Rumsfeld’s Rumble with Hill

Scott Krummey

“Oh my goodness.”

While it is likely the Bush administration often shares this feeling in response to the daily attacks launched by its critics, this sense of disbelief was officially expressed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld this August – during the most salacious face-to-face showdown between the administration and its politically-motivated critics in recent memory.

In an Senate hearing, the always-opportunistic Senator Hillary Clinton’s “question” to Secretary Rumsfeld took the form of a robotic five minute long rant against the War in Iraq, to which Secretary Rumsfeld made his almost comical gasp of displeasure before delivering a characteristically pointed and direct rebuttal. While the exchange was ripe with political sensation, it also illustrated the ideological asymmetry between the Bush administration and its detractors.

It is undeniable that America still faces a sworn enemy in Islamists who vowed long ago to destroy Western culture and have backed their pledge up with many attacks over the last decade. Ironically for Hillary, the beginning of this effort – bombings in Kenya, Tanzania and Lebanon, a foiled airliner hijacking plot, attacks in Somalia and on the World Trade Center – occurred under President Clinton’s watch, and his retreat from dealing with them was a galvanizing event for Islamists around the world.

Since September 11, there have been attacks in Europe and another major hijacking plot. The grim but reasonable resulting world view, as stated by Secretary Rumsfeld in a recent interview, is that America is engaged in a “long struggle” against Islamists who are determined “to change the world and to destabilize the regimes in the Middle East, [and] to defeat Western culture.”

The core principles behind the Bush foreign policy in response to this threat – the doctrine of pre-emption, the neoconservative-inspired promotion of democracy, and the imminent clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, to name a few – were established far outside of Washington, and well before this administration came to power. The Bush administration should be better at defending their policies, because the value in establishing a democratic Iraq is widely documented.

Yet, for the duration of military operations in Iraq, President Bush and his administration have been unsuccessful in maintaining support for their policies, thanks largely to a bumbling and inconsistent response to criticisms. The dangerous reality is that America has forgotten the determination of our enemy, which has allowed the politically anti-war critics to muddy the perspective of many Americans. Much of American resolve on September 11, 2001, and the years following when the reality of the struggle was close to home has been sucked into the abyss of cynicism and hyper-nuanced anti-Bush banter, reducing the Bush doctrine to a wild-west-style adventure to change the world in the minds of many Americans.

Secretary Rumsfeld’s Rumble with Hill, devoid of the contradictions and unconvincing sentence structure of the President, was a refreshing spectacle. No doubt used to facing the hindsight charges of “mishandling,” the “need for accountability” and Hillary’s scathing allegation of “residing over a failed foreign policy,” Secretary Rumsfeld is the most effective high-level official at reducing criticisms to hot air and asserting the core principles that are often overlooked.

As well, any chance to watch that penetrating squint tear apart politically-charged criticism is, for my money, well worth the price of admission.