Actually, we have a pretty terrific Army. It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has. President Bush has nonetheless decided to stick for now with the defense secretary we have, perhaps because he doesn't want to make a change until after the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections. But surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.
Contrast the magnificent performance of our soldiers with the arrogant buck-passing of Rumsfeld. Begin with the rest of his answer to Spec. Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee Army National Guard:
"Since the Iraq conflict began, the Army has been pressing ahead to produce the armor necessary at a rate that they believe -- it's a greatly expanded rate from what existed previously, but a rate that they believe is the rate that is all that can be accomplished at this moment. I can assure you that General Schoomaker and the leadership in the Army and certainly General Whitcomb are sensitive to the fact that not every vehicle has the degree of armor that would be desirable for it to have, but that they're working at it at a good clip."
So the Army is in charge. "They" are working at it. Rumsfeld? He happens to hang out in the same building: "I've talked a great deal about this with a team of people who've been working on it hard at the Pentagon. . . . And that is what the Army has been working on." Not "that is what we have been working on." Rather, "that is what the Army has been working on." The buck stops with the Army.
Perhaps Rumsfeld simply had a bad day. But then, what about his statement earlier last week, when asked about troop levels? "The big debate about the number of troops is one of those things that's really out of my control." Really? Well, "the number of troops we had for the invasion was the number of troops that General Franks and General Abizaid wanted."
Leave aside the fact that the issue is not "the number of troops we had for the invasion" but rather the number of troops we have had for postwar stabilization. Leave aside the fact that Gen. Tommy Franks had projected that he would need a quarter-million troops on the ground for that task -- and that his civilian superiors had mistakenly promised him that tens of thousands of international troops would be available. Leave aside the fact that Rumsfeld has only grudgingly and belatedly been willing to adjust even a little bit to realities on the ground since April 2003. And leave aside the fact that if our generals have been under pressure not to request more troops in Iraq for fear of stretching the military too thin, this is a consequence of Rumsfeld's refusal to increase the size of the military after Sept. 11.
In any case, decisions on troop levels in the American system of government are not made by any general or set of generals but by the civilian leadership of the war effort. Rumsfeld acknowledged this last week, after a fashion: "I mean, everyone likes to assign responsibility to the top person and I guess that's fine." Except he fails to take responsibility.
These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.
First, I start agreeing sometimes with Pat Buchanan and now this. I think I need counseling.