Rumsfeld’s chorus of critics likely to grow

Iraq continues to deteriorate daily.

No functioning government exists, and rival Shiite and Sunni militias clash frequently.

While this goes on, a growing chorus is rising among top-level military leaders for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

One of the latest to join half-a-dozen retired generals in rapping Rumsfeld is retired Marine Lt. General Paul Van Riper, a lifelong Republican who voted for Bush in 2000. Van Riper said: “I admire those who have stepped forward, and I agree with the arguments they are making. I count myself in the same camp.”

Van Riper said Rumsfeld has been a failure in several respects, such as “disastrous war planning and execution, and fostering a poor command climate.”

Rumsfeld is a believer in high tech as the decisive edge in modern warfare. He banks on smaller, faster, more powerfully armed forces to make precise strikes and take out an enemy before it can get organized to resist. Preemptive strikes are a logical extension of that philosophy.

Rumsfeld wanted to test his theory before actually employing it in real warfare. So, in July 2002, he staged Millennium Challenge, a $250 million war game designed to see how the transformation theory stood up. Van Riper was brought out of retirement to command the “enemy” forces.

Van Riper later said: “Three days into Millennium Challenge, we attacked with more cruise missiles from more directions and more locations at sea and the air and on land than I knew their systems were capable of handling. And the results, at least in the simulation, [were that] they lost 16 U.S. Navy ships.”

The reaction of Rumsfeld & Co. was to change the rules of the war game. They made over the whole operation.

“And from that point on,” Van Riper said, “the exercise was scripted. Each day, there were e-mails and PowerPoint briefs saying exactly what was going to happen.”

About the time of that Hollywood-style “Mission Accomplished” performance by George W. Bush and Rumsfeld, the Army War College released an assessment of the transformation theory by Col. H.R. McMaster, who also wrote Dereliction of Duty, a book about the Vietnam conflict, which faulted top-level commanders for failure to stand up to civilian leadership over flawed strategy.

George Packer of The New Yorker magazine cited McMaster’s assessment in a piece for the magazine. Packer said the notion that newer, more sophisticated weaponry held out the promise of certain victory and precision in war has led military strategists to forget that war is, above all else, a human endeavor.

“What is certain about the future,” Packer wrote, “is that even the best efforts to predict the conditions of future war will prove erroneous. What is important, however, is to not be so far off the mark that visions of the future run counter to the very nature of war and render American forces unable to adapt to unforeseen challenges.”

A recent edition of the Wall Street Journal stated the following: “There are signs that [Rumsfeld’s] firm grip on the Defense Department is slipping as some uniformed officers increasingly chart their own course. Well before the recent calls by a half-dozen retired Army and Marine Corps generals for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, an increasing challenge was mounting to his ideas about warfare from within the senior officer ranks.”

In a recent article in The Washington Post, former Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke noted the public dissension over Iraq strategy represents the most serious clash between military and civilian authority since the dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Truman administration.

The Post has declared this eruption has posed a potentially damaging threat to the principle of civilian control over the military, a standard argument of the conservative block.

Holbrooke disagrees with that assessment. Going back to the Truman era he said: “Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different.”

Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold (Ret.), was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning for the Iraq invasion. In an article in Time magazine, he said he wrote “with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership,” and said he wanted to “challenge those still in uniform…to give voice to those who can’t—or don’t have the opportunity to—speak.”

Holbrooke said it is very clear the target in all this is not just Rumsfeld. The only people of higher rank than Rumsfeld are the president and vice president.

Holbrooke said if Bush submits to the generals’ demands, it will look as though he caved in to pressure from what Rumsfeld called “two or three retired generals out of thousands.” If he continues to stubbornly back his defense secretary, Bush risks more resignations, probably soon, from generals who heed and understand Newbold’s call that, as officers, they swore to defend the Constitution and now must speak on behalf of our troops and armed forces before they sink totally back into the post-Vietnam state of disarray.

Holbrooke added: “In the end, the case for changing the secretary of defense seems to me to be overwhelming. I do not reach this conclusion simply because of past mistakes, simply because “someone must be held accountable.”

Many people besides Rumsfeld were deeply involved in the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them remain in power, and some are in uniform.

Holbrooke added: “The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is far more urgent. Put simply, the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command. Rumsfeld’s famous ‘long screwdriver,’ with which he sometimes micro-manages policy, now thwarts the top-to-bottom re-examination of strategy that is absolutely essential in both war zones. Unless the secretary of defense is replaced, the policy will not and cannot change.”

The AP reported Rumsfeld said he did not recall Gen. Newbold making any objections to the war planning when he was working in the Pentagon.

“He never raised an issue publicly or privately when he was here that I know of,” Rumsfeld said. “An awful lot of people around here were not shy about giving their views…but in terms of why he would come up with this now, I just can’t speak to that.”

Maj. Gen. John Batiste (U.S. Army Ret.) is one of the most recent to speak out about the defense department leadership.

Batiste said, “It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense.”

Batiste commanded a division in Iraq, and was offered the rank of a three-star general and No. 2 in command in the theater. Instead, he chose to retire rather than continue to serve under Rumsfeld.

Batiste charged “the administration’s handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles.” He added, “The strategic underpinnings of this war can be traced back in policy to the secretary of defense. He built it the way he wanted it.”

Last month, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, writing in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, said Rumsfeld is “incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically” and should quit.

Newbold criticized the entire administration, not just Rumsfeld. He said the decision to invade Iraq “was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.”

The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said he asked a military officer with plenty of combat experience in Iraq how many of his fellow officers wanted Rumsfeld out, and he guessed 75 percent were in favor.

One retired general who has been reluctant to voice any disapproval of Rumsfeld’s performance is Eric Shinseki, who was castigated in 2003 after he told Congress the invasion and occupation of Iraq would take “several hundred thousand troops.” Rumsfeld believed it could

be done with far fewer personnel.

Almost his only critical comment was that the “person who should decide on the number of troops [to invade Iraq] is the combatant commander,” at that time, Gen. Tommy Franks, not Rumsfeld. Shinseki now lives in Hawaii.

The treatment of Gen. Shinseki by the secretary and Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the invasion, was the catalyst that launched the swelling dissatisfaction with the climate in the Pentagon. One general, who is on active duty, said a long-running debate went on about whether to speak out about officers’ dislikes.

“The Newbolds and Eatons and the public discussion is spilling over from the internal discussion,” said the general. “This has been a rising issue within the military.”

In addition to military men attacking Rumsfeld, attacks have come from congressmen as well. They include Sens. Evan Bayh and John Kerry, former Sen. John Edwards, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, all of whom are potential 2008 presidential candidates.

One of Rumsfeld’s most prominent defenders is former president Gerald Ford, who said: “I have been extremely troubled by the efforts of a group of retired generals to force the resignation of our Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. President Bush is right to keep him in his post. It is the president’s decision—and his alone.”

Ford said retired generals should not set the country’s war policies and leadership because it might set a dangerous precedent that would undermine civilian oversight of the military.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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