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Analysts Discuss Rumsfeld Resignation and Iraq Study Group Report

December 15, 2006 at 6:25 PM EST


JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, what are your thoughts about Donald Rumsfeld tonight?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: In many respects, a tragic figure, Jim. I mean, Donald Rumsfeld became the one symbol of accountability in an administration where they evaded and avoided accountability during the four years of the war and the setbacks there.

And he became a very convenient scapegoat for an awful lot of people. For the neocons, who had advocated the war and supported it, he became the person to blame. The Democrats who had backed the war, he became the person to blame.

For all manner of folks, for the military, many of whom, brass, I think, had chosen their careers over their conscience, he became somebody to blame.

And he paid dearly for having shown contempt for the Congress, a Republican Congress. He didn’t consult; he had no oversight. He paid dearly, I think, for micromanaging, because there was nobody else to share the responsibility of the blame for when things did go south on him.

And he’s a tragic figure, I think, for somebody who is the youngest secretary of defense in our nation’s history. And…

JIM LEHRER: The first time, the first time.

MARK SHIELDS: … when he first came, and leaves as the oldest secretary of defense. And certainly, a figure — on the way out, it kind of unleashed the military to start being candid about what had gone wrong and their objections.

JIM LEHRER: Does he deserve all the blame he’s getting, David?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: I do. I think he does deserve quite a lot of blame. I don’t think he’s a scapegoat.

I mean, I understood going into Baghdad and the first rush up with whatever he had, 130,000. What I don’t understand was why he didn’t adapt the number of troop levels after that.

When it became clear to people in the White House, when it became clear to John McCain, when it became clear in what has become clear in every single book and article that’s been written about what went wrong, there wasn’t enough troops, and there was no order in society.

Why he didn’t adapt in May of ’03, in June, in July? And more than that, why did he suppress any sort of debate that could have happened about that within the military? And he didn’t.

And one of the things he did not do was cultivate a climate of open debate. So a lot of people within the military who privately held one opinion didn’t say it, and maybe they should have. But it would have taken a lot of courage, and part of that was his fault.

And then the final thing I’d say about him — and I agree he was the most well-qualified public servant maybe of our lifetime and the most destructive at the same time — but the final thing I’d say about him — and this he shares with, I think, a lot of people in the White House and in the Pentagon, was that he saw the war as killing bad guys and controlling territory.

And as many essayists and reporters over there made clear, the enemy saw the war as controlling the narrative and winning the war of ideas. And they were playing a different game than we were, and they were beating us at it.

Rumsfeld's career

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[Rumsfeld] leaves the military, that he was bound and determined to reform, in a weakened and hurt condition, a diminished condition.

JIM LEHRER: Everybody says -- and I'm sure the two of you would agree -- that whatever else Donald Rumsfeld is, he's a very smart man. So all the things that you all have just outlined are not the actions of a smart man. So what happened?

MARK SHIELDS: Boy, I wish I knew. I think there will be books about it, Jim. I mean, as David said -- there's a great measure of truth to it -- he chose, he chose deliberately military leaders who would not challenge or contradict him.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, David, that he sought out the guys who wouldn't speak up and wouldn't...

DAVID BROOKS: Every book, whether it's the Ricks' book, the Gordon book, every book underlines that. That's one of the things.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Afghanistan was the disaster for Iraq, because Afghanistan worked the way he wanted it to work. It was the quick, light, agile force went in, took it over.

And the irony, of course, is that Afghanistan today is mired in Iraq-like violence, with a government that's been weakened, that's remote. The Taliban is resurgent. I mean, but that was the model he had, and he figured, "Boy, I can take that to Iraq."

DAVID BROOKS: I do have a theory, because I think there is a straight line that goes through his career. He comes out of college in the '50s and '60s. The country had a lot of big bureaucracies. A smart guy comes out and says, "You know, we're getting fat."

JIM LEHRER: He was a Navy pilot.


JIM LEHRER: Which was a risk-taking business.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. And he says, "I'm not going to be an organization man. I'm going to streamline bureaucracies." He did it in the Nixon administration. He streamlined a bureaucracy. He did it at G.D. Searle. He streamlined a bureaucracy. He came to the Pentagon...

