In a rhetorically muted editorial in the December 15th Washington Post, Bill Kristol made the case for the removal of Rumsfeld on the grounds that "all defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments. Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?"
What Kristol is saying, essentially, is that the Iraq strategy may require fresh thinking. In saying that, he merely asserts that such fresh thinking may require fresh leadership. There are arguments to be made either way on the subject, but there are those also who are using this issue for purely political purposes.
Unsurprisingly, some of those who are using Rumsfeld's battered body as cover for various libels against Kristol are my old friends, the Paleoconservatives. As they have done on many issues since September 11th [most recently, regarding the increasingly parlous state of U.S. and Russian relations], they have chosen to reflexively take a position that isn't rooted in National Security concerns so much as a reflexive distaste for Bill Kristol. There have been more defenses of Don Rumsfeld from the Buchanan Brigades in the last two weeks than there had in the preceding year. And as one might expect, these defenses won't do Rumsfeld or America's foreign policy much good in the short or long terms.
One such defense was authored by Justin Raimondo on December 22 at Antiwar.com. Raimondo's "Now They're After Rummy" promised to answer the question of "why the neocons turned on their former 'stud muffin.'" After starting off with analysis of a recent Washington Post poll, Raimondo then proceeds to make an argument for some sort of retributive group justice:
"Another key weakness in the War Party's armor, which the latest propaganda blitz is designed to disguise, is the growing realization by the ordinary man-in-the-street that we were lied into war. Combined with increasing revulsion at the high casualty count, there is the potential for generating a huge backlash against the warmongers. People naturally want to know who lied us into war: they want to identify the culprits, and bring them to some kind of justice, or at least a public reckoning of some kind."
Warmongers, propaganda blitz, lied-us-into-war -- the same old song from the Antiwarriors. Never mind that Antiwar.com hasn't been exactly front-and-center in celebrating Rumsfeld -- all it took was Bill Kristol dissing Rumsfeld to turn the Defense Secretary into a cause celebre.
In case there was any confusion about what Raimondo meant, he expounds further a bit down the page: "Parasites eventually kill their host. The neoconservatives won't be happy until Rummy's dried-up husk is left by the roadside...Positioning the U.S. to be inexorably drawn into a wider war is the whole point of the current Orwellian propaganda offensive."
Support the war for any reason? In the world of Justin Raimondo, you are a parasitic warmonger. A dupe for "wooden and unconvincing arguments marshaled by the War Party" and for "public relations of a sort not seen since the crude propaganda of the old Soviet empire, which regularly stumbled over itself trying to prove its purportedly benevolent intentions."
If Justin Raimondo were a solitary crank pumping out these mini-tributes to the foreign policy writing of Ezra Pound, that would be one thing. But Raimondo is not alone. Unsurprisingly, his foreign policy mentor, Pat Buchanan, is saying many of the same things Raimondo is regarding Rumsfeld's future. And like Raimondo, Buchanan seemingly insists upon turning this critical discussion into a forum for more empty character assassinations.
Pat's December 22 syndicated column is full of regrettable turns-of-phrase. It's not enough, for example, to paint Midge Decter as a supporter of the Iraq action: in Buchanan's phrase, Decter "has been howling for 'World War IV' against the Arabs." Buchanan more or less concedes Kristol's central points, writing that "Rumsfeld and the Pentagon are thus responsible for any lack of armor that has resulted in the woundings and deaths of U.S. soldiers in unprotected vehicles from the roadside bombs that have become a major killer of American troops." But Buchanan wasn't writing to criticize the position Kristol took, so much as he was writing to criticize Kristol and the "neoconservatives."
Buchanan used "neocon" or "neoconservative," by my count, 12 times within this column. That's roughly once every sixty or seventy words, or once every five or six sentences. And that doesn't even count Buchanan's dark references to the Committee on the Present Danger, the Defense Policy Review Board, or the fabled American Enterprise Institute. This guilt-by-association approach clearly is necessary because Buchanan can't bring himself to debate Kristol on the issue at hand. For example, Buchanan objects to Kristol telling the Washington Post that Rumsfeld's "fundamental error...is that his theory about the military is at odds with the president's geopolitical strategy. He wants this light, transformed military, but we've got to win a real war, which involves using a lot of troops and building a nation, and that's at the core of the president's strategy for rebuilding the Middle East." But he doesn't object on logistical grounds [the only useful ones, at this point]. Instead, Buchanan reverts to hackneyed, unprovable, and scurrilous assertions:
"To neocons, this war was never about WMD or any alleged Iraqi ties to 9/11. That was merely to mobilize the masses for war. Their real reason was empire and making the Middle East safe for Israel....The neocon agenda means escalation: enlarging the Army, more U.S. troops in Iraq, widening the war to Syria and Iran, and indefinite occupation of the Middle East, as we forcibly alter the mindset of the Islamic world to embrace democracy and Israel."
Bob Novak, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, visits some of the same themes in a recent column. But unlike Raimondo and Buchanan, Novak at least bases his arguments in specific criticisms of what he perceives to be neoconservative excesses, and accurately debunks the idea (floated by Raimondo and Buchanan) that Donald Rumsfeld is an adjunct of the neoconservative movement.
Will any of the paleoconservatives' articles on this matter make much difference? Not to this White House, which has demonstrated time and again their position on Pat Buchanan and his adherents. Though some may think that we need to pay more attention to these self-styled "foreign policy realists," the way they've played the recent Rumsfeld discussions exposes them for what they are: hacks who couldn't win a foreign policy and cannot maintain a coherent position on the secretary of defense. We'll pass on their advice.