Bush's backing of Rumsfeld shocks and angers Arabs
Arab commentators reacted with shock and disbelief on Monday over U.S. President Bush's robust backing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld against calls for his resignation.
"After the torture and vile acts by the American army, President Bush goes out and congratulates Rumsfeld. It's just incredible. I am in total shock," said Omar Belhouchet, editor of the influential Algerian national daily El Watan.
"Bush's praise for Rumsfeld will discredit the United States...and further damage its reputation, which is already at a historic low in the Arab world," he added.
Analysts have said the damage from images seen worldwide of U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison would be indelible, incalculable and a gift to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
What people saw, they said, was the true image of the occupation: humiliation of an occupied people, contempt for Islam, sadism and racism.
"After Mr. Bush's decision to keep Rumsfeld, all their apologies seem like lip service," Dubai-based political analyst Jawad al-Anani told Reuters. "Mr. Rumsfeld would have certainly lost his job if the prisoners were American."
"The United States is spending so much money by setting up Alhurra television and Radio Sawa to improve its image in the Arab world...How can it reconcile that with keeping a man who has insulted every Arab through the abuses of Iraqi prisoners," added Anani, a former Jordanian foreign minister.
University of Algiers professor Mahmoud Belhimeur agreed.
"I cannot believe the United States reacts the way an authoritarian regimes would. Bush should have done the honorable thing and fired Rumsfeld," he said.
RUMSFELD "SYMBOL" OF IRAQ WAR
But Michael Cox, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, said the repercussions of firing the defense secretary would have been very significant for Bush.
Cox said he could not entirely rule out that Rumsfeld could go, if U.S. public opinion turned. But he added it would seem out of character for Rumsfeld to go quietly.
"'I want to spend more time with my family' doesn't sound too credible with Mr. Rumsfeld. With Mr. Powell maybe, but not Rumsfeld," he said.
A Saudi businessman, who asked not to be named, said keeping Rusmfeld would be seen as Washington's quiet approval of the abuse.
"This just confirms that what is happening in Iraq in general, and especially what is happening in Abu Ghraib is sanctioned by the American administration and that is a hell of a position to be in.
"I see no advantage in keeping Rumsfeld. Bush should be building bridges with the outside world."
Mustapha Ramid, a prominent Moroccan opposition member of parliament said: "It's normal for Bush to back Rumsfeld. The contrary would have been a real surprise. This shows that Bush takes responsibility for what's happening in Iraq."