Friday, April 14, 2006

Should Rumsfeld Go?

The New York Times has a front-page article about the growing swell of retired generals calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Washington Post has an article and an op-ed from David Ignatius demanding the same. According to the various pieces, the time has come for Rumsfeld to step down. Among the retired generals who have spoken out are Major General Charles Swannack, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Major General John Batiste, former commander of the 1st Infantry Division, General Anthony Zinni, former CINC of CENTCOM, Lt. General Gregory Newbold, former Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Statff, Major General Paul Eaton, who commanded the training of Iraqi security forces, and Lt. General John Riggs. In general according to the Times, the complaints are that "Rumsfeld and his aides have too often inserted themselves unnecessarily into military decisionmaking, often disregarding advice from military commanders." This echoes the concerns I heard voiced by General Joseph Hoar USMC (ret.), aformer CINC of CENTCOM, who spoke at the Are We at War? conference at Chapman University School of Law that I attended last week. General Hoar also called for Rumsfeld to step down, citing in particular Rumsfeld's treatment (also cited in the Times) of the recommendations from General Eric Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, who told Congress prior to the invasion that securing and rebuilding the country would require, according to General Hoar, over 400,000 troops. Shinseki was dismissed and ignored by the Pentagon, and Hoar described Rumsfeld as insisting that the job could be done with just over 100,000. Of course, these calls are being met by responses from other high-ranking officers, both active and retired, defending both the war and Rumsfeld's handling of it.

So, should Rumsfeld step down? How much weight should the opinion of some of the finest soldiers in the US military carry in making political decisions? It's important to note that generals are no different from the rest of us in that they have their own personal biases and axes to grind. General Hoar noted that he believes Rumsfeld's insistence on a small troop footprint was rooted in his desire to transform the US military into a smaller, lighter, more mobile fighting force. Perhaps. But such a decision and change would be met with huge opposition from soldiers based in a more traditional understanding of the military. I met some of this opposition and skepticism from high-ranking officers when I worked for SAIC in the mid 1990s; soldiers who could not even imagine altering the fundamental nature of their armed service (like an entirely unmanned air force) and would get angry when forced to discuss it. It's not inconceivable that soldiers would be angry with Rumsfeld for tampering with their livelihoods. This is not to say that the soldiers are wrong in their assessments of Rumsfeld; it only means that we need not treat the advice and opinions of soldiers, even generals, as gospel from on high. Of course, they have expertise and knowledge that civilians must respect and often can never fully share. But, as with everyone else, their opinions and suggestions must be judged and analyzed, not just blindly accepted.

Furthermore, it is always troubling to some degree when soldiers inject themselves into the political process. A fundamental principle of liberal democracy is a separation of the military and political branches. This separation must be complete; the military cannot be involved in making political decisions, even when those decisions are poor. The military must, of course, provide advice to the decisionmakers, and must be honest in their appraisals of the situation. But, ultimately, theirs is not to decide but serve. This does create a fine line when the civilian decisionmakers are out of their league or making decisions that will have huge impacts and kill many soldiers and innocents. But a politicized military would be much worse.

That said, there does seem to be mounting evidence that Rumsfeld ignored multiple warnings about the size of the force that would be needed to win the second phase of the war. Does that mean he should resign? I don't know. But, the decision is not, and cannot be just about the handling of the war. I have been, and still am, a supporter of the war and remain very very very cautiously optimistic. But mistakes have been made. They are in every war. And sometimes someone has to accept responsibility for those mistakes, whether or not they are truly responsible. Perhaps the time has come for Rumsfeld to step down.

UPDATE: President Bush has given Rumsfeld a strong endorsement, stating that the SecDef has the president's "full support" and that "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this critical period."


smilerz said...

How is progress made unless one is willing to make a mistake? By pressuring Rumsfeld to step down we offer huge incentives to maintain status quo.

Overall, I don't think that the mistake of trying to operate a smaller, more versatile armed force has resulted in catostophic harm. I still think that trying to make the military lean is an honorable goal.

Since there is no economic incentive for government agencies to improve their efficiency I am hesitant to punish leaders simply for trying something different.

Full Disclosure: I was opposed (and still am) to the invasion. I have mixed feelings about continued occupation.

Anonymous said...

Why I support Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense

Donald Rumsfeld should absolutely stay as the Secretary of Defense. I know there is a generating debate on whether Rumsfeld should or should not resign. Part of this is politically motivated and some philosophically motivated and rightly so. It is true mistakes have been made in Iraq. It is true that Donald Rumsfeld is in charge and therefore some responsibility for the successes as well as mistakes fall in his lap. However, let me tell you why Rumsfeld should not be fired.

