Ruminations Reinforce Reservations
They normally come in the form of simple, one or two-paragraph queries, affectionately, and sometimes not so affectionately, referred to by his underlings and colleagues as "snowflakes."
But Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld's latest ruminations blew in like a freak autumn blizzard, catching official Washington off-guard and leaving spokespersons scrambling for guidance that could reassure reporters, Congress and the public that, yes, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan really are completely under control.
The leak of a dour, two-page memo addressed to four of Rumsfeld's top aides and filled with a series of fundamental questions that most experts would have expected to have been thought out long ago is the latest indication of serious disarray -- even self-doubt -- among the Bush administration hawks who led the march to war in Iraq.
Coming two weeks into a major administration public-relations campaign to persuade the public that things in Iraq are going much better than the press is reporting and on the eve of a donors conference in Madrid designed to persuade U.S. allies to cough up billions of dollars in reconstruction aid for Iraq, the timing for airing Rumsfeld's worries could not be much worse.
The memo, which appeared in USA Today on Wednesday and, among other things, confirms that the Pentagon has failed even to establish benchmarks in its "global war on terror" to measure whether it is winning or losing, comes on top of a number of other embarrassments this week around the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
They began with the continuing reverberations from last week's disclosure that the Pentagon official in charge of tracking down former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the leadership of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, Lt Gen William Boykin, is something of a Christian fanatic.
Boykin has appeared in uniform in churches around the country the past two years proclaiming, among other things, that the enemy in the 'war on terrorism' "is a guy named Satan" and that the god worshipped by Muslims is "an idol."
While several powerful lawmakers, including leading Republicans, demanded that Boykin immediately step down or at least be reassigned to a less sensitive post, the Pentagon said only that it would investigate if he violated any laws or regulations but that no further action was being considered.
The next blow came from abroad. After wrangling for months to get a clearly reluctant Turkish parliament to authorise the contribution of as many as 10,000 troops to U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq, the administration hinted this week it may soon cancel the idea in the face of unanimous opposition from its hand-picked Governing Council in Baghdad.
Rumsfeld said Tuesday that the Turkish deployment -- the parliament's endorsement of which earlier this month was touted as a major diplomatic breakthrough -- would go forward only if an arrangement could be worked out that was "satisfactory to (the Turks), satisfactory to the Iraqis and satisfactory to the coalition."
"Whether or not they will ultimately find a method of satisfying everybody, I don't know," Rumsfeld said, adding he still hoped the plan could be salvaged. But the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, has formally recommended the idea be abandoned.
The Pentagon views Turkish troops as particularly desirable because their military and peacekeeping experience would enable them to actually replace U.S. troops in the field, rather than simply act as auxiliary units for defending fixed targets such as oil pipelines.
It was also felt that Turkey's participation would encourage other predominantly Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, to contribute troops, thus reducing the ability of Islamic militants to depict the occupation as similar to the Crusades of the Middle Ages.
But with the Turkish option fading, it appears that administration hopes for drawing down U.S. troop levels to less than one-half of the 130,000 troops in Iraq now by the end of 2004 were unrealistic. That assessment, in turn, means that yet more reservists will have to be deployed to Iraq, further straining an overstretched and increasingly demoralised army.
The U.S. commander in Iraq disclosed Wednesday that attacks on U.S. troops there have increased sharply in October, reaching a high of 35 a day, compared to between 10 and 15 attacks in July and August.
Military officials argued that the rise in attacks mostly reflected more-aggressive tactics by U.S. forces, particularly in Sunni-dominated western provinces, where troops had previously asserted only a modest presence.
But analysts here said the growing attacks also indicate that the resistance continues to grow and spread to regions that have been relatively quiet.
Despite the bad news, the administration remained officially upbeat this week with Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, telling Republican donors Monday, "we are rolling back the terrorist threat at the very heart of its power, in the Middle East."
While that may be the official line, pundits and Democrats noted Thursday, Rumsfeld's private doubts tell a different story. While the Pentagon chief's penchant for constantly sprinkling his "snowflakes" -- questions, proddings, suggestions -- all over the national-security bureaucracy, his Oct. 16 memo seemed, as 'USA Today' called it, especially grim.
Consisting essentially of a series of questions, it is particularly notable for the lack of confidence it expresses in the ability of both the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies to effectively prosecute the war on terror.
"It is not possible to change DoD (department of defence) fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror," he complains, suggesting that perhaps a new institution should be created "either within DoD or elsewhere -- one that seamlessly focuses the capabilities of several departments and agencies on this key problem."
Rumsfeld writes that the war against al-Qaeda has so far yielded only "mixed results" and that U.S. forces have made "somewhat slower progress tracking down the Taliban" in Afghanistan.
Perhaps most strikingly, he indicates that the Pentagon has never devised specific benchmarks for assessing progress in its anti-terrorism campaign. "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror," he adds.
"Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas (Islamic schools) and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" he asks, exclaiming later, "the cost-benefit ratio is against us! Our cost is billions against the terrorists' costs of millions ... Is our current situation such that 'the harder we work, the behinder we get'?"
On the record, administration officials described the memo as a reflection of just the kind of critical process that is needed to prevail in a long, drawn-out war. Off the record, they admitted the questions were not exactly ones that inspired confidence.
The Democrats jumped on the leak. "Secretary Rumsfeld is only now acknowledging what we've known for some time", said retired Gen Wesley Clark, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, "that this administration has no plan for Iraq and no long-term strategy for fighting terrorism."
(Inter Press Service)
Recent columns by Jim Lobe
Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since the well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
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