For his failures, Rumsfeld must go
Paul D. Eaton The New York Times
MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2006
FOX ISLAND, Washington During World War II, American soldiers en route
to Britain before D-Day were given a pamphlet on how to behave while
awaiting the invasion. The most important quote was: "It is impolite to
criticize your host; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies."
By that rule, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is not competent
to lead America's armed forces. First, his failure to build coalitions
with U.S. allies from what he dismissively called "old Europe" has
imposed far greater demands and risks on American soldiers in Iraq than
necessary. Second, he alienated his allies in the U.S. military,
ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any
chance for input.
In sum, he has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally
and tactically and is far more than anyone else responsible for what
has happened to America's mission in Iraq. Rumsfeld must step down.
In the five years he has presided over the Pentagon, I have seen
groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced
military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior
I thought we had a glimmer of hope last November when General
Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, faced off with
Rumsfeld on the question of how U.S. soldiers should react if they
witnessed illegal treatment of prisoners by Iraqi authorities. (Pace's
view was that U.S. soldiers should intervene, while Rumsfeld's position
was that they should simply report the incident to superiors.)
Unfortunately, the general backed down, giving the impression
that America's senior man in uniform is just as intimidated by Rumsfeld
as was his predecessor, General Richard Myers.
Rumsfeld has put the Pentagon at the mercy of his ego, his Cold
Warrior's view of the world and his unrealistic confidence in
technology to replace manpower. As a result, the U.S. Army finds itself
severely undermanned - cut to 10 active divisions but asked by the
administration to support a foreign policy that requires at least 12 or
Only General Eric Shinseki, the army chief of staff when
President George W. Bush was elected, had the courage to challenge the
downsizing plans. So Rumsfeld retaliated by naming Shinseki's successor
more than a year before his scheduled retirement, effectively
undercutting his authority. The rest of the senior brass got the
message, and nobody has complained since.
Now the Pentagon's new Quadrennial Defense Review shows that
Rumsfeld also fails to understand the nature of protracted
counterinsurgency warfare in Iraq and the demands it places on ground
forces. The document, amazingly, does not call for enlarging the army;
rather, it increases only Special Operations forces, by a token 15
percent, maybe 1,500 troops.
Rumsfeld has also failed in terms of operations in Iraq. He
rejected the so-called Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force and sent
just enough tech-enhanced troops to complete what we called Phase III
of the war - ground combat against the uniformed Iraqis. He ignored
competent advisers like General Anthony Zinni and others who predicted
that the Iraqi forces might melt away, leading to chaos.
It is all too clear that Shinseki was right: Several hundred
thousand men would have made a big difference then, as we began Phase
IV, or country reconstruction. There was never a question that we would
make quick work of the Iraqi Army.
Last, you do not expect a secretary of defense to be criticized
for tactical ineptness. Normally, tactics are the domain of the soldier
on the ground. But in this case we all felt what L. Paul Bremer, the
former viceroy in Iraq, has called the "8,000-mile screwdriver"
reaching from the Pentagon. Commanders in the field had their
discretionary financing for things like rebuilding hospitals randomly
cut; money to pay Iraqi construction companies to build barracks was
withheld; contracts for purchasing military equipment for the new Iraqi
army were rewritten back in Washington.
So, what to do?
First, President Bush should accept the offer to resign that
Rumsfeld says he has tendered more than once, and hire a man who will
listen to and support the magnificent soldiers on the ground. Perhaps a
proven Democrat like Senator Joseph Lieberman could repair fissures
that have arisen both between parties and between uniformed men and the
Pentagon big shots.
More vital in the longer term, Congress must assert itself. Too
much power has shifted to the executive branch, not just in terms of
waging war but also in planning the military of the future. Congress
should remember it still has the power of the purse; it should call
U.S. generals, colonels, captains and sergeants to testify frequently,
so that their opinions and needs are known to the men they lead. Then
when they are asked if they have enough troops - and no soldier has
ever had enough of anything, more is always better - the reply is
Our most important, and sometimes most severe, judges are our
subordinates. That is a fact I discovered early in my military career.
It is, unfortunately, a lesson Rumsfeld seems incapable of learning.
Paul D. Eaton, a retired U.S. Army major general, was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004