At last. From the looks of America’s editorial pages this morning (May 7, 2004), it appears that the some of the country’s news media has finally caught up with those of us writing from the left. Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe have editorials demanding Donald Rumsfeld’s ouster. Although they frame their calls with descriptions of the man as “the closest thing to a rock star the Bush cabinet would ever see,” both editorials describe Rumsfeld as arrogant and incompetent. I can certainly agree with the first characterization but would argue that it is not incompetence that is Rumsfeld’s curse, but the very nature of the policy he and his department is attempting to carry out that should take the blame.
After all, it isn’t as if the United States did not intend to intimidate and threaten Iraqi prisoners in their interrogations-that is standard operating procedure. Indeed, one assumes from Rumsfeld’s actions after receiving the report on the prisoner abuse that he at the very least tacitly approved of the approach taken by the guards in Abu Gharaib and other detention centers in Iraq. He just figured (like so many people in power often do) that the torturers’ secrets would remain secret. It’s not like prisoner abuse is anything new in the United States. Talk to anyone who has been in prison and you’ll hear stories about guards doing things to prisoners under their watch that are much worse than what we have seen in the published pictures from Iraq.
The Globe and Times editorials continue their attack on Rumsfeld by questioning his plan for post-Saddam Iraq and for “bungling” the occupation. Of course, as the Globe’s statement that Rumsfeld turned “what should have been a liberation into a very dicey occupation” makes quite clear, neither newspaper challenges the fundamental policy itself. Both papers, like Democratic candidate John Kerry, believe that the US presence in Iraq is justified and necessary, and fault Rumsfeld and his cronies not for the war and the imperial policies underlying it, but for the fact that they have, in essence, screwed up what could have been a golden opportunity to put US power on a firm and long term footing in the Middle East.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Donald Rumsfeld go back to whatever corporate hole he came out of and few things would give me greater pleasure than watching him fall hard and fast. My underlying sense, however, tells me that the only way this might happen is if Rumsfeld’s presence becomes too much of a hindrance to the continuation of the US policy of expansion an domination. Then, if he does go, he would just be replaced by another less objectionable member of America’s ruling elite who had no problem with continuing the work Rumsfeld carried out. This scenario is one that reads much like Gerald Ford replacement of Richard Nixon after the latter’s presence became too much of a hindrance to the US imperial project.
Still, as I sit here this morning listening to the news I can’t help feeling like I did that summer thirty years ago as I watched the departure of Richard Nixon grow closer and closer. While simultaneously apprehensive that he might suspend the constitution to prevent his impeachment and conviction, I watched and listened as the media provided gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Impeachment Committee hearings that would decide that man’s fate. I didn’t care how or why Nixon would be forced to leave, I was just happy to know that he was going. I also knew that the main reason he was going was because the rest of the ruling class had decided he was more of a burden than they cared to deal with and that they would find a more palatable replacement, but it was still felt great to see him squirm. Rumsfeld deserves nothing better.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.
He can be reached at: email@example.com