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The Anger Of The Generals Unprecedented In Modern Times

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may look angry but recent criticism will not dislodge him. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 19, 2006
The criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by more than half a dozen retired U.S. generals is unprecedented in modern times, but it will not dislodge him.

The criticisms came from half a dozen retired generals including several who had held senior command decisions in the current Iraq conflict such as Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and Brig. Gen. James Marks.

They have had no parallel in any of the major wars the United States has fought over the past century. In many respects, one has to go back to Gen. George McClellan's political campaign against President Abraham Lincoln after being fired by him for the second time during the 1861-65 Civil War to find any parallel to the Rumsfeld critics.

Even when President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951 at the height of the Korean War, and MacArthur then gave widely reported public speeches dissenting from Truman's policies, he was not publicly backed by any retired prominent military figure. Former U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay similarly found no public support from senior officers for his criticism of the conduct of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s.

For since the Civil War, the tradition of keeping politics out of top-level military decision-making, and the subordination of the military to the civilian echelon, has been one of the most cherished and meticulously maintained traditions of the American military.

The dissent of the generals is particularly striking -- and ironic -- now because in recent years, more senior officers than ever before have publicly indicated their political and cultural conservatism. In the last presidential election, serving U.S. troops are estimated to have supported President George W. Bush and the Republicans by a ratio of at least four to one.

Also, when MacArthur criticized Truman's polices and LeMay criticized those of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, they did so as self-avowed hawks arguing that wars should be fought with less restraint. But the criticisms the retired generals are now making against Rumsfeld and, by implication, against President George W. Bush, are of a very different nature. They are charging that the defense secretary lacks basic competence and that he has made one wrong determination after another.

The criticisms are also significant because they come from former Army generals. Even when Rumsfeld was publicly defended by another retired general this weekend, he had to look to an Air Force general, Richard Myers, his former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to do it.

This is significant because since entering office more than five years ago Rumsfeld, like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara 40 years earlier, has favored high-tech generals and Special Forces ones, but has generally despised infantry, artillery and armored experts for their supposed plodding approach and lack of "vision" or daring.

Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was publicly humiliated by Rumsfeld and his then-Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, in 2003 for suggesting that hundreds of thousands of troops would be necessary to pacify Iraq and ensure its security, fell into this category. In his comments defending Rumsfeld on Sunday, even Gen. Myers acknowledged that Gen. Shinseki had been right about that.

Retired generals are no longer in the chain of command. But usually they retain very close ties with current senior commanders who were their friends and, usually, their disciples and favored heirs. Therefore, on the previously rare occasions when retired generals have gone public about military concerns, it has usually been after discussing the issues in question with many of their successors who are still holding major command positions.

It remains to be seen if this was the case in the current controversy, but it seems at the very least highly possible. Rumsfeld and his civilian echelon of planners in the Pentagon from the beginning have been notorious in ignoring or over-riding the considered views and warnings from uniformed army planners and intelligence analysts about Iraq -- and now about the ramifications of some future conflict with Iran.

Gen. Myers perhaps inadvertently acknowledged this Sunday when he said in his ABC television interview, "The judgment we got from academia, from anybody that wanted to make inputs, to include the National Security Council, was that we had the right number of troops (in 2003 in Iraq)."

In fact, Rumsfeld's Pentagon deliberately ignored the immensely detailed -- and subsequently proven accurate -- assessments that the State Department and the CIA had prepared about Iraq. Furthermore, the NSC and Rumsfeld's own Defense Policy Board were both then, as now, packed with neo-conservative hawkish enthusiasts for the war and dissenting voices were not allowed any significant input into the decision-making process. This certainly included any prospective dissenting analyses from lower down the chain within the Army itself.

The most serious concern, therefore, must be that if Rumsfeld stays in his job, trust between him and his senior Army commanders, especially those running operations in Iraq, may significantly deteriorate. That kind of situation is always a potentially dangerous one to have during any kind of war.

Nevertheless, although the criticism of Rumsfeld by so many retired senior officers is highly unusual, it looks almost certain not to dent his determination to carry on with his current policies. Nor does it look in the least bit likely to convince President Bush to fire him. Rumsfeld will continue to direct U.S. military policies in Iraq -- for better or worse.

Source: United Press International

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