Senior Republicans and defence analysts talk of mounting frustration with Rumsfeld both in the White House and among Republicans in Congress, as difficulties in Iraq look likely to mar US President George Bush's re-election attempt in 2004.
“Rumsfeld has become in many ways a problem for the Republican Party,” Brookings Institution defence analyst Michael O'Hanlon told Reuters. “You can make the case that he's become a net liability given how the Iraq issue has unfolded.”
Rumsfeld is a leading hawk in a Bush administration, characterised by neo-conservatives who forged an Iraq agenda long before the 11 September attacks in New York.
Vice President Dick Cheyne, Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush – the President’s brother and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are all been leading members of the Project for a New American Century thinktank, set up in the late 1990s.
In a document written in September 2000 by PNAC, American policy was laid out: “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence, transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein,” it said.
With the security situation deteriorating in Iraq, an ever-widening budget deficit and no sign of weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld looks set to be the fall guy for the misconceived and poorly planned invasion.
“I think Rumsfeld has had it. He's put in place some (Defence Department) reforms, and now it's up to others to implement it”
A senior Republican Party aide
President Bush recently ended Rumsfeld's supremacy in US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan by naming Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, to coordinate those efforts.
Bush was then forced to reject comments about Islam made by a general put by Rumsfeld in a key intelligence post.
Rumsfeld himself has not condemned the remarks by Lieutenant General William Boykin, who called America's so-called war on terror a duel with “Satan,” and said Muslims worshipped an “idol” not a “real God.”
A senior Republican source, who declined to be named, told Reuters that Rumsfeld was not in immediate danger of being fired, though if Bush were re-elected, he would not reinstate the Defence Secretary.
“I think Rumsfeld has had it. He's put in place some (Defence Department) reforms, and now it's up to others to implement it,” the source said.
Others reiterated this sentiment.
“I get the sense that Rumsfeld is a man who understands that to leave his stamp on the department and to have his place in history, he doesn't have much time left,” added analyst Charles Pena of the Cato Institute.
Rumsfeld’s power was initially all pervasive. The President entrusted him with Iraq policy. This included pacification and reconstruction, as well as the creation of a new Iraqi government.
Bush is finding that Rumsfeld is
an increasing embarrassment
With Bush’s popularity ratings plunging to their lowest since his election and the Democrats seeming set to run an essentially anti-war campaign, the White House must somehow find an exit strategy.
Relations between the Pentagon and some Republicans in Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner of Virginia and Senator John McCain of Arizona are also worsening.
A Senate Republican aide said dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld was “pretty broad” among congressional Republicans and “Warner's clearly not happy,” according to Reuters.
Warner on Friday issued a statement noting “differences” with Rumsfeld.
There is also increasing animosity between the White House and US intelligence agencies over who is to blame for the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, upon which the war was sold to the American population.
Rumsfeld is at the centre of this embarrassing squabble.
Still, firing Rumsfeld would not be an immediate panacea for the government’s woes.
A Republican aide said firing Rumsfeld could backfire. He said it would “call into question the wisdom of a war so fundamental to the party's political outlook.”