May 2004
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Day May 6, 2004

Will Rumsfeld resign?

The scandal over prisoner abuses in Iraq is well documented and I’m not going to comment other than to acknowledge the moral, ethical, and strategic damage this has done. Those interested in a fuller discussion should read Kevin Drum or Josh Marshall for running news and commentary.

I do find the growing controversy over Rumsfeld interesting. Widespread speculation that he’s finished is off the mark. Unless he resigns voluntarily (which is unlikely), he’s not going to be fired. As a cabinet officer, the Secretary of Defence requires Senate confirmation upon appointment. This means that firing Rumsfeld will create a confirmation hearing circus just as election season kicks into high gear. Confirmation hearings aren’t going to be fast — opponents of the Administration’s policies and the war in general will see to that — and will at least overlap with the Conventions this summer. If not longer — if you were a Senate Democrat, wouldn’t you try to make sure the hearings lasted until Labor Day?

In order to gain a “quick” and trouble-free confirmation, the Administration would have to appoint a Sec Def from outside administration and republican circles. But even then, doing so would be a signal of past mistakes and an admission of weakness. And there’s no guarantee that Senate Democrats wouldn’t use the occasion to drive further damage to the President’s approval ratings. In fact, you can pretty much count on that.

I can’t imagine — regardless of who is nominated — that the confirmation process won’t become (a) a bully pulpit for opponents of the Administration during a key period during the election campaign, and (b) a situation where even supporters of the Administration will have to distance themselves in order not to screw up their own re-election campaigns. Which means that confirmation would be a bloody, messy fight which would hurt nearly everyone on the Republican side. Not to mention further polarize Democrats and Republicans as independents and undecideds figure out which side is worse.

Much as Democrats might want that fight, it’s not going to happen, and it could be dangerous even to folks who think they’ve got the high ground. My prediction — The White House isn’t going to risk it. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to see Rummy and the whole gang turning the key in their U-Hauls next January, but I think we’ll have to clean house all at once in November. There aren’t going to be any early Christmas presents this year.