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The Cost Of Keeping Rumsfeld Might Be Lieberman

US Senator Joseph Lieberman is high up on the list of possible replacements for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Apr 20, 2006
President George W. Bush and his embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were crystal clear in their public statements Tuesday: Rumsfeld stays. There seems no good reason to doubt that both men meant what they said. And there is every reason to look with skepticism on the list of certainly able, experienced and responsible figures who have surfaced in press speculations about who might succeed Rumsfeld:

Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Dan Coates and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner were all named Tuesday as possible successors by respected IPS reporter Jim Lobe.

Lobe was entirely correct to note that all these men are viewed in serious Washington political circles as figures who could certainly carry the burdens of being able and responsible secretaries of defense.

There is only one problem: Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their inner circles at the White House and the National Security Council will have none of them.

That is because, as Lobe noted, that "while conservative, they are much more inclined to defer to the uniformed military and their State Department colleagues." The history of the Bush administration and of Rumsfeld's bulldozing, ever-controversial five-year-plus tenure as secretary of defense has been precisely to keep such professional diplomats and uniformed military "wimps," as they are indeed seen in the eyes of the administration's hawks, away from the key levers of power.

None of these things apply to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., whom we tipped in these columns last year as the runaway most likely successor to Rumsfeld if Bush should ever need one. That is because, as Lobe noted, Lieberman is "a strongly pro-Israel Democrat who favors a policy of confrontation with Tehran." That can certainly not be said of the other prominent candidates.

But the bottom line below Bush's and Rumsfeld's comments Tuesday is that while Lieberman remains Rumsfeld's most likely successor, he will only be chosen if the current secretary of state walks in front of the proverbial bus.

Rumsfeld made clear Tuesday that he regards the unprecedented criticism of him by a group of retired generals, several of whom had held major commands under him in or concerning Iraq, as a storm in a tea-cup. And that there were, as he said, 6,000 or 7,000 serving generals in the U.S. armed forces who had not called for his head.

Rumsfeld and Bush have repeatedly shown that when they focus on a course of action they will stick with it to the bitter end. Rumsfeld, as much, as Vice President Cheney, appears to have served as a surrogate father-figure to the president through his years in office. And none of Rumsfeld's still-accumulating list of miscalls about the collapse of Iraq first into endless insurgency and then into civil war, has made any impact on the president.

However, even if one were to assume that Rumsfeld were to make every decision that crosses his desk from now on with all the Wisdom of Solomon, the costs for the U.S. armed forces and the American people are likely to be heavy, and they are likely to inexorably grow worse.

As we noted in our UPI Analysis piece "The anger of the generals" Tuesday, the criticism by the group of retired generals who have spoken out so far is only the tip of the iceberg. Despite Rumsfeld's jibes Tuesday, none of the serving senior officers in the U.S. armed forces are remotely likely to go public in attacking him, as he knows full well.

This is first of all because senior serving U.S. flag officers quite simply never do such things. The cherished tradition of separation of armed forces and state, and the subordination of the military to the civilian-political echelon is too deeply engrained in them and too respected for them to do so.

And even if any of them were to take that route, they know from the harsh and humiliating way that Rumsfeld and his then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz slammed down Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki before the Iraq war began for publicly stating that hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to maintain order there, that their careers would be cut off at once if any of them stepped publicly out-of-line.

But that does not mean, as we noted Tuesday, that most of the current senior Army leadership trusts Rumsfeld or respects his strategic judgment. Unease is much more likely to spread among the highest command ranks of the army than among troops in the field. And the atmosphere of caution, fear and distrust towards Rumsfeld -- and beyond him to Cheney and Bush -- that results from this tension is likely to grown worse.

That would be bad at any time. It could assume potentially-disastrous proportions if the administration's tough line against an obviously militant Iran sets off a full-scale conventional war with that nation of 70 million people next door to Iraq.

For bitterness and distrust between military commanders in the field and their civilian overlords at home has always been a recipe for military disaster in democracies as well as tyrannies.

President Abraham Lincoln's relations with Generals Joseph Hooker and George McClellan were famously bad during the U.S. Civil War. The tide only turned for the Union when Lincoln finally appointed Ulysses S. Grant as General-in-Chief. And Lincoln and Grant had the highest regard for each other.

Britain won World War I in the end. But British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had miserable relations with Sir Douglas Haig, the bungling butcher who threw away 750,000 British soldiers' lives on the Western Front.

Even Winston Churchill, Britain's legendary war premier of World War II, had disastrous relations with one commander after another in the North African Desert War through 1941 and early 1942 and not surprisingly, they all went down to disastrous defeat. It was only when Churchill appointed a commander who was both able and could work with him in Gen. Bernard Montgomery that defeat was turned into victory.

Rumsfeld gave no hint in his press conference Tuesday that he saw any need to change his management style or his way of directing the field army. He gave no indication that he was prepared to give unwelcome news or contrary assessments from combat commanders in the field any more time or respect than he has over the past five years.

Significantly, even when talking about what he regarded as his record of success during his tenure as "SecDef", he always focused on the high tech systems and procurement decisions that he loved. But these have not been the source of the resentment and criticism directed against him: His conduct of the war in Iraq has generated almost all of that.

Many senior U.S. officers, both serving and retired, privately acknowledge that any full-scale conventional conflict with Iran would almost certainly be on a far greater scale and of greater intensity and duration than the Iraq war was.

In any extended conflict, especially in democracies, relations of mutual respect and trust between the civilian and military leaderships are of crucial importance, as presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon all realized. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld will face that test too.

Source: United Press International

Related Links
the missing link

Rumsfeld Ties Criticism To Changes In The Military
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.

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