Congressional Democrats have an idea: Hold a vote of 'no confidence' on the Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Votes of confidence are well established in parliamentary systems where multiple parties form governmental coalitions but they are rare in the U.S. with regular election cycles. In fact, I cannot think of a precedent though one may exist. Naturally this a purely political move by Democrats, but on those grounds alone Republicans have no right to complain, having set something of a record on partisan maneuvers. Nor will it have any legal effect, as it would not bind the President, who is known for his loyalty. The vote may not take place, given G.O.P. control of both houses of Congress. Rest assured the Republicans will do everything they can do to avoid such a vote. Nevertheless I think it a good tactic.
Donald Rumsfeld has been a failure as Secretary of Defense. He started out well, and would have made a good peacetime SecDef. He had the institutional skills and force of personality needed to change the U.S. military from a Cold War posture to one more oriented around Low Intensity Conflicts, which include insurgencies and terrorism. Under his leadership the military has gotten lighter and more moblie. But his abilities in the peacetime environment are the very same things that rendered him a failure at war. Rumsfeld was a junior officer in the U.S.Air Force. The Air Force and Navy are highly technological forces, where hight tech rules and peacetime operations are very similar to what these forces do in wartime. Those things Rumsfeld understood. The problem is that he has no conception of ground warfare at all.
Air forces do not control territory. At sea, the good guys are very easy to tell the good guys from the bad. None of those things are true of ground warfare. In offensive combat, where Saddam Hussein's troops were forced to defend fixed positions the technical models apply. Firepower and precision rule. Those same rules could not be applied to fighting an insurgency.
Terrorists and insurgents do not maintain long logistical tails that can be easily identified and destroyed. They don't maintain enough firepower so that a temporary loss of supplies significantly impinges on their ability to make war. They just bide their time. They don't wear uniforms, or defend territory. Most of the time they're civilians. Only when they enjoy special advantage do they attack. Once they have struck they melt away, for they know very well they cannot sustain combat against trained combat soldiers. They have only one goal: Inflict casualties. Remind everyone that they are there. Remain a force in being.
Under such circumstances human intelligence matters far more than technological sophistication. There is no replacement for the Mark One eyeball and plenty of infantrymen (or better yet military police) who understand the culture and can become effective advocates for the state. There is no substitute for numbers.
The lesson we of the left and most centrists drew from Vietnam was this: "Other people are almost always more serious about their country than you are." Rumsfeld felt that the display of precision firepower that defeated Saddam would intimidate any potential enemies into quiescence. That was stupid.
He needed to look no farther than Lebanon to learn the opposite lesson. In 1982 Israel annihilated PLO fighters in Lebanon and the token Syrian forces sent against them (Syria used just enough force to say they'd fought and no more). Twenty years later the Israelis and their last satraps, the South Lebanese Army, were driven from Lebanon by Hizbullah. Hizbullah used tactics developed over thirty years of warfare.
If you concede that the Israeli military is pretty darned good, and enjoyed total firepower superiority the entire time, then it seems likely they should have won. But Hizbullah wasn't playing for a fast victory, but a slow one. The Islamic world does not think in election cycles, they think in terms of centuries. Twenty years is a blink of an eye in human history.
Rumsfeld and his fellow neocons should have taken note of this. But he belongs to a group that in many cases wanted a 'do-over' in Vietnam, contending that if only we had been more forceful early there we could have won. That delustion was useful because it preserves the fantasy that American power has no limits. That America can do anything if we put our minds to it. We can do a lot, but great power is in no way infinite.
So when we took over and looting came, we found that we had enough troops to take Iraq, but nowhere near enough to control it, as the dismissed General Eric O. Shinseki had warned. The riots showed Iraqis our weakness, and in a single night undid the shock and awe created by what was a fine military campaign. Then we discovered that Pentagon planning under Rumsfeld was practially nil, and every optimistic assumption blindly accepted.
Rumsfeld was warned, But his 'barrage of questions' technique insulated h im from contradictory advice. Rosy-eyed assumptions stood unchallenged because the alternatives would have been to institute a draft, which would have galvanaized the anti-war movement overnight, and put it squarely in the mainstream before the 2004 elections.
Rumsfeld would have been a fine peacetime Secretary of Defense. Instead he led us to a predictable defeat in Iraq, and undid every bit of good the successful (and non-controversial) war in Afghanistan. He has no idea how to get our troops out and even less of an idea how to bring about the impression of victory. He has failed in every imaginable way, has repeatedly accused any dissenters of idiocy, delberately insulted America's allies and generally behaved like a pig. His failures led to a totally unprecedent act, as five retired generals to made public calls for his resignation. It is appropriate to vote on his fate.
Of course the vote is political. In todays' America, partisan maneuvers are the norm. By seeking a vote on Rumsfeld Democratic leaders want to force GOP leaders to stand on the record behind the war. If they bail in large numbers, that kills they 'cut and run' GOP election strategies. It's an admission of what the publc has begun to realize, that conervatives are terrible at protecting America. If they don't bail Republicans will tie themselves to a war that has clearly failed and which grows more unpopular every day.
GOP leaders will try to prevent a vote by parliamentary means. I think they'll fail. If Democratic leaders keep up the pressure, and the war continues to spiral downward (both safe assumptions) public presure will build. Rumsfeld will probably be forced to step down, but even that action will serve as further evidence of the failure of conservative policies in the Middle East.
Democrats can't lose this time. Sure they'll be accused of partisanship, but the GOP is pinned. They must choose between appearing blind to reality or joining John Murtha and the peaceniks. Either way they'll pay the political price.
It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys.