Rumsfeld's, Bolton's Exit from Stage Hurts Bush
December 5, 2006
by John O'Sullivan
John Bolton's resignation as the American ambassador to the United Nations makes it official: The Bush administration is now drifting idly toward a mixture of centrism and impotence.
In less than a month, two of President Bush's stronger and more independent aides -- Donald Rumsfeld and Bolton -- have been dispatched unceremoniously. Rumsfeld's designated successor, former CIA head Robert Gates, is a leading member of the Beltway's permanent bureaucracy.
The administration seems to be waiting for the unelected Baker-Hamilton commission of old Washington hands to dictate U.S. policy on Iraq. Leaks from the commission suggest it will recommend a gradual U.S. withdrawal camouflaged by negotiations with Iran and Syria over a new Middle East grand bargain.
All of this feeds an exaggerated defeatism in the United States over Iraq.
Bush himself sometimes seems to be the lone dissenter in the administration. On his trip to Latvia and the Middle East he has repeated that the United States will stay the course in Iraq and leave only when (a) asked to do so by the Iraqi government and (b) when its task of establishing order is advanced enough for the Iraqi army and police to take it on. Whatever boasts the Iraqi prime minister utters today to mollify the pride of his Shiite constituents, the Iraqi government will not request the departure of U.S. troops until it is confident of surviving that withdrawal. And that could take quite a long time.
Whether Bush can sustain a U.S. commitment for that long is another matter. The president is signaling by his appointments that the road to success in the Bush administration is to be lukewarm about his policies -- in particular about his Iraq, war on terror and general diplomatic policies.
Both the Rumsfeld and Bolton departures signal this in triplicate.
Rumsfeld's abrupt firing was an act of flagrant disloyalty to a loyal subordinate. The defense secretary had made his share of mistakes -- notably, his failure to crush looting immediately following the fall of Baghdad -- but he had followed the president's policy faithfully. Rumsfeld would have preferred to create a new Iraqi government and to withdraw U.S. troops shortly after the astonishing success of Operation Iraqi Freedom. If that course had been followed, the United States would still enjoy a reputation for invincibility won by the two successful wars waged under Rumsfeld's leadership. Iran and Syria would today be seeking to please America instead of simultaneously arming Hezbollah to topple the pro-U.S. Lebanese government and playing hard-to-get over negotiations.
Bush decided on the riskier course of nation-building and promoting democracy because it offered the opportunity to strengthen pro-Western forces in the Middle East. Rumsfeld went along with this more difficult task. But Bush was not prepared to take the measures to make it succeed. He refused to allow U.S. troops to attack bases in eastern Syria from which terrorists were infiltrated into Iraq. As in Vietnam, the United States granted its enemies a regional safe haven from which to subvert Iraq and attack the U.S. presence. We are paying the price today.
Would more troops have made a difference as Rumsfeld's conservative critics maintain? Perhaps they would have helped. They are certainly necessary now to carry out the sensible tasks outlined in Rumsfeld's last memo and to demonstrate that rumors of an American defeat are greatly exaggerated. But no number of troops can compensate for an ambitious policy pursued by inadequate means and given too short a time to work. Responsibility for both the ambitiousness of the policy and the inadequate means falls onto the White House. Whether the policy will be given time is now the vital question. John Bolton's departure suggests otherwise. Not even the highly qualified criticisms attaching to Rumsfeld can be leveled at Bolton. As did Rumsfeld, he loyally pursued the policies of the president and Secretary of State Condi Rice even when everyone suspected he held a very different view. Unlike Rumsfeld he outperformed expectations.
As U.N.-watcher Anne Bayevsky has detailed, Bolton assembled unexpected majorities for (a) adoption of a legally binding Security Council resolution sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear-weapons program; (b) the passage of a first-ever council resolution addressing the Iranian nuclear program, and (c) a consensus of 50 donor countries on management reform in the U.N. Sure, Bolton knew that real sanctions on Iran and North Korea would be vetoed by the Russians, Chinese or even the French. Whatever his private reservations, however, he got the Bush-and-Condi policy adopted by a combination of diplomacy, toughness and hard work. If international support for strong economic or military action against these transgressors ever materializes, Bolton will deserve a healthy dose of credit.
We don't know for certain the reasons for Bolton's departure: Either the White House was not prepared to fight for him or he was no longer prepared to lend his voice to the diplomatic charade over Iran and North Korea. Either way, his departure demonstrates timidity on the administration's part. And the net result will be that Bush has one less loyal subordinate in the shrinking ranks of his own administration.
Last year Bush was quoted by Bob Woodward as defending his Iraq policy in these strong terms: "I Will Not Withdraw Even If Laura And Barney are the Only Ones Supporting Me."
Barney is the president's dog. Bush may want to check on Barney's whereabouts.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times.
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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