Donald Rumsfeld just got the Michael Brown treatment.
One moment he was doing a heckuva job. The next minute, he was out as secretary of defense, just as Brown was out as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In Brown's case, it took the disastrous fallout from Hurricane Katrina for President Bush to cut him loose, after first lavishing him with praise. In Rumsfeld's case, hurricane strength rage at Bush and his Iraq war policy swept through the country on Election Day. Angry voters tossed Republicans out of office. This time, the winds of change rattled the White House, too, and Rumsfeld had to go.
Last week, Bush said Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were doing "fantastic" jobs. At a press conference yesterday, the president explained that statement by saying he did not want to inject "a major military decision" into Tuesday's election. Win or lose on Election Day, Bush insisted, Rumsfeld would be leaving because the situation in Iraq needed "fresh eyes."
But, the "fresh eyes" came quickly after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives . The timing made it look like Bush was responding to an angry electorate and its demand for change.
What this means in the short term for Iraq war policy is less clear than the election results or even Rumsfeld's departure might indicate.
Bush said he understands that with Tuesday's vote, "America's saying, 'Come home.' " But, the president insisted, he is still "committed to victory." If the goal of Democrats "is to get out now, that's going to be hard to do together. Is America going to leave? No, it's not."
Clearly, the power shift in Congress dramatically changes the dynamic for the Bush White House. But even some anti war Democrats don't see a quick end to war or even a consensus about how to end it.
"My first hope is that my friends don't think tomorrow we're coming home" from Iraq , said US Representative Michael Capuano of Massachusetts, a war opponent from the outset of the Iraq invasion. ". . . As always, the public is way ahead of elected officials." According to Capuano, there's no majority "yet" for a proposal by US Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania to redeploy troops from Iraq to border countries. During a conversation that took place before the Rumsfeld announcement, Capuano predicted debate in Congress on military appropriations and a push to oust Rumsfeld. Bush obviously preempted the second part of the plan.
Just like the country, the Massachusetts delegation does not walk in lock-step when it comes to Iraq. US Representative Barney Frank believes that Tuesday's election results "will lead George Bush to redefine victory and start getting out." Fellow Republicans will force him in that direction, predicted Frank, by telling the president "you cannot take us into 2008 with this around our necks." Democrats, said Frank, can also "help George Bush out of Iraq" via investigations that show how badly the war was planned and executed.
Part of the Democrats' problem is that the voter rage at Bush and his Iraq war policy produced some contradictory election outcomes.
"The rage toward our president proved insurmountable," said Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Republican senator from Rhode Island who lost to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. In this case, voters turned against Chafee even though he didn't vote for Bush or to approve the invasion of Iraq.
In Connecticut, US Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat who supports the war, lost a primary election to anti war challenger Ned Lamont. However, in the general election, Lieberman, who ran as an independent, beat Lamont. Although he moderated his comments somewhat about Iraq, saying he wants to bring the troops home as soon as possible, Lieberman did not back down from his basic support of the war. Neither did Christopher Shays, a Republican congressman from Connecticut, who also won re election. Shays became one of a few Republicans to call for Rumsfeld's resignation and also suggested a timeline for troop withdrawal.
The real message of the election is something less than a call for immediate withdrawal. But voters clearly want to begin the process of extricating this country from Iraq.
In the interests of self-preservation, Bush quickly decided the first step was extricating Rumsfeld from the Pentagon.
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