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Rumsfeld Ties Criticism To Changes In The Military

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addresses a press briefing at the Pentagon 18 April 2006 in Arlington, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Brendan Smilalowski and AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Apr 19, 2006
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that criticism of his leadership was to be expected because the changes he has pressed the military to make have aroused resistance and controversy.

Rumsfeld reiterated at a Pentagon news conference that he had no intention to yield to calls for his resignation by six retired generals who have blamed him for strategic blunders in Iraq.

He expressed pride in his decisions to transform the US military, but acknowledged that change was hard to accept for some in the military.

"Every one of those changes that I just described has met resistance," he said at a Pentagon news conference. "And people like things the way they are. And so, when you make a change like that, somebody is not going to like it."

Rumsfeld spoke after President George W. Bush reiterated his "strong confidence" in the defense secretary, declaring "mine is a final decision, and Donald Rumsfeld is doing a fine job."

Rumsfeld was asked whether he had considered resigning to ease the political pressure on Bush and Republicans running for re-election in Congress.

"No. He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that's that," Rumsfeld said, referring to Bush.

Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later met with about 15 military commentators, many of them retired officers now working for US television networks.

"His words evidenced concern, no question about that," said retired major general Don Shepperd, an analyst with CNN. Pace, however, emphasized that the military brass all had a hand in the decisions on Iraq.

But Shepperd and other participants said the session dealt only glancingly with the secretary's situation, and more with the war in Iraq and the need to convince the public of the importance of the stakes involved.

The challenge to Rumsfeld's leadership erupted last week when retired generals came out one after another to call for his resignation in a rare display of public defiance.

They accused him of being dismissive of sound military advice and said he should be held accountable for major strategic errors in Iraq, including a failure to provide enough troops to secure the country after the 2003 invasion.

Among the retired generals were several who recently held key commands in Iraq, suggesting that dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld extended to the active duty officer corps.

"I don't know that that's the case," Rumsfeld said when asked how he could effectively lead under those circumstances.

"There are always differences of opinion," he said. "That's a healthy thing in this country. We ought to respect it and get about our business.

"But if it paralyzes people because someone doesn't agree with them, my goodness gracious, we wouldn't be able to do anything," he said.

Pace said in his experience the officer corps showed no signs of disaffection.

"General Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, just came back from I think it was a week in Iraq. He got exactly zero questions about the leadership in the department," Pace said.

"Last week, while all this was going on back here, guess what they're focused on out there? They're focused on their mission, getting the job done," he said.

Rumsfeld, 73, did not address the specific criticism leveled at him by the retired generals, saying he preferred "to let a little time walk over it".

Instead, he listed a series of changes he has made since taking office in 2001, including a major reorganization of the army, the strengthening of special forces, base closures and a realignment of the US military presence abroad.

Of the modernization of the army, he said, "It's hard for people who are oriented one way to suddenly have to be oriented a different way."

"When you make a decision, you make a choice, somebody is not going to like it," he said.

"It's perfectly possible to come into this department and preside and not make choices, in which case people are not unhappy, until about five years later when they find you haven't done anything and the country isn't prepared," he said.

Rumsfeld steered clear of questions about the impact of the controversy on military-civil relations, saying he would leave that to military historians.

Other retired generals, as well as some outside experts, warned that the calls for Rumsfeld's resignation set a bad precedent for a military founded on the principle of subordination to civilian rule.

But Rumsfeld's critics have hearkened back to the failure of US military leaders to stand up to the civilian leadership during the Vietnam war as a lesson for the US military on Iraq.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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