Donald Rumsfeld should have been gotten rid of years ago. He has messed up for a long time. But in the last analysis it is not Rumsfeld who is responsible for the debacle in Iraq. It is his boss, Bush, who desired to pursue Rumsfeld’s policies and who let the disaster occur. It is the man who doesn’t read, doesn’t elicit conflicting opinions, gets rid of those who offer them, is obstinate, bullies people, until just a few days ago was determined to “stay the course,” is grossly dishonest, lied about Rumsfeld until Tuesday by saying Rumsfeld would stay (a lie ignored by almost all in the media), and is, in general, a 60 year old overgrown frat boy. (Being a frat boy may be okay to some extent in one’s teens or early 20’s (I was one too in fact), but when you’re in your late 50’s or early 60’s?)
But having said until a few days ago that Rumsfeld will remain, no sooner were the election results in, then Bush decided that Don must go. Don would be thrown under the bus for what Bush himself allowed and stridently supported. For Bush to throw Rumsfeld under the bus was very dishonorable. Dishonorable — there is no other word for it.
It was also typical of Bush. Having lived a life in which his chestnuts have always been pulled out of the fire of failure by daddy’s friends and wannabe friends (Robert Gates anyone?), Bush is not accustomed to taking blame for his mistakes and eff-ups. He is, to put it bluntly, a 60 year old spoiled brat. So, due to the election results, he decided to pin the tail on Rumsfeld, to try to shift all the blame to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld had to go lest George be blamed for the Iraq debacle.
I know, I know. By getting rid of Rummy and hiring Gates, Bush supposedly was signaling openness to working with the Democrats, to rethinking the Iraq policy, and all the rest of it. Indeed, turning off his combative, frat boy, I’m-gonna-smash-your-face-in persona, he turned on, once again, his good-old-boy, I’m-really-a-good-guy, I’m-all-charm persona. The latter persona has worked before, in 2000 and 2004 — would it be too cynical to say it has fooled people before? — so maybe it would work again. And George, of course, is now suddenly desperate to make it look as if he is the reasonable one and to make the Democrats look like the hard guys, the bad guys, if the Executive and the Congress do not work together effectively in the next two years. (There is 2008 to think about, after all.) As well, Bush clearly would like to ward off the possibility of impeachment proceedings directed at him and Cheney, and what better way to do that than to present oneself as a reasonable guy, a good guy, not the jerk he has been for the last few years.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, to make themselves look good, are falling for this or at least playing along with it. They are making all kinds of noises about working with the President, about making nice with George, etc. (They too are thinking about 2008.) Frankly, this turns one’s stomach even if it is the expectable thing for politicians to do and say. Impeachment, withdrawal from Iraq and a host of other crucial issues — including improving the lives of our military people, incidentally — should be very high in the pecking order and should be focused on by Democrats. (Let’s hear it for impeachment hearings that ought to be held by John Conyers.)
In playing along with Bush’s new — or, more accurately, renewed — nice guy persona, the Democrats will set themselves up for a big fall if they fail to keep a couple of things in mind. One is that the people of this country want a major change in what the Executive Branch is doing. They want the Democrats to accomplish things, to be sure, but they did not vote the Democrats in so that this country’s abysmal (and frankly even criminal) foreign policy should be continued in Iraq or elsewhere. With regard to Iraq, it is possible that Bush might end up using — might even intend to use — the new Robert Gates regime to pursue the forlorn (McCainesque) tactic of trying to do things “better” in Iraq rather than getting out of the mess as fast as possible. If the Democrats fall for this hopeless idea, they too will receive and deserve extensive, bitter blame in 2008.
Another point the Democrats must keep in mind is the old concept of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The Democrats should never forget the kind of person Bush really is. For tactical purposes, he is making sure to come across now as all sweetness and light, as Mr. Reasonable, etc. But as we have found out before, he is in reality an ignorant bully, not a gentle fellow of sweet reason. If he gets a chance, he will once again stomp on the Democrats’ heads, and call them (and lots of the rest of us) traitors, and will try to pin all blame for everything wrong on them (and lots of the rest of us), just as he previously did and just as he now has done with Rumsfeld, whom he dishonorably has thrown under the bus for a policy that Bush approved, that Bush vigorously defended up until the election, and for which Bush bears responsibility.
I don’t know whether one can say of all bullies, at all times and places, that once a bully, always a bully. But I seriously think that to say anything else in Bush’s case would be bullsomethingelse. Ditto regarding his dishonesty.
LAWRENCE R. VELVEL is the Dean of Massachusetts School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.