Tuesday, April 18, 2006

On Rumsfeld: Here’s a choice

At Newsweek Evan Thomas and John Barry author its lead story this week: a hit piece aimed at Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

Thomas and Barry, you’ll remember, helped produce Newsweek’s false story about guards at Gitmo flushing pages of the Koran down a toilet. The story led to rioting in the Muslim world that resulted in at least 15 deaths, hundreds of injury and increased Muslim hostility directed at Americans.

Newsweek was forced to issue a retraction.

Are you saying, “John, we’re interested in the Rumsfeld story but can’t you offer us someone with more bona fides than Thomas and Barry?”

Sure I can. Look at this New York Times op-ed:

AS the No. 2 general at United States Central Command from the Sept. 11 attacks through the Iraq war, I was the daily "answer man" to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I briefed him twice a day; few people had as much interaction with him as I did during those two years. In light of the recent calls for his resignation by several retired generals, I would like to set the record straight on what he was really like to work with.

When I was at Centcom, the people who needed to have access to Secretary Rumsfeld got it, and he carefully listened to our arguments. That is not to say that he is not tough in terms of his convictions (he is) or that he will make it easy on you (he will not). If you approach him unprepared, or if you don't have the full courage of your convictions, he will not give you the time of day.

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. 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.

Ultimately, I believe that a tough defense secretary makes commanders tougher in their convictions. Was Donald Rumsfeld a micromanager? Yes. Did he want to be involved in all of the decisions? Yes. But Mr. Rumsfeld never told people in the field what to do. It all went through General Franks.

Mr. Rumsfeld did not like waste, which caused some grumbling among the military leadership even before 9/11. He knew that many of the operational plans we had on the books dated back to the 1990's (some even to the late 80's), and he wanted them updated for an era of a more streamlined, technological force. He asked us all: "Can we do it better, and can we do it with fewer people?"

Sometimes General Franks and I answered yes, other times we answered no. When we said no, there was a discussion; but when we told him what we truly needed, we got it. I never saw him endangering troops by insisting on replacing manpower with technology. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, we always got what we, the commanders, thought we needed.

This is why the much-repeated claims that Mr. Rumsfeld didn't "give us enough troops" in Iraq ring hollow. First, such criticisms ignore that the agreed-upon plan was for a lightning operation into Baghdad. In addition, logistically it would have been well nigh impossible to bring many more soldiers through the bottleneck in Kuwait. And doing so would have carried its own risk: you cannot sustain a fighting force of 300,000 or 500,000 men for long, and it would have left us with few reserves, putting our troops at risk in other parts of the world. Given our plan, we thought we had the right number of troops to accomplish our mission.

The outcome and ramifications of a war, however, are impossible to predict. Saddam Hussein had twice opened his jails, flooding the streets with criminals. The Iraqi police walked out of their uniforms in the face of the invasion, compounding domestic chaos. We did not expect these developments.

We also — collectively — made some decisions in the wake of the war that could have been better. We banned the entire Baath Party, which ended up slowing reconstruction (we should probably have banned only high-level officials); we dissolved the entire Iraqi Army (we probably should have retained a small cadre help to rebuild it more quickly). We relied too much on the supposed expertise of the Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi who assured us that once Saddam Hussein was gone, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds would unite in harmony.

But that doesn't mean that a "What's next?" plan didn't exist. It did; it was known as Phase IV of the overall operation. General Franks drafted it and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department and all members of the Cabinet had input. It was thoroughly "war-gamed" by the Joint Chiefs.

Thus, for distinguished officers to step forward and, in retrospect, pin blame on one person is wrong. And when they do so in a time of war, the rest of the world watches.
Here’s the op-ed’s tag line
Michael DeLong, a retired Marine lieutenant general, is the author, with Noah Lukeman, of "Inside Centcom: The Unvarnished Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
I said nothing throughout the op-ed because I thought anything I said could easily detract from what DeLong was saying. What’s more I didn’t want to get in your way.
Sometimes a publication will have trouble with a blogger lifting an entire piece, especially when there’s no commentary in the post.

I hope in this case the NY Times doesn’t have a problem. I doubt it will. The post has introductory comments. The Newsweek comments help “frame” DeLong’s op-ed. Also, at this blog we’ve discussed matters DeLong writes about: and we’ll do so in the near future, especially matters relating to the number of troops that should have been deployed in Iraq at various points in time up through today.

Given all of that I think this post's use of DeLong’s op-ed meets the fair use standard.

Hat Tip: Mike Williams

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