U.S., Iraq won’t miss Rummy

Change in policy must follow our change in secretary of defense.

Voters used last Tuesday’s midterm elections largely as a referendum on the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, and after losing both houses of Congress, hearing calls for resignation from eight retired generals, the Army Times and three other military newspapers, and dozens of politicians from both parties, it appears that President George W. Bush is finally beginning to understand that it’s time for a new approach. There will be no second chances in Iraq, but the long overdue ousting of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may be the closest we can hope for.

The litany of failures that led to Rumsfeld’s departure can be found everywhere: from the insistence on using an occupying force far smaller than military brass felt necessary, his cavalier indifference and lack of oversight in the Abu Ghraib scandal, or the single-minded dismissal of criticism to his approach despite the growing mountain of evidence that it was failing. But no amount of chiding Rumsfeld will change the situation he has left for our troops. We must look ahead if we want to salvage Iraq’s future.

Bush’s appointee Robert Gates is a longtime national security expert and a member of the Iraq Study Group, making him familiar with the intricacies of the situation. The bipartisan panel is expected to issue a report by the end of the year containing its recommendations for Iraq, and if Gates is confirmed, he would do well to listen to those recommendations. Gates’ supporters have cited his moderation in both temperament and foreign policy approach, two qualities sorely lacking in Rumsfeld. Gates has also argued that the United States should work with Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran, which the administration has preferred to ignore. Bush may have to swallow his pride and do just that if he wants to see Iraq’s fledgling government survive.

The complete victory that Bush still insists on looks to be out of reach at this late stage, but if any semblance of success is to be achieved in Iraq, Gates must do what his predecessor was incapable of: assess the situation honestly and make adjustments when things don’t work out as planned.