© 2024 Eddyburg

The buck stops where?
18 Agosto 2005
Articoli del 2004
Le ragioni per cui il Ministro della difesa USA non può restare. E Bush? Secondo Rumsfeld, tutti sapevano. L'articolo dell'Economist (qui in lingua originale) è tradotto sul Foglio del 9 maggio 2004, con altre interessanti informazioni

GEORGE BUSH is famously loyal to those closest to him. But that loyalty came under perhaps its greatest ever strain this week, as calls mounted for the resignation or dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, over the torture and humiliation of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The president has so far resisted these calls. He scolded Mr Rumsfeld on Wednesday May 5th, saying he should have known more, sooner, about the abuses. But on Thursday he called Mr Rumsfeld “a really good secretary of defence” and said he would remain in the cabinet.

Mr Rumsfeld has many enemies. He won grudging admiration from the press and many Americans for his straight-talking briefings during the Iraq war, even though he was never exactly shy about refusing to answer questions. He looked smart when American-led forces routed the Iraqi army even faster than expected. Since the war’s end, however, he has come under increasing fire for his perceived failure to plan sufficiently for peacekeeping and rebuilding. He had expected to reduce the number of American troops in Iraq to mere tens of thousands by late 2003, anticipating that grateful Iraqis would shoulder the burden of security. This turns out to have been wildly optimistic. Some 135,000 Americans are still stationed in the country.

Within the administration, too, he is a divisive figure. He is one of the closest advisers to Mr Bush (alongside Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Dick Cheney, the vice-president). But his differences with Colin Powell, the secretary of state, are well known. Mr Powell urged Mr Bush to seek United Nations backing for the Iraq war, while Mr Rumsfeld disdained such a move. When “senior administration officials” criticise the Pentagon anonymously in newspapers, they are believed often to be from the State Department, and occasionally Mr Powell himself.

Rivalries between the diplomats at the State Department and the warriors of the Pentagon are nothing new. And despite setbacks in Iraq, most Americans approved of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war until recently. But during the disasters of April, in which more American soldiers were killed than during the main fighting of the war in 2003, poll numbers slipped. And after pictures of the Abu Ghraib abuses came to light, they slipped further—according to a new Gallup poll, 55% of Americans now disapprove of Mr Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq, with only 42% approving. What had long seemed the president’s biggest political strength—his role as a war leader—may be becoming a liability. (Meanwhile, strong jobs numbers for April released on Friday, coming on top of good figures for March, may make what had been the president’s biggest liability—the economy—his biggest hope. It will be scant comfort to Mr Rumsfeld, but if he is fired, he will be rejoining a relatively buoyant labour market.)

The decision not to sack Mr Rumsfeld is a gamble. Ditching one of the president’s closest advisers would be a sign of weakness and defeat just six months before an election, something Mr Bush is understandably keen to avoid. But keeping the tainted Mr Rumsfeld could be just as dangerous, both at home and abroad. The media smell blood: the influential New York Times has called for Mr Rumsfeld’s head (as has The Economist—see article).

Moreover, by offering words but not deeds, Mr Bush may appear to the Muslim world to be showing only false contrition. In two interviews with Arabic television stations on Wednesday, he called the goings-on at Abu Ghraib “abhorrent” but did not apologise, a fact not lost on media commentators. The next day, Mr Bush changed tack, telling reporters he had said the magic word, “sorry”, in a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan.

But in the electrified political atmosphere of an election year, “sorry” alone may not be enough. Predictably, John Kerry, Mr Bush’s Democratic rival in November’s election, has called for Mr Rumsfeld’s resignation, as has the leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Republican congressmen, naturally, have been more circumspect. But many are said to be furious that they did not learn about Abu Ghraib before the press, given that the first accusations of abuse had been made in January.

When Mr Rumsfeld appeared before a Senate panel on Friday, the legislators’ own wounded pride at being kept in the dark was evident, with the defence secretary being put through some aggressive questioning—most notably from fellow Republican John McCain. Mr Rumsfeld offered a clear apology, as did the military men seated with him. He also accepted full personal responsibility, but gave no indication that he planned to resign. He referred repeatedly to ongoing military investigations into the abuse of prisoners, suggesting that he and his colleagues wanted to get to the bottom of the accusations as much as the committee did.

For opponents of the war and of the United States around the world, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib fits into a pattern. Just before the revelations of abuse in Iraq, the Bush administration found itself before the Supreme Court defending its stance in other cases involving prisoners. Several hundred men captured in Afghanistan remain in prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and the administration claims they have no right to a trial. More controversially for Americans, two American citizens, José Padilla (the alleged “dirty bomber”) and Yaser Hamdi, captured in Afghanistan, have been declared enemy combatants and held incommunicado without trial for over a year. The Supreme Court will rule on all of these cases this summer.

Mr Bush insists that the abuses of Abu Ghraib do not represent America’s soul, but for many, both at home and abroad, they are not as isolated as he would like to believe. If the outcry is sustained, or if new lurid details emerge—the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said at Friday's hearing that there are photos and videos yet unseen—offering up Mr Rumsfeld may be the president’s only choice.


© 2024 Eddyburg