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Rumsfeld and the Aspin Test

December 13, 2004

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comments to U.S. troops last week highlight once again the need for new leadership at the Pentagon. But while some Republicans are finally beginning to raise doubts about Rumsfeld, they have yet to hold him 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.
John McCain, who sold his soul to George Bush in order to boost his own 2008 presidential bid, has in essence called for Rumsfeld's ouster. Asked about his confidence in the secretary's leadership, McCain snapped:

"I said no. My answer is still no. No confidence. I have strenuously argued for larger troop numbers in Iraq...There are very strong differences of opinion between myself and Secretary Rumsfeld on that issue."

Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel added his voice to the chorus of reason, noting:

"That soldier and those men and women [in uniform] deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment. I wonder what the parents of the men and women over there, sons and daughters who are fighting, I do not think that they appreciated that answer."

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.
Which brings us back to 2004. Donald Rumsfeld obviously fails the Aspin Test. Where is Alphonse D'Amato when you need him?


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

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