Critics Assail Rumsfeld, But What Is Their Plan?

So The New York Times has found six generals who want Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign. The peace party often makes a show of embracing the martial virtues, though they should be careful what they ask for. People often suspect a ruse, and the uniformed front men that come forward are not necessarily top quality.

In 1864, at the climax of the Civil War, the Democrats tried to unseat Abraham Lincoln with “the young Napoleon,” Gen. George B. McClellan. McClellan had commanded the Union’s armies, but chafed at the civilians under whom he served: He called Lincoln a “well-meaning baboon.” But what should McClellan have been called? This is what the historian John Keegan calls him: “vain, vainglorious, opinionated, worldly, self-satisfied, ostentatiously busy …. [H]e resembled [Douglas] MacArthur in his arrogance and George C. Marshall in his hauteur, [while lacking] the former’s dynamism and the latter’s strength of character …. ” Young Napoleon managed to carry only three states for the peace party. If the insurgents of the Confederacy had been able to vote, no doubt he would have done better.

Let us assume that Mr. Rumsfeld’s critics, and Mr. Rumsfeld himself, are all, all honorable men. Real philosophical issues divide them, which makes their dispute more than a catfight, and something other than the obvious protest of outraged experts against the bumbling of outsiders.

In the soft days before 9/11, Mr. Rumsfeld came to the Pentagon intent on transformation—making the military more high-tech, breaking down the barriers to inter-service cooperation. This is an old fight, for the Pentagon, like any corporation, must evolve to live; if it doesn’t, it becomes General Motors. Tail-kickers like Mr. Rumsfeld naturally acquire enemies, for reasons bad (people don’t like rocking the boat) and good (maybe the boat sails well as it is).

The transformed military toppled the Taliban government in quick time, using Special Forces on horseback and pilotless drones. Point to Mr. Rumsfeld. In Iraq, Baghdad fell in three weeks, but the war against the insurgency has lasted three years. Point to his critics? Mr. Rumsfeld’s great failing, in their eyes, was not sending in enough troops. If we had had more boots on the ground, so the indictment runs, the insurgency either would not have blossomed or could have been crushed. But this too is an issue with two sides. More boots can mean more firepower. But they can also mean more targets. More boots would also have meant a draft, which would mean more neophyte troops.

Our goal was always not to add Iraq to the American Raj, but to turn the country over to a stable, non-monstrous government. This required, first, forming such a government, and second, seeing that it could defend itself. Several national elections have been held, and all the factions are talking to each other, though they haven’t quite yet made a deal. (If you have bought a rug in a bazaar, you know you never shake hands until you are leaving the shop in disgust.) The new Iraqi Army has had a long birth. We disbanded the old one, to de-Baathify it, then reconstituted it too soon, whereupon it failed its first tests in the field. Now some real progress seems to be happening, which is why American casualties are going down (although they have increased in recent days), and Iraqi casualties are going up.

The world is not a nice place, and the sooner we realize that, the fewer nasty surprises life will hold for us. Surprises there will be, but we won’t be dismayed by them. Iran’s approaching membership in the nuclear club is such a phenomenon, nasty but no surprise, except in detail. Then-Governor George W. Bush identified Iran, Iraq and North Korea as rogue nations back in 1999. Then, he thought the danger they represented would take the form of nuclear missiles, and in Iran’s case that may still be true. Iran already has missiles that can hit Europe, to say nothing of Israel. However chaotic France is, and despicable its political class, do we really want to lose the Louvre? Iranian missiles would be tipped with zeal as well as nukes, so the Cold War calculus of deterrence would fly out the window. Even Stalin only wanted the dictatorship of the proletariat, not 72 virgins.

A nuclear Iran would have other means of force projection, however. Iran sponsors terrorist clients in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority, and it can reach even farther afield: It mounted two terrorist attacks in Buenos Aires in the 1990’s, on the Israeli embassy and on a Jewish community center. Those attacks, using quotidian bombs, killed over 100—a Kristallnacht figure. With dirty bombs, you could boost those numbers to death-camp levels.

Nuclear bombs are not easy to make, and Iran may be years away from blastable ordnance. This is a favorite talking point of those who wish to consume that time in further diplomacy. But our margin of safety might just as well be used to develop other options. The mullahocracy is a decadent regime. It combines the rhetoric of frenzy and freshness with the exhaustion of 26 years of oppression and corruption, both petty and gross. The Iranian people have no very realistic alternatives—Iranian “democracy” is a sham; student protests are crushed; people resort to futile gestures like jumping over bonfires on the ancient Zoroastrian New Year, or wearing lingerie under their chadors. Why not help give them some alternatives? Tehran bus drivers went on strike earlier this year. Who is afraid of Ralph Kramdenaz? But who was afraid of Lech Walesa? Military options must also be on the table: not for conquest—with 68 million people, and more room than Alaska, Iran might give even Mr. Rumsfeld pause—but for disabling the Iranian doomsday machine.

One of the advantages of our political system, as opposed to parliamentary democracies, is that we do have lame ducks—politicians with little to fear except odium, and nothing to hope for except their standing in history. Let us hope George W. Bush puts his last two years and nine months to good use.