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The Salt Lake Tribune September 07, 2006

Bennett: Rumsfeld erred, but who can replace him?

On confidence: Senator stays mum for president's sake

By Thomas Burr

WASHINGTON - Sen. Bob Bennett said Wednesday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made mistakes in prosecuting the war in Iraq, but the Utah Republican would not answer directly whether he has confidence in the secretary.

Responding to a push by Democrats for a vote of no confidence in Rumsfeld, Bennett said, ''I can criticize some of the decisions that have been made, but the question arises, 'Who would replace him?' ''

"As long as the president has confidence in [Rumsfeld] and he's doing what the president wants, I don't see a point in replacing him," Bennett said after a luncheon with other Republican senators. Asked specifically if he had confidence in the Defense secretary, Bennett said, "I think the president's worldview is the correct one, so I would not want to undercut the president's position."

Bennett's comments come as many Democrats are calling for the secretary's head, and Republicans are wary of standing pat with Rumsfeld, says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute.

"Rumsfeld has run out of friends in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill," Thompson says. "What Senator Bennett's response tells you is that there is a lot of dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld" in Congress.

Bennett, like some other Republicans, is being diplomatic but he's not happy, Thompson added. "As far as perceptions of Rumsfeld, the big difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Democrats are actually saying what they think," Thompson said.

But Bennett's GOP colleague from Utah, Sen. Orrin Hatch, strongly defended Rumsfeld in a statement, saying that Americans "enjoyed" the secretary's unapologetic manner when things were going well in Iraq.

"Now that the war has become a hard-fought struggle against a shadowy and amoral enemy, the Democrats' perception of Rumsfeld has changed," Hatch said.

"There's no doubt that America's resolve is being tested by insurgents and terrorists, and we must not undermine our effort by the Senate calling for the resignation of a dedicated secretary of Defense," Hatch added, noting the president has the right to choose and keep his Cabinet members.

Several Democrats have called for Rumsfeld's resignation, while President Bush and congressional leaders have staunchly backed the secretary, who has led the Defense Department for nearly all of Bush's tenure.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense-oriented think tank, said Bennett's comments reflect that "the senator is in contact with reality."

"I think that unless you're in a highly partisan food fight, unless you've been sent out with the Sunday morning talking points, it's responsible to have a nuanced view of the guy," Pike added. "If you're capable of forming an independent judgment instead of parroting the line of the day, by now you'd have to say [Rumsfeld's] made some mistakes."

Bennett called the Democrats push for the no confidence vote, which was stalled on a procedural point, a clear political move. "We have an election coming up in the next 60 days, and they have that in mind as an effort to stir up their own base," Bennett said.

Rumsfeld raised new ire with Democrats after a speech in Salt Lake City last week in which he said administration critics were morally and intellectually confused in failing to recognize the rise of a "new type of fascism" akin to the emergence of Nazism.


Copyright 2006, The Salt Lake Tribune