Just days after President Bush publicly affirmed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's job security through the end of his term, a family of publications catering to the military will publish an editorial calling for the defense secretary's removal.
The editorial, released to NBC News on Friday ahead of its Monday publication date, stated, "It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation's current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads."
The editorial will appear just one day before the midterm election, in which GOP candidates have been losing ground, according to recent polls.
"This is not about the midterm elections," continued the editorial, which will appear in the Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times, and Marine Corps Times on Monday. "Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."
The newspapers are part of the Military Times Media Group, a subsidiary of the Gannett Co., Inc. The publications are sold to service members and their families.
On Wednesday, Bush had said he wants Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain in his administration until the end of his presidency, extending a vote of confidence to two of the most-criticized members of his team.
In the same interview, Bush said he did not foresee a change in the immediate future in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. He said that U.S. generals have assured him that "they've got what they can live with."
Democrats and Republicans alike have called for Rumsfeld's resignation, arguing he has mishandled the war in Iraq, where more than 2,800 members of the U.S. military have died since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Cheney has faced sharp criticism for his hard-line views and is viewed favorably by only about a third of Americans in polls. Bush said that "both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them."
Bush credited Rumsfeld with overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while overhauling the military. "I'm pleased with the progress we're making," the president said. He replied in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Rumsfeld and Cheney to stay with him until the end.
The military publications' editorial also painted a grim view of the situation in Iraq, saying, "despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition. For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don't show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves. … And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand."
War supporters reconsider
Also Friday, several conservatives who pushed for the invasion of Iraq said they would not have supported a war if they knew how poorly the Bush administration would handle it, according to Vanity Fair magazine.
"I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam (Hussein) supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists,"' said Richard Perle, who sat on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Advisory Committee until 2004.
Kenneth Adelman, who served on the Defense Policy Board with Perle, said Bush, Defense Rumsfeld and others in the administration "turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."
Violence in Iraq has continued to climb, with dozens of bodies reportedly found around Baghdad on Friday. Shiites and Sunnis alike fear a reprisal in violent crime when Saddam's trial verdict is announced, which could be as soon as Sunday.
In the editorial, the military papers quote Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, as saying to a Senate Armed Services Committee in September, "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards a civil war."