Thomas E. Ricks / Washington Post – 2006-04-13 08:36:32
WASHINGTON (April 13, 2006) — The retired commander of key forces in Iraq called yesterday for Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down, joining several other former top military commanders who have harshly criticized the defense secretary’s authoritarian style for making the military’s job more difficult.
“I think we need a fresh start” at the top of the Pentagon, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, said in an interview. “We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork.”
Batiste noted that many of his peers feel the same way. “It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense,” he said earlier yesterday on CNN.
Batiste’s comments resonate especially within the Army: It is widely known there that he was offered a promotion to three-star rank to return to Iraq and be the No. 2 U.S. military officer there but he declined because he no longer wished to serve under Rumsfeld. Also, before going to Iraq, he worked at the highest level of the Pentagon, serving as the senior military assistant to Paul D. Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense.
Batiste said he believes that the administration’s handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles, such as unity of command and unity of effort. In other interviews, Batiste has said he thinks the violation of another military principle — ensuring there are enough forces — helped create the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal by putting too much responsibility on incompetent officers and undertrained troops.
His comments follow similar recent high-profile attacks on Rumsfeld by three other retired flag officers, amid indications that many of their peers feel the same way.
“We won’t get fooled again,” retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, who held the key post of director of operations on the staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2000 to 2002, wrote in an essay in Time magazine this week. Listing a series of mistakes such as “McNamara-like micromanagement,” a reference to the Vietnam War-era secretary of defense, Newbold called for “replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.”
Last month, another top officer who served in Iraq, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he called Rumsfeld “incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically.” Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi army troops in 2003-2004, said that “Mr. Rumsfeld must step down.”
Also, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a longtime critic of Rumsfeld and the administration’s handling of the Iraq war, has been more vocal lately as he publicizes a new book, “The Battle for Peace.”
“The problem is that we’ve wasted three years” in Iraq, said Zinni, who was the chief of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, in the late 1990s. He added that he “absolutely” thinks Rumsfeld should resign.
On Tuesday, Gen. Peter Pace, who is the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attempted to tamp down the revolt of the retired generals. No officers were muzzled during the planning of the invasion of Iraq, he said.
“We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds, and if we do not, shame on us,” he said at a Pentagon briefing. “The articles that are out there about folks not speaking up are just flat wrong.”
Lawrence T. Di Rita, a counselor to the Defense Department, disagreed with the retired generals’ characterizations of Rumsfeld’s style. “People are entitled to their opinions. What they are not entitled to is their own facts. . . . The assertions about inadequate exposure to military judgment are just fundamentally incorrect,” he said.
Other retired generals said they think it is unlikely that the denunciations of Rumsfeld and his aides will cease.
“A lot of them are hugely frustrated,” in part because Rumsfeld gave the impression that “military advice was neither required nor desired” in the planning for the Iraq war, said retired Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who until last year commanded Marine forces in the Pacific Theater. He said he is sensing much anger among Americans over the administration’s handling of the war and thinks the continuing criticism from military professionals will fuel that anger as the November elections approach. He declined to discuss his own views.
Another retired officer, Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, said he believes that his peer group is “a pretty closemouthed bunch” but that, even so, his sense is “everyone pretty much thinks Rumsfeld and the bunch around him should be cleared out.”
He emphatically agrees, Riggs said, explaining that he believes Rumsfeld and his advisers have “made fools of themselves, and totally underestimated what would be needed for a sustained conflict.”
Military experts expressed some concern about the new outspokenness of retired generals.
“I think it flatly is a bad thing,” said Richard H. Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina who writes frequently on civilian-military relations. He said he worries that it could undermine civilian control of the military, especially by making civilian leaders feel that that they need to be careful about what they say around officers, for fear of being denounced as soon as they retire.
“How can you prosecute a war if the military and civilians don’t trust each other?” Kohn asked.
Also, the generals themselves may be partly to blame for the situation in Iraq, along with Rumsfeld and the White House, said Michael Vickers, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.
“It’s just absurd to lay the blame on Don Rumsfeld alone,” he said.
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