Friday, April 14, 2006

Rumsfeld on Rumsfeld in General

Saying, "I think we need a fresh start," Army Major General John Batiste joined the ranks of five other recently retired U.S. field commanders to have called for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld over the past few weeks. The other antagonistic adjutants include Marine General Anthony Zinni, Army Major General Charles Swannack, Army Major General John Riggs, Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, and Army Major General Paul Eaton.

Their indictments against Rumsfeld are numerous and varied. Some have to do with strategic blunders. Specifically, that Rumsfeld committed too few U.S. troops for the Iraq offensive and underestimated the strength of the insurgency, that he first allowed and then badly handled the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, and that he moved with deficient urgency to deal with inadequate body armor for U.S. troops.

The generals also accuse Rumsfeld of arrogance and ignoring his field commanders. Batiste described Rumsfeld's leadership style as "intimidating, abusive. There was not a two-way street of respect." Added Riggs, "They only need the military advice when it satisfies their agenda." Swannack agreed it was far more common that Rumsfeld had "micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces."

The six former member of the top brass all say there has been no collusion among them and their coming forward at almost the same time with almost exactly the same story is purely coincidental. That may be but it is surely one-sided. Luckily, if we want to hear both sides of the Rumsfeld argument, we need look no further than Rumsfeld himself.

To that end, I present a fictional "interview," in which all of the Defense Secretary's answers represent actual quotes he has uttered over the past six years in statements, speeches, interviews, and press conferences.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for sitting down and talking with us, "off the record" as it were.

With the press there is no "off the record.

Too true. Let's start with the invasion of Iraq. Much has been said about the threat of WMDs being used as an argument to justify invasion . . . WMDs that have never been found.

We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south, and north somewhat.

Really? What's your proof of that? Because nobody has ever turned up physical evidence WMDs there or anyplace else in Iraq.

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

In that case, shouldn't we send a bipartisan or neutral team to find them and lay to rest all these charges of conspiracy and deceit against the Bush Administration. Maybe some members of Congress?

I can't think of anything funnier than a handful of Congressmen walking around there. They'd have to be there for the next fifty years trying to find something. It's a joke.

That's what I thought too but you said . . . Well, never mind. You have insisted that Iraq is not a "quagmire." Yet you must admit that progress there has been slower than anything the Administration originally predicted.

It will be a long, hard slog.

Aren't slogs usually held through areas like quagmires?

I don't do quagmires.

Have it your way. What are you challenging your subordinates to do to get the U.S. back on track in Iraq.

Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror? Is DoD changing fast enough? . . . Are the changes we have and are making too modest and incremental? My impression is that we have not yet made truly bold moves, although we have have made many sensible, logical moves in the right direction, but are they enough?

Why haven't you tried to implement more bold moves?

Beware when any idea is promoted primarily because it is "bold, exciting, innovative, and new." There are many ideas that are "bold, exciting, innovative and new," but also foolish.

So, a bold status quo then? Very good. What about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal – has the torture of prisoners by U.S. military personnel there hurt our image in the world's eyes?

I'm not a lawyer. My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture . . . I don't know if it is correct to say what you just said, that torture has taken place, or that there's been a conviction for torture. And therefore I'm not going to address the torture word.

Aren't you just using a convenient semantic out here?

[No,] Arguments of convenience lack integrity and inevitably trip you up.

Well, I'm sure we will all be watching for that. How about body armor for the troops? You seem to be the only one insisting that we don't need more.

Congress, the press, and the bureaucracy too often focus on how much money or effort is spent, rather than whether the money or effort actually achieves the announced goal.

But Mr. Secretary, in this case we aren't achieving the goal – protecting our troops – because you won't spend the money.

Presidential leadership needn't always cost money. Look for low- and no-cost options. They can be surprisingly effective . . . Treat each federal dollar as if it was hard earned. It was – by a taxpayer.

I suppose after all those mothers and fathers out there have offered up their children to fight, it is asking a lot of them to ante up tax dollars for Kevlar or Zylon protection as well.

Well, the President's policy is dead or alive. And, you know, I have my preference – but that's not a government position. That's a personal position.

I'm sure it's a humane one. Do you think the U.S. made a mistake going it alone in Iraq?

At the present time we have thirty-two countries in Iraq. Of the NATO nations – there are nineteen NATO nations . . . and we have twelve of those countries currently in Iraq . . . Of the NATO invitees, six of seven are currently in Iraq. So all of this myth about poor response and going it alone is simply that: a myth.

Then how come our Central Command remains so solidly in U.S. control?

The worst thing you can do is allow a coalition to determine what your mission is.

Right, they should just fight it for you. I take it you do not want to stay in Iraq forever, given the growing hostility among the local populace there?

They do not want Americans or coalition forces in their country over a prolonged period, and goodness knows we don't want to be there.

So why go there to fight terrorism at all?

We have two choices: Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live.

Wow. What's the first step to success, in your opinion, in reconciling such paradoxical views of the Muslim/Arab world?

Don't divide the world into "them" and "us."

Of course. Let's turn away from Iraq. So much emphasis is on it at the moment that we forget there is more to the global war on terror. What about Afghanistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaida? And what about Osama Bin Laden – will we ever catch him?

We do know, of certain knowledge, that he is either in Afghanistan or in some other country or dead.

I guess it would have to be one of those. Do we have anything more specific, more factual about his whereabouts? And what would you do with him if you caught him?

I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know.

Wait a minute, I'm getting confused. Who knows what here? What are the unknowns?

As we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - - the ones we don't know we don't know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Dear, God! With so much unknown in your own mind – you, the Secretary of Defense – how can we accept as credible anything you may have told us in the past?

I believe what I said yesterday. I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said.

On that basis, sir, how can you even give this or any other interview?

If I know the answer I'll tell you the answer, and if I don't, I'll just respond, cleverly.

Alert me if and when that happens here. As an increasing number of retired generals joins the clamor of others for you to resign, what advice would you have for your successor, whatever the circumstances in which they follow you?

Plan backward as well as forward. Set goals and trace back to see how to achieve them. You may find that no path can get you there. Plan forward to see where your steps will take you, which may not be clear or intuitive.

That's . . . that's very visionary and strategic. And if they find things are not working out and that reality does not fit their preconceptions, I assume you would advise them to ? . . .

Put your head down, do the best job possible, let the flak pass, and work towards those goal.

Yes, that's what I figured. Any other advice?

Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your performance.

In light of that and the current criticisms mounting against you . . .

Now, on the other hand, if Secretaries of Defense resigned every time someone did something they shouldn't do out of the millions of people involved in the defense establishment, or a mayor or a governor [because] something happened in their country, you wouldn't have anyone in public office.

I see.

We'll take one last question and I will decide who it is. It's you.

That makes sense since I'm the only one here. What else have you heard lately from your retired generals?

Nothing. I've been in [here] for three hours.

Sir, do you think that? . . .

No, no, no. You had your question.
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