GOP And Pentagon Circling The Wagons Around Rumsfeld
Now a classic “push-back” is in full force as the GOP and Pentagon have begun circling the protective wagons around “Rummy.”
It’s a multi-fronted defense: Rumsfeld’s defenders going on the offensive against the generals who’ve dared criticize him, suggesting it’s unseemly and (subtext) not good for the country for them to call for his resignation during wartime, and defending his policies and judgments in his job. The critics want change; they argue for continuity.
The Big Gun used against the retired military critics came in the form of an email from the Pentagon…about as official a response as you could get:
The Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The one-page memorandum was sent by e-mail on Friday to the group, which includes several retired generals who appear regularly on television, and came as the Bush administration stepped up its own defense of Mr. Rumsfeld. On the political front, Republican strategists voiced rising anxiety on Saturday that without a major change in the course of the Iraq war, Republican candidates would suffer dearly in the November elections.
The memorandum begins by stating, “U.S. senior military leaders are involved to an unprecedented degree in every decision-making process in the Department of Defense.” It says Mr. Rumsfeld has had 139 meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the start of 2005 and 208 meetings with the senior field commanders.
Seeking to put the criticism of the relatively small number of retired generals into context, the e-mail message also notes that there are more than 8,000 active-duty and retired general officers alive today.
The message was released Friday by the Pentagon’s office of the Directorate for Programs and Community Relations and Public Liaison, but it was unclear who wrote it.
Next: the six retired generals are countered by generals who suggest Rumsfeld should be left alone:
Four retired generals said Sunday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should not be pressured to quit in wartime, even as three of them accused him of leadership and management errors in Iraq.
The allegations aired Sunday ranged from fostering a culture of mistrust to disregarding crucial requests for more troops. They came as the Bush administration tried to staunch the controversy triggered last week when a series of retired generals came forward to press for Rumsfeld’s resignation.
“There were some severe mistakes made,” retired U.S. Air Force major general Don Shepperd said Sunday on CNN’s Late Edition. Nevertheless, he said, it “steps over the line” for retired military brass to criticize Rumsfeld and, by extension, President Bush.
But wait: Those who’ve defended Rumsfeld have said that the generals should have voiced their concerns when they were not retired or resigned to underscore their disagreement. But wouldn’t that be criticizing Rumsfeld and by extension President Bush anyway? MORE:
Shepperd said the two will be held accountable in elections this fall and the presidential election in 2008: “That’s the appropriate way to exercise the opinion of the American people, as opposed to retired generals calling for resignations in the middle of a conflict.”
So the argument seems to be: military should never criticize the way a war that is costing lives is being conducted if they feel it is not being waged correctly or competently. If you don’t like it, quit. Wait until elections (which then means more of a delay because change does not come immediately after Election Day).
The panorama of the GOP/Pentagon defense on Rumsfeld and the offensive against the retired generals speaking out against him is best driven home in this excerpt from ABC News in Australia:
And today, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Meyers declared it was wrong for the retired generals, in a time of war, to be so openly critical of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership.
RICHARD MYERS: It’s inappropriate because it’s not the military that judges our civilian bosses. That would be a â€¦ We’d be in a horrible in a horrible state in this country, in my opinion, if the military was left to judge the civilian bosses.
Because when you judge Secretary Rumsfeld, you’re also judging the Commander in Chief, because that’s the chain of command.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: President Bush issued a statement two days ago declaring his strong support for Donald Rumsfeld, but the endorsements from senior Republicans have been much more lukewarm.
Take for instance the comments today by Republican Senators Richard Lugar and George Allen when both were asked directly whether Donald Rumsfeld should go.
RICHARD LUGAR: The President may decide finally to revamp his administration. But for the time being, he has indicated Secretary Rumsfeld is going to be our Secretary, and that’s the call.
GEORGE ALLEN: And so this will be up to the President of the United States to determine who’s in his Cabinet, including the Secretary of Defense.
Those generals, retired generals, are people of credibility.
However, what matters is what the Commander-in-Chief thinks, and that’s President Bush.
So the argument is: (1) Bush is commander-in-chief. (2) Calls on Rumsfeld to step down should cease since it’s putting pressure on Bush who is commander-in-chief and gets to decide whom he wants to be Secretary of Defense.
Rumsfeld also got some support via an op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Rumsfeld also drew support from retired Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, the former deputy chief of U.S. forces in the Middle East. Writing in The New York Times, DeLong said the generals were wrong to blame Rumsfeld for the problems the United States now faces in Iraq — “and when they do so in a time of war, the rest of the world watches.”
“Mr. Rumsfeld does not give in easily in disagreements, either, and he will always force you to argue your point thoroughly. This can be tough for some people to deal with,” DeLong wrote.
