Three years after the fall of Baghdad and the city’s disastrous plunge into chaos, U.S. military brass appear engaged in a new campaign: getting rid of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
While the offensive has so far been limited to generals who have recently retired from the service, they claim strong support for their views on the part of active-duty officers.
The latest demand for Rumsfeld’s resignation came Wednesday when Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq, called for a "fresh start in the Pentagon."
"We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation," Batiste told a CNN interviewer.
Batiste’s remarks, which follow highly public demands from three other top generals for Rumsfeld’s resignation over the past several weeks, came as public confidence in the policies of the administration of President George W. Bush both in Iraq and in the more general "war on terror" has dwindled to all-time lows.
The growing perception, fueled by recent disclosures regarding the selective leaking of intelligence authorized by both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, that the administration consciously tried to manipulate the public into supporting the Iraq war and discrediting its critics has contributed to the continuing erosion in popular support, even among Republicans.
The conviction that Rumsfeld made major strategic errors by insisting on invading Iraq with a relatively light force that proved incapable of imposing order on the country, let alone suppressing the insurgency that followed, has also taken hold, particularly after last month’s publication by two New York Times reporters of an authoritative account of the war, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.
Based on extensive interviews with both retired and active-duty officers who took part in the war, the book found that Rumsfeld and his top aides believed that Washington could "oust a dictator, usher in a new era in Iraq, [and] shift the balance of power in the Middle East in the United States’ favor" on the cheap and that the war "would suddenly be brought to an end when the regime’s ministries were seized and its leader toppled."
The brass’ unease with Rumsfeld’s plans for going to war date originally from his summary dismissal in early 2003 of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s testimony before Congress that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops."
Shinseki’s effective early retirement, apparently in retaliation for speaking out with such candor, was taken by most of the brass as a message from Rumsfeld that public disagreement with his views could have serious career consequences.
When, by early 2004, it had become clear that Washington had indeed not deployed sufficient troops to control Iraq, a number of retired generals began speaking out forcefully against Rumsfeld and his civilian advisers.
In May 2004, the former head of the U.S. Central Command, ret. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, accused them of "dereliction of duty" in failing to prepare adequately for the war and called on Bush to fire them if they did not resign.
In recent weeks, Zinni has renewed those demands, stressing in various public appearances that Rumsfeld had deliberately ignored extensive contingency planning developed under his command in the late 1990s for an Iraq invasion and overruled officers who raised questions about his own plans.
In the past three weeks, he has been joined by three other retired generals, including Batiste.
In a remarkably frank New York Times column published Mar. 19, ret. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who had been in charge of training the Iraqi military during the first year of the occupation, argued that Rumsfeld "has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally, and tactically" and "has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his Cold Warrior’s view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in technology to replace manpower."
"In the five years Mr. Rumsfeld has presided over the Pentagon," Eaton wrote, "I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership."
Eaton’s blast was followed this week by an anguished column in Time magazine by ret. Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the invasion, who assailed the brass, including himself, for "act[ing] timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard."
"The consequence of the military’s quiescence," he wrote, "was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war ."
"My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight 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," he asserted, calling for the replacement of Rumsfeld "and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."
With his remarks Wednesday, Batiste, who retired from the Army in November and whose forces were based in Tikrit until last May, joined the rebellion, firmly taking Zinni’s side.
"[W]hen decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we’re bound to make mistakes," he said. "You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense."
The generals’ revolt also comes amid a tiff between Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who, during a trip to Britain last week, conceded that Washington made "tactical errors, thousands of them, I’m sure" in its invasion of Iraq. Rumsfeld replied several days later, insisting that such mistakes are inevitable in warfare.
"If someone says, well, that’s a tactical mistake, then I guess it’s a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about," he said.
In remarks before a private group in Chicago Saturday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell a four-star general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself appeared to side with Rice, and with the generals.
"We made some serious mistakes in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad," he said. "We didn’t have enough troops on the ground. We didn’t impose our will. And as a result, an insurgency got started, and it got out of control." He did not demand Rumsfeld’s resignation, however.
(Inter Press Service)