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Rumbling Over Rahm

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
February 22, 2010
The Daily Beast


When you write that the president of the United States should replace his chief of staff, someone will fire back. So it was that Rahm Emanuel apparently struck back at my piece last week on the Daily Beast through a column in Sunday's Washington Post. Only this time, the return fire had a rare twist, one that could produce Washington convulsions. It was seemingly aimed at me (and others who published suggestions of Emanuel's limitations as chief). But whether it was intentional or not, the volley actually struck the president himself.

Here is the story, a very Washington tale of stretching permissible criticism of power holders, of pungent media leaks, of labyrinthine speculation as to who is doing what to whom.

With a headline "Replace Rahm," I wrote last Tuesday that Emanuel lacked the managerial skills, discipline, and strategic ability to get things done as chief of staff. I argued he should be moved over to a political adviser slot, where his considerable, can-do talents would better serve his boss. I targeted others as well, mostly in Mr. Obama's Chicago crowd. Several writers also blasted this crowd, mostly with unsigned bullets, but never crossed the red line calling for their removal. I wrote the piece because it essentially reflected the waves of anti-White House staff critiques breaking over Washington, but rarely heard outside its drawing rooms. I did it because I believed the president was running out of chances to succeed and needed better and tougher staffers. I did it because if he failed, the nation failed.

Then came the inevitable blast back, a devastating leak, in a piece by Dana Milbank, a respected Washington journalist. Interesting that the leaker selected Milbank. He's sort of a half-reporter, half-columnist who roams the entire capital city, not just the White House. The leaker must have felt safe because Milbank has so many sources all over town, making the leakers harder to trace.

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