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Retired generals call for resignation
Rumsfeld under siege

April 28, 2006 | Page 2

ALAN MAASS looks at the running battle between Donald Rumsfeld and a growing number of retired generals calling for his resignation.

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THE CALLS for Donald Rumsfeld's head coming from within the U.S. military establishment are a sign of the depths of the crisis of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In the past month, a half-dozen retired generals went public with their calls for the defense secretary to resign, and many more officers and Pentagon apparatchiks are joining the fray, if only through anonymous barbs to reporters.

The mainstream press--used to a silent face of support for the Bush administration from the Pentagon--is bubbling with speculation about how this split at the top will end up.

But while the war of words represents a further signal of growing discontent with the administration's Iraq disaster, there's less at stake than meets the eye. If Rumsfeld is forced to quit in disgrace, it will be a pleasure to see him go. But Washington's debate about what the U.S. should do in Iraq and the Middle East isn't about principles--it's about tactics.

The latest round of criticism began in March when retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, in charge of training the Iraqi military after the invasion, wrote in the New York Times that Rumsfeld was "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically."

A few weeks later, Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold--the top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the invasion--criticized the Bush administration's arrogance in Time magazine. "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 wrote.

With several other retired generals joining in, Rumsfeld fired back, dismissing the criticism with his trademark disdain, while the White House organized a p.r. counter-offensive--with George Bush himself declaring that he was "the decider," and that Rumsfeld would stay.

The running battle illustrates the development of fissures at the top of the political-military establishment.

Rumsfeld and his former protégé, Dick Cheney, have led the Bush administration's "hawks" in driving U.S. foreign policy. The "hawks" came to power in 2001 with a plan to project U.S. power, but needed an excuse that would justify a more aggressive posture--"some catastrophic and catalyzing event," in Wolfowitz's words, "like a new Pearl Harbor."

September 11 was the "opportunity," and Rumsfeld and the hawks consciously exploited it. Within days of the attacks, for example, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice convened a National Security Council meeting "to think about how do you capitalize on these opportunities to fundamentally change American doctrine, and the shape of the world, in the wake of September 11th," as author Chalmers Johnson described it.

From the beginning, there has been some quiet friction between the Pentagon's top brass and Rumsfeld and his civilian deputies. For example, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former chief of the U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, former chief of staff of the Army, have long been critical of Rumsfeld for insisting that the Iraq invasion force be smaller than the generals recommended.

But these conflicts are tactical--and the brass kept their mouths shut so long as the Bush administration had a reasonable level of public support.

For example, one of Rumsfeld's new critics, Major Gen. John Batiste, former commander of the Army's First Division during the invasion, was plenty gung-ho about the occupation before he retired. According to the Washington Times, in December 2004, Batiste introduced Rumsfeld to soldiers under his command in Iraq as "a man with the courage and the conviction to win the war on terrorism."

"From the safety of retirement, and with his buddies watching his back, Batiste has lashed out at Rumsfeld," journalist David Axe wrote on his blog on the Defense Tech Web site. "But Batiste is guilty of lapses in judgment just as gross as Rumsfeld's. The only difference is that Rumsfeld ranks higher, so his lapses have greater consequences. I'm not defending Rummy. But if Batiste were Secretary of Defense instead, I doubt we'd be much better off."

Among Batiste and the other retired generals, most say they still believe it was right to invade Iraq. The back and forth now is in large part about who will get the blame for the disaster. "The senior civilian leadership is going to do everything it possibly can to avoid having responsibility for the war fixed on them, and the senior military leadership is equally determined to have them left holding the bag," historian Andrew Bacevich told Britain's Guardian newspaper.

Unfortunately, some liberal opponents of the war are claiming the dissident generals as allies. But the section of the military establishment that has finally--more than three years after the invasion--made its differences with Rumsfeld public isn't antiwar, but pro-a-different-war-strategy.

Their criticisms are based on the fear that the failed Iraq occupation could break the U.S. military machine--making it more difficult to use U.S. power elsewhere in the world.

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