Robert Dallek: It's Time for Him to Go

Roundup: Historians' Take

Before he appointed Donald H. Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, President Bush would have done well to listen to the tape of an old telephone conversation between Rumsfeld and President Richard M. Nixon. It was March 1971, and Nixon was offering career advice to Rumsfeld, then head of Nixon's Office of Economic Opportunity:

"You should be thinking of what you should do in the future," he told the 39-year-old Rumsfeld. "Down the road, my view is that you would be a Cabinet officer. . . . [A]nd you can do, as far as I'm concerned, anything in the Cabinet field, except I wouldn't put you in Defense and I wouldn't put you in State . . . actually, you could be attorney general."

Perhaps Nixon understood something about Rumsfeld that eludes Bush. Whether out of loyalty to his defense secretary, or out of a stubborn reluctance to acknowledge Rumsfeld's failings -- and therefore his own -- Bush seems determined to keep Rumsfeld in the Pentagon. In so doing, the president is hanging on to an individual who has become the public face of the U.S. debacle in Iraq, one who has drawn fire not only from political opponents and countless retired military officers, but also from longtime Bush loyalists, such as former chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and even, reportedly, first lady Laura Bush.

But Bush would not be the first president to keep a controversial or ineffective official in place for fear of embarrassing his administration. Predecessors from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon B. Johnson have grappled with similar dilemmas.

Forcing Rumsfeld to retire would be a political blow for the White House, at least in the short term: It would be an admission that Bush not only miscalculated the need for a preemptive war against Saddam Hussein but also bungled the plan to pacify and democratize Iraq after the invasion. Nonetheless, history shows that such tough personnel decisions can, eventually, prove healthy for an administration and for a nation, particularly in times of war. They force reassessments of long-standing policy; they help presidents stand back, evaluate and chart new directions....

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DeWayne Edward Benson - 10/23/2006

I don't know who would be the one more effaced by the removal of bungling Rumsfeld, President Bush, or President Cheney.