One of the most bizarre actions of the recent political season was the removal of Don Rumsfeld by the President this past Wednesday. The entire event was strange for a number of reasons.
1) The President lied. Yes, I know that that has been a popular refrain of the left for quite some time in regards to Iraq. However, in this case the evidence is incontrovertible: either he lied last week when he said that Rumsfeld was going to stay until the end of the term or he lied on Wednesday when he said that the move had been in the works for some time. Evidence suggests (see below) that he lied last week. Now, ultimately, it was of the “little white” variety, but it was still bizarre because it communicated a seeming stubborn reticence on the President’s part on this issue. In turn it made it seem as if he intended no visible changes on Iraq–a truly baffling move given the centrality of Iraq to the elections. It isn’t as if he had to give a definitive answer to the reporter’s question on Rumsfeld’s future. He could have equivocated, but he didn’t.
The whole situation from this perspective is surreal. It also reinforces the notion that the administration is out of touch.
2) The Elections. This can be broken down into three sub-issues:
- The “Information is Good” Issue: Going into an election, the public needs as much information as possible so as to make an informed decision. As such, there is an argument to be made that if such moves are known to policy-makers prior to an election, the public should be let in on the secret.
- The “Policy Responsiveness” Issue: Given that the public was clearly upset with the Iraq policy, surely it would have been a legitimate thing, in a democracy, for the White House to respond to those concerns.
- The “Strategery” of it all: There is the fact that given the policy responsiveness issue, that it would have helped the President’s party (potentially) in the elections. If one believes that one’s policy prescriptions are legitimate, it is wholly legitimate to try and win elections by making public policy adjustments, which is what this was. The notion (again, see below) that the President didn’t want to politicize this is absurd. It is a political move, by definition. Indeed, the war is political, by definition.
3) It was a Response to the Losses. There is the possibility that the timing of the announcement was in response to the losses on Tuesday either as a acquiescence to the political will of the voters, or as a sacrificial lamb. However, if that was the case, then some sort of admission in that regard (at least a paean to the notion that the administration had “heard” the voters) would have been useful.
4) The President Didn’t want Criticism? The notion that the President was trying to avoid criticism for a political move is laughable on its face. Every move every President makes is criticized somewhere as being political–especially when that President has approval ratings in the 30s. And since when did Bush do things to avoid criticism?
At any rate, all this is even weirder, because the decision to move Rumsfeld dates back, according to the NYT to the summer (Removal of Rumsfeld Dates Back to Summer):
President Bush was moving by late summer toward removing Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary, people inside and outside the White House said Thursday. Weeks before Election Day, the essential question still open was when, not whether, to make the move.
Mr. Bush ultimately postponed action until after the election in part because of concern that to remove Mr. Rumsfeld earlier could be interpreted by critics as political opportunism or as ratifying their criticism of the White House war plan in the heart of the campaign, the White House insiders and outsiders said.
As noted above: I just don’t understand the logic. Further, since when did this White House (or, any White House) not see its moves as being political in some way?
In other Rumsfeldian news, his exit is pleasing to al Qaeda. This, no doubt, will cause great umbrage at Little Green Footballs and similarly oriented sites…
[Cross-posted at PoliBlog]
Minor Update: I corrected an error above wherein I stated that Rummy was let go on Tueday–it was, of course, on Wednesday.