I don’t see how removing the Secretary of Defense helps either the country or the Republicans, especially given the pre-election vote of confidence in his full tenure. He was on the right track reforming the military; the removal of the Taliban and the three-week victory over Saddam were inspired.
So we are down to his supposed responsibility for the later effort to stop the 3-year plus insurgency, whose denouement is not yet known. Rumsfeld’s supposed error that drew such ire was troop levels, i.e., that he did not wish to repeat a huge presence in the manner of Vietnam, but sought to skip the 1964-1971 era morass, and go directly to the 1972-5 Vietnamization strategy of training troops, providing aid, and using air power.
I think he was right, and that most troops in Iraq today would agree. I was just talking to a Marine Lt. back from Haditha and Hit; his chief worry was not too few Americans, but rather Iraqi Security Forces insidiously expecting Americans to do their own security patrolling. Since sending in tens of thousands to do a Grozny-like smash-up is both politically impossible and antithetical to American policy, I don’t see the advantage of more troops at all, especially when we will soon near 400,000 Iraqis in arms, which, together with coalition forces of ca. 150,000, would in theory provide 555,000–or more than the “peacetime” army of Saddam’s. As a rule in history, it is not just the size, but the nature, rules of engagement, and mission, of armies that matter.
For the future, neither precipitous withdrawal nor a big build-up are the right solutions, the former will leave chaos, the latter will only ensure perpetual Iraqi dependency. As it is, there are too many support troops over in Iraq in compounds, who are not out with Iraqis themselves; more troops will only ensure an even bigger footprint and more USA-like enclaves. Abezaid, Casey, Petraeus, McMaster, etc. understand counter-insurgency and the need for a long-term commitment that marries political autonomy for the Iraqis with American aid, commandos, and air support. Rumsfeld supported them all.
A final note.Whatever Rumsfeld’s past in the 1970s and 1980s, he wholeheartedly supported the present effort to offer the MIddle East something other than realpolitik. I don’t see how the Reagan-Bush era 1980s and early 1990s policies in the Middle East–selling arms to Iran, putting troops in Lebanon and running when they were hit, cynically playing off Iran against Iraq, selling weapons to any thug in the Middle East, giving a blank check to the House of Saud, letting the Shiites and Kurds be massacred in February-March 1991–were anything other than precursors to the events of 9/11–when, of course, enhanced by the shameless Clintonian appeasement of the middle and late 1990s.
The return of the realists-Baker, Gates, and the former advisors to GB I-should prove an interesting mix with the Dean-Pelosi Democrats. The latter used to call for idealism in foreign policy, then got it with GWB’s democratization, then turned on him, and now will get the realism that they currently profess to favor. Don’t hold your breath.