Donald Rumsfeld, a decent man with years of distinguished service to this country, should now do the honorable thing. He should take one for Team America. He should fall on his sword.
Seemingly, it’s not about to happen, no matter what other perverted and humiliating incidents are unearthed from Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. No matter how much collateral damage is caused by America’s PR Weapon of Mass Destruction. The Secretary of Defense, where all Pentagon chain-of-command links lead, only got a dressing down by the president. He subsequently received a vote of confidence from Bush for doing a “superb job.”
It’s Rumsfeld’s call because the president doesn’t want to be seen as scapegoating a trusted true-believer who won’t bad-mouth him in a memoir. Neither does the president want to be seen as wavering from the Administration’s stay-the-course, go-to-the-mattresses, Iraqi policy.
A Rumsfeld resignation is a cure-all for nothing, for this is a panacea-free zone. But it would symbolically complement and buttress the president’s public apology. Certainly more than a surprise visit to Baghdad did. And if a resignation would make life a little less hazardous for American G.I.’s and a little more hopeful for any American hostage, it’s worth it right there.
But there’s a more fundamental principle involved. Whatever happened at Abu Ghraib is a microcosm of the entire occupation in all its incoherent blunder. Nobody, to date, has answered for that. Somebody may in November, but that’s of no consequence now.
Everyone but the Bush Administration seemed to know that winning a war with the most powerful armed forces in the history of the world was never the issue. Winning the post-war peace and stability would be the real crucible. Nation building after infrastructure bombing seemed a Pentagonic afterthought.
Keep in mind that “liberation” is an abstraction in the absence of order. The early looters’ free-for-all presaged all that ultimately followed.
Not enough troops. Not enough training. Not enough speakers of Arabic. Not enough international help. Not nearly enough preparation across the board.
That’s what Rumsfeld would be answering for. His resignation would be an appropriately proportional response — shock, shame and contrition — for the harm done to those detainees and to this nation.
Hardly an exception within the ill-conceived, Pentagon-directed occupation were the prisons. Undermanned, unsupervised, poorly-trained, ad hoc prison guards — who were given license to interpret intentionally ambiguous orders to “soften up” detainees for interrogation — turned Abu Ghraib — and apparently others — into grotesque, inmate-abuse sideshows. The problems appear systemic.
No, it wasn’t Auschwitz, and it wasn’t Bataan. It wasn’t even Iraq under Saddam Hussein. And the sadist-soldiers didn’t decapitate anyone while declaring that “God is great.” Surely, Nicholas Berg would have settled for indignity.
But this debacle of mistreatment and pornography is an awful American nightmare when one of our avowed objectives is to win the minds and hearts of Iraqis and to send the right democratic signals to the rest of the Muslim world. It’s an unmitigated disaster when it further incites insurgents and international jihadists and undermines the security of American troops.
That’s still Rumsfeld’s purview. He’s not a fall guy — unless it’s on that sword. He’s the Pentagon’s point man. He’s accountable.
One other thing. If Nuremberg taught us anything, it’s that merely “following orders” won’t necessarily earn you a reprieve from the gallows. Behavior that devolves into depravity remains disgustingly abhorrent, morally reprehensible and most worthy of courts martial. As Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., bluntly put it: “I don’t know how the hell these people got into our Army.”
Any of “these people” who are found guilty will be seen to have followed base instincts more than wink-and-nod orders. They should consider themselves lucky if they don’t do time in an Iraqi slammer, awaiting their Kodak moments in their birthday suits.
And one more thing. Imagine how much worse this could be if Rumsfeld hadn’t been doing a “superb job”?