Rumsfeld not scoring points with anyone

Out of the loop

Phil Carter notes that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld wasn’t aware of the new White House plans concerning Iraq. According to the WaPo

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he was not told in advance about a reorganization of the Iraq reconstruction, which he heads. He said he still does not know the reason for the shake-up.

When pressed, he responded

“I said I don’t know. Isn’t that clear? You don’t understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding.”

Carter notes that the remarks about not understanding English certainly won’t help Rumsfeld’s reputation among Europeans, especially as he was speaking to several European news agencies at the time. But there’s something more, he writes.

The second point of analysis is that the SecDef has been cut out of the loop. Not just in a small way, like he wasn’t invited to some ceremony at the Rose Garden, but in a very big way. Until this working group was formed, the chain of command for Iraq ran straight from the President to the SecDef to L. Paul Bremer III and General John Abizaid, the CENTCOM Commander. Now, it looks like we have a working group interposed between the President and SecDef, and more importantly, we have the elevation of State and other cabinet agencies to a peer position within this group. That the SecDef wasn’t informed of this before it happened is very significant, especially in this administration. I think it’s too early to tell precisely what this means, but I think it’s one indicator that SecDef Rumsfeld might not be asked back for a second Bush administration.

I’ve been generally supportive of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense during the early stages of this war, but even I’ve got to admit that the reconstruction of Iraq could be going better. I don’t think we’re doing a bad job, but I also don’t think that the Pentagon should be in charge of the operation. Their job is to threaten to kill and destroy, and when so ordered, to do it. They are not in the construction business. Honestly, they’re barely able to manage their own procurement and day-to-day operations. We are moving a lot of the support operations in the military to civilian contractors because soldiers should be practicing to kill and destroy, not running a business. Why would they be any better at rebuilding Iraq? Bremmer has done probably about as well as anyone could do over the past few months, but I just don’t understand why the Pentagon is running this stage of the campaign. They should be 100% focused on the next phase of the war.

The administration badly needs to improve the perception of progress in Iraq. This change in reporting is part of that. It demonstrates that Bush is unhappy and that he’s doing something to try and solve the problem. Rumsfeld very well may not be part of a second Bush administration, if there is such a thing, however I don’t think it’s fair to overlook the performance of our military over the past two years. Rumsfeld has not been an insignificant part of that. And, although I’m not particularly happy with these most recent comments, I don’t have any issues with any of the “Old Europe” talk that initially landed him on Old Europe’s short list.

Also, it’s interesting to note that the same WaPo article points out that the White House insists that Rumsfeld not only knew about the change of reporting, but that he was instrumental in the planning of the change.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Monday that Rumsfeld had been “very involved” in the overhaul. McClellen said last night, “This did not come as a surprise to the secretary because, as he noted in his interview, ‘That is what is the charter of the National Security Council.’ ”

Bush’s aides noted that the new group is a Washington support group for Bremer and that it was not meant to undercut him but to clear bureaucratic bottlenecks. “This is still being led by the Pentagon,” McClellan said.

Is that an attempt to save face for Rumsfeld, an attempt to save face for the administration, or both? Or could it maybe be true? Doesn’t seem likely.