Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Rumsfeld targeted in midterm election fight


US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has so far survived mounting calls for his resignation over Iraq, is to be pitched into the center of the US midterm election fight by Democrats who are convinced that he is US President George W. Bush administration's Achilles heel.

Senior Democratic members of Congress say they will seek a no-confidence vote in Rumsfeld, who is under fire for a speech this week in which he compared opponents of the Iraq war to those who supported the appeasement of Adolf Hitler before World War II.

Rahm Emanuel, a high-profile member of the House of Representatives, plans to introduce the motion in the presence of 12 retired generals and other officers, who have lent the weight of their military experience to the campaign to force the defense secretary's resignation.

Democratic senators are discussing a similar move. Such a vote could not compel Rumsfeld to quit, but it would be highly embarrassing to the governing party.

The Democrats are mounting an attempt to seize control of Congress in November's midterm elections by engaging the Republicans on their turf -- national security and defense issues.

The strategy comes in response to a new effort by Bush and Rumsfeld to defend the administration's foreign policy record.

In a string of speeches this week the president has sought to bundle Iraq and Afghanistan with crises over Iran and Lebanon, describing current events as "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century."

It was as part of this initiative that Rumsfeld told a meeting of war veterans last Tuesday that the world faced "a new type of fascism," and that those who opposed the administration's policies were suffering from "moral confusion" and had "still not learned history's lessons."

He renewed his attack in Friday's Los Angeles Times, singling out Amnesty International for having called Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times" even though it "includes a volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field and library [the book most requested is Harry Potter]."

Nancy Pelosi, the US Senate minority leader, seized on the remarks.

"If Mr Rumsfeld is so concerned with comparisons to World War II, he should explain why our troops have now been fighting in Iraq longer than it took our forces to defeat the Nazis in Europe," she said.

Rumsfeld has proved durable in office despite bearing the brunt of criticism for failures in Iraq, including the decision to deploy a relatively small number of troops, the disbanding of the Iraqi army and torture at Abu Ghraib prison.

But the Republicans' most influential campaign consultant, Frank Luntz, told the Guardian that Rumsfeld had become a "weak link in an otherwise relatively strong Republican issue.

The Democrats can't win in the war on terror, but they do hold an advantage on Iraq, he said.

Rumsfeld's "confidence and bravado were very much an asset in [the elections of] 2002 and 2004, but the American mindset has moved on," Luntz said.

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