The big conflict during the first Bush term was of course that between Colin Powell on the one hand and Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and all the neocons on the other. That conflict will soon be resolved with Powell’s departure. Despite setbacks, the neocons have generally enhanced their position since the election. The key figures (Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, Wurmser, Bolton, Abrams) retain their influence within the second tier of power. Neocon propagandists such as Bill Kristol, David Frum, and Richard Perle enjoy unbounded access to a generally deferential media; when not in government, they flash credentials as members of a handful of interconnected rightwing think tanks. Some suppose the neocons have triumphed, but that is simplistic. Much depends on the neocons’ relationships to Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and new National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
All these characters have shown themselves willing to mislead the people to win support for their war plans. Rice’s staff failed to heed the CIA and remove the famous Niger uranium line from Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. Who took responsibility for that fiasco, that July? Hadley, Condi’s apparent successor himself, apologetically explained that he’d forgotten to omit the reference. Some say he was taking the blame for his subordinate Robert Joseph, who had suggested even if the CIA rejected it, the report could be attributed to British intelligence. The White House issued no reprimand to Hadley, while someone high up in the administration took revenge on former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had gone public with his connection to the Niger uranium story, by leaking his wife’s CIA connection to the press. This was the first of ongoing measures to punish those in the CIA who infuriated Wolfowitz in early 2002 by their inability to furnish evidence for Saddam-bin Laden ties. Perhaps the reorganized intelligence community, under Porter Goss, will always tell the president, and those who supply him simple reading matter, with that they want to hear. The neocons no doubt take heart that past partners in duplicity have so far sidelined opposition, managed to thwart discussion of the Office of Special Plans, and retained all key neocons in their positions. But they are very ambitious, and their ambitions now affect the office of the Secretary of Defense.
Kill Them Now, or Later?
As Powell recedes from the scene, what is the current big conflict in the administration? It seems to be between Now or Later, and conceivably, the neocons versus Rumsfeld, among others. On the one hand the neocons relentlessly build the case for regime change in Syria and Iran. They envision Southwest Asia as a chain of U.S. allies extending from Pakistan to the Mediterranean, with western-style political institutions, open capitalist economies, and harmonious relations with Israel. They believe that U.S. victory in the Cold War removed obstacles to the fulfillment of this vision through U.S. military force and economic and political influence. They are not interested in constructive engagement with existing regimes they believe they can topple in the near future. Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton has made it very clear since 2002 that Syria is a target; meanwhile, he’s exploding with indignation that ElBaradei and the IAEA aren’t hauling Iran before the Security Council for action that would abet U.S. plans for regime change in Iran. He seems eager for action, short term. On the other hand, pundits across the mainstream political spectrum agree that the U.S. is so badly overextended in Iraq that an invasion and occupation of a second country would now be very difficult if not impossible. Without a massive increase in the size of the military, which is half the size it was in the Vietnam era, or maybe the use of tactical nukes, it’s hard to see how the neocons could pull off their plans.
I’m inclined to believe that Donald Rumsfeld is saying “later” to any discussion of regime change in Syria or Iran. His key project after all is to build a leaner, meaner modernized all-volunteer force, and at some points his agenda may conflict with that of the world-transforming neocons. Rumsfeld has of course been under attack recently, since he told the National Guardsman who asked him why military vehicles lacked adequate armor, “You have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you might like.” Overnight a range of Republican senators including Chuck Hagel, Bill Frist, John Warner, John McCain, Susan Collins and Trent Lott were criticizing him or calling for his resignation. Many attack him for the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo abuses, and for general “arrogance.” But the opening salvoes of the attack on Rumsfeld were fired by Bill Kristol and his Weekly Standard, which generally articulates neocon thinking, and the recent flurry of criticism should be understood in light of the “now” versus “later” discussion.
In April 2004, when U.S. troop strength in Iraq was 115,000, Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote that, according to “close observers of the conflict in Iraq,” “at least 30,000 extra troops” would be needed “just to deal with the current crisis. Even more troops may well be needed to fully pacify the country. And it would be useful to have as many of those troops as possible there sooner rather than later.”‘ U.S. failure to pacify Iraq was above all “the product of Rumsfeld’s fixation on high-tech military ‘transformation,’ his hostility to manpower-intensive nation-building in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and his refusal to increase the overall size of the military in the first place” (Emphasis added.) Rumsfeld should have foreseen that there might be large-scale resistance, but “He failed to put in place in Iraq a force big enough to handle the challenges at hand. That is a significant failure, and we do not yet know the price that will be paid for it.”
The Kristol-Kagan piece, which fell just short of calling for Rumsfeld to resign, depicted his focus on structural changes (that which he sees as his true legacy) as a “fixation” distracting him from the worthy cause of “nation-building” and indeed making him “hostile” to that cause because it’s so necessarily “manpower-intensive.” It suggested that Rumsfeld was a restraining presence in an administration that could and should use its military more aggressively in nations needing regime change. Since the “army you have, not like” remark generated the current wave of criticism, Kristol has frankly called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post among other places, and has been opportunistically making the cable news rounds, urging a more warlike Department of Defense, and blaming Rumsfeld for problems in the very conflict the neocons sought so ardently and assured us would be a “cakewalk.” Never mind that Rumsfeld’s appointed Richard Perle as head of the Defense Policy Board, even if he sometimes dissociated himself from Perle’s remarks. (Perle himself, now out of government, has implicitly criticized Rumsfeld, calling it “a great error” and “continuing error” to allow “the liberation to subside into an occupation.”) Never mind that Rumsfeld also put Kenneth (“cakewalk”) Adelman on the DPB, and that he’s been so closely associated with the neocons that some journalists describe him as one himself. No, it’s time for Rumsfeld to go the way of Powell and give a chance toa real superhero, like Douglas Feith or Paul Wolfowitz?
Rumsfeld: “No Need for a Draft”
We have to put this split into broader perspective. While the neocons generally avoided military service, Rumsfeld is an ex-Navy officer who remained in the reserves until he joined the Gerald Ford administration (1975-7) as the youngest-ever Secretary of Defense. His Vietnam era experiences made him a strong advocate of an all-volunteer army; the draft had ended in 1973, but draft registration was suspended during Ford’s term. (As a draft age youth at that time, I remember seeing Rumsfeld in a positive light.) In January 2003 Rumsfeld reiterated his long-standing position. “We’re not going to re-implement a draft. There is no need for it at all.”
He indeed mentions “notable disadvantages” of a conscript army. Rumsfeld probably understands that a return to the draft would be politically explosive and a conscript army unreliable. Perhaps he worries about desertion, insubordination, fragging. His own project is to further streamline the armed forces, not to staff them with resentful draftees, and it may be that he places this objective ahead of empire expansion. But there may be others in this administration, which has already so boldly assaulted civil liberties, smugly affronted science and logic, and offended the world with its brutal aggressions, who’d happily reinstate the draft if they thought it would abet their world-transforming ends. Meanwhile there are some in Congress who argue that a draft would be “fairer” and cause the nation to more carefully consider going to war.
In any case, Rumsfeld’s departure might only increase neocon influence, while what today seems unthinkable becomes thinkable. Imagine the administration announcing, in the patriotic, shell-shocked atmosphere following another terrorist attack, that the nation has no choice but to reinstate conscription. Given immediately imaginable alternatives, one almost feels relieved by Bush’s continuing public support for his war secretary under fire.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org