JIM LEHRER: That was a chemical company that made artificial sweeteners.

DAVID BROOKS: He became the CEO.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, exactly.

DAVID BROOKS: And then he came here and he decided to streamline a bureaucracy, with emphasizing technology over manpower. And there are many challenges for which that probably would have been the perfect solution. But occupying Iraq was not that challenge, and so he was mismatched to the problem.

MARK SHIELDS: He leaves the military, that he was bound and determined to reform, in a weakened and hurt condition, a diminished condition. I don't think there's any question, I mean, you get the Army chief of staff going quite public with that just yesterday.

Failing Iraq

David Brooks
New York Times
[T]o be fair to Rumsfeld, he was very cutting-edge on technological matters. He is not a stick in the mud, whatever you can accuse him of. He's not someone who believes in doing things the old-fashioned way.

JIM LEHRER: And everything leading up to that has been, "Oh, no, we've got plenty of troops. We can do everything. We're not anywhere near cracking," and all of a sudden they're cracking.

MARK SHIELDS: Now the candor comes out. And he was...

JIM LEHRER: That was your point earlier.

MARK SHIELDS: But the other thing, Jim -- one of the great ironies, the political contemporary ironies is that Donald Rumsfeld, chief of staff at the White House, secretary of defense, you know, CEO, as David pointed out, member of Congress, Dick Cheney, member of Congress, leader of the Congress, White House chief of staff, secretary of defense, vice president, Colin Powell, national security adviser, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, secretary of state, arguably the most experienced foreign policy, national security team we've ever had, and a disaster of epic, historic proportions.

It makes the case for Barack Obama. I mean, you know, experience in this case...

JIM LEHRER: Didn't work?

MARK SHIELDS: ... did not pay off for the country.

DAVID BROOKS: It didn't, because the world changed, and what we've had when this decentralized sort of enemy is a different sort of enemy -- in some ways, to be fair to Rumsfeld, he was very cutting-edge on technological matters. He is not a stick in the mud, whatever you can accuse him of. He's not someone who believes in doing things the old-fashioned way.

But I don't think he quite -- and, to be fair, I'm not sure any of us quite guessed what is actually happening in the world and the kind of enemy we face. There are people in the Pentagon -- George Packer, in the New Yorker, current New Yorker, has an essay on this -- people within the Pentagon talking about the need for anthropologists to understand the culture of Iraq.

And that's something the Pentagon in general, and I think Rumsfeld in particular, had some trouble with.

MARK SHIELDS: Rumsfeld -- don't forget this. Rumsfeld didn't trust anybody else outside his shop, so he creates his own intelligence operation within the secretary of defense's office. I mean, there was a micromanagement, the total control, the mistrust.

He cut State out. I mean, he was a brilliant infighter. I mean, elbows as sharp as knives. And, you know, the fact is -- and the relationship with Vice President Cheney goes back a long way. It wasn't just in those five minutes we saw with Margaret tonight. It goes way back.

And they were the alliance. They were the coalition that really did forge policy and did exclude State and National Security.

DAVID BROOKS: Just one more thing to spread the blame a little, I mean, the relationship with Cheney is key. One little story that's I think in Bob Woodward's book, there's a woman named Meghan O'Sullivan, who was an Iraq expert. She was going to be involved in the postwar planning before the war.

Cheney and Rumsfeld got her removed from the planning, though she knows a lot about Iraq, because she was not on board, I think, with Chalabi, one of the people they wanted to install. She had a dissenting voice. She was kicked off, sidelined, and that sort of thing just sends a message.

And so, you know, Cheney was involved. And, to be fair, the president, for all this time, he's the boss, and he should have done something.

Iraq Study Group report

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
[President Bush is] going through sort of the reflective considerations one might have expected before the war, not in the middle of the carnage and chaos we're currently confronting.

