WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the bowels of the Pentagon, the colleagues and subordinates of Donald Rumsfeld were not upset by Republican senators who were sniping at him. Instead, they complained bitterly about a call for his removal by a private citizen with no political leadership position: William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. His position was, in effect, a declaration of war by the neoconservatives against the secretary of defense.
The capital's feeding frenzy over Rumsfeld's fate did not begin until Kristol's Dec. 12 op-ed column in The Washington Post. While critical senators did not get to the point of demanding Rumsfeld's removal, Kristol did. He said the troops in Iraq "deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have." A firm declaration by a prominent Republican activist turned journalist who is the clarion of neoconservatism counts for more than equivocation by U.S. senators.
Rumsfeld's civilian colleagues at the Pentagon are furious because they consider Kristol a manipulative political operative, critiquing the war in Iraq after years of promoting it. But his criticism has a broader base. Kristol long has called for big-government conservatism, which on the international sphere involves proactively pursuing democracy around the world. He and the other neocons do not want to be blamed for what has become a very unpopular venture in Iraq. Thus, it is important to get the word out now that the war in Iraq has gone awry because of the way Rumsfeld fought it.
Rumsfeld is often bracketed with the neocons, but that is incorrect. In a long political career that dates back to his election to Congress in 1962, he has not even been associated with the traditional conservative movement. In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, he was not aggressively pressing intervention by force of arms, but instead was shaping a military response to fit President Bush's command.
Rumsfeld did name Richard Perle, one of the foremost neocon voices calling for a change of regime in Baghdad, as chairman of the part-time Defense Policy Board. Also named to the board was Kenneth Adelman, an old friend of Rumsfeld's who is identified as a neocon. Adelman gained notoriety by promising that the conquest of Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Indeed, rejoicing over the quick rout of Saddam Hussein's army, Adelman wrote that cakewalk -- a word always rejected by Rumsfeld -- turned out to be a correct description.