The Rummy haters

Posted: Dec 09, 2004 12:00 AM

    President Bush can find new secretaries for the departments of State, Justice, Energy, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Homeland Security, Veteran's Affairs, Education and Agriculture, but as long as he leaves Don Rumsfeld at the Defense Department he will not have changed his Cabinet enough to satisfy his critics. No other scalp counts, so long as the hawkish Rumsfeld stays at the Pentagon.

    Rumsfeld's detractors say they want his ouster only as a matter of accountability. When something in your bailiwick doesn't go well -- a war, in this case -- it stands to reason that you should get the boot. Except this logic was never applied to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Even though Bush critics argue that the first administration was a diplomatic disaster area, they always hailed its top diplomat.

    The latest round of beating on Rumsfeld comes thanks to a challenging question he got in Kuwait from a National Guardsman about the lack of up-armored humvees. Regular humvees are thin-skinned and provide little protection, putting a premium on the armored version in Iraq's urban combat zone. Rumsfeld's answer has been portrayed as cold and dismissive. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times even compared it to Gen. Patton's infamous slap of a soldier in a hospital bed.

    Rumsfeld explained what the military has been doing to make up the gap in armored humvees and said the Army is "sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable." He continued, "The goal we have is to have as many of those vehicles as is humanly possible with the appropriate level of armor available for the troops." That is hardly the back of his hand.

    Rumsfeld got applause from the troops when he added: "The other day, after there was a big threat alert in Washington, D.C., in connection with the elections, as I recall, I looked outside the Pentagon and there were six or eight up-armored humvees. They're not there anymore. They're en route out here."

    The controversy about humvees is typical of the debate about the conduct of the Iraq War -- there is plenty to criticize, but those doing the criticizing tend to be opportunistic and ahistorical. Wars always produce surprises and unanticipated needs. No opponent of the Iraq War ever said, "Don't you dare invade Iraq unless you have 8,000 up-armored humvees available." Instead, they warned that U.S. troops would be attacked with chemical weapons or that the Arab world would explode in anger at the United States -- neither of which happened. It turned out roadside bombs were our main threat.

    The Army initially thought it would need 235 armored humvees in Iraq. When that number was exposed as absurdly off, it began to make adjustments. Practically every armored humvee available in the world was sent to Iraq. Production was radically ramped up, going from 15 a month in May 2003 to 450 a month today. Roughly three out of every four humvees in the combat areas are now armored.

    Specialist Thomas Wilson, who asked the question, is being hailed in the press for his bravery. Indeed, asking his question took guts (although it was apparently planted with him by a reporter). But make no mistake, there are much more stirring acts of courage by U.S. soldiers every day in Iraq that somehow escape the media's attention. Ask Rumsfeld a tough question, sue the military, desert or disobey orders, and you achieve fame. But if you happen to sustain a gunshot wound in the battle of Fallujah and ignore it because you so desperately want to stay with your fellow soldiers and believe so much in your mission, well then, no one will ever know your name.

    But the press has its priorities. The old saw used to be that American Jews would ask of anything, "Yes, but is it good for the Jews?" The Rummy-hating media and Left evaluate any Iraq-related event through a similar filter, "Yes, but is it bad for Rumsfeld?"