombs.
But W. took a break from a long holiday weekend (is there any other kind for him?) at Camp David to defend Rummy and tamp down the mutiny. The commander in chief is the one who put Rummy in charge of the botched postwar non-plan and hates admitting a mistake as much as his defense chief. He thinks that if he caves to keening generals, he will be seen by his base as weak. His whole presidency, his whole muscle-bound adventurism in Iraq, has been designed to prevent him from being labeled a wimp, as his dad was.
Mr. Bush's pretense — that he was just following the advice of the military when he endorsed Rummy's inadequate troop levels — rings hollow now that the former generals have spoken out about the defense secretary's airless policy of coercion. Convinced Iraq was all but won, Rummy prodded Tommy Franks to cancel the final Army division in the war plan, the First Cavalry Division.
"Rumsfeld just ground Franks down," Tom White, the former Army secretary, told Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor for "Cobra II," their Iraq war history. "The nature of Rumsfeld is that you just get tired of arguing with him."
Retired Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold writes this week in Time about the "invented war": "My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions — or bury the results."
Anyone who challenged the administration was painted as traitorous, so why not respected military leaders? A few Rummy apple-polishers raced forth yesterday to accuse the candid generals of undermining the military and the country. It's fitting that the military is attempting a coup of the civilian leadership, since the Iraq war followed the civilian leadership's coup of the military.
With his Pentagon advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, Rummy set up a State Department within the Defense Department in 2002, to run diplomacy, and established their own C.I.A. within the Defense Department to ferret out "evidence" of a Saddam-Al Qaeda link, when the real C.I.A. couldn't. Finally, they set up their own Defense Department within the Defense Department, snatching back power from a military establishment they felt had grown too cautious about risking troops in combat.
Rummy thought he could banish American skittishness after Vietnam with his new streamlined intervention policy. But he ended up enhancing American skittishness.
If only he had followed his rule, derived from a Mark Twain quote in "Huckleberry Finn": "You can't pray a lie."