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Flashback: Rumsfeld Celebrated, Aspin Slandered

December 15, 2006

As he exits the Pentagon stage, outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shows once again that for the Bush White House, nothing succeeds like failure. In an elaborate ceremony carried live on all the cable news networks, President Bush and Vice President Cheney feted the disgraced Defense Secretary with glowing words, military pomp and even a 19 gun salute. "This man knows how to lead and he did," Bush declared, "and the country is better off for it."
But while the media coverage featured Bush's lavish praise for his failed Pentagon chief, not a word was spoken about another one-time Defense Secretary who found himself under fire. Rumsfeld, it seems, will not be held to the GOP's "Les Aspin Standard." That is, decisions that needlessly cost American lives in battle cost defense secretaries their jobs, but apparently only if Bill Clinton is president.
As I wrote in "Rumsfeld and the Aspin Test" back in 2004:
There should, of course, be no doubt about the need Rumsfeld's departure. His arrogant, flippant responses to the troops ("you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time") are just the tip of the iceberg. His Pentagon mangled the Iraq reconstruction, turning its back on the State Department (which happened to have the only plan in town) and turning instead to Ahmed Chalabi. The Abu Ghraib scandal and Rumsfeld's complicity in setting interrogation practices stained America around the world. Worse still, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz refused Army requests for more troops prior to the Iraq invasion, ridiculing as "far off the mark" General Eric Shinseki's February 2003 Congressional testimony about the occupation's need for "several hundreds of thousands" of troops.
18 months and 1,200 American dead later, troops still lack body armor and hardened vehicles, units are being rotated back to Iraq, and stop-loss orders and the call-up of retired servicemen show an American military stretched beyond the breaking point. Flawed strategy, a lack of planning and a refusal to provide needed equipment to save the lives of U.S. troops on the ground should be more than sufficient for Rumsfeld's resignation or sacking.
In 1993, of course, it took much less for Republicans to drive out the Secretary of Defense. Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense Les Aspin assumed ownership of George H.W. Bush's December 1992 Somalia intervention . But it was Aspin who came under withering assault for the disasterous Black Hawk Down episode in Mogadishu, Somalia in October 1993 that left 18 Rangers dead and 84 wounded. That September, Aspin turned down General Thomas Montgomery's request for armored reinforcements to protect U.S. troops from growing attacks by the forces of Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid. (Note that Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell reportedly also refused to provide additional AC-130 gunships.)
Aspin's refusal to provide the armor led to an all-out GOP assault. New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato led the way, stating that, "he should be fired now, he should resign now, and if he doesn't resign, then the president should remove him." Congressional Republicans called for Aspin's resignation, and Newt Gingrich called for hearings to determine if field commanders are given "the support they need."
Events moved rapidly from there. On October 7, 1993, President Clinton called for a U.S. withdrawal by March 31, 1994. In December, Les Aspin resigned. A year and a half later, Les Aspin died from a stroke.
Donald Rumsfeld obviously failed the Aspin Test. Where was Alphonse D'Amato when we needed him?


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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