Politics Mondays: Rumsfeld Should Resign, For the Good of Our Democracy by William D. Hartung
Richard Perle's resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board
highlights the "ethically challenged" environment that has mushroomed at
the Pentagon under the leadership of Donald Rumsfeld. The fact that
Rumsfeld accepted the resignation on Perle's terms - stepping down as
chair of the policy board, but remaining a member - underscores how tone
deaf our defense secretary is when it comes to perceptions of conflict
If Rumsfeld was truly the hands-on manager he portrays himself to be,
he would have shown Perle the door weeks ago, after Seymour Hersh of the
New Yorker detailed efforts by Perle to solicit funding for his
investment firm, Trireme, from a Saudi investor. Nothing came of the
deal, but it smelled to high heaven. The meeting was brokered by Adnan
Khashoggi, the arms dealer whose last fifteen minutes of fame came when
he was a middleman in the Iran/contra arms deals of the mid-1980s. If
Hersh's account is accurate, it appears that Perle and Khashoggi used
Perle's status as the chair of the Defense Policy Board as the "bait" to
get the potential Saudi investor to the meeting, which was ostensibly to
discuss the Saudi's "peace plan" for Iraq, which involved getting Saddam
Hussein to go into exile. Apparently, having brought the Saudi to lunch
on one premise, talk turned to a business proposition: could he recruit
some Saudi friends to put $100 million into Perle's investment firm?
Given the number of Iran/contra alumni that populate this
administration, the choice of Khashoggi as an intermediary raises
serious alarm bells. From Mideast envoy without portfolio Elliott
Abrams, to John Poindexter (he of the discredited "Total Information
Awareness" program) at the Pentagon, to Otto Reich at the State
Department, the Bush administration is shot through with Iran/contra
retreads who still don't seem to understand the primary lesson of that
debacle: no security objective is important enough to justify secret
foreign policy machinations that undermine the will of Congress and the
Donald Rumsfeld is perhaps the most secretive, most power hungry member
of the Bush inner circle. He has a lust for power that is every bit as
strong as Madonna's lust for publicity.
Under the guise of reform, Rumsfeld has populated the Pentagon with a
motley crew of former arms industry executives and right-wing ideologues
that is largely responsible for the rapid reversal in regard and
affection for the United States among our traditional allies around the
world. He has tangled with intelligence professionals over his strong
desire for them to shade their analyses to demonstrate an operational
connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. He has questioned the
judgment of career military men like Gen. Eric Shinseki, who told a
Senate committee that it could take "several hundred thousand" troops to
stabilize Iraq in the wake of Saddam Hussein's overthrow.
Rumsfeld has ruled the Pentagon's information operations with an iron
hand, making it clear that no one inside the building should speak to a
reporter without clearance from Rumsfeld's inner circle. He has become
a bit of a media star with his one-liners and crafty evasions at his
regular press briefings, but as one senior defense correspondent noted
last year, Rumsfeld rarely provides actual information at these
Rumsfeld is the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time. Despite
pledges after the September 11th that the war on terrorism would be a
"new kind of war" that integrates military, diplomatic, financial, and
law enforcement elements, Rumsfeld's approach has essentially been "all
war, all the time." In addition, his much touted "reform" of the
Pentagon, designed to get rid of cumbersome Cold War weapons in favor of
a leaner, meaner, more mobile force, has resulted in the cancellation of
only one major weapons program, the Crusader artillery system. To his
credit, Rumsfeld canceled the Crusader despite the fact that United
Defense, the company that had the contract, is controlled by the Carlyle
Group, which is chaired by his old college buddy and longstanding
associate Frank Carlucci. But one tough decision does not a "reformer"
Critics like former Clinton administration official William Beeman and
New York Times columnist Bill Keller have made persuasive arguments for
the resignation of Rumsfeld's nemesis, Colin Powell, arguing that his
views don't match the President's agenda and that he is therefore bound
to be ineffectual. But the case for Rumsfeld stepping down is even
stronger: his views may be compatible with the President's but they are
incompatible with the demands of democracy. And he has done more than
any other administration official to poison our relations with key
As one major U.S. ally noted in the run-up to the recent debacle at the
Security Council, where the Bush administration couldn't beg, borrow, or
steal a single additional vote in favor of using force against Saddam
Hussein, our allies very much want "more Powell and less Rumsfeld" if
they are going to be able to work in concert with the United States on
key security issues, in Iraq and beyond.
If Rumsfeld wants to rescue his credibility and keep his job, he should
do the following:
1) Institute stricter accountability and greater transparency over the
operations of advisory committees like the Defense Policy Board.
Richard Perle isn't the only member of the 30-person panel with a
controversial consulting firm. Henry Kissinger, the token "liberal" on
the panel, had to step back from running the government investigation of
the handling of the 9/11 terror attacks because he didn't want to
disclose details about his many business clients, which include a number
of controversial foreign governments.
2) Demand that Richard Perle step down not JUST as chairman of the
board, but as a member.
3) Institute a more open information policy at the Pentagon.
4) Show greater respect for the judgment of career intelligence and
5) Revisit the issue of military reform by cutting costly Cold War
weapons systems and focusing on a more balanced approach to fighting
terrorism that integrates diplomatic, economic, and law enforcement
perspectives along side his penchant for force and the threat of force.
6) Stop making off-hand comments that are contrary to longstanding U.S.
policy. From his remark early in his term referring to the "so-called"
occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza, to his quip about France
and Germany being part of the "Old Europe," when Rumsfeld speaks off the
top of his head, people listen. And it usually costs us "big time," as
his protégé Dick Cheney might say.
For its part, Congress should do an investigation of conflicts of
interest and potential war profiteering, centering on the Pentagon, the
Army Corps of Engineers, USAID, and the White House - and the
well-connected firms that are getting an inside track on war-related
contracts. Just as Harry Truman made his reputation in World War II by
exposing war profiteering in the mobilization for the war against
fascism, some prominent Senator - could be John McCain, could be Bob
Graham - should make it his or her business to investigate profiteering
in the war on terrorism and the wars of "preemption" favored by Rumsfeld
and his cronies at the Pentagon.
William D. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy
Institute at the New School and the author of "The Hidden Costs of
Monday, March 31, 2003