Saturday, April 15, 2006


Knives and Knaves

I have never been a fan of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I have long suspected that his blunt manner weakens the strength and effectiveness of otherwise critical transformational goals for the US Military. Rumsfeld combines a seeming aversion to internal bureaucratic diplomacy, with a tin ear to domestic political realities. This has long been unfortunate. And perhaps at this late stage of the Bush Presidency, too costly.

The transformation of the US Military has required and involved as much psychological as structural changes. Rumsfeld, no more and no less, has taken a leading role in implementing tranformation on the orders of the President: a forceful leader taking decisive action for a boss with equal determination and resolve.

Both the Boss and His Man at Defense have paid a high price for taking on difficult national security challenges, not the least of which was confronting and often confounding stultified bureaucracies: at Departments of State, at the CIA, and most of all, the Department of Defense.

And now, as the saying goes, “the knives are out” for Rumsfeld.

The much anticipated bloodletting purports to be about this “highly unusual” gathering of retired military calling for the resignation of Rumsfeld, for all his many failures in executing the war in Iraq, and the wider Global War on Terrror.

Whether we have seen such a “critical mass” -- pardon the pun – of retired Generals weighing in on political affairs will remain arguable. But that all things in Washington have become stridently politicized is hardly news. Regretably, this includes politicizing matters of waging war in a time of war. “Leaving politics at the waters edge,” a saying that used to call Americans to collective solidarity in times of crisis, is so much quaint nostalgia now.

The real occasion for this well orchestrated chorus of critics may be chronological. Note how neatly these public criticisms fall in line with recent revisiting of controversies and blood libels from earlier political battles. Democrats introduce a contrived and sudden seriousness to the threats we face, and contradict earlier, hysterical accusations that the Bush Presidency contrives to exaggerate threats and elevate fear. They were seriously enraged then, methinks more sober now, with mid-term elections and hopeful gains in view.

All of a sudden, the Bush Opposition wants Really Real SecurityTM. They tried a more ersatz Security, in the form of former War Hero Military Men, but these prior attempts floundered when the National Security messages were mortally diluted by the complete failure of their messengers. First, they fielded an ’04 Candidate who threw away his honor after his brief wartime service, without ever realizing a War Hero who claimed we were all War Criminals would defeat their intended purpose.

Then, they pushed out into the limelight a doddering Murtha. Murtha may have had good intentions in his complaints, but likewise insulted and dismissed those currently serving with his starkly false characterization of a “failed military” and discouraging new recruits.

Now low and behold, and a curiously opportune time, with President Bush at the lowest depths of approval and popularity, with a majority of the American people lulled into accepting a false picture of defeat, come these Armchaired Generals. “We mean only to serve, we step forward for our fellow brothers and sisters in arms, with no gain in mind and no ulterior motive.” When the man comes to tell you he’s here to help you (with a camera crew in tow), you know what that means.

How curious the timing, is all I am saying.

Both Tom Bevan at Real Clear Politics and Victor Davis Hanson in National Review
wade into the maelstrom, raging from the sudden confluence of criticism from retired senior officers.

Tom Bevan (or one of his Editors) headlines his piece, “The Knives Are Out For Rummy.” He quotes David Ignatius of The Washington Post, calling Rumsfeld a "spent force," and relates Ignatius’ opinion that something more than 75% of military officers want Rumsfeld out.

Bevan also notes an article by David Cloud and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times. The Times piece profiles the retired generals and their points of criticism, but also includes opinions dissenting from the dissenting opinion:

Some officers who have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld reject the idea that he
is primarily to blame for the inability of American forces to defeat the
insurgency in Iraq. One active-duty, four-star Army officer said he had not
heard among his peers widespread criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld, and said he thought
the criticism from his retired colleagues was off base. "They are entitled to
their views, but I believe them to be wrong. And it is unfortunate they have
allowed themselves to become in some respects, politicized."

Yesterday in a press briefing Joint
Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace
offered a vigorous defense of Secretary
Rumsfeld saying, "this country is exceptionally well-served by the man standing
on my left." Pace also defended the process and the decision making of the
prewar planning, saying he was very comfortable with the way it was done and
pointing out that the invasion plan was approved by all members of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.

