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Berita : The fall of the Butcher's butcher

Rumsfeld: A chronic failure to adapt
Nov. 10, 2006

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation would have been a shock in any case, given how many times critics had called for his head and how many times the prickly Pentagon chief had ignored them.

It was additionally surprising because President George Bush said just last week that Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic" job and that he'd stay for two more years.

Three and a half years ago, it would have been hard to imagine the defence secretary meeting such an ignominious end. He came to the Pentagon in 2001 with the laudable goal of transforming the military, and he made progress toward closing excess bases and eliminating waste. His steely resolve was inspirational when the Pentagon was hit on 9/11, and he oversaw the successful military campaigns to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

But the fall of Baghdad proved to be the peak of Rumsfeld's tenure. The relatively small force he deployed to Iraq was unable to contain the looting and violence unleashed by Saddam's fall. Rumsfeld at first dismissed the deadly insurgency as a few "dead-enders," then consistently underestimated its tenacity. His negligent guidance on the treatment of prisoners led at least indirectly to the abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

As the situation in Iraq continued to spiral out of control, Rumsfeld lost the confidence of the military brass, key congressional Republicans and even some colleagues in the administration. When he snapped at a recent news conference that war critics should "back off," he carried the air of a man who had reached the end of the line.

But Rumsfeld's exit is only half the equation. The other is Bush's choice of former CIA director Robert Gates as a replacement. Gates's foreign policy pedigree is so different from Rumsfeld's that it seems to signal not just a change of leaders but also of approach.

Rumsfeld, 74, is a champion of the aggressive foreign policy that characterized Bush's first term. Gates, in contrast, is a veteran of the first Bush administration and the Persian Gulf War in which Bush's father wisely declined to press on to Baghdad for fear of destabilizing Iraq.

Gates, 63, is also a protege of Brent Scowcroft, the first president Bush's pragmatic national security adviser. With Rumsfeld gone and Vice-President Dick Cheney's influence fading, Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can shift the administration's foreign policy dialogue. More in Toronto Star.

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