Welch's Challenge

Editorials / Mar. 22, 2006 11:00pm EST

In his bid to be elected to Congress this November, Windsor Co. Sen. Peter Welch may have hit on a winning issue last week—Donald Rumsfeld.

Welch, a Democrat, issued a strong call for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense. If he won't resign, Welch said, President Bush should fire him.

If Welch were elected to Congress, he couldn't achieve the firing of Rumsfeld. Still, it's an issue with strong appeal, not just to core Democratic voters but to thousands of Vermonters in the middle of the political spectrum. Rumsfeld, perhaps more than any single individual, has been the architect of the invasion of Iraq and the horrors that have followed. Calling for his resignation positions the Windsor County senator squarely with the beliefs of mainstream Vermonters, and it tosses a significant challenge to any Republican opponent.

The focus on Rumsfeld accomplishes much more, for instance, than the vote at several recent Town Meetings to impeach the President. Putting aside the scary fact that impeaching Bush would put Dick Cheney in the White House, Rumsfeld is a much better target, just because he is so closely associated with all the important blunders of this administration's foreign policy.

Welch did a thorough job of listing some of those blunders, caused by Rumsfeld's ideological blindness and brittle personal arrogance:

• Rumsfeld set up a special "intelligence" unit in the Pentagon in the run-up to the war, that allowed him to ignore much better intelligence coming through the State Department and CIA.

• Rumsfeld "brushed aside" the concerns of our allies leading up to the war, referring contemptuously to countries that for years have stood beside us in NATO as "old Europe."

• Rumsfeld clung to his own notions that over-valued technology, and he disregarded generals who said that many more troops were needed to do the job right—not the invasion, but the follow-up.

• Rumsfeld was taken in by the happy talk of people like Paul Wolfowitz who told the American people they would be welcomed as "liberators" even though knowledgeable diplomats knew that our soldiers would quickly be perceived as an occupying force.

• Rumsfeld personally approved the lowering of treatment standards for prisoners of war at Guantanamo, standards that were quickly imported into Iraq, resulting in the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Graib prison, and the resulting catastrophic loss of face for America within the Muslim world. Any doubt about his personal role is erased in a recent New Yorker exposé on the topic.

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Sen. Welch has been a legislative leader for so many years that he may have originally thought he could, in Democratic Vermont, waltz into the Congressional seat being vacated by Bernie Sanders. He's encountered a strong opponent, however, in likely Republican nominee Martha Rainville, and has been searching for a good issue to make a clear distinction between his campaign and hers.

Rainville, the well-respected and popular former head of the Vermont National Guard, now has an important question to answer, a question that goes to the core of what's at stake in this election.

Does she, too, think that Rumsfeld's head should roll in view of his disastrous influence over American foreign policy?

And if not, why not?

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