Anyone who thinks that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will resign because of six retired generals and the considered opinion of any number of bloggers and pundits hasn’t really been paying attention to the mindset of this administration.
Mr. Rumsfeld will not leave the post voluntarily and President Bush won’t fire him. It isn’t that the military policy that Rumsfeld espouses hasn’t proved to be a disaster, or his liability and culpability for such things as Abu Ghraib, or the lack of planning and foresight in the occupation of Iraq, or his ignorance of contrary points of view from the now-retired men in the field who are now speaking out. He will not leave for the simple reason that other people want him to go, and as long as they want him out, he will be that much more determined to stay.
It isn’t ego, even though it appears that Mr. Rumsfeld has plenty of it to spare, nor is it pride; again, something he doesn’t have a great big lack of. It’s the simple rule that pervades any large operation: people on the outside don’t get to make the rules for the people on the inside, and short of a criminal indictment or dissatisfaction from the boss, nothing anyone says will change that. Mr. Rumsfeld hasn’t yet been proven to be a criminal in the workaday Washington sense of the word; he has yet to be connected to Jack Abramoff, and no one has stepped forward to say he’s frolicked with a stripper in the Reflecting Pool on the Mall. He has the complete backing of the president for the simple reason that he knows more than the president does, and he’s like a ventriloquist: he makes the dummy look good.
The president couldn’t fire him now even if he harbored any doubts about the Secretary’s ability. The Secretary has shown nothing but loyalty to Mr. Bush during his tenure, fed him exactly what he wanted to hear about winning the war, and took the bullets for his boss. For Mr. Bush to turn around and fire the secretary now would go against everything Mr. Bush has shown to be an integral part of his character. It would show that he is capable of having second thoughts, and it would demonstrate — in his mind — a weakness of will that would make him vulnerable to further attacks: if he can be rolled on Rumsfeld, who’s next? Karl Rove? Dick Cheney?
From a purely political point of view, while the Democrats may call loudly for the Secretary to resign, they should secretly hope that he does not. The longer he is in office the more ammunition he will provide to the campaigns of those who will be using the quagmire of Iraq and the hare-brained idea of attacking Iran as their platforms. He’s their free media buy in all the big markets, and every day they can run against a sitting Secretary of Defense who is a huge liability makes their case for change without breaking a sweat. The downside is, of course, that the longer Mr. Rumsfeld is in office, the more men and women will die in Iraq, the more allies we will alienate, and the closer we will inch toward a nuclear confrontation with Iran, who is proving to be just as recalcitrant as the Secretary himself in backing down. It is crudely cynical to want someone to stay on their job longer to prove a political point for the opposition, but since there is little evidence that Mr. Rumsfeld holds his job for any other reason than mule-headed stubborness on the part of the president, it would seem that political, not strategic or military considerations are the only reasons that matter.