Another general: Rumsfeld must go

The Pentagon's former top operations officer says "zealots" led the country to an unnecessary war.

By Tim Grieve
April 10, 2006 5:28PM (UTC)
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We returned from vacation over the weekend to find an e-mail in our in box from Ken Mehlman. Mehlman writes often to his supporters -- or names on his e-mail list that he must think belong to supporters -- and we assumed that he was writing this time to explain away Tom DeLay's departure or the Senate meltdown on immigration reform or the president's role in declassifying classified information to attack Joseph Wilson.

Instead, the chairman of the Republican National Committee was writing to observe the "third anniversary of Iraq's liberation" -- it was Sunday; who knew? -- and to ask our help in encouraging "members of the mainstream media" to "tell both sides of the story when it comes to the War on Terror."


We have to admit that the message left us a little bewildered. We know that we've got some catching up to do, but it seems to us that the media has been telling "both sides of the story" on Iraq. We've read the gloom-and-doom reports from reporters who say that conditions are dire across much of Iraq. And on Sunday morning, we read the gloom-and-doom report from U.S. government officials who say that conditions are dire across much of Iraq.

But the "mainstream media" did offer another perspective on Iraq over the weekend; it's just not the one that Mehlman had in mind. On Sunday, Time published an essay by Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who served as the Pentagon's top operations officer until he resigned in 2002. Newbold says he left the Pentagon four months before the start of war in Iraq in part because he was frustrated with those who were using "9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy." Now he's speaking out, not to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but to say that they never should have been sent there in the first place.

"What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures," Newbold writes. "Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results."


If you're getting the sense that Newbold doesn't view Iraq as a series of innocent mistakes, you're right. He writes of the "zealots" who pushed for an "unnecessary war" and the members of Congress and the media who failed to do their jobs as the Bush administration spun its phony case. But Newbold's real contempt is reserved for those who should have known better: military leaders who "know the consequences of war but, with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard." Newbold calls on his former Pentagon colleagues to join him in coming forward now, and he calls -- as retired Gens. Anthony Zinni and Paul Eaton already have -- for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. "The troops in the Middle East have performed their duty," Newbold writes. "Now we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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