Despite White House efforts to put an end to the
controversy, the battle over the fate of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld shows
little sign of abating.
And the outcome, which is by no means certain, could well determine the trajectory
of U.S. policy in key areas including Iraq, Iran, and even China
through the remaining two and a half years of George W. Bush's presidency.
While the unprecedented calls by six retired generals for his resignation have
focused primarily on his competence, management style, and strategy for invading
and occupying Iraq, Rumsfeld's departure would almost certainly cripple the
coalition of neoconservative and aggressive nationalist war hawks in and around
the administration for the remainder of Bush's term.
That is why the hawks outside the administration, led by the neoconservative
editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, appear anxious to persuade
Bush himself that the current campaign against his defense secretary is really
aimed at him.
"[O]n Friday Mr. Bush said he still has every confidence [in Rumsfeld],"
the Journal stated. "We suspect the president understands that most
of those calling for Mr. Rumsfeld's heart are really longing for his."
Teamed with his former protégé and longtime close friend, Vice
President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld has enjoyed remarkable influence over U.S. foreign
policy, as well as Pentagon operations, for most of the past five years.
Indeed, within five hours of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the
Pentagon itself, it was Rumsfeld who was the first to suggest that the U.S.
respond by attacking Iraq, as well as al Qaeda. According to contemporaneous
notes taken by an aide, he called for the U.S. to "go massive. Sweep it
all up. Things related and not."
Like Cheney, he has also been a steadfast hawk on Syria, Iran, and China, and
his efforts to greatly expand the Pentagon's role in covert action at the expense
of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and in dispensing military aid to foreign
allies at the expense of the State Department have given his department unprecedented
influence in bilateral relations with friends and foes alike.
Given Bush's record low approval ratings as well as the dissent Rumsfeld's
performance has stirred up among the military brass and, for that matter, on
Capitol Hill any successor likely to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate will
almost certainly have to be less hawkish and not nearly as closely linked to
Cheney. This would deprive the vice president, who was clearly the most important
influence on U.S. foreign policy during Bush's first term, of his most important
and effective ideological and operational ally.
In fact, most of the candidates who have surfaced as potential successors
in particular, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Dan Coates; Senate Armed Services
Committee Chairman John Warner; and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage (who last week called for direct negotiations with Iran) are considered
While conservative, they are much more inclined to defer to the uniformed military
and their State Department colleagues. The only exception is Sen. Joseph Lieberman,
a strongly pro-Israel Democrat who favors a policy of confrontation with Tehran.
The current round of attacks on Rumsfeld began last month when ret. Army Maj.
Gen. Paul Eaton, who had been charge of training the Iraqi military during the
first year of the U.S. occupation, criticized his former boss in a New York
Times column as "incompetent strategically, operationally, and tactically."
His blast was followed last week by an anguished column in Time magazine
by ret. Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the top operations officer for the
Joint Chiefs of Staff before the invasion, who, after criticizing his own failure
to speak out in advance against the attack on Iraq, alluded to the lack of firsthand
war experience of many of the hawks.
"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.
Other retired generals, including Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the
First Infantry Division in Iraq and served top military aide to former Deputy
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Maj. Gen. Charles Swannock, Jr., who commanded
the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq; Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, weighed in with
their own critiques, as did two retired generals the former chief of
the U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni; and former NATO commander
Gen. Wesley Clark who had called on Rumsfeld to step down as long as
two years ago.
At the same time, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose chief of staff,
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, has accused Rumsfeld and Cheney of leading a "cabal"
that circumvented the official policy-making process in order to take foreign
policy in a radical direction, also accused the Pentagon of making "some
serious mistakes" in Iraq, although the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff did not call for Rumsfeld to go.
In the face of this onslaught which, according to the dissenters, is
likely to be followed by other statements from retired senior officers
Bush issued a statement Friday insisting that Rumsfeld "has my full support
and deepest appreciation." At the same time, the Pentagon sent out a memorandum
to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts who often appear
on television talk shows about what they could say in Rumsfeld's defense
Sure enough, ret. Central Commander chief Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the Iraq
campaign; former Joint Chief of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers both
of whom had been implicitly criticized by the dissenters for deferring too much
to Rumsfeld's wishes came to his defense, as did the current Joint Chiefs
chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace whose remarks, however, curiously stressed
attributes that were never in doubt.
Three other generals who appeared on the Sunday talk shows also insisted that
Rumsfeld should not be forced out, although their praise was remarkably faint.
Indeed, one, ret. Air Force Major Gen. Don Shepperd, said the Pentagon had made
"some severe mistakes" in Iraq, while ret. Army Gen. James Marks confirmed
reports that senior officers had requested more forces during the invasion "at
a very critical point in the war" and been denied.
Their lack of enthusiasm helped illustrate the loss of credibility and
authority Rumsfeld and his fellow hawks have suffered with the uniformed
military, a trend that was described at length in a Journal article Monday,
entitled "Rumsfeld's Control of Military Policy Appears to Weaken."
It noted, among other things, that senior officers are growing increasingly
inclined to ignore or publicly contradict Rumsfeld's policy preferences, such
as limiting military exchanges with China.
And even as Rumsfeld was insisting last month that Syria was facilitating the
training and entry of "foreign fighters" into Iraq, Central Command
chief Gen. John Abizaid told Congress that Damascus was cooperating with U.S.
efforts to stop infiltration across the border.
Even Rumsfeld's supporters on Capitol Hill are less than enthusiastic. Asked
to comment on the controversy over the weekend, Warner, normally an administration
loyalist but who is also very close to the brass, stated simply that he believed
"that the decision of whether to keep Secretary Rumsfeld is up to the president."
(Inter Press Service)