Mendacity and Mojo

Will Rumsfeld’s beliigerence and bombast make him the GOP’s Iraq fall guy?

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“The terrorists and the Baathists loyal to the old regime will fail because America and our allies have a strategy, and our strategy is working.”

President Bush, speaking to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

So the president continues his gravity-defying rhetorical act, offering up a vision of Iraq that seems suspended above the ugliness of reality by a combination of self-delusion and wish-fulfillment. But the linguistic gymnastics may not be enough to prevent a rapid return to earth. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the nation is increasingly unhappy with the president and his war. Only 47 percent of those surveyed approve of his handling of Iraq, the poll shows, the first time that number has slipped below 50 percent. A few months ago, when that figures were closer to 70 percent, the strategy Bush alludes to was very different. Now, the White House and Pentagon seem focused only on an exit strategy — one that will get U.S. troops out of Iraq without diminishing U.S. influence over Baghdad.

The process has even been given a name — “Iraqification” — and the name comes with some serious baggage. After all, it’s little more than an update on “Vietnamization,” the term adopoted to describe the Nixon administration’s plans for getting troops out of Vietnam. As Michael Moran notes in his column on MSNBC, the administration is adapting its language with every change on the ground in Iraq.

“Here are some terms you are unlikely to hear from the mouths of senior U.S. military officials or commanders, at least not for attribution: ‘mopping-up operations,’ ‘sabotage,’ ‘anarchy,’ ‘dead-enders.’ These and other terms used liberally by the Pentagon to describe violence — or those behind it — in the immediate postwar period have gone the way of ‘shock and awe’ as it has become undeniably clear that U.S. troops are in for what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called a ‘long, hard slog’ in his now infamous leaked memorandum.”

Ah, yes. Rummy’s “long, hard slog” memo. The leaked letter brought to light a host of touchy subjects for the administration, necessitating yet more feats of rhetorical slight-of-hand. But the missive also reminded Washington watchers of another prickly reality facing the Bush White House: Rummy himself. The fact is, a growing number of Republicans believe the bombastic Pentagon boss has become an undeniable political liability for the president.

With Bush’s political future linked to the adventure in Iraq, Reuters reports that Rumsfeld is rapidly being sized up as the fall-guy by Republicans desperate to preserve the president and their own political ambitions.

“Knowledgeable Republicans and defense analysts described mounting frustration with Rumsfeld in the White House and among Republicans in the U.S. Congress amid ongoing difficulties in Iraq that could jeopardize U.S. President George W. Bush’s re-election bid in 2004.

‘Rumsfeld has become in many ways a problem for the Republican Party. And you can make the case that he’s become a net liability given how the Iraq issue has unfolded,’ said Brookings Institution defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon. ‘If the president’s re-election bid is now in some doubt, it’s more because of the problems in Iraq than any other single factor.'”

The memo wasn’t the only Rummy-related embarrasment, either. Recall the Pentagon boss’s snide reaction last month, when it was announced that Condoleezza Rice would become the administration’s ‘unsticker’ on Iraq. Apparently caught off guard by the establishment of Rice’s Iraq Stabilization Group, Rumsfeld sniped that putting Condi in charge wasn’t going to change a thing. Is this all just the defiance of a leader who knows he’s going down? Time magazine, at least, seems to think that Rumsfeld has lost his mojo.

“For nearly three years as Defense Secretary, Rumsfeld has employed everything from smiling charm to podium-pounding bluntness in his battles with Congress, the Pentagon bureaucracy and his colleagues in the Bush Administration over who controls foreign policy.

But his recent pronouncements, both public and private, have grown into a regular political distraction for a President who is already on the defensive for his handling of the Iraq war and its aftermath—both of which were designed largely by Rumsfeld himself.”

Rumsfeld has lately kept busy strewing political wreckage on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. First, he wrote a frank memo about the war on terrorism that was at odds with much of the Administration’s public spin for the past several months. Then he alienated the one person, apart from Bush, on whom the Pentagon most relies for sustenance—Virginia Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

In fact, Rumsfeld’s lagging favor is perhaps most evident among Republicans in Congress. As one GOP Senator told Time: “Rumsfeld believes in his own magic.” The logical inferrence: Rummy’s alone in that belief.

Meanwhile, a reporter recently questioned Rumsfeld about the Time piece. The question, of course: “Have you lost your mojo?

“Rumsfeld said he did not consult a dictionary — as he has for words like slog about which he has sparred with reporters — but he spoke with an aide who had.

‘And they asked me that, and I said, ‘I don’t know what it means.’ And they said, ‘In 1926 or something, it had to do with jazz music.’ Rumsfeld added, ‘And I guess the answer is that beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. I don’t know enough about mojo to know.'”

Your words, Rummy, not ours.


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