Monday, April 17, 2006

Rummy vs. The Pensioners

UPDATE and BUMP:See bottom for update
One of the best responses to the Battle of the Bitter-boys (I just use that because it makes some people so angry - just kidding Shipmate) is out there on the streets; an Editorial at National Review Online, “The Army’s Revenge.”
As a political matter, Rumsfeld’s leaving at this moment, under this kind of fire, would play as an admission that the critics who say the Iraq war was fundamentally botched have been right all along. The White House realizes this, which is one reason President Bush made such a strong statement in support of Rumsfeld on Friday. That retired generals are criticizing a Defense secretary is not, per se, the threat to civil-military relations that some of Rumsfeld’s defenders seem to think. Retired flag officers are citizens after all, and they’re free to say whatever they want. But there is something unseemly about it, especially considering that most of them apparently kept conveniently quiet about their misgivings while in uniform.

More important, the criticisms of Rumsfeld don’t have much force. Some say he is too imperious. This charge isn’t hard to believe of the strong-willed Rumsfeld, but it is disappointing that generals are apparently so easily cowed that their only recourse when dealing with a muscular Defense secretary is to whine about it after the fact. Others complain about his “micro-management” of the war. It is true that Rumsfeld has exercised a remarkably strong hand in dealing with the military. In planning for the initial Iraq invasion in particular, he was relentless in challenging the work of CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks, driving him to come up with a plan that wasn’t just an unimaginative repeat of Desert Storm. The plan didn’t suffer from Rumsfeld’s intense attention; in fact, the opposite was the case. Even such Rumsfeld critics as Cobra II authors Michael Gordon and Gen. Bernard Trainor credit the innovation and effectiveness of the invasion.

As a matter of principle, micromanagement from a Defense secretary is not a bad thing, even if Robert McNamara gave it a bad name during the Vietnam War. Our system is based on the U.S. military’s taking direction from civilian leadership. There is no reason to think that the assumption behind the micromanagement criticism of Rumsfeld — that if only the generals had been left to their own devices, things would have turned out fine — is true. Rumsfeld should actually be faulted for not micromanaging Tommy Franks enough when it came to planning for postwar operations, in which the general had little or no interest.
It would have been better if they had been like General Shinseki, though I didn’t agree with him, he did it the right way if he had a different idea. Anyway, read the whole thing, but I like the editorial because it points out a few glass houses that need review.
Retired Army Major General John Batiste has faulted Rumsfeld for insufficient postwar planning. Given that almost all of the administration’s major postwar assumptions proved to be wrong — especially about the continued existence of an effective Iraqi army and police force to provide security — that is a fair criticism. But Batiste was at one point the top military aide to then deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. He seemed to share the vision of the Pentagon’s civilian team, and so was awarded a second star and, ultimately, command of a division in Iraq. Once there, he gave every appearance of supporting the strategy and talked of the progress we were making. It’s his prerogative to change his mind, but doing so should involve some humility and the admission that he too was wrong about postwar Iraq. Instead, he suggests every mistake was Rumsfeld’s alone.

There is, finally, a root-and-branch criticism that some of the retired generals make, especially Gens. Zinni and Newbold. They say the Iraq war was a foolish endeavor to begin with, and, in a mind-numbing recitation of all the conventional Arabist beliefs, insist that there is nothing wrong with the Middle East that can’t be fixed by cracking down on Israel. This isn’t a criticism of Rumsfeld, but of President Bush and his entire foreign policy. They surely would be no happier with any replacement Defense secretary who is equally committed to implementing Bush’s vision.
They also say, very well, what I have been trying to say (not very well) about the dump Rumsfeld movement.
The debate over Rumsfeld is disappointing in its simplistic assumption that the long, hard slog in Iraq is the doing of one man. There were plenty of mistakes made in Iraq, and there is blame enough to go around. The important questions now have to do with how to prevail in the current conditions in Iraq, and on this the retired generals have little to say, exposing their own lack of seriousness.
Yep, about right.
UPDATE: I think even Skippy will say the last bit on this from is "fair and balanced," though he may not like the tone.
...The anti-Rumsfeld generals have a right to their opinion. But there's a reason the Founders provided for civilian control of the military, and a danger in military men using their presumed authority to push elected Administrations around. As for Democrats and their media allies, we can only admire their sudden new deference to the senior U.S. officer corps, which follows their strange new respect for the "intelligence community" they also once despised. U.S. military recruiters might not be welcome on Ivy League campuses, but they're heroes when they trash the Bush Administration.

Mr. Rumsfeld's departure has been loudly demanded in various quarters for a couple of years now, without much success, and on Friday Mr. Bush said he still has his every confidence. We suspect the President understands that most of those calling for Mr. Rumsfeld's head are really longing for his.
You may also want to read my post from Saturday, that has fallen into archive.

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