November 16, 2006
Last Wednesday, in the wake of the sweeping victory by the Democratic Party in the midterm elections - and in a move long called for by many Democrats - Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned. He will remain in the job for several more months, to ensure a smooth transition to his successor - Robert Gates, a former Central Intelligence Agency director who's currently president of Texas A&M University.
Coming just more than a week after President Bush told reporters Rumsfeld would be staying "until January 2009," the revelation the secretary was leaving - in a move that had been in the works for several weeks - was made at the worst possible time for Republicans. It came too late to help embattled GOP candidates running in areas unhappy with the Iraq war, and too soon after the Nov. 7 election to be seen as anything but a show of weakness and capitulation by Bush to his political enemies.
The Democratic takeover of Congress may mean Rumsfeld will have to dedicate himself full-time to appearing at investigative hearings while someone else takes the reins of the war, a fact which would support his leaving office sooner rather than later.
However, making concessions - real or perceived - to a party more interested in score-settling than in winning the war, does not inspire confidence in Bush's strength for the final two years of his term. That's especially true in light of Bush's history of political appeasement and compromise in the name of bringing a "new tone" to Washington, something which was a failure from the beginning.
Was it time for Rumsfeld to go? Many obviously thought so - including Bush, at whose pleasure he had served for six years. Certainly Rumsfeld had enemies - in Congress, the media and in the uniformed services. The latter often was mischaracterized as being a result of his supposed unwillingness to listen to senior officers when making decisions. But according to retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the nation's highest-ranking military officer - nothing was further from the truth.
"I think the pundits get it absolutely wrong," Myers said last week. "I have worked with several secretaries of defense. I have never worked with one that has spent more time with the senior military leadership ... ."
Myers also praised Rumsfeld's loyalty to the military. "If you go back and read a little bit about Abu Ghraib and people wanting to place blame, it would have been easy for the secretary of defense to deflect it ... He never did that."
The enemies Rumsfeld had in the Department of Defense and the flag officer corps were, in large part, made as a result of his effort to modernize and streamline the heavy, bloated military machine into a 21st century fighting force.
"(T)o drag the Department of Defense out of the Cold War into the 21st century ... takes enormous physical energy. It takes enormous intellectual effort," Myers said. "But the secretary had the energy, the perseverance and the vision, and he had the support of the senior military. ... I would say that in his tenure ... the department has undergone more profound change in the last six years than in any time in its history since the National Security Act of 1947, and I think history will record that."
Perhaps. But Rumsfeld's place in history will, for better or worse, be determined by the outcome of the current struggle in Iraq.
Despite his shoddy treatment at the hands of the Bush administration, and regardless of what happens from this point on, Rumsfeld has had a tremendous career in public service.
Beginning as the youngest secretary of defense in the nation's history, and finishing as the oldest, Rumsfeld will depart having held the office longer than any other occupant, and being the only man to serve twice in the post. His legion of aphorisms, from "known unknowns," to "you go to war with the army you have," have entered the popular consciousness.
What the future holds is, to loosely quote Rumsfeld, an "unknown unknown." There are difficult decisions to be made about Iraq and the other fronts in the war on terror. Though he will no longer be part of that decision-making, what Rumsfeld said on the eve of the Iraq war must hold true now and in the future: "Win, lose or draw, we're all in this together - and we'll stand together as we take on this adversary."
When announcing the resignation, Bush singled out Rumsfeld's loyalty as one of his most important contributions to the Bush administration. With the newly elected Democratic majority taking office in January and seeking blood over the Iraq war, the president soon may have cause to value that loyalty more highly than ever.
• Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran who served in Iraq, is a senior at the University of Georgia.
Published in the Athens Banner-Herald on 111606