GOP columnist and operative, Robert Novak, delivered a telling message in a recent piece he wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times.
While the White House officially vowed Rumsfeld's retention, there was no reinforcement in his natural political constituency. Last week, I talked to Republican members of Congress, GOP fund-raisers and contributors, defense consultants and even one senior official of a coalition partner. The clear consensus was that Rumsfeld had to go. ''There must be a neck cut,'' said the foreign official, ''and there is only one neck of choice.''
Rumsfeld is paying the price for the way he has run the Department of Defense for more than three years, but the price is also being paid by George W. Bush. From the first months of the Bush administration, I have heard complaints by old military hands that the new secretary's arrogance and insularity were creating a dysfunctional Pentagon. That climate not only limits the government's ability to deal with the prisoner scandal but also may have been its cause.
To well-informed outsiders, Rumsfeld's fate seems assured. Stratfor, the private intelligence service, reported last week: ''The amazing thing is not that the White House is preparing Rumsfeld for hanging but that it has taken so long.'' The report added that Rumsfeld ''consistently managed to get the strategic and organizational questions wrong.''
That harsh view is widely shared inside the Pentagon.