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Inside Politics

Tough question starts Washington firestorm

Army Spc. Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why more combat vehicles are not reinforced for battle.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Donald H. Rumsfeld

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A question asked in Kuwait last week set off a political firestorm in Washington this week. It's a political Play of the Week, on delayed response.

It all started with this question, asked by a soldier at a town hall forum with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Kuwait.

"Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?" Army Spc. Thomas Wilson asked. His question was met with cheers and whoops.

Mr. Secretary? "You go to war with the army you have," Rumsfeld replied.

That provoked criticism.

"That soldier and those men and women there deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment," Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, said on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

The controversy escalated quickly into a full-fledged attack on Rumsfeld.

"No CEO in America would retain a manager with so clear a record of failure, and neither should President Bush," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

And not just from Democrats.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Rumsfeld should be replaced sometime in the next year.

Conservative editor William Kristol wrote in the Washington Post, "These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have."

Why did one question from a soldier blow up into a political firestorm? Because things are not going well for the United States in Iraq.

Many conservatives are targeting -- some would say scapegoating -- Rumsfeld for refusing to send enough troops to get the job done and for being unprepared.

"We were unprepared for what we were going to face, what we are facing, in a post-Saddam Iraq. And this is just one more manifestation of the problem." Hagel said.

This whole thing started because a reporter from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press suggested that the soldiers ask Rumsfeld about their grievances since the press was not allowed to ask questions at the forum.

From a small suggestion to the Political Play of the Week.

The long knives are out for Rumsfeld. There's one way he can save his job and his reputation: If things start looking better in Iraq after next month's election.

That's the big test.

Bill Schneider is CNN's senior political analyst.

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