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Good decision on Rumsfeld
Scripps Howard News Service


November 13, 2006

In my school days, it was often the best teachers my classmates most disliked, the ones who required you to learn no matter how much work it took, quickly caught on to your tricks and put up with no nonsense.

The less demanding teachers - those most inclined to let your mind go mushy on their watch - were frequently the ones more celebrated.

My suspicion is that some similar desire for comfort over excellence is a reason many in the Pentagon didn't much care for Donald Rumsfeld, a secretary of defense with a noted intolerance for generals who came calling with nothing important to say and for bureaucratically espoused military strategies that made increasingly less sense in our rapidly changing world.

Rumsfeld Resigns

Rumsfeld Resigns
Artist Daryl Cagle,
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

Even if that is so - and even if Rumsfeld became a scapegoat for mistakes that were not his doing and the sort of setbacks that were his responsibility but are also encountered in virtually every war ever fought - President Bush was right to announce his replacement, and to do it when he did it, the day after it became known Democrats were to regain control of Congress. During their campaigns, Democrats told the voters that the war in Iraq was an ungodly mess, and on Election Day, the voters told the Democrats, "We agree."

By giving the Democrats this change, the ouster of a man they had vilified, Bush quiets them down for a moment, signals a cooperative spirit, lets the public know he is doing some serious rethinking about things and buys time to find better answers in this war that is indeed going badly. Whatever Rumsfeld's virtues, no one person is vital to winning the war, whereas one person's departure could be.

Bush must obviously not stop with a shuffling of chairs, but in fact listen carefully to a commission that will soon be reporting on possible new approaches in Iraq, and insist that the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, come to him with fresh and varied options. This administration, the policies of which are often better than its defense of them, must also get far more skillful at the art of careful, intelligent public explanation.

The appropriate response by the Democrats? It is certainly not to take each and every criticism and stick it in a closet, but it is to get as serious as their regained power and the hour require.

They should turn their backs on those anti-Bush allegations astonishing in their vitriol and intellectual disrepair - the calumny that the war is purely about enriching U.S. oil companies, for one - and work with the administration to find ways that would leave a stable, peaceful, decent and strong government in power in Iraq when U.S. troops are gone.

Anything less than that, such as a phased withdrawal disconnected from improvements in internal Iraqi order, is an invitation to genocidal disaster and could be a boost for terrorist aspirations worldwide.

As for congressional Republicans, soon to be a minority in both the House and Senate, their need is not to sulk or hide out or resort to potshot politics on war stances or any other issue, but to rediscover their principles and stick to them.

The war was not the only factor in what happened to them Tuesday. A lesson they should have learned from the vote is that the wages of political sin can be political diminution - that a pledge to end corruption and extravagant spending in Congress should not be followed by your own corruption and extravagant spending on penalty of losing elections. While their voice on Iraq is diminished, it is hardly eradicated, and if it is informed by conviction and alert analysis, it can still be highly important in determining the course of events.

Bush's decision on Rumsfeld opens a door for the kind of give and take and reconsiderations that could eventuate in winning the Iraqi war if all sides will move forward in good faith while putting the national interest above their own.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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