JIM LEHRER: Meanwhile, the Iraq Study Group, what's happened to it? And its recommendations, where are we with that, two weeks later?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the debate has been changed. I think that the specific recommendations -- the president obviously has decided that he wants to minimize its impact by delaying his response.

JIM LEHRER: And having his own listening tour.

MARK SHIELDS: And his own listening tour. I mean, the president, who I think one could argue legitimately rushed into war in rather rash -- "the decider," the man of great conviction, that he states and abides by, now all of a sudden has turned deliberative and contemplative on us.

And he's going through sort of the reflective considerations one might have expected before the war, not in the middle of the carnage and chaos we're currently confronting.

DAVID BROOKS: He did take a year and a half to go to war. In any case, on the Iraq Study Group, I would say it is fading. The White House has not embraced it.

Certainly, talking to Iran they don't believe in. The Republicans in general don't think that the road to peace in Baghdad leads through Jerusalem. They just think that's a flawed strategy.

The Iraqis are certainly contemptuous of it; they certainly don't like it. And the Democrats have not embraced it; they've been sort of lukewarm about it.

So I think, when you look back on the lasting effect of the Iraq Study Group, I think it will have prolonged our presence in Iraq, because I think, after the election, people could have said, "The voters sent a message. Let's get out of Iraq."

Then you had the likes of Republican Senator Gordon Smith saying, "I'm at the end of my rope." Without the Iraq Study Group, you could really kind of brought kind of momentum, "We're out of here." But the Iraq Study Group froze the debate for a month, and then said, you know, slow, gradual withdrawal. And so I think, perversely, the end effect was to keep us there longer.

JIM LEHRER: You buy that?

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't, for this reason. I think that everything else David has cited has been partisan; what we're seeing is a political inevitability about this, and you can see it in Republicans. It's not simply Gordon Smith.

I mean, any Republican this week -- and that's every Republican -- who looks at those numbers says, "My goodness gracious. I mean"...

JIM LEHRER: The numbers, you mean the numbers...

MARK SHIELDS: I'm talking about the confidence in the party, just...

JIM LEHRER: And these poll numbers, poll numbers.

MARK SHIELDS: The poll numbers, just the generic match-up, Jim, of, "Would you vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2008 or Republican, if the election were today?" It's 46 percent to 28 percent.

Now, there's no election today, but the idea that the Republican Party is down at 28 percent. And that means this is the George Bush legacy. This is Iraq, and that's what's going to drive it.

Rejecting the recommendations

David Brooks
New York Times
I just don't believe there is a consensus position. Those kind of panels work like, in Social Security, when there's basically already a consensus, you just need to build up political willpower. But on this there is no consensus.

JIM LEHRER: The whole point -- the Iraq Study Group people said their whole point was to try to arouse a consensus, in Congress and among the American people, to do about Iraq. Is that possible now?

DAVID BROOKS: You know, I thought more accurate display of the debate was a panel you had on a couple nights ago with six or eight different experts. I think Fred Kagan was there, Peter Galbraith and various other people. They disagreed. There is no consensus. A leader is going to have to pick one and not the other.

I just don't believe there is a consensus position. Those kind of panels work like, in Social Security, when there's basically already a consensus, you just need to build up political willpower. But on this there is no consensus. People are disagreeing.

MARK SHIELDS: I think that this is the only bipartisan advice George W. Bush is going to get in a terribly partisan debate. I mean, those were real Republicans on there.

I mean, anybody who knows anything about the Reagan administration and knows the bitter enmity that existed between Jim Baker and Ed Meese, and it was a gulf. It was wide. And if we have time for an anecdote, Andy Card...

JIM LEHRER: We don't. We don't.

MARK SHIELDS: We don't. OK, then we'll save it for another...

JIM LEHRER: All right. For a tote bag, they can have the answer.

Right, no, but, in a nutshell, I mean, you don't think consensus is going to grow out of this, either, right?

MARK SHIELDS: I don't think...

JIM LEHRER: You think somebody has to make a decision and get out?

MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I mean, the president has always had the final decision, but I think the pressure is built, and I think it's helped to build the pressure.

JIM LEHRER: And I have deep pressure on me to say good night to both of you.