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No blank check for Donald Rumsfeld

Practical Idealism weighs the Rumsfeld matter

May 10, 2004

No blank check for Donald Rumsfeld

A Practical Idealist makes a contingent call about the fate
of our U.S. Defense Secretary.

By John Kusumi

Practical Idealism is not a political party, but rather a political standpoint that arose in Generation X. We are without candidates vying for office or appointments. Rather, we take on the question, "What does government look like on a good day? How would it be managed if people were important?" That last phrase is present, not out of sarcasm or cynicism, but because the Practical Idealist clarion theme, ever since its appearance on bumper stickers in 1984, is that "People Are Important."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has a likeability quality to him, a depth of experience, and a certain geekiness that I find endearing. He is known to be smart and detail oriented, with a strength that I have admired in his hawkishness on China. It was others in the administration, not Rumsfeld, who early in this term dashed the hope that hawkishness would prevail in U.S.-China policy.

I can declare that I value hawks on China, and that there are others in the administration whom I might denounce before Rumsfeld. In fact I did so in my capacity for the China Support Network in August 2003, suggesting a personnel change at the State Department.

Now comes along the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, and observers of the news can note many calls for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. He has the benefit of the doubt from here as of this writing -- because, I am not yet informed of the full extent of the abuses in Iraq. In Week # 1 of this crisis, I've seen photos of degradation and humiliation and heard stories that amount to torture. On that basis, I am still not calling for Rumsfeld's resignation.

There are strong reasons that suggest we must finish what we started in Iraq. I believe this war to be unpopular, but necessary. I was supportive in the first place of the mission to remove Saddam Hussein from power -- something that should have been done in "Gulf War I," a dozen years earlier.

To change out Rumsfeld could be problematic for the United States, during a complex war operation where his expertise, knowledge, and seasoned eyeballs are hardly dispensable. There are reasons why my early reaction, in week one of this crisis, was that it is a mistake to make this too personal about Rumsfeld, and "we would do just as well to keep him in there."

However, we are cruising into Week # 2 of this crisis, and I suspect that it gets worse. If he reads my writing, Rumsfeld will know that I have a positive opinion of him as an individual. However, my call about Rumsfeld's fate will not be based on anything personal; rather instead, it will be based upon the outcomes of his management. America suffered an enormous setback to its image -- something to shame us within world public opinion for years -- based on what I saw in Week # 1 of this crisis. We did not need that black eye.

However, the countervailing factors for keeping Rumsfeld were so strong that I did not move with the herd as calls began rising for his scalp. Practical Idealism is not pure idealism -- it has its pragmatic side. However, the red line here is the matter of life and death. That is the outcome by which to judge government management.

After I finish writing this Op-Ed, then I will lean into examining the case. I do not yet know how far my disappointment will extend. But, my call for the fate of Rumsfeld will be based on this "outcome" factor. I am facing the question, "Did these outcomes cross the line, and extend to the deaths of prisoners in custody due to mistreatment?" I should hope not, meaning that I can be more forgiving of milder abuse, and not call for Rumsfeld's head. But, if outcomes included deaths under management, then I will be among those who will say yes -- this was that bad, and that Donald Rumsfeld should step down.

John Kusumi is a former candidate for U.S. President (Ind., '84). He has since then founded the China Support Network and his XDC Software firm, and authored a book on political activism and his experiences, available at


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