Notes on the Atrocities
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Monday, May 10, 2004  

In his article today, William Saffire argues that Rummy should stay. I'm going to commit liberal apostasy and agree with him. No, not for the reasons Saffire gives--Rummy's actually a good guy and not responsible for the torture--but for reasons strategic and political.

Strategically, I question the value of firing a Defense Secretary six months before an election. Things are critical in Iraq now, and the distraction and vacuum created by his departure won't improve things in the short term. In fact, it's a lot easier to see how the absentee oversight of the past year will only worsen if Rummy gets the ax. There's a certain calculation here--I wouldn't make this argument if I thought Bush was going to win re-election.

Also, I don't think it helps Democrats to score a political victory. Their target isn't Rumsfeld per se, but the policies of the Bush administration. Trying to get Rummy fired is an effort to win a symbolic victory at the expense of the ideological war. Rummy is a footsoldier in the neocon rationale for invading Iraq; while getting him fired would be a rebuke of that rationale, it would remain symbolic. It's far more potent politically to have the shamed Rumsfeld in the administration where he is an ongoing symbol of Bush's Iraq failure. Remove him and the Bushies can move on. Keep him, and you have a constant reminder that this administration let torture happen (or worse--encouraged it).

The one mitigating argument, and it's a very good one, is that the world needs to see Rummy's head on a plate. I agree that the biggest consequence of this debacle is our damaged standing in the world--and therefore our increased vulnerability to terrorists. But firing Rummy won't actually change the policies that have enraged the world. The key neocons--Cheney, Condi, Wolfowitz--are still guiding policy. Rummy was actually an old cold warrior--more a Kissinger type than a neocon. Firing him may please the world, but it could have grave consequences in removing heat on the abysmal policy rationales that got us here in the first place.

Rummy's ultimately responsible for the torture. But firing him won't prevent similar abuses in the future. Perversely, keeping him on the job may.

posted by Jeff | 9:13 AM |
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