Friday, April 14, 2006

Iraq I: Generally Disgusted With Rumsfeld

The White House, deep in denial, calls the public condemnation of Defense Secretary Donald "I Don't Do Quagmires" Rumsfeld by a growing number of retired generals merely a reflection of tensions over the war.

I have some other names for it: Unprecedented. Historic. Long overdue. Sad.

Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led the Army's storied 82nd Airborne in Iraq in the first year of the war, and Maj. Gen. John Riggs have become the fifth and sixth retired senior commander to call for Rumsfeld's ouster.

Like other generals who have spoken out before him, Swannack took pains to separate the man from the mission:

We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off our shores. But I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq.

The New York Times noted in a story that:

There were indications on Thursday that the concern about Mr. Rumsfeld, rooted in years of pent-up anger about his handling of the war, was sweeping aside the reticence of retired generals who took part in the Iraq war to criticize an enterprise in which they participated. Current and former officers said they were unaware of any organized campaign to seek Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster, but they described a blizzard of telephone calls and e-mail messages as retired generals critical of Mr. Rumsfeld weighed the pros and cons of joining in the condemnation.

Rumsfeld has not been a total disaster. His efforts to transform a hidebound Pentagon culture and modernize the U.S. military are praiseworthy in the aggregate, and he is not the first civilian defense chief to clash with the brass.

That said, the defense secretary has become a magnet for all that is wrong about the war because he is primarily responsible for all that is wrong. The calls for his ouster are rooted in his refusal to heed the advice of his battlefield commanders, including some of the generals speaking out now, regarding troop levels and tactics, as well as concerns that the war is taking an unacceptable toll on American armed forces generally.

(Some especially clueless conservative websites and blogs like Powerline are rushing to Rummy's defense by noting that (1.) Most of the detractors were promoted to general during the Clinton administration, as if that were a factor. And if you're wondering why active-duty generals are not speaking out, it's because that's against the law. Honest.) (2.) Six retired generals out of hundreds ain't many. But then when is the last time you heard even one retired general criticize the big guy?)

Rumsfeld is nothing if not stubborn, and there's no sign that the Bush administration's leading public relations disaster (after Dubya himself) is being shown the door. But one does have wonder how many generals' stars it will take before he finally goes. Or maybe he'll stick around for the bombing campaign against Iran. (!!!)

Anyhow, we're up to 13 stars and counting . . .


The Guardian's Jonathan Steele, writing from Baghdad, notesthat it finally seems to have dawned on U.S. officials that if there is going to be a full blown civil war, the root cause will be the sectarian militias that it empowered because of a series of knuckleheaded decisions early in the occupation:

Much ink, as well as indignation, is being spent on whether Iraq is on the verge of, in the midst of, or nowhere near civil war. Wherever you stand in this largely semantic debate, the one certainty is that the seedbed for the country's self-destruction is Iraq's plethora of militias. In the apt phrase of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, they are the "infrastructure of civil war".

He is not the first U.S. overlord in Iraq to spot the danger. Shortly before the formal transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, America's then top official Paul Bremer ordered all militias to disband. Some members could join the new army. Others would have to look for civilian work.

His decree was not enforced and now, two years later, this failure has come back to haunt Iraq.

<>. . . Khalilzad's denunciation of the militias was an extraordinary turnaround, given that the focus of U.S. military activity since the fall of Saddam Hussein has been the battle against foreign jihadis and a nationalist Sunni-led insurgency. Suddenly the US faces a greater "enemy within" - militias manned by the Shia community, once seen by the U.S. as allies, and run by government ministers.

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