Last year, Midge Decter, wife of Norman Podhoretz, who has been howling for “World War IV” against the Arabs, published a mash note titled, “Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait.”
The University of Houston’s James D. Fairbanks began his review thus: “Neoconservative writer Midge Decter sets out to explain just what it is about Donald Rumsfeld that has well-educated, sophisticated women swooning over him.
“Those unaware that Rumsfeld mania has been sweeping the country have obviously not attended the same fashionable dinner parties as Decter. Her book begins with a description of one such party where women sat around gushing over the secretary like smitten schoolgirls.”
Well, the neocon girls may not be over their infatuation, but the Beltway neocon boys surely are. Last week, in what qualifies as the backstab of the year, William Kristol of The Weekly Standard called for Rumsfeld’s firing.
Contrasting the “magnificent performance” of our “terrific army” with Rumsfeld’s blunders and buck-passing, Kristol wrote: “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term. … (American) soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.”
If Kristol sought to wound Rumsfeld, his timing was perfect. Rumsfeld had been bleeding for a week after his flat-footed answer to Tennessee National Guardsman Thomas Wilson at an assembly of troops in Kuwait. Wilson demanded to know why he and his fellow soldiers have to scrounge around junkyards for “hillbilly armor” to protect their trucks and humvees.
Rumsfeld’s condescending response — “As you know, you have to go to war with the army you have, not with the army you might wish to have” — might have been acceptable, had Iraq not been a war of choice for which we had a year to prepare. It might have been understandable, a year ago, as the unanticipated insurgency erupted across Iraq.
But this administration had Iraq in its gunsights three years ago. Rumsfeld and the Pentagon are thus responsible for any lack of armor that has resulted in the woundings and deaths of U.S. soldiers in unprotected vehicles from the roadside bombs that have become a major killer of American troops.
Nonetheless, when one considers all that Rumsfeld has done for the neocons, the depth of the betrayal astonishes.
Ever since he signed on with their Committee on the Present Danger in the 1980s, Rumsfeld had been a hero to neocons. In 1998, he signed Kristol’s open letter to Clinton calling for war on Iraq, four years before 9-11. Named defense secretary, Rumsfeld brought in neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith as his No. 2 and No. 3, and let them fill the building with friends from Neocon Central, the American Enterprise Institute.
Richard Perle was given the chair of the Defense Policy Review Board, which was turned into a neocon nest at the Pentagon. In the hours after 9-11, Rumsfeld made the case to Bush for immediate war on Iraq. When Baghdad fell in three weeks, he was the toast of the cakewalk crowd and the centerfold of Midge and the neocon girls.
Now many are snaking on him. What is going on? Simple.
Rumsfeld is being set up to take the fall for what could become a debacle in Iraq. As the plotters, planners and propagandists of this war, the neocons know that if Iraq goes the way of Vietnam, there will be a search conducted for those who misled us and, yes, lied us into war, and why they did it. Rumsfeld has become designated scapegoat.
His clumsy response to Wilson is not the real reason Kristol’s crowd wants him out. As Kristol told the Post, Rumsfeld’s “fundamental error … is that his theory about the military is at odds with the president’s geopolitical strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we’ve got to win a real war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that’s at the core of the president’s strategy for rebuilding the Middle East.”
President Bush had best recognize what Kristol is telling him. The neocon agenda means escalation: enlarging the Army, more U.S. troops in Iraq, widening the war to Syria and Iran, and indefinite occupation of the Middle East, as we forcibly alter the mindset of the Islamic world to embrace democracy and Israel.
If that entails endless expenditures of tax dollars of U.S. citizens and the blood of U.S. soldiers, the neocons are more than willing to make the sacrifice. But if Bush himself fails to deliver, rely upon it. He, too, will get the Rumsfeld treatment from this crowd, parasitical and opportunistic as it is, as it seeks another host to ride, perhaps John McCain.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail], former presidential candidate and White House aide, is editor of The American Conservative and the author of eight books, including A Republic Not An Empire and the upcoming Where the Right Went Wrong.