These are my primary objections with the current efforts of these retired military leaders. Where were they when the game, for them, was afoot? And why now, to what end, for what purpose, do they want Rumsfeld sacrificed? As punishment? How does that improve something that’s already past? How can we help but conclude the motivation is largely political?

Major General Batiste claims in part that Rumsfeld must pay the price for the poor decisions he made five years ago. Wow, talk about holding a grudge. Listen, we followed Batiste’s 1st ID into the battlespace in Tikrit and environs. I know what the 42nd ID did, in ramping up HUMINT exploitation, and translating targeting from some analytic exercise into operational reality. Battle Plans are necessarily fluid, and evolve with changing conditions and objectives. Follow-on forces adapted to new information, intelligence, on ongoing assessment of objectives and results. It is good that this occurs.

Of all men, MG Batiste should recognize that no amount of planning is ever enough to fully anticipate, or completely accommodate every change in circumstance and eventuality. If the performance of the military was less than optimal – or even poorly led, as some as these now allege – where were these officers, and what were they doing to make their units better perform?

And this even begs the question of whether any “apology” or “correction” is even warranted. I would strenuously object to any claim that the performance of our military in Afghanistan or Iraq has been anything other than highly successful, by any objective standard or historical comparison.

Again, why now, to what end, the call for Rumsfeld’s dismissal?

Bevan underscores what I think is the real political factor:

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Charles
Stevenson of
The School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins
University agrees that Rumsfeld has "lost some important allies on [Capitol]
Hill and in the senior military" but that he doesn't expect to see Rumsfeld
leaving any time soon:

"I don't see how the President would find it
in his political interest to get rid of Rumsfeld unless he also wants to change
policy and use Rumsfeld as kind of a scapegoat or whipping boy or whatever. But
there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the President wants to blame anybody
or change his mind."

This echoes the theme from my
column two weeks ago
, where I argued that Bush wouldn't replace Rumsfeld
because doing so would "would be seen as a tacit admission of failure in Iraq -
something that would give the Democrats a neatly-wrapped gift for the elections
this November and, more importantly, would be interpreted as a sign of weakness
by our enemies overseas and cast further doubt on our commitment and resolve to
hang tough in Iraq."

Victor Davis Hanson takes a critical view of armchaired critics of the war in Iraq, and tells them they “need to move on” and stop participating in Dead End Debates. This is how he characterizes the critics:

Currently, there are many retired generals appearing in frenetic fashion on
television. Sometimes they hype their recent books, or, as during the three-week
war, offer sharp interviews about our supposed strategic and operational
blunders in Iraq — imperial hubris, too few troops, wrong war, wrong place, and
other assorted lapses.

Apart from the ethical questions involved in
promoting a book or showcasing a media appearance during a time of war by
offering an "inside" view unknown to others of the supposedly culpable
administration of the military, what is striking is the empty nature of these
controversies rehashed ad nauseam.

Hanson revisits the prevailing criticisms, and with informed reasoning, demolishes the logical basis for these objections to Administration policy, past and present.

The myth that wasn’t myth, Iraq and Al Qaeda:
First of all, whatever one thinks about Iraq, the old question of whether Iraq
and al Qaeda enjoyed a beneficial relationship is moot — they did. The only area
of post facto disagreement is over to what degree did Iraqi knowledge of, or
support for, the first World Trade Center bombing, al Qaedists in Kurdistan,
sanctuary for the Afghan jihadists, or, as was recently disclosed by postbellum
archives, Saddam's interest in the utility of Islamic terror, enhance operations
against the United States.

The myth that was, “It’s all about oil”:
Second, the old no-blood-for-oil mantra of petroleum conspiracy is over with.
Gas skyrocketed after the invasion — just as jittery oil executives warned
before the war that it would. Billions of petroleum profits have piled up in the
coffers of the Middle East. Secret Baathist oil concessions to Russia and France
were voided. Oil-for-Food was exposed. And the Iraqi oil industry came under
transparent auspices for the first time. The only area of controversy that could
possibly still arise would have to come from the realist right. It would run
something like this: "Why, in our zeal for reform, did we upset fragile oil
commerce with a dictator that proved so lucrative to the West and international
oil companies?"

