The Pentagon's Pope
Monday 27 October 2003
The troubles besetting Donald Rumsfeld, who is still the US secretary of defence, continue to grow. The blundering Pentagon chief was in hot water again last week over a series of church and prayer breakfast speeches made by his deputy under-secretary for intelligence, Lieutenant-General William Boykin. Among other things, Gen Boykin, an evangelical Christian, said that the US "war on terror" was a "spiritual battle" between a Christian nation and Satan and that God picked George Bush to be president.
Talking about a Muslim militant in Somalia who had claimed Allah's protection, Gen Boykin said he knew that would not work because "I knew my god was bigger than his. I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol." In the ensuing furore, Mr Rumsfeld declined to repudiate Gen Boykin's remarks, let alone sack him. Mr Bush, tackled on the issue by irate Muslim clerics in Bali, was obliged to state that the US was not fighting a war against Islam and that Gen Boykin's views did not reflect his administration's policy. Embarrassing the president in front of foreigners is considered a cardinal sin in Washington. Mr Rumsfeld may yet repent it at leisure.
Troubles rarely arrive singly. The Pentagon was sent to battle stations again after being accused of ignoring a pre-war state department study of Iraq. The study warned that US troops would not be seen as liberators, that serious security problems would ensue and that Iraq's reconstruction needs were being underestimated. Many of the study's predictions have turned out to be only too accurate, unlike the overly optimistic pre-war analysis peddled by Mr Rumsfeld. But he would brook no opposition then, as now. The experienced army chief, Gen Eric Shinseki, was ridiculed for claiming that too few troops were being sent to Iraq. Mr Rumsfeld sacked another dissident, army secretary Thomas White, who has since effectively accused him and his officials of misleading the nation about Iraq and failing to get a grip there. He has minimised the concerns of serving US soldiers and reservists. Little wonder a nervous White House has moved to curb Mr Rumsfeld's powers.
A newly leaked Rumsfeld memo suggests the beleaguered defence secretary may be finally coming round to the notion of his own fallibility. He now admits Iraq will be a "long, hard slog" and wonders whether the "war on terror" is being lost. He now suspects, belatedly, that a long-term, non-military strategy is lacking. And he asks his top advisers to suggest what he should do. Given his record of blunders, the answer is obvious.
Jump to TO Features for Wednesday 29 October 2003