The question is not whether Donald Rumsfeld should resign. The question is not even who should replace him. The question is: What goals would a new Secretary of Defense set, and what strategies would he implement to achieve them?
If Rumsfeld's critics believe America's military has met its match on the battlefields of Iraq, they should say so forthrightly. But they should talk, too, about the ramifications of an American defeat in the heart of the Arab Middle East.
For example, once al-Qaeda can creditably claim to have driven U.S. forces out of Iraq, is there any reason to believe the line will be held in Afghanistan? And what responses should we expect elsewhere in the region after such an American humiliation?
Of course, no one has suggested that "America's military has met its match on the battlefields of Iraq." As I'm quite sure Cliff understands, guerrilla insurgencies avoid open confrontation on traditional battlefields, preferring instead to turn the streets, markets, and neighborhoods into battlefields. They don't win with a massive, decisive battlefield victory, they win by proving to the people that the government cannot protect them, they win by dictating the pace of the fighting, they win by not losing. You can make up your own mind on whether or not they're winning in Iraq.
And no matter how many times it's made, the reputation argument ("Withdrawal will make us look weak!") never gets any less silly, or any less darkly reminiscent of Vietnam. It should be obvious that, whenever the U.S. withdrawal occurs, al Qaeda will claim credit for it, as will the Sunni Iraqi insurgency (which is not to be confused with al Qaeda), as will Muqtada Sadr. Recognizing that the U.S. occupation itself has become a significant destabilizing factor, I think an important question right now, perhaps the most important, is which faction will the U.S withdrawal strengthen more. Our best option at this point seems to me to be some kind of behind-the-scenes deal with Sistani, wherein Sistani can represent as having brokered an agreement for a phased but very definite timeline for a U.S. exit. Sistani is no liberal by any stretch of the imagination, but, in addition to being arguably the most powerful man in Iraq, he has repeatedly advocated for electoral democracy, at least as he defines it.
Shi'a cleric-controlled democracy is obviously not what the U.S. went into Iraq to create, but that's what they're going to have, at least in the short term, and we'd better get used to this idea. The question is whether it will be a religiously-oriented democracy under the guiding hand of conservative Sistani, with at least the possibility of eventual liberal reform, or a straight-up hardline religious authoritarian sham-democracy under the iron fist of Sadr and his militiamen.