TCS Daily

Don't Resign, Rumsfeld

By Arnold Kling - May 12, 2004 12:00 AM

"This administration needs to undertake a total overhaul of its policy; otherwise, it is courting a total disaster for us all. That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- today, not tomorrow or next month, today."
Thomas L. Friedman

The news media expects Donald Rumsfeld's resignation to come any day now. After all, isn't Iraq turning into another Vietnam? Isn't everything going wrong? Isn't every possible disaster occurring?

In fact, not every possible disaster is occurring in Iraq. At this time of widespread panic and demoralization among various politicians and pundits, it might be a useful exercise to consider some of the disasters that have not occurred thus far in Iraq:

1. Unlike the 1983 peacekeeping mission to Lebanon, we have not suffered a mass-casualty terrorist incident. In Lebanon, 241 service members were killed by one truck bomb. We abandoned the mission as too costly. Considering how much more sophisticated, trained, practiced, well-armed, and well-funded terrorists have become since 1983, it is quite remarkable that we have not suffered such a large individual attack in Iraq.

2. We have not made a major bombing error as embarrassing as the Chinese embassy bombing during the campaign in Serbia five years ago. In Iraq, just one case of mistaken intelligence or misfired weaponry could cause hundreds of civilian casualties. So far, however, the collateral damage has been quite minor.

3. Many pundits foresaw civil war in Iraq, with the Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds poised for sectarian violence. This fear has failed to materialize.

4. Iraq's economy could be crippled if its oil wells were sabotaged, turning the country into a permanent welfare client. Although the oil distribution system has been hampered by attacks, the oil wells remain intact.

5. In a country where corruption has been a way of doing business, no bribery scandal has emerged involving U.S. officials or contractors. One may disagree with the policy positions of Rumsfeld and his aides or criticize their management of the Abu Ghraib prison, but they do not face anything as embarrassing as the UN oil-for-food scandal.

6. No soldier has come back from Iraq, thrown his medals onto the White House lawn, and accused his comrades of committing widespread war crimes. One may presume this means that, for the most part, our soldiers are behaving in a way that makes them proud to serve in Iraq.

7. No Americans have been shot during antiwar protests, as happened at Kent State.

8. In general, the opposition to the war in Iraq has been much less extreme than it was back in the day. I get the impression that most of the Americans giving aid and comfort to the enemy do so solely out of animosity toward President Bush, not out of fundamental disloyalty toward our country. There are not nearly as many terrorist sympathizers as there were Vietcong supporters.

Liberals are anxious to see a change of party in the White House, but they do not seem to be bent on a change of policy. Although John Kerry seems to be on the wrong side of what I call the UN Party vs. the U.S. Party issue, he is no Spanish socialist running on an appeasement platform.

Journalists and academics may not realize it, but people who have to make decisions in complex settings usually make mistakes. Businessmen make mistakes all the time. So do generals. So do civilian leaders during a time of war. In evaluating a real-world leader, you cannot measure someone against an artificial standard of perfection. Instead, when you look at their performance, you also have to take into account the mistakes that they did not make. On that basis, I believe that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld should stay.


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