TIME FOR RUMSFELD TO GO?….Sure, it’s a nice cover and all, but it’s pretty much the same one they ran in 1998 and Bill Clinton didn’t resign then, did he? In fact, I’m almost tempted to say that the Economist has a sort of reverse Sports Illustrated jinx: if they demand someone’s resignation ? Clinton, Berlusconi, Rumsfeld ? it’s a sure sign that their career is in good shape.

In any case, since Rumsfeld doesn’t have an awful lot of defenders either on the left or the right anymore, I guess his career prospects depend on whether Bush is really pissed at him or just pretending to be. In an effort to figure that out, here’s a timeline from last Friday when the Abu Ghraib story first heated up:

George Bush, morning of April 30: “And there will be an investigation. I think — they’ll be taken care of.”

At this point, Bush doesn’t seem aware that there’s already been an investigation and it was finished two months before. Could it be that as late as Friday Rumsfeld still hadn’t briefed him on this?

Scott McClellan, afternoon of April 30: “Well, there were allegations that go back quite some time here, Terry. And that’s why you already have the military pursuing some criminal charges against some individuals….I don’t know the exact time when [Bush] saw the photographs. I mean, they’ve certainly been in the media the last couple of days.”

Well, McClellan seems to have been briefed….

From the New York Times about the evening of April 30: “[Friday] evening, he went to a party at Mr. Rumsfeld’s house in the Kalorama section of Washington, where it is not known whether he and his defense secretary talked about the pictures.”

Five days later ? five days! ? Bush calls Rumsfeld to the Oval Office and chews him out.

So what’s going on? Did Rumsfeld brief Bush on this weeks ago and now they’re just playing a game for public consumption? Or did he fail to brief Bush? And if so, was it because he was afraid to or because his political antennae are so calcified that he thought this would all just blow over?

Something doesn’t quite add up here, but I can’t put my finger on it. There are several obvious possibilities, of course, but it somehow seems as if there’s a puzzle piece missing. But what?

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