First, Secretary Rumsfeld is and is known by many national security intellectuals and senior military officials to be the brightest and most capable man ever to serve as Secretary of Defense. He truly is a remarkable man and a beautiful mind. Any so-called mistakes Rumsfeld has made would likely have been made by another Secretary of Defense with regard to the aftermath of the Iraq war.

Second, the debate as to whether there were enough troops forged by the two military thought camps (the Shinseki-Franks groups), the arguments are often misconstrued. Rumsfeld and the new defense intellectuals arguing for new and bold execution, that is, a more network-centric and information-age execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, proved to be right in their assessment of the “number of troops” needed to defeat Saddam’s regime. This campaign was done with astonishing speed, agility, and complexity and historically speaking is one of the greatest victories in military history. It will prove to be a defining moment of warfare in the 21st century by all standards.

However, the second half of the war, that is, the rebuilding and reconstruction of the country proved to not be sufficiently nor correctly planned and prepared for. This second half could have benefited from either more troops (U.S. or coalition) or another force type the Pentagon (or other agency) has not invested sufficiently in (troops designed, trained and equipped to rapidly help stabilize and rebuild a country). This second half did not have sufficient numbers or capability because of some assumptions based on intelligence which proved to be incorrect, and the robust insurgency which emerged (arguably somewhat the result of decisions made to disband the Iraqi Army). This decision as well as the many other decisions may have allowed the insurgency to take hold easier than it otherwise would have. And these decisions rest squarely with officials in charge of the war, including Rumsfeld. However, the decision to not disband the Iraqi Army also would have had its consequences, and persons making these decisions had to look at differing views of intelligence to make their decision. Hindsight is 20/20. Rumsfeld should be graded on his prosecution of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (which includes the brilliantly successful initial campaign to topple Saddam, the aftermath of reconstruction, and the third “war” of fighting terrorists and a robust insurgency). In all accounts he has done wonders with one of the most different and complex Global wars ever to be waged.

Finally, as to running the Department and transforming the military to tackle new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities – he should be commended. While there is not yet a large camp among the general public who understand what is happening among the Department of Defense and national security apparatus at large, the changes that are taking place as a result of Rumsfeld vision and leadership will radically transform the way the Department of Defense plans and conducts war in the future. Without these bold and innovative changes the new challenges in transitioning from the industrial-age to the information-age would not be matched. The 21st century security environment is different and is changing at a rapid pace. Rumsfeld understands this and the new opportunities which must be harnessed to deal with these complex and adaptive challenges. He understands we will be fighting rapidly adaptive networks taking advantaged of globalization and the internet to do their harm. He understands the current organization and makeup of the Department of Defense and national security apparatus at large is insufficient to face these new and adaptive challenges.

There are still some defense intellectuals and Generals out there who do not yet understand these challenges and are resistant to change, but there days are numbered. Many of these Generals who demand Rumsfeld should resign are old-fashioned and still caught up in the industrial-age Cold War mentality. They do not understand the information-age and the new ways of operating. We should respect their opinions but also listen to the new breed of warriors being generated today who understand this well and are emboldened by Rumsfeld’s grand vision for change which will help secure generations to come. I highly support Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. I welcome your thoughts and commentary.

Seth Weinberger said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I'm not so sure we disagree anywhere but in our conclusions. I agree Rumsfeld is a brilliant civilian leader for the military. I agree with his ideas for transforming the military. I agree that war is messy and mistakes are always made. I do take Rumsfeld to task for ignoring the advice of his senior military officers. When Shinseki testified of the need for 400,000 troops, he was speaking of the occuption not the invasion. After listening to General Hoar last week, I am convinced that Rumsfeld was blind to the need for more boots on the ground, an oversight which contributed in many ways to the mess that is Iraq today.

But is that mistake a firing offense? Maybe, maybe not. My head says no, my gut says yes. I'm truly conflicted. But, I also think it's time that the Bush Administration admit that mistakes were made and accept some of the responsibility for how the situation has evolved. Fair nor not, that burden falls on Rumsfeld. Politics is a nasty business. Sacrificing Rumsfeld might serve to some degree as an act of contrition, and I think there's no doubt that Bush could use a bit of contrition now.

Anonymous said...

One important point, perhaps a niggling one, is that the people who have been cited in recent public reports calling for Rumsfeld's resignation are retired. This is important, and I think weakens your argument about the importance of keeping military officers on the leash politically speaking.

Of course the other side of the coin here is that through several administrations uniformed military leadership has I think been openly favorable toward R leadership, and perhaps not so toward D leadership.

Seth said...

It's slightly better that they're retired, but it still isn't good. If a SecDef has to worry that his decisions will be critiqued by the military brass once they retire, it will affect the soldiers picked for certain slots. Only those known to toe the party line will be given CINC positions, put on the JCS, etc. It is of vital importance that the American military remain non-politicized.