Hogan's Alley

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Rumsfeld's Departure - The Worst Thing That Could Happen To Democrats

In the continuing wrangle over the future of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, Democrats and anti-war pundits have generally sided on the side of getting rid of Rumsfeld, while Republicans and those who have supported the war in Iraq favor his retention. I think the Democrats are miscalculating.

First, the history is commonly agreed upon; Rumsfeld, through strength of personality browbeat the Pentagon and perhaps the President into believing that 150,000 troops, though sufficient to initially defeat Hussein, were also sufficient to establish and maintain civic order in Iraq. They were not. Secondly, at this moment in time, there is almost universal agreement that reducing our troop levels, at the earliest possible time, is the goal. No one now wants to add troops. What would have helped in 2003 - 2004 would now be counter productive. Lastly, the game is now principally in the hands of Condoleza Rice's State Department and Ambassador Khalilzad. Only their ability to finesse a government of reasonable unity and effectiveness in Iraq will permit the responsible troop drawdown that virtually all reasonable people desire. (I exclude here the Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan wing.)

What then would be the outcome of Rumsfeld's departure in the next few weeks or months? Democrats could figuratively hoist his head on a pike and joyously parade about with torches and celebratory music. The next tape from bin Laden would celebrate the victory of al Qaeda over this greatest enemy of Islam. Nothing would change on the ground in Iraq.

What if the following scenario, which I believe is likely, transpires? In May or June a unity government forms in Baghdad. Rumsfeld uses that moment to resign. Bush thanks him for his service and appoints a replacement promptly. Voters see Rumsfeld's departure, along with improving prospects in Iraq as evidence that Bush is listening and is turning things around. The Spring of 2006 could be seen in retrospect as the turning point for Bush's standing in the polls.

By November 2008, a full two and a half years from now, Iraq will be much more distant on voters' radar. Democrats will call for change and rail against the Bush administration of 2003 - 2006, but Americans will, assuming the economy remains stable or grows stronger, find that they are less and less unhappy with things as they are. Rumsfeld who?

If the Republicans nominate John McCain, the maverick who argued for more troops in 2003-2005 and who is seen as a straight shooter and genuine human being, and who can speak the English language, the Democrats, with any currently listed candidate, will loose. From the perspective of purely Democratic political advantage, the best thing that could happen to them is that Donald Rumsfeld is actively snarling from the podium of the Pentagon press room in the run up to November 2008.