Why Rumsfeld's time is up
Why Rumsfeld's time is up
By Ehsan Ahrari
As a rule, Americans don't like losers. Losing football, basketball and baseball coaches are fired at the drop of a penalty flag on the field. Nobody sheds any tears when they exit the sports arena. The same principle applies in politics. Losers don't get much respect.
The United States is losing the war in Iraq. As this is President George W Bush's war, by rights he should be fired. But there is no provision in the US constitutional system for that. So the American people should do the next best thing and demand the resignation of his chief architect of failure, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
That is exactly what a number of retired generals are calling for. Recently joining the ranks of dissenting retired US Army and
Marine Corps generals was Wesley Clark, commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during the Bosnian war and a candidate for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2004.
Other major military voices include General Anthony Zinni, former commander of Central Command; Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold, author of a major anti-Rumsfeld piece in the influential Time magazine; and several officers who held Iraq commands, such as Major-Generals Charles Swannack, John Riggs, John Batiste, and Paul Eaton.
First, they accuse Rumsfeld of not sending enough troops to Iraq. The invasion took place at a time when the US military was undergoing transformation. Under that process, a number of conventional principles of warfighting were being re-evaluated. Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defense, was determined to demonstrate he could do the job in Iraq with fewer troops than was required under the conventional approach to such a military operation.
A major controversy related to that issue flared up even before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, but was expected to go away after the swift capture of Baghdad seemed to vindicate Rumsfeld's approach. But in view of other controversies related to that war, it lingered on. According to the then Central Command commander, General Tommy Franks, Rumsfeld was responsible for canceling the deployment of the 1st Cavalry Division, which was scheduled to reinforce the initial US invasion force.
The generals also perceived Rumsfeld as being the official most responsible for the post-conflict mess and the failure to stabilize the country. There is a general feeling within the military community that the main reason Iraq is on such a downward spiral is that Rumsfeld stubbornly refused to commit ample troops for stability operations after the initial victory.
It will be recalled that one of the major pre-Iraq-war controversies within the United States was triggered when the then chief of staff of the army, General Eric Shinseki, told Congress in February 2003 that US occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops". Both Rumsfeld and his then deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, pooh-poohed the general's figures. Wolfowitz labeled Shinseki's estimate as "wildly off the mark" even though they later proved deadly accurate.
The army brass never forgave Rumsfeld for snubbing Shinseki's retirement ceremony out of spite over his candor about the size of troops required in the post-conflict phase in Iraq. The general feeling among the brass is that that episode typifies just how petty Rumsfeld can be when he perceives that a general is not toeing his line.
Undoubtedly, Rumsfeld grossly underestimated the depth of resentment that the Iraq invasion would create for the United States. He, along with the field commander, General Franks, prominently dismissed the growing insurgency as being carried out by "dead-enders". (Not surprisingly, Franks has not joined the chorus of generals clamoring for Rumsfeld's head.)
The third major controversy is about Rumsfeld's decision to abolish the Iraqi army. In this regard, L Paul Bremer, the former chief civilian administrator in Iraq, has stated that Rumsfeld approved the decision to dissolve the Iraqi military. According to a speech that General Peter Pace, currently chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2004, the Joint Chiefs were not consulted on that decision.
The greatest mistake related to Rumsfeld is the prisoner-abuse scandal in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons. Future historians will portray these particular episodes as the darkest moments of America's invasion of Iraq. In fact, the image of the United States as a champion of human rights and human dignity worldwide is tarnished forever by the episode. However, none of these generals has chosen to address that issue.
Rumsfeld has long been criticized as much for being arrogant and dismissive of senior military officers who disagreed with him as for using the wrong warfighting strategy. General Eaton referred to him as being incompetent, while Newbold, referring to his leadership, observed that the "cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood".
Being arrogant is not a reason for asking anyone's resignation. But criticism of Rumsfeld's leadership is a variable that cannot be dismissed as just "sour grapes", for two reasons. First, these criticisms are being heard often, and second, they are coming from former military leaders with impeccable professional reputations.
In the coming weeks and months, more military leaders are likely to join the ranks of their cohorts who have already gone public in criticizing Rumsfeld's leadership, not just on the basis of its style, but also about the substance of his leadership.
But there remains another profound reason why all honorable persons in the leadership position are highly frustrated about the post-conflict environment in Iraq. The very nature of the post-conflict mess in that country doesn't just befuddle the top US military brass. The top civilian leadership also shares the bewilderment.
US civilian leaders took too seriously Iraqi expatriates when they told Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and other neo-conservative diehards that ousting the dictator would be a "cakewalk". Those expatriates were either indulging in a collective exercise of sycophancy - that is, they told the US leaders what they wanted to hear - or they were plainly ignorant about their own native country. They had lived in the West for so long that they had lost touch with the political, social and religious realities of Iraq.
There is another variable that explains all the troubles the Bush administration is encountering in Iraq. The United States had never before invaded and occupied a Muslim country. The military action in Afghanistan was generally regarded as retaliatory. The US was attacked by al-Qaeda, which was based in Afghanistan and was under the protection of the Taliban regime. By virtue of its association and support of the attackers of September 11, 2001, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan was the aggressor.
In contrast, Iraq was not an aggressor; the United States was. The invasion of Iraq was a war of choice. As such, it violated many aspects of international law. The fact that Iraq was ruled by a brutal dictator could not have been used as a reason for dismantling its government, especially when the Bush administration did not have the backing of the United Nations for its invasion. The international community never forgave the US for its hubris about ignoring the political and moral necessity of world support before invading Iraq.
Who, in the final analysis, is responsible for the mess, Rumsfeld or Bush? If president Harry Truman was correct in coining his famous dictum, "The buck stops here" (meaning at the president's desk), the ultimate blame couldn't be placed on Rumsfeld. Sure, he was the chief architect of war strategy in Iraq. However, in the final analysis, it was Bush, not Rumsfeld, who decided to wage that war.
Rumsfeld has now reached a point in the Iraqi imbroglio when he has to spend too much time conducting his personal war of attrition with the growing ranks of his critics. Besides, he has collected so much baggage that his effectiveness has suffered irretrievable damage. In this sense, it matters little that he still has the support of President Bush - whose own credibility on Iraq is steadily diminishing. Rumsfeld's only real choice is to resign.