Salute, or go

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

Salute or go, Mr. Secretary

Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense, needs to do a better job of saluting President Bush, and if he doesn't, the president should call him in and say something like this:

"Don, my friend, you haven't been doing very well in your job lately, and you aren't going to do well in it in the future, because it is a job you no longer have."

The president insisted in a recent interview that he was in charge of his administration, but it certainly hasn't sounded like it lately.

He had announced, to the relief of many, that he was putting his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, in charge of Iraq reconstruction.

After all, it had been going miserably under the Pentagon's tutelage, perhaps not unexpectedly. The Pentagon is the center of a great fighting machine, not a great rebuilding machine.

But no sooner had the news of a new sense of White House urgency hit the headlines than Rumsfeld was saying there wasn't really a rearrangement, just some minor, trivial stuff going on.

If somehow Rumsfeld felt wounded by the president's action, he should have taken it up with Bush personally, and then agreed to go along or get out.

His remarks gave the world a show of disarray, which wasn't lost even on members of the president's own party. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among those expressing concern.

Lugar is a serious man, and he wasn't talking in a TV interview merely about image. He was talking the very real need to carry out the mission in Iraq successfully, and that's crucial.

If we get it wrong, American lives may have been lost to no good purpose; the dangers of the Saddam Hussein era may re-emerge.

If we get it right, we will have put an important portion of the world on the road to democracy and prosperity, which in turn will reduce the threats of terrorism.

Rumsfeld is a man of large capabilities, and his decisiveness and no-frills manner have been national assets in a difficult time. A thin skin could diminish his usefulness to the point of his becoming a national liability.

Bush, meanwhile, needs to understand that being in charge means more than saying he is in charge. It might mean telling some people they have different roles now, that they need to shut up and that if they don't, they are fired.

Birmingham Post-Herald

October 17, 2003