April 14, 2006
The dissatisfaction felt by some U.S. military commanders toward Donald Rumsfeld has been well known for some time. After all, he "declared war" on the Pentagon as part of his administrative reform campaign just before the Pentagon was attacked in 2001. What is new is how widespread the opposition to him is, and how many high-ranking officers [are among those speaking out]. Retired Gen. John Batiste says the current Defense Department leaders do not respect military professionals and have violated well-established principles of strategy. What makes his argument more credible is the fact that he turned down a promotion to become a three-star general because he so strongly disagreed with Rumsfeld's approach. In Time magazine, retired Marine Gen. Gregory Newbold blames "zealots" in the administration for launching a "needless war," and criticized Rumsfeld for "micromanaging" military operations, like LBJ and McNamara did in Vietnam. Likewise, former Central Command chief retired Gen. Anthony Zinni says we have "wasted three years" in Iraq. Yesterday's Washington Post summarized the recent critiques.
Such vociferous complaints by so many high-ranking military officers cannot be ignored, but that doesn't mean we should take them at face value either. President Bush is "standing by his man," as usual, and thankfully has not yet said that Rummy is doing a "heckuva" job. Belmont Club contends that anyone calling for Rumsfeld to step down must offer a credible alternative plan of action:
Yet notably absent from discussion is the answer to the question: change [Administration policy] to what? To more troops on the ground? To a renewed effort to bring European allies into Iraq? An accelerated withdrawal from Iraq in order to concentrate on what General Newbold called "the real threat -- Al Qaeda"? All of these are possible alternatives but only one has been formally articulated by the Administration in waiting, the Democratic Party. It is called the Real Security plan and many of Rumsfeld critics are unhappy with that as well. Unless it is the case that 'anyone will be an improvement on Rumsfeld', it is surely fair to ask: how should it be done differently. The Real Security plan has been put forward. Are there any others?
Needless to say, the Democrats' proposal is not based on strategic considerations, but is geared solely to electoral politics. I disagree that calling for Rumsfeld to resign obliges one to offer an alernative approach. Indeed, the main issue in this controversy is managerial style and policy-making process, not necessarily national strategy per se. On a related note, I saw retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former aide to Colin Powell (with whom he is now estranged), on C-SPAN earlier this week. He was speaking about what he regards as major strategic errors by the Bush administration in the way he is handling the war against Islamic terrorism. There was a Washington Post Style section profile of him in January, and while his criticisms are serious and well thought out, I get the sense that his dissent is based on personality clashes as much as anything.
On the op-ed page of today's Post, David Ignatius called on Rummy to resign. He thinks we need someone who can muster bipartisan support (that sounds far-fetched to me), suggesting Joe Lieberman or John McCain. I disagree; if Rumsfeld is replaced, it should be by someone who is not part of the political maelstrom in Washington.
I have long had mixed feelings about Rumsfeld. His bluntness and candor are a refreshing change of pace from the dull, mealy-mouthed norm in Washington. As I noted in January 2005, he does deserve some criticism for failing to adequately plan for postwar reconstruction in Iraq, but no one really knew what to expect. A substantial degree of improvisation was inevitable, and our troops and officers have done a very good job of learning how to fight a new kind of war without any advance preparation. Ironically, the need to carry out a war against the Islamic terrorist movements made it difficult for Rumsfeld to carry out the organizational changes in the Pentagon he thought were necessary, and after five years, almost all talk of that has vanished. That being the case, I really don't see what purpose his continued presence in the Pentagon would serve, so it's probably for the best that he should step down soon.