Iran, either Too Hot, or Too Cold, but never just right. Hanson correctly identifies that “there are, and always were, only three bad choices.” UN and EU sponsored negotiations have gone nowhere, and give Iran cover to continue to advance their nuclear ambitions. No one but the naïve or deranged seriously thinks the Mullahs are amenable to a negotiated disarmament (in advance). A nuclear Iran is often referred to as “unacceptable,” most often without much explanation of what one does with that lack of “acceptance.” The third bad choice? According to Hanson:
The third choice, of course, was to tarry until the last possible moment and
then take out the installations before the missiles were armed. The rationale
behind that nightmarish gambit would be that the resulting mess — collateral
damage, missed sites, enhanced terrorism, dirty-bomb suicide bombers, Shiite
fervor in Iraq, and ostracism by the world community — was worth the price to
stop a nuclear theocracy before it blackmailed the West, took de facto control
of the Middle East oil nexus, nuked Israel, or spread global jihadist
fundamentalism through intimidation.

All alternatives are bad. All have been discussed. So far neither the retired
military brass nor the Democratic opposition has offered anything new — much
less which choice they can assure us is best. The result is that Iran is the new
soapbox on which talking heads can blather about the dangers of "preemption,"
but without either responsibility for, or maturity in, advocating a viable

Hanson derides with equal vigor the General’s critique that “more troops” were necessary:
Whatever one's views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic
senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans
into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that
current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American
deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American
garrison forces.

My own view is that more troops would have meant more casualties. One wonders if this line of criticism isn’t more disgruntlement, that casualties didn’t turn out as horrific as war critics predicted. Apropos for a vein of military thinking that prescribes that we do the same as we’ve always done, and hoping for a different result.

Hanson has a different, but related assessment:
More troops might have brought a larger footprint that made peacekeeping easier
— but also raised a provocative Western profile in an Islamic country. More
troops may have facilitated Iraqization — or, in the style of Vietnam, created
perpetual dependency. More troops might have shortened the war and occupation — or made monthly dollar costs even higher, raised casualties, and ensured that
eventual troop draw-downs would be more difficult.
Hanson makes mash of other military planning criticisms on judgments regarding people versus weapon systems, the balance of weapon systems, weighting of forces, and so forth. The fact is, only in hindsight do these arguments appear simple, and even at that, the fatal flaws in arguments of this kind are often exposed as a “here’s how we could have fought the last war, and should fight the next,” only to have future expectations confounded when reality then makes today’s logic just as foolish.

We would be wise to properly assess these criticisms, according to Hanson, and not draw the wrong conclusions:
So we know the nature of these weary debates. Both sides offer reasonable
arguments. Fine. But let us not fool ourselves any longer that each subsequent
"exposé" and leak by some retired general, CIA agent, or State Department
official — inevitably right around publication date — offers anything newer,
smarter, or much more ethical in this dark era that began on September 11. No
need to mention the media's "brave" role in all this, from the flushed-Koran
story to the supposedly "deliberate" American military targeting of

And equally important, set the right priorities for the tasks at hand, those imminent, those a bit further down the road:

What we need, then, are not more self-appointed ethicists, but far more humility
and recognition that in this war nothing is easy. Choices have been made, and
remain to be made, between the not very good and the very, very bad. Most
importantly, so far, none of our mistakes has been unprecedented, fatal to our
cause, or impossible to correct.

So let us have far less self-serving second-guessing, and far more national confidence that we are winning — and that radical Islamists and their fascist supporters in the Middle East are soon going to lament the day that they ever began this war.

As bad as some think things look now for us, things look much, much worse for those who are committed as our enemies.

UPDATE: Gateway Pundit asks that we judge Rumsfeld by his successes and failures, and then does so himself. Outstanding!

UPDATE #2: Jason Von Steenwyk has some excellent counterpoint for the criticisms of MG Batiste, et al. Best of all, a readre of us provided some press excerpts of what these Generals were saying then, versus what they say now...

Links: Wizbang, Basil's Blog, Blogotional

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