Rumsfeld Has Support Where It Counts

Two informal public opinion surveys Monday showed an overwhelming number of Americans want Donald Rumsfeld to resign. In fact, both polls—one by Newsweek (68,000 votes) and the other by CNN (116,000 votes)—revealed that 8 in 10 respondents want the secretary of Defense gone.

But where it counts—on Capitol Hill—Rumsfeld got three ringing endorsements Monday. And among most congressional Republicans, there seems little desire to fire Rumsfeld.

During a call with bloggers organized by the House Republican Conference, two Republicans—Representatives Mike Conaway (Tex.) and Joe Wilson (S.C.)—talked about their recent visits to Iraq and the problems facing Rumsfeld.

“As long as the President has confidence in Rumsfeld, I think he’ll stay in place,” said Conaway, who made clear the only person’s whose opinion of Rumsfeld matters is President Bush.

“The truth of the matter is,” Conaway told me, “Donald Rumsfeld works for the President of the United States. The President of the United States has to have confidence in him. He has to trust his judgment. He has to trust the things he’s doing.”

Conaway continued, “The President doesn’t necessarily look to job evaluations from a lot of folks who don’t really know the job that Rumsfeld does and has done. His job is much broader than what we see. It involves an awful lot of things this President sees day in and day out.”

Wilson offered an even stronger endorsement of Rumsfeld. Having recently returned from Iraq himself, Wilson said it’s crucial that the United States stay the course there—with Rumsfeld in command.

“It’s my view we’ve had a lot of second-guessing going on, and I understand that, but I think we’ve got a very fine secretary of Defense,” Wilson told me. “But every six months, he becomes the target. He’s not the target. The target is President Bush. And [Rumsfeld] is just the first and most convenient target.

“That’s just the way politics is, and we are in a campaign year, subject to political attacks,” Wilson added. “And I just really appreciate the steadfastness of Secretary Rumsfeld.”

I asked Conaway what soldiers on the ground in Iraq thought of Rumsfeld. But, as I suspected, soldiers had little to say about the matter.

“It would be inappropriate for them, the current active duty military folks, to make any kind of a comment whatsoever about Rumsfeld,” Conaway explained. However, Conaway made clear that U.S. troops in Iraq have full confidence in their mission and are quite displeased with the liberal media’s obsession with the antiwar movement in America.

Shortly after the call ended, Rep. Sam Johnson (R.-Tex.) came out with an endorsement of Rumsfeld. Johnson’s biography is hard to top—even by the retired generals who have fueled the criticism of Rumsfeld. Johnson spent 29 years as an Air Force fighter pilot, served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars, ran two military bases and retired as a colonel.

And let me tell you, Johnson doesn’t mince words:

“So a handful of ‘has-beens’ want to make headlines? Hearing from six retirees out of the thousands and thousands who have served honorably means absolutely nothing. Instead of pointing fingers, the retirees should be thanking Secretary Rumsfeld for eliminating the Taliban and deposing Saddam Hussein.

“I firmly believe retired senior officers have no grounds to speak out against our top leaders. Their baseless banter only invigorates the enemy and weakens the resolve of the younger troops on the ground. That in turn, could have horrible effects for the mission success. The retirees know that and they should know better.”

UPDATE — 11:48 p.m.: Flip Pidot of Suitably Flip and C.J. Grisham of A Soldier’s Perspective were also on the bloggers’ conference call with me. I encourage you to read their posts, which cover—in great detail—the other topics addressed by the congressmen

Special thanks to Kathryn Staczek at the House Republican Conference for coordinating the call.