President Bush: "Our military has experienced an enormous amount of change and reform during the last five years while fighting the war on terror; one of the most consequential wars in our nation's history.
"Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war."
Is this his way of giving Mr. Rumsfeld an A for force transformation (where grading can be subjective), and a C for the War on Iraq? I mean Terror? We'll doubtless hear kinder words during the handover to Robert Gates, but, in the meantime, Mr. Rumsfeld does not seem to be getting the warmest of sendoffs. Understandable under the circumstances. I was always a little disconcerted by Mr. Rumsfeld's habit, exhibited even before they moved in on Iraq, of insisting that he was following the recommendations of the generals, that he gave them what they asked for, etc. That line certainly rang true with Mr. Bush and, for all we know, Mr. Rumsfeld was telling the truth too. But, as someone who had never been self-employed until recently, I can tell you that the quickest way for a leader to lose the confidence of his troops is to go around telling people that it's not his responsibility, it's "theirs". Especially if that boss by all accounts comes across except to the most stouthearted as an unremitting bully.
Do you think Mr. Rumsfeld was doomed regardless?
On the more practical side, what does this all mean for Japan?
Specifically, I am at a loss as to what it means, if anything, re North Korea. I suspect that Kim Jong-il will prefer to play a quiet stalling game, to wait out the last two years of the Bush administration. But otherwise, I'll assume there will be little change from a Democratic Congress; they'll be too busy with Iraq, not to mention getting their act together while they find out what caucusing with Joe Lieberman means in the Middle East.
Realignment of US troops? I am not competent to hazard even a guess. But the course has been set for some time, and Mr. Bush has given Mr. Rumsfeld an A on transformation.
Trade and investment is another matter. Any Eurasia Group clients reading this blog will know that EG has been focusing for a while on protectionist tendencies in the US as a serious political risk for investors, say, since last year, when the Unocal controversy broke out. Now, "economic nationalism" (finally, the "nationalist"tag pasted on something un-Japanese) threatens to become a buzzword, here, and here. When a Slate editor and Pat Buchanan on Real Clear Politics agree on something, that's a two-man national consensus.
As Jacob Weisberg, the Slate editor, points out, it's China and Mexico, not Japan, this time around. But the Doha Round looks even more deader than before. And one wrong turn in incidents like undocumented US cow parts could flare up very quickly in the charged US atmosphere. Japan may not be one of the main theaters of action, but we should be as forthcoming as possible to avoid becoming, if not roadkill, collateral damage.