War Stories

Army Times: Rummy Must Go

Decoding an astonishing editorial.

Donald Rumsfeld

A fairly astonishing editorial appears in today’s editions of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times, and Marine Corps Times, calling on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

These weekly newspapers are not official organs of the U.S. military. They’re published by a private corporation, the Military Times Media Group, which is, in turn, owned by the Gannett Corp. This is why the editorial is only “fairly” astonishing. (If Stars & Stripes, which is the official newspaper, had called for a secretary of defense to step down, it would be prelude to insurrection.)

Still, “astonishing” is an apt word, however qualified. The Times papers are bought almost entirely by military personnel. Their reporters and editorial staff are nearly all veterans with close ties to the senior officer corps. They’re essentially trade papers, covering issues from the perspective of the men and women of the armed forces. Most editorials are about military pay, retirement benefits, the fate of certain weapons systems. To the extent that they’re about the war in Iraq, they tend to deal with their readership’s personal issues—body armor and troop rotations—not with broad policy or politics.

They would not run an editorial like the one in today’s editions unless they knew that it reflected a broad and deep consensus among high-ranking, active-duty officers across the military establishment.

That’s the remarkable thing about the editorial—that the military’s disaffection from the war, and from its civilian leadership, has grown so widespread that even the editors of the Military Times newspapers fear no backlash from amplifying the chorus.

It’s a hard-smack editorial by any standard. The “truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington,” it begins. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld offer us “[o]ne rosy reassurance after another,” even as officers at all levels tell them otherwise and as the U.S. Central Command’s intelligence briefing shows Iraq sliding toward “chaos.” It then states:

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don’t show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

The final straw, for the editors (and their sources), came last week, when President Bush told a red-state rally on the campaign trail that he’ll keep Rumsfeld in the Pentagon for the remainder of his term. The editorial goes on:

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.And although that tradition, and the officers’ deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly … Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership [and] with the troops. …  His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go.

Of course, it is about the midterm elections—or should be. Rumsfeld chose the strategy for this war. As the Defense Department’s chief civilian authority, he had every right to overrule his military commanders and impose his own notion of how to fight the war. But once his way proved disastrous, he should have been held accountable. The only person who can hold him accountable is the president. Most presidents fire a Cabinet officer whose judgment is no longer deserving of trust. The key fact for American citizens is not that Rumsfeld has terrible judgment—we can’t do anything about that—but rather that Bush says he has terrific judgment. Since the United States doesn’t have a parliamentary system of government, we can’t do anything about this directly. The one thing we can do indirectly, but dramatically, is to hold Bush’s party accountable.

We can do that on Tuesday.