If the Bush administration had a November surprise in mind, this certainly wasn't it: On Monday morning, one day before Election Day, an editorial in the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Marine Corps Times and the Air Force Times will call for the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.
"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large," the papers will say. "His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt."
The papers say that George W. Bust must face "the bruising truth": Rumsfeld "must go."
The four papers are published by the Military Times Media Group, which is part of Gannett Co. and therefore not directly affiliated with the military. But as David Segal, the director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland, tells the San Francisco Chronicle, the papers are "widely read" by and "influential with" the "professional military." Segal suggests that given their close relationship with the military, the papers wouldn't be likely to do something as dramatic as calling for Rumsfeld's ouster if their editors weren't hearing similar calls from senior officers in the military.
Indeed, the papers' editorial makes it pretty clear that their editors have been hearing such things. "It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed," the editors write. "But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads. These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority. And although that tradition, and the officers' deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it."
The military papers aren't the only ones hearing from officers who are unhappy with Rumsfeld and the way in which the Bush administration has prosecuted the war in Iraq. The larger question is whether Bush will begin to listen to these complaints. We know the answer to that one so far, but Tuesday's election could turn up the volume considerably if voters fill Congress with Democrats and -- in the process -- send the Republicans who remain a clear message that things had better change before 2008.