“I witnessed many heated but professional conversations between my immediate commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, and Mr. Rumsfeld — but the secretary always deferred to the general on war-fighting issues.”
Meanwhile, General Wesley Clark, a Democrat, became the seventh general to call for Rumsfeld’s ouster:
â€œI believe secretary Rumsfeld hasnâ€™t done an adequate job. He should go,â€? General Wesley Clark told Fox News Channel in an interview. Clark said Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney had pushed the United States into Iraq, and said the invasion â€œhad no connectionâ€? with the war on terror.
â€œThey pressed for this, they pressed for open warfare before the diplomacy was finished,â€? said the retired general and Fox News analyst. â€œIt was a tragic mistake, a strategic blunder.â€?
Asked whether it was appropriate to comment on the defence secretaryâ€™s performance while the United States is at war, Clark replied: â€œItâ€™s more than an appropriate time. This country needed a better policy from the 2001 period on.â€? â€œNow these officers are saying at least give us somebody in the military chain of command who will listen. Thatâ€™s why secretary Rumsfeld has lost their confidence. Heâ€™s made bad policy choices. Itâ€™s time for new leadership.â€? Clark, who became supreme allied commander of NATO in 1997, is a frequent critic of the US administrationâ€™s Iraq policy. He was a candidate for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2004 and is seen as a possible contender in the 2008 race.
Will this have an impact on voters in 2006? Time Magazine thinks so:
But what distinguishes the latest rebellion is that the retired generals are taking on their old boss not over policy or budgets but the operation of an ongoing war. And it is a message that will probably be heard more deeply by voters than the usual criticism from Capitol Hill or editorial boards, particularly because the generals are making essentially the same argument: Rumsfeld was wrong to disband the Iraqi military, has ignored the advice of people with far more battlefield experience and has shown too little concern about the abuses of Iraqi prisoners. The generals also argue that Rumsfeld insisted on too small a force for the invasion, abandoning the doctrine championed by former Secretary of State and four-star general Colin Powell in 1991 after the Gulf War to attack rarely and then only with overwhelming force. Rumsfeld wanted to prove the Powell Doctrine obsolete. Instead, he has probably guaranteed that it will be followed for years.
There is some evidence that the retirees are speaking for other generals still on active duty. “I think,” said former U.S. Central Command boss Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine four star, “a lot of people are biting their tongues.” But not everyone: some still in uniform have criticized the retirees for speaking up now instead of before the war, when the brass accepted Rumsfeld’s demands for a smaller, lighter force. But one consistent part of the indictment is that Rumsfeld made clear he wouldn’t listen to views that didn’t match his own anyway.
What’s likely to happen?
- It’s unlikely Bush will ask Rumsfeld to leave. Calls for Rumsfeld’s exit have probably now ensured his tenure as long as Bush is in office.
- The GOP/Pentagon pushback will basically rally the loyal GOP base to support Rumsfeld.
- Rumsfeld’s image has never been terrific with Democrats and more than ever they will be using him as the poster boy for what’s wrong with the war in terms of its competent conduct and the degree (or lack of it) of policy adaptibility.
- Calls by retired generals will carry great weight with independents and moderates because many will not buy the Rumsfeld-supporters’ argument that it’s wrong not to seek to replace a change in leadership when a war is not going well and when there are questions about whether that war is being managed competently — and whether ALL military views are being taken into account, not just ones that match existing civilian military and civilian political goals and ideas.
- Rumsfeld’s international reputation will take a huge hit. This is the equivalent of a vote of no-confidence.
- If you look at it overall, it could prove a problem for the GOP because if polls continue to show erosion in support for the war coupled with few policy changes and the unlikelihood that Rumsfeld will step aside, there is little likelihood disgruntled voters will feel change will come from within the administration. More than ever, it would have to come from outside the administration — such as via a house or two of Congress being either put under Democratic control or at least populated by fewer Republicans than hold either chamber now.
The overall outlook for the administration is not good. With most news coming out of Iraq unsettling or bad these days, greater news weight will be given to retired military who call for ways to change the present course, rather than to those who are either suggesting the present course is just fine or that those who speak out should remain silent while the war is going on.
In short: the wagons are circled — but that doesn’t mean some fired arrows won’t penetrate the inside.
A CROSS-SECTION OF LINKS TO WEBLOGS ALSO COMMENTING ON THIS STORY: Blue Crab Boulevard, Dr. Sanity, Daily Kos, Sister Toldjah, Who Even Cares?, QandO, Chlorophyll, Political Cortex, Don Surber, Crooks & Liars (with an interesting video…as usual), State of the Day, Rain Crow Calling, A Chequer Board,