Is Rumsfeld on His Way out?

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How President George W. Bush fills the key post of secretary of defense will be one of the pivotal decisions defining the second term he inaugurates with pomp and pizzazz in Washington Thursday, January 20. Much as he may praise Donald Rumsfeld for his “excellent job”, the secretary is believed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources to be on his way out. The timing of his resignation – certainly not before Iraq’s January 30 election – depends on a choice of successor, for which the White House has been holding discreet contacts for weeks. That choice in turn depends on the president defining his end-game for Iraq and laying it out in clear policy guidelines.
A Democrat might be appointed to the post, in the same bipartisan way in which Republican William Cohen served as President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary.
A changing of the guard at the Pentagon amid the ferocious guerrilla war in Iraq will give the Bush administration a chance to review key policy goals:
1. Does the United States mean to persist in fighting a winning war in Iraq- as Bush keeps on declaring?
2. Do Washington and US military chiefs appreciate that guerrilla and terrorist wars cannot be fought to a clear-cut, victorious finish, that US forces will never fully control Iraq and that American influence over its diverse ethnic and religious communities will always be limited?
4. Will the Bush administration act on the conviction gaining ground among US strategists and commanders in Iraq that Sunni non-participation in the election holds the danger of civil war flaring soon after the election and that this flare-up could quickly degenerate into a religious conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims? Washington might decide this is the moment to withdraw US troops before they are dragged into battle by one side or the other.
4. Will Rumsfeld’s successor prefer alternatively to shore up US military gains in Iraq or prepare American forces for a staged pullout?
The guidelines required by the next Pentagon chief will be needed not only for Iraq but for the allied global war on terror. Bush’s inability to clearly chart the way forward so far deterred Senator John McCain from putting his name forward, although this Vietnam War hero would have been regarded by the president as an ideal candidate for the job.
The directives expected from the White House will also depend on the new secretary’s own input on fast-moving events stemming from the success or failure of the Iraq election. The US-led coalition and Iraqi command will deploy 300,000 troops to police Iraq’s streets and polling stations. According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, despite this presence, Iraqi guerrillas and al Qaeda fighters, massing in the area north of Fallujah and up to Mosul, are poised for a no-holds-barred offensive to disrupt voting and sabotage its outcome. Our sources add that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi’s group and insurgent commanders have set up a joint headquarters at Hit on the Euphrates midway between the two cities and, moreover, the incoming traffic of men and weapons from Syria has swelled in the last week.
The elected government that emerges from the election is generally expected to be Shiite-dominated and ruled through remote control by the most influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Beyond that, the prospects of a peaceable transition from the Allawi administration are hazy. Elected government in Baghdad may ask US-led coalition forces to stay on until stability is achieved. That prospect would be unpopular in America and alienate the people of Iraq given the constantly rising scale of terrorist violence and American and Iraqi casualties. The alternative hazard of civil war triggered by a Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad would on the other hand condemn the Bush administration’s entire Iraq policy to failure.

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