Rarely in recent years has Washington seen so dramatic a clash between the legislative and executive branches as was witnessed Thursday, when U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Masschusetts, went after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the question of whether the Pentagon chief should resign for mismanaging the war in Iraq.
"This war has been consistently and grossly mismanaged. And we are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire. Our troops are dying. And there really is no end in sight," Kennedy said, as the Secretary of Defense sat opposite him during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Arguing that "the American people, I believe, deserve leadership worthy of the sacrifices that our fighting forces have made, and they deserve the real facts," Kennedy told Rumsfeld, "I regret to say that I don't believe that you have provided either."
Rumsfeld was clearly shocked by the aggressiveness of the senator's comments.
"Well, that is quite a statement," huffed the Secretary of Defense, who pointedly told Kennedy, "The suggestion by you that people -- me or others -- are painting a rosy picture is false."
But the Massachusetts senator, who has been one of the most ardent Congressional critics of the war, wasn't buying the secretary's line. Nor was Kennedy cutting Rumsfeld any more slack.
"In baseball, it's three strikes you're out," Kennedy told Rumsfeld. "Isn't it time for you to resign?"
Rumsfeld, who was evidently shaken by the question, paused briefly before saying, "Senator, I've offered my resignation to the president twice."
President Bush rejected Rumsfeld's offers, which came at the height of the scandal over the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Secretary of Defense told the committee he would defer to the president on the question of when he should step down. "That's his call," Rumseld said of Bush.
The intensity of Kennedy's questioning illustrated a shift that has begun to take place in Congress in recent weeks, as more and more Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, have begun to bluntly challenge the administration's inflated claims about the "success" of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
In fact, even Rumsfeld distanced himself from Vice President Dick Cheney's absurd assertion that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes."
After General John Abizaid, the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, told members of the committee that he believed "more foreign fighters (are) coming into Iraq than there were six months ago," Rumsfeld was asked whether it sounded to him like the insurgency has entered the "last throes" stage.
Noting that he had not uttered the "last throes" line, an obviously exasperated Rumsfeld said of Cheney's choice of words: "I didn't use them, and I might not use them."
Perhaps Kennedy should have asked Rumsfeld if Cheney ought to resign.
Alternatively, the Wisconsin Democratic Party, at its state's convention earlier this month, passed a resolution that would seem to cover all the bases.
The delegates called for immediate steps to be taken to impeach Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush.
John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from the The Nation