Thursday, September 22, 2005


My tea leaves were wrong

I have always trusted tea leaves over other prognosticators, but they have failed me so badly this time that I am seriously considering a switch to chicken bones. You see, on March 16—that auspicious date that falls between the Ides and St. Paddy's—I predicted the political demise of Donald Rumsfeld based on my reading of the tea leaves and incontrovertible logic. More precisely, I said he would be out by summer's end. Now he appears to be running the country.

I will not pretend that I know how this has come to be. I still believe the omens in March were not good for Rumsfeld. But the fact is that Dick Cheney has gone into a bit of an eclipse as Donald Rumsfeld strides about the world stage.

What's with Cheney?

I've seen various speculations on the cause of Cheney's absence from the news: (1) Cheney's health is failing, (2) Bush and Cheney are on the outs, and/or (3) Cheney is a target in Plamegate and is dropping back before the manure hits the spreader.

Nora Ephron is among those responsible for the speculation that Cheney and Bush—or Cheney and Rove—have fallen out. Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft furthered the speculation with this bit of gossip—

A few months ago, I heard of a lunch conversation that Cheney had with a political type in Wyoming. I have no idea if it's true or not, but it makes some sense. Here's the tale:

Cheney has been getting tired of being called upon to fix Bush's mistakes. Cheney said Bush is almost incapable of making any decision. He waffles and waffles. Then, once he makes a decision, he refuses to change it. Because of his born-again faith, he says "It's in the hands of G-d now" and washes his hands of it. Then Cheney is called in to repair the damage.

If this story is even remotely true, this may have been the final straw for Cheney, and he decided to let Bush try to wiggle his way out of his Katrina inaction on his own. Cheney's re-emergence this week may be the result of his fellow Republicans begging him to return to save Bush for the sake of the party.

But I also don't discount that Cheney may be in deep doo-doo of his own over RoveGate. Now, that would be something.

While I can well believe that Cheney views Bush as beneath contempt, I find it hard to believe he would allow such personal feelings to get in the way of running the world—or at least U.S. foreign policy. My vote goes to Theory #1—that Cheney's health has put him hors de combat. On Saturday Cheney is to have surgery for an aneurysm of an artery behind his knee. Such an aneurysm, a ballooning of the artery wall, cannot be taken lightly.

Another reason for my belief is this description by Mike Allen of Cheney's role in deciding whether there should be a "hurricane czar."

... the idea of a superpowerful hurricane guy hit a major obstacle: Vice President Dick Cheney, who--eight days after Katrina made landfall--was put in charge of assessing whether the Administration was meeting its goals in the relief effort.

G.O.P. officials say Cheney opposed a czar largely out of his affection for standard operating procedure. But a presidential adviser tells TIME that Cheney was also concerned that the new office would invite more meddling by Congress and create another power center. "If you appoint a czar and he doesn't get what he wants, like if you start to tamp down the spending, all he has to do is go to the press and create sympathy for his viewpoint and make it difficult for the President," the adviser says. Bush and his inner circle agreed, with little debate, top aides said.

This doesn't sound like a man who has fallen from power.

And what of Rumsfeld?

Asia Times ran an article today by Jim Lobe of Interpress News, "Coalition down but not out," in which he considers the current state of the Neocon coalition. Lobe notes one problem that Rumsfeld has had within the group—

Sensing that Rumsfeld, in particular, was not committed to using the kind of overwhelming force - and keeping it there - necessary for "transforming" Iraq (and the region), Kristol and Kagan, among other neo-conservatives, began attacking the defence secretary and have repeatedly called for his resignation.

Moreover, their tactical alliance with "liberal internationalists" - mostly Democrats - in appealing for the resources required for "nation-building" has, by many accounts, deeply offended Rumsfeld and other "assertive nationalists" in and outside the administration.

Lobe views other events of the administration much as I did when I was predicting Rumsfeld's demise—

Some in turn have blamed neo-conservatives for deluding themselves and Bush into thinking that US troops would be greeted with "sweets and flowers" in Iraq. The exile of Wolfowitz to the World Bank and the resignation last summer of Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith should be seen in this light.

But Lobe doesn't answer the question: If Wolfowitz and Feith were "exiled," why not Rumsfeld? He was certainly equally deserving for "misreading" the U.S.' welcome in Iraq and so far as I know is singlehandedly responsible for the dearth of troops on the ground.

Instead of resigning, Rumsfeld's roles and power expanded. Ultimately the Pentagon is taking charge of hurricane relief operations. And while Condi Rice plays wet nurse to Bush, Rumsfeld is strutting about as though he were running the State Department, or the Presidency.

In October Rumsfeld is off to China. Asia Pulse reported,

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld will visit China next month, Admiral William J. Fallon, commander of US Pacific Command, said in Beijing yesterday.

It would be Rumsfeld's first visit to China since assuming office in 2001, but the specific timing and schedule has not been decided yet, Fallon said.

According to Fallon, Bush will visit China following Rumsfeld's trip.

The UPI gives a bit more background and shows how important a role Rumsfeld is playing—

William J. Fallon made the announcement after meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Wednesday, Xinhua reported Thursday. He said Rumsfeld would meet with China's defense minister as part of a U.S. effort to ease tensions and expand military ties with China.

Rumsfeld broke off military contacts with China in 2001 following a midair collision between a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese fighter. China blamed the United States for the incident and detained the crew for 11 days.

And last week Rumsfeld was in Berlin to instruct the countries of Old Europe on what their role as NATO allies should be in Afghanistan.

To understand how big he's gotten for his britches, consider this snippet from his Berlin news conference—

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Will Dunham with Reuters.

Is the United States considering reducing American forces in Afghanistan by about 20 percent, roughly 4,000? And do you agree with the notion that as the number of NATO forces in Afghanistan increases and Afghan security forces become more capable, the number of U.S. forces could be reduced?

RUMSFELD: This question comes up periodically and I find that the answer, I almost feel like you could flip a switch in my back and give the same answer.

The first part of the answer is that the only people that are going to increase or decrease U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan will be the President of the United States or me, and it will result from recommendations from the field commanders.

The second part of the answer is we constantly are asking our field commanders to look at the situation, see what the conditions are, and then we ask our planners in the Pentagon, in the services, to look at various levels of forces -- higher, same, lower -- and we have been increasing or decreasing them as the circumstances required for some number of years now.

If and when there is any decision to reduce forces, I will announce it. In the mean time, you're going to see all kinds of people looking at all different kinds of scenarios. I mean right now we've increased forces in Afghanistan because of the Afghan election. We did the same thing for the presidential election in Afghanistan. I think you're just chasing the wrong rabbit, frankly.

I still believe that Rumsfeld would make an excellent sacrificial lamb. And I cannot imagine that he will not fall from grace. But when? Oh when?

Related posts
Wolfie to World Bank; Rummy to oblivion? (updated) (3/16/05)
U.S. ambassador to Turkey resigns, contemplates more mischief (3/22/05)

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