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Retired Marine Zinni has said the best outcome would be for Rumsfeld to resign rather than force Bush to fire him. But several well-placed Republicans say that Rumsfeld's fate may be as much in the hands of the Vice President as in the President's. Although Rumsfeld is more responsible than any other man for the rise of Dick Cheney during the 1970s, their roles have since reversed, and now the protégé is protecting the mentor. Between the two of them, Cheney and Rumsfeld have run the Pentagon for almost 12 of the last 32 years. It's the federal agency each knows best, and neither man has any patience for insubordination from men and women in uniform. Cheney began his four-year stint as Defense Secretary in 1989 by publicly scolding Air Force General Larry Welch, who lobbied for missile programs without Cheney's O.K. Not long after, Cheney fired Welch's successor for making unauthorized statements to reporters before the first Gulf War in 1990. "The possibility of Rumsfeld leaving has definitely crossed the President's mind," the former White House official told TIME last week. "The key to it is the relationship with Cheney, and I don't know where that is right now."
But there is also the question of Rumsfeld's ability to function along the Pentagon's polished corridors. A veteran of the highest level E-Ring meetings predicted that Rumsfeld will wonder whether he is hearing what the uniformed officers are really thinking. A natural instinct in that situation, he added, would be to invite fewer military officers to high-level meetings--thus potentially adding to the distance between the uniforms and the civilians.
A friend who recently spent the weekend with Rumsfeld and his wife predicted Rumsfeld would stay for the duration: "They will have to pry him from his stand-up desk with a crowbar." In Cairo last week, Rumsfeld tried to take it all in stride. "If every time two or three people disagreed, we changed the Secretary of Defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." But Rumsfeld may again be underestimating the strength of an insurgency--this one in his own backyard. Other retired officers are expected to make their views known soon. Which means this Revolt of the Generals has yet to run its course.