Published: 15 April 2006
George Bush has made a frightening number of mistakes in his presidency. But among the most egregious is his failure to fire Donald Rumsfeld. The Defence Secretary's supporters portray him as a hard worker and cite his bravery on the morning of 11 September when the Pentagon was attacked. But even if we accept that Mr Rumsfeld is a courageous and conscientious man, that does not excuse the terrible weakness of judgement he has demonstrated over the past six years.
Mr Rumsfeld was happy to tear up the plans for a post-war Iraq. He went along with the fatal decision to disband the Iraqi army. He was personally responsible for the failure of US troops to stop the looting that broke out in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps more than any other US politician he is responsible for the bloody killing zone that Iraq has become. The first principle of democratic accountability demands that he should no longer be in his post. When we add to this charge sheet the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, committed by soldiers under his control, it is almost unbelievable that he has survived this long.
Mr Rumsfeld's judgement is clearly impaired by an overbearing arrogance. The world glimpsed this when he dismissed the Iraq looting with the glib phrase: "freedom is untidy". We have also since learned that he demanded inmates at the illegal US prison camp on Guantanamo Bay be made to stand in stress positions for longer than four hours on the spurious grounds that "I stand for eight to 10 hours a day". Many in the US Army woke up to the true character of their boss when he gave a patronising response to a National Guard soldier in Kuwait who questioned the inadequate armour his unit had been assigned.
A number of former US generals have now decided that enough is enough. Six have now come out to call for Mr Rumsfeld's removal. We can only guess at how many more serving commanders feel the same.
The likelihood of President Bush sacking one of his key lieutenants is doubtful. Mr Rumsfeld even boasted last year about how the President had twice refused his resignation at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal. But for the sake of the US army and the global reputation of America it is to be hoped that that resignation is offered a third time and that President Bush - this time - accepts it.