By Robert Parry
August 17, 2007
The disclosure that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned on Nov. 6, 2006 – the day before the election, not the day after as previously thought – means that he was pushed out of his job the same day he suggested a de-escalation of the Iraq War.
When Rumsfeld’s resignation was announced on Nov. 8, with both his resignation letter and his de-escalation memo still secret, it was widely assumed in Washington political circles that President George W. Bush was reacting to the stinging Republican electoral defeat on Nov. 7 and was appointing Robert Gates as an olive branch to the Democrats.
The reality now appears to be almost the exact opposite. Bush was preparing for an Iraq War escalation and was looking for a fresh face as Defense Secretary to buy him the necessary time to accomplish this extraordinary political maneuver. Bush also may have recognized the damage that might have come if Rumsfeld’s war doubts became known.
The Rumsfeld memo was kept under wraps for almost a month, finally appearing in the New York Times on Dec. 3, 2006, and his resignation letter was withheld from the public until revealed by Reuters and other news agencies on Aug. 15. Normally, resignation letters are released routinely when the official’s departure is announced.
Yet, because Rumsfeld had grown so unpopular with many Democrats, his post-election departure was greeted with relief and approval, not probing questions. Wishful thinking prevailed about Bush possibly making major concessions on the war. The euphoria continued even when Bush began to signal his “surge” plans at the end of November.
In Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 30, Bush said he had no interest in the gradual troop withdrawals that the bipartisan Iraq Study Group was expected to urge. Bush said American forces would “stay in Iraq to get the job done,” adding “this business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”
Though Rumfeld’s memo leaked only a few days later, Democratic senators still handled Gates with kid gloves at his confirmation hearing on Dec. 5. Sen. Hillary Clinton and other Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee praised Gates for his “candor.”
Since Gates – a former CIA director – had been a member of the Iraq Study Group, many Democrats assumed that he would help implement its troop drawdown plan, despite the President’s belligerent tone. Skeptical reporting about Gates and his likely role was confined mostly to Internet sites, like Consortiumnews.com. [See our “Who Is Bob Gates?” Archive.]
As it turned out, Gates has served Bush well, implementing the troop “surge” in early 2007 and deflecting public anger about the war escalation by presenting himself as, stylistically, less confrontational than Rumsfeld.
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