Almost every account of the mess in Iraq today places the blame on Donald Rumsfeld, who resigned as US Secretary of Defence in the wake of the electoral rout of the Republican party this week. In his book, State of Denial, Bob Woodward revealed that Mr Bush’s former chief of staff, Andrew Card, had tried to have Mr Rumsfeld replaced more than a year before the 2004 presidential elections. Instead, Mr Card quit earlier this year, frustrated by the ways of the Cheney-Bush team. In announcing his departure on Wednesday, Mr Bush again insisted that Mr Rumsfeld had done a great job. This refusal to acknowledge Mr Rumsfeld’s flawed leadership of the Defence Department is going to cost the US and its President heavy.
In democracies, the relationship between the civil and military bureaucracies is always a sensitive one. While civilian supremacy is a must, the uniformed personnel must have enough room to freely exercise their professional judgment. Any effort to tilt the balance usually leads to disaster. This is what happened in the 1960-62 period when Krishna Menon was India’s Defence Minister, and this is what has happened in the US in the last six years. Mr Rumsfeld insisted that the Iraq war could be won with half as many troops as army generals recommended. As a result, the US failed to consolidate its military victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces. The cronies Mr Rumsfeld sent to run the post-war reconstruction of Iraq compounded the problems by dissolving the defeated Iraqi army and banning the Ba’ath party cadres from taking up government jobs. He severely undermined the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and disrupted the relationship between the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence services.
Mr Rumsfeld’s departure is only the prelude to what will be a major change in America’s Iraq strategy. Whether or not the US can salvage anything from the Iraq fiasco, only the future can tell. His successor’s first job, however, is to put Humpty Dumpty together again.