Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Bush v. Rumsfeld

Bill Kristol has an interesting background.

In the first Bush administration, he was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle -- a position that invariably caused some tension with the White House. In the first two years of the Clinton administration, Kristol's one-man "Project For The Republican Future" helped deep-six the Hillary health-plan with a series of tough strategy memos. In the mid-'90s, he founded the combative Weekly Standard, serving as editor and publisher. He helped pushed the idea of "American Greatness Conservatism" and applauded Clinton's decision to go into Kosovo -- even against congressional conservatives such as Tom DeLay.

In 2000, Kristol nominally supported McCain for president. However, he became one of the biggest boosters for the Iraq policy and the general war on terror. He still has many sources -- and former employees -- working in the administration.

However, he soured on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld some time ago. Now comes this week's essay which says that the recent back and forth on "global war on terror" vs. "global struggle against violent extremism" shows that the president and the secretary now on different pages when it comes to the current conflict.

Kristol concludes:

The president knows we have to win this war. If some of his subordinates are trying to find ways to escape from it, he needs to assert control over them, overrule them, or replace them. Having corrected the silly effort by some of his advisers to say the war on terror is not fundamentally a war, he now has to deal with the more serious effort, emanating primarily from the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, to find an excuse not to pursue victory in Iraq. For if Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, we need to win there. And to win, the president needs a defense secretary who is willing to fight, and able to win.
However, the fact remains that this is not the first time that this split has been evident. In the weeks running up to last year's GOP convention, Bush himself sent both campaign advisors and administration officisals into conniptions by telling minority journalists that the war was "misnamed": “It ought to be a struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free society, who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shape the conscience of the free world.”

(Given that construction, Rumsfeld's "GSAVE" is a model of rhetorical compactness.)

He followed that with interviews where he said the war on terror
couldn't be won and characterized the Iraq invasion as a "catastrophic success".

These pre-convention and election stumbles didn't prevent the Bush team from successfully portraying John Kerry as the candidate with a weak will on combatting terror -- partly because Kerry's own mangled rhetoric got in his way.

All that says though that it is difficult to accept that Rumsfeld (and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley) were all free-lancing on the "GSAVE" shift. Bush last week finally re-declared his formulation that this is indeed a global war on terror that can be won -- a move that Kristol applauds.

But, the fact that this is playing out again -- nearly a year after Bush's own public demurrals -- suggest a real internal conflict.

Kristol lays the blame at Rumsfeld's feet. The secretary certainly has a lot to answer for in the conduct of the war, but it certainly seems this time that Rumsfeld and Co. are actually personifying a split that exists within Bush's own mind.

So is the real division "Bush vs. Rumsfeld" -- or "Bush vs. Bush"?

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