Rid of Rumsfeld at last – but too late to save Iraq

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven -
Of course, Donald Rumsfeld had to resign after the Democrats gave the Bush Republicans a drubbing in the Midterm and grabbed control of the House of Representatives. The election had been a referendum not only on US President George W. Bush, but on his Defense Secretary who had bungled the war in Iraq, the "occupation" and its aftermath.

In short, the American electorate rebuked Dubya and "fired" Rumsfeld. He had been called SECDEF (meaning, naturally, Secretary of Defense) but the emphasis by many of his foes was on "deaf". He had been deaf to criticism and blind, to boot, to the need to change policies which obviously were not working.

Even Rumsfeld’s resignation remarks were not penitent. Cuba’s Fidel Castro Ruz, at the beginning of his revolution, had declared, "Historia me absolvera" (History will absolve me!). History was given no opportunity to absolve or condemn Fidel. He flummoxed history’s judgment by living so long and ruling so long, that he outlived most of his enemies – the ones he didn’t execute.

Rumsfeld implied yesterday when he quit that history would also absolve him. Not only that, it would eventually praise him.

By golly – he had a long run! Rumsfeld had been sworn into office on January 26, 2001, by President Bush. It was a homecoming for that Chicago boy for Rumsfeld had been Secretary of Defense before. In October 1975, then President Gerard Ford fired Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and CIA Director William Colby. He named Rumsfeld the new Secretary of Defense, making him the youngest SECDEF in history. He also, by the way, recalled Dubya’s father, George Bush Sr. from his Ambassadorship to China and designated him Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

In what was called at the time the "Halloween Massacre," Ford bounced Henry Kissinger out of the White House – relieving him of his dual role as Secretary of State and National Security advisor, and promoted Henry K’s Deputy Brent Scowcroft to Kissinger’s White House job. He named Dick Cheney (now Vice-President and today Rumsfeld’s ally) White House chief of staff.

From such lightning events is derived Rumsfeld’s fatal "arrogance of power" and hubris. His problem is that, over 40 years in and out of government, and startling success as a tough CEO in private business, he developed a "star complex" that brooked no contradiction. He was a handsome devil as a US Navy pilot. He went to Princeton, described as "the most military of the Ivy League colleges." In 1962, he was elected to Congress in Illinois on the Republican ticket (13th district) and won reelection despite a Lyndon B. Johnson landslide victory, putting the Democrats firmly in the saddle.

In a sense, Rumsfeld, was destroyed by success. He was the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a White House Chief of Staff, and, after government, a stint as CEO of General Instruments which brought GI from the losing column to outstanding profitability.

One of his biographers, Midge Decter, in 2003, wrote a worshipful book, "RUMSFELD", subtitled "The Making of an American Icon". She glowingly called him a "Star." Well, his star has fallen – and at tremendous cost to America.

In the planning for the invasion of Iraq, Rumsfeld and Cheney elbowed out and pointedly ignored the man who had defeated Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, in Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Colin Powell.

In the new book hot off the press about him, called "SOLDIER: The Life of Colin Powell " by Associate Editor Karen de Young of The Washington Post (Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2006), Powell recalled that he was "always uneasy about the low numbers" of soldiers and personnel being programmed for the Iraq invasion. During the first half of 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks who was to head the attack continued "refining his invasion plan, urged by Rumsfeld to make it smaller and quicker with the shortest possible launch time once the president gave the order to attack."

The book pointed out that in the years following the 1991 war which Powell had supervised as Commander of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, some had criticized the half million troops Powell had deployed against Iraq as "excessive." Powell thought that "the carping was typical of those who knew next to nothing about warfare." He asserted that if he were to do it again, he wouldn’t change a thing.

"The proof," author De Young pointed out, "was in the low number of casualties, 148 American combat deaths and 467 wounded. Of 116,000 coalition sorties flown, they had lost 75 aircraft, none of them in air-to-air combat. Powell was concerned that Gen. Franks was "taking the number for the invasion force too low."

