Rumsfeld's big day


Geraldine Sealey
May 7, 2004 7:12PM (UTC)

It's getting louder. A familiar song is being sung in Washington, one that all career beltway politicians live in fear of hearing, at least when it's being sung about them. Step down, Secretary Rumsfeld, resign. It's over.

Asked if Rumsfeld should quit, John Kerry said on Thursday, "He should have long ago." The New York Times today also joined in the calls for Rumsfeld's resignation. "The world is waiting now for a sign that President Bush understands the seriousness of what has happened," the paper's editorial says. The Economist's cover, bearing a chilling image of a hooded Iraqi prisoner from Abu Ghraib, says simply: "Resign, Rumsfeld." A voice from the heartland, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also demanded Rumsfeld's resignation. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said Bush should just fire him. Also in the chorus: Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who want Rumsfeld's immediate departure. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said Rummy should go pending an investigation. Now a petition is circulating to get Rumsfeld ousted, and MoveOn is asking everyone to call your congresspeople and demand Rumsfeld get fired.

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No Republican has called for Rumsfeld's head, but even GOP senators are angry about the extent of the prison abuse scandal. "I think ultimately you have to go right up the chain to the secretary of defense or to the civilian leadership of the military," said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a member of the Armed Services Committee. "We don't know where this is going to lead." Newsday reports that Rumsfeld is probably safe -- for now -- but that Bush wouldn't hesitate to dump him to protect his reelection bid. And the senators who made the rounds on morning television today said Rumsfeld's resignation could be premature.

Rumsfeld's fate is the elephant in the room today as he heads back to Capitol Hill to face senators infuriated at being kept in the dark about the abuse and humiliation at Abu Ghraib. The last time Rumsfeld sat before them, just last week, he didn't bother to mention what was about to hit "60 Minutes II" and inevitably become an international furor. But maybe, worse, Rumsfeld didn't think the ghastly photos would cause such a furor. Either way, Sen. John McCain said "there are going to be repercussions" from Rumsfeld's lack of candor last week. Watch for Senator Someone to ask the witness if he plans to resign from his post at the Pentagon now that his failure of leadership has contributed to a scandal that -- and this is coming from Karl Rove, mind you -- "it will take a generation for the United States to live ... down in the Arab world."

Rumsfeld plans to apologize to senators, reports say, and his defense will include displaying a poster-sized Pentagon press release from Jan. 16 announcing an investigation into prisoner abuse in Iraq --- but the release didn't give the location or nature of the abuse. Rumsfeld says the release proves he wasn't trying to hide anything. He will also reportedly announce an independent panel to review how the Pentagon handled investigations into detainee abuse. Hopefully Rumsfeld will be pressed to explain a Wall Street Journal (sub. only) story today describing "a confidential and previously undisclosed Red Cross report delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year [which] concluded that abuse of prisoners in Iraq in custody of U.S. military intelligence was widespread and in some cases 'tantamount to torture.'" The Red Cross' findings are at odds with administration statements that prisoner abuse wasn't condoned and was the work of a "few bad apples," the Journal said.

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But of course, Abu Ghraib and what it represents isn't the only reason Rumsfeld should go. Rumsfeld was the architect of a war waged with a bogus rationale based on intelligence ginned up at a special office in his Pentagon -- and he clearly didn't have an adequate plan for what came next. He has alienated our allies in Old Europe, and he has belittled the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, which many see as laying the groundwork for the abuse that's come to light. Because of his failure of leadership and planning, U.S. soldiers are dying by the score for a war they didn't have to fight, and one that's losing support at home. Abu Ghraib, and Rumsfeld's responsibility for the abuses there, is just one more insult, one more item on a growing list of reasons he should resign.

For now, George W. Bush is standing by his man at the Pentagon. But the president's statement of support on Thursday was made lukewarm by a private presidential rebuke that Bush aides leaked, in an embarrassing slap to the secretary. And his statement Thursday won't silence the calls for the embattled Rumsfeld to resign. The president said he was sorry for what happened at Abu Ghraib -- only because he had to, after days of less adequate expressions of regret -- but if he really wants to fix the debacle that is our occupation of Iraq, and start the process of rebuilding our demolished global reputation, he will replace the architect of Bush's failed, misguided war. And on Nov. 2, America will get its chance to fire the man ultimately responsible for this mess we're in.


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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