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Rum Deal

By Russ Smith | Posted 5/12/2004

It's nearly impossible to weed through all the editorial nattering of the past week in reaction to the filthy photographs (and videos soon to come) of American soldiers degrading Iraqi prisoners at Abu Gharaib prison. One issue, however, is clear: Sacking Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would disgrace and disable the United States far more than the actions of a few deranged soldiers in Iraq.

In addition to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, his surrogates at The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Sun have all called for Rumsfeld's resignation; so far, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, two more anti-Republican dailies, have held their fire. It doesn't take a historian to understand that Rumsfeld serves simply as a surrogate punching bag for George W. Bush, just as Attorney General John Ashcroft did in the first two years of the present administration.

In the event Bush chucks Rumsfeld overboard, as if he's the equivalent of Richard Nixon's felonious yes-men H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman at the height of Watergate, he's certain to lose this November's election. Obviously, that's the objective of Bush's detractors, a fact the president is well aware of. Last Saturday, in his weekly radio address, Bush all but dashed the hopes of his political enemies, saying, "We have no intention of leaving [Iraq] at the mercy of thugs and murderers. We're determined to help build a free and stable Iraq, a nation at peace with its neighbors and with the world. . . . Those involved [at Abu Gharaib] will be identified. They are a stain on our country's honor and reputation."

That's fairly straightforward: When the cuff of a pant leg is "stained" it would be considered silly to throw out the suit. What kind of message would the firing of Rumsfeld (and many of his Pentagon subordinates) send to the rest of the world? Brutal dictators across the globe in general, and the Middle East in particular, would rejoice that Americans are so squeamish that when a handful of amateurs screw up the U.S. wartime bureaucracy is muzzled. Terrorists, and not just members of al-Qaida, would be emboldened to kill more innocent victims not only in this country but in Europe as well. Yasser Arafat and his Hamas buddies would undoubtedly ratchet up the suicide bombings in Israel.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman last week, while adding his condemnation of those responsible for the disgusting treatment of Iraqi prisoners (some of whom, it should be noted, were jailed for killing Americans), honorably distanced himself from the more partisan members of his party such as senators Jay Rockefeller, Tom Daschle, Teddy Kennedy, and Robert Byrd. He said, "I cannot help but say, however, that those responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized. Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq, working to liberate Iraq and protect our security, have never apologized. And those who murdered and burned and humiliated four Americans in Fallujah a while ago never apologized." He concluded by insisting that the U.S. involvement in Iraq "remains . . . just and necessary."

The Times, just one day before demanding Rumsfeld's resignation, absurdly praised its preferred candidate, Kerry, for his "grounded, pragmatic vision of America's role in the world." The May 6 editorial read, in part, "For months, Mr. Kerry has advocated broader international oversight of Iraq's prospective interim government, a formula that might open the door to additional peacekeeping contributions and generate some real support for nation-building there."

What a novel idea. John Lennon was correct when he sang, "You may say I'm a dreamer/ but I'm not the only one." Kerry, who's currently tacking to the political center in an appeal to "swing" voters (and risking alienating hard-core leftists who hate America and could, in the absence of Howard Dean, vote for Ralph Nader this fall), has harped on the absurd idea for well over a year that as president he'd be able to add France, Russia, and Germany to the current wartime coalition that's mostly confined to the United States and England. How Kerry would achieve that remarkable goal is not explained, other than his rote stump speech that, again paraphrasing the assassinated Beatle, all I'm saying, is give diplomacy a chance.

New York's Daily News, whose presidential endorsement is up for grabs, was one of the few major newspapers that didn't succumb to the catcalls of the Rumsfeld lynch mob. On May 7, the News' lead editorial read: "The Bush and Rumsfeld haters have never been so happy. Like pigs rolling in, as the expression has it, effluent. . . . Self-flagellation, self-mortification, self-abasement--that's what bleeding hearts do for a living. Enough already." The editorial continued, noting Bush's apologies, and then rammed his opponents: "This isn't good enough for the anti-Bushies either. No, nothing short of throwing the President himself into a cell and forcing him to wear lingerie and parading him in front of cameras is likely to suit them. . . . We're still the good guys here, folks. We've taken a bad hit, but we're still the good guys. It breaks the heart that so many of our own take so much pleasure in not wishing to believe that."

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