Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Their Favorite Mistake

On November 23, a former military man turned columnist named David H. Hackworth broke the news that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had used a signing machine to sign his name to all the condolence letters that have gone out to the families of all the men and women who have died in Iraq since the invasion began in March 2003. Hackworth is no leftist: The column appeared on Military.com; he writes regularly for DefenseWatch; and his column, Defending America, appears every week on his own website.

Hackworth interviewed a dozen relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq, and got reactions like this one, from Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Seth, to the war:

"My son wasn't a person to these people, he was just an entity to play their war game. But where are their children? Not one of them knows how any of us feel, and they obviously aren't interested in finding out. None of them cares. And Rumsfeld depersonalizing his signature - it's a slap in the face, don't you think?"
Hackworth's column created an uproar, and Rumsfeld has since been forced to admit that he did not sign any of the condolence letters personally, and he has promised that he will do so from now on. Predictably, Pres. Bush stoutly defended Rumsfeld, saying that underneath the "rough and gruff" exterior Rumsfeld was an old softie who feels "anguish" about the "grief that war causes." He hides it well.

Unlike the White House, Congress has been conflicted about Rumsfeld's latest antics. It's both amusing and appalling to watch the verbal gymnastics both Republicans and Democrats are engaging in to try to reconcile mutually exclusive desires: to rid themselves of this man whose excruciatingly bad judgment turned post-Saddam Iraq into a disaster, and who creates unwelcome controversy almost every time he opens his mouth; and to avoid antagonizing Bush by appearing not to support his vote of confidence in Rumsfeld. Some in Congress, like Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, have publicly stated their loss of confidence in Rumsfeld's ability to do his job, while refusing to come out and say he should resign. It must be really tough to reconcile your conservative lip service to "personal responsibility" and accountability with your overwhelming terror of offending George W. Bush. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana expressed this inner conflict perfectly when he said, "'[Rumsfeld] should be held accountable ... and should stay in office. ...He needs to listen ... and he is listening. [But] a change in leadership at this point might be' disruptive."

More disruptive than having to do constant damage control on a Secretary of Defense who's like a stick of dynamite in the town square, I guess.

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