In the old Hollywood westerns, the white settlers
circle the wagons to defend themselves against attacks by the Indians until
the U.S. Cavalry can arrive to rescue them and chase off their assailants. But
in Washington over the last few days it seems that the Cavalry has joined the
US President George W. Bush, backed by his vice president and national
security adviser, have been circling the wagons around Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld since the White House told reporters that the president had given him a
mild rebuke over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
But the embattled Pentagon chief may have made too many enemies –
particularly within his armed forces – to be saved.
While Bush praised Rumsfeld for "doing a superb job" during a rare visit to
the Pentagon Monday morning, his words were somehow unable to overcome the
distinct sounds of knives being sharpened in the hallways just outside, as well
as across town on Capitol Hill and at the State Department, where Secretary of
State (and former army general) Colin Powell compared the possible impact on
U.S. foreign policy of the abuse photographs to the 1969 disclosure of the
Lai Massacre in Vietnam.
The big news of the day was that the Army
Times, which, along with the major dailies of the other armed services,
is published by a private company, called for both Rumsfeld and the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, to step down in light of the scandal
surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.
"This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command level," said
Times lead editorial, which also appeared in the other service
newspapers. "This was failure that ran straight to the top. Accountability here
is essential – even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of
war." It said Rumsfeld's moves from the outset of the "war on terror" had
delivered the message to the US troops that "anything goes."
The editorial came as new photos documenting
abuses – including prison dogs attacking a naked Iraqi detainee – were
published by newspapers across the country Monday morning, and reflected a
growing sense here that the scandal is far from playing out, if only because
many of Rumsfeld's – and the Bush administration's – critics see the abuse
crisis as symptomatic of all that has gone wrong in Iraq and the "war on
Foremost among these are the ex-military and even active-duty military who
have become increasingly outspoken about their unhappiness with the way the war
has been conducted.
A number of prominent retired officers, such as the former head of the US
Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni, and his counterpart in the Southern
Command, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, have warned for more than a year that Rumsfeld,
in his zeal to "transform" the military into a "leaner, meaner" global force,
was dangerously overstretching the US army, particularly in Iraq.
Top army officers have also made little secret of their resentment of the way
Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz – who, like other top
Pentagon civilians in the Bush administration, have never served in combat –
dismissed the former Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki.
Shinseki presciently warned before the war that at least 200,000 troops would
be needed to occupy Iraq after an invasion. Wolfowitz denounced that estimate as
"wildly off the mark," while, in a major break with tradition, neither Rumsfeld
nor Wolfowitz attended Shinseki's farewell ceremony where he cautioned against
"a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army."
What began as the shouts of a few top retired officers when the first Abu
Ghraib photos were published ten days ago has now become a veritable clamor. The
Army Times editorial is just the latest, if most striking, example.
"Rumsfeld is paying the price for the way he has run the Department of
Defense for more than three years, but the price is being paid by George W.
Robert Novak, a Washington Post columnist whose close ties to the
military brass go back more than 30 years.
"From the first month of the Bush administration, I have heard complaints
from old military hands – some in uniform, some not – that the new secretary's
arrogance and insularity were creating a dysfunctional Pentagon," he wrote in a
column that also quoted the private intelligence group, Stratfor (Strategic
Forecasting), as concluding that Rumsfeld has "consistently managed to get the
strategic and organizational questions wrong."
Even more remarkable, perhaps, was the a front-page article Sunday by the
Post's veteran military correspondent, Tom Ricks, titled, "Dissension
Grows in Senior Ranks on War Strategy." The article quoted army Maj. Gen.
Charles Swannack, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, as insisting
that U.S. forces were winning the war in Iraq at the tactical level but,
"strategically, we are (losing it)."
The article also cited army Col. Paul Hughes, the first director of strategic
planning for the US occupation in Iraq, as comparing the situation there with
the US defeat in Vietnam: "Unless we have coherency in our policy, we will lose
strategically," he said, adding, "We don't understand the war we're in."
"It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," said one unidentified
"senior general" at the Pentagon who pointed to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz as
responsible for the lack of adequate planning before the invasion. "The American
people may not stand for it – and they should not."
Ricks reported that a number of his interviewees had stressed that Rumsfeld
and his top civilian aides were the object of a "profound anger (that) is
building within the army."
That anger may well be responsible for the most significant defection to date
among Republican Party lawmakers from the White House line that calls from
members of the Democratic Party for Rumsfeld's resignation are politically
On Sunday, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran and
member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a TV interview on the CBS
network, "It's still in question whether ... Rumsfeld and, quite frankly,
General Myers can command the respect and the trust and the confidence of the
military," given their handling of the prison abuse scandal.
He was followed on the television program by another more conservative
Republican senator who also served in the military, Lindsey Graham. He echoed
Democratic arguments, saying he believed the scandal indicated a "systemic
failure" and that "we just don't want a bunch of privates and sergeants to be
the scapegoats here."
Their remarks came on the heels of the widely quoted statement last week by a
senior conservative Democrat and veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, congressman
John Murtha, that the conflict in Iraq was "unwinnable."
Murtha, who is regarded as particularly close to the uniformed military and
who strongly supported the invasion, has traveled frequently to Iraq since last
(Inter Press Service)