The Rumsfeld Dilemma: Demand an Exit Strategy, Not a Facelift

In the last 10 days Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative John Murtha have introduced resolutions in the Senate and House calling upon President Bush to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Though many on the left have greeted these resolutions with hosannas, they nonetheless fail to advance a progressive position and they send a counterproductive message. They fail to pin the blame where it belongs--on the President and his policies. Instead, we propose a resolution demanding a detailed exit strategy for the occupation of Iraq.

We understand the spirit of the resolutions and the frustrations that spawned them. And we appreciate the courage that both of these politicians have long demonstrated on the Iraq issue. Sen. Boxer said her motive was to "have a voice instead of sitting back." We applaud the effort of any progressive politician to find her voice--even with quixotic resolutions--so long as that voice is advancing the causes for which she stands. But here it does not.

Two fundamental problems exist with these resolutions:

1) In large part, they focus on logistical issues such as body armor, troop levels, post-war planning, and the like, or even on the horror of Abu Ghraib, rather than the bigger issue of the disastrous war and occupation into which Bush misled the nation. 2) By pointing the finger at Rumsfeld, they deflect blame from Bush's neo-conservative agenda. It is that agenda that drew the nation to Iraq, that has distracted from a smarter struggle against terrorists and terrorism, that has resulted in the erosion of our civil liberties, that has incurred the wrath of the international community.

Identifying Rumsfeld as the problem reinforces the "bad apple frame," which is among the common frames we examine in our new book, Thinking Points. This frame derives from the old saying that one bad apple spoils the barrel. The implication is that if you get rid of that one bad apple, the rest of the apples in the barrel will be fine. Replacing Rumsfeld is hardly a solution to the problem. Every apple remaining in the Bush administration barrel will be no less rotten when he is removed.

In fact, suppose that in response to these resolutions Bush actually did fire Rumsfeld. What would that do to the voices of the progressive leaders, some of whom are in the midst of electoral campaigns, who have been speaking out against Iraq policy and the entire Bush foreign policy agenda? It would silence those voices amidst the clamor caused by the firing of a Secretary of Defense and speculation over his replacement. The real issues of Iraq would temporarily fade from public debate. Bush could even falsely signal a new direction in Iraq by floating names of candidates who might be less personally objectionable than Rumsfeld. Those who pushed Rumsfeld to the brink would have unwittingly contributed to yet another political victory for the far right.

We offer an alternative. Present a resolution, the preamble of which clearly describes our current presence in Iraq as an occupation. Demand that Bush submit to Congress within 60 days a clear and detailed plan to conclude the occupation. Require the plan to identify the specific objectives that remain to be accomplished before the occupation can end, the strategies to be employed to accomplish those objectives, and the criteria that will be used to measure whether the objectives have been accomplished. Insist that Bush offer reasonable estimates of the expected costs to be incurred to complete the occupation's goals and the means by which those costs will be paid. We have posted a sample resolution on

The benefits of such a resolution would be several:

• It challenges the policy at the heart of the problem, rather than a person. • It would focus on something that almost everyone agrees is necessary: an exit strategy. • It would appeal to progressives and conservatives alike who believe in accountability because it would require accountability both as to goals and costs. • And it would continue the important frame shift from war to occupation. (For more on the significance of this frame shift, see our article "Occupation: The Inconvenient Truth about Iraq" on our website).

Progressives have too long played into the hands of conservatives. Let's not do it again on the all-important issue of Iraq.