The ever-shrinking size of the invasion force went against Powell’s grain. He noted that in the Military War Games during the 1990s, many of them under Anthony Zinni’s CENTCOM leadership, it had been recommended that "a ground force (was needed) of more than 400,000 combined US and Allied troops to conquer, control and pacify the country. Rumsfeld was planning to deploy about half that many."

Rumsfeld believed in making up for mass with technology and speed and cleverness and special operations. Today, for the failure to mop up all the weapons in Iraq, the Americans are paying the price in blood – and failure. Powell was deliberately kept out of the loop – as Rumsfeld told Franks, Powell was the US Secretary of State, a diplomatic role, and no longer to be involved in military matters. The book says that (General) "Franks thought that Powell’s military service had earned him the right to an opinion but not a veto."

I guess it’s fine to examine matters by hindsight. As Harry S. Truman once remarked, "every schoolboy from hindsight is smarter than the President of the United States."

Dubya Bush bet on Rumsfeld (who, ironically, his dad had detested and who had called Daddy Bush "a wimp"). The consequences proved fatal to the Iraq War and postwar scenario – and fatal to Bush’s Republican Party. Is Dubya now a "lameduck President"? This is a term at which, CNN says, he bristles. Yes, but he’s still president.
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If you ask me, the Cha-Cha express has been derailed, and the Cha-Cha revival movement through a move to fast-track "Plan B", the convening of a Constituent Assembly is dead in the water. The Senate won’t play – and they must vote separately. I believe that’s what the Supreme Court will say if the question is put to the test.

Speaker Joe de Venecia fought his "good fight," but the initiative has simply run out of time – and run out of steam. The preparations for the May 2007 elections have begun. Everybody’s already positioning for it. Even JDV’s constituency may be endangered. Dagupan Mayor Benjie Lim I hear, is planning to run against him.

As for La Presidenta GMA, I think she’s cutting her losses and moving on – to prepare for the May electoral contest which, like America’s Midterm elections, will be a referendum on her legitimacy and staying power until 2010. Is she already planning who’ll be her successor? Every president’s imperative, when the term is coming to a close, is to get her or his ass protected – please forgive the indelicacy of my choice of language.

The "people’s initiative" push and the millions of pesos it cost were not a total loss for GMA and her Administration. As I said in this corner even before the People’s Initiative movement was launched, I suspect the idea was to "organize" in the Barangays for the next electoral contest under the smokescreen of a "People’s Initiative" drive for signatures.

Now, GMA’s going off to Hanoi, Vietnam, not merely to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, but for a one-on-one meeting with America’s President Bush in the Vietnamese capital. Mr. Bush is a man who needs cheering up, and who, despite her abandoning the coalition in Iraq, retains a soft spot in his heart for our Presidenta. This is the time for her to tell her friend, Mr. Bush: "George, however the vote back home went, we in the Philippines are still in your corner!"

This is the moment for a FAMAS performance.

On her part, it’s probably sincere.
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THE ROVING EYE… I received a nasty, but in places hilarious, letter of rebuttal from Mr. Pablo John Garcia, on the Cebu International Convention Center issue. (He’s the Consultant on Information, Organization and Management, Province of Cebu.) In his letter, which I’m publishing in full tomorrow, personal insults included, Pablo John G. declares "there is no such thing as an P800-million budget for the CICC." Good, but I got that information from the banner headline of the "SUN-STAR" daily which is majority-owned by the Garcias. But okay, that’s excellent news. Pablo G. also huffs that "the Governor has made it clear that Cebu will not ask, nor will Cebu take a single centavo from the National Government to complete the CICC, and Cebuanos resent your insinuation that we might." Good news. "We have a P2 billion surplus and we have zero – I repeat – zero debt." How admirable! Okay, dear reader: read Pablo John’s letter in toto tomorrow. He is the brother of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, the moving spirit in the CICC. Will this hastily-built building, if completed, be used for the ASEAN heads of state summit – that remains the pregnant question.











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