Heck of a job, Rummy

As more generals call for the resignation of the secretary of defense, the White House stands by its man.

By Tim Grieve
April 14, 2006 5:07PM (UTC)
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At some point, a steady drip becomes a flood. As the New York Times reports this morning, two more retired generals have called on Donald Rumsfeld to resign. That makes six in recent months, and the Times sees signs that more are likely to join in the chorus soon.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who served in Iraq as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said Thursday that Rumsfeld should resign because of his "absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq." Meanwhile, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, citing a culture of "arrogance" among the Pentagon's civilian leadership, told NPR that he, too, would like to see Rumsfeld resign.


Appearing on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" Thursday night, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who announced earlier this week that the Pentagon needs a "fresh start," offered a more detailed critique of Rumsfeld's decisions on Iraq. Batiste, who led the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, said that the Bush administration "repeatedly ignored sound military advice and counsel" when it came to planning for the war. "I think it goes back to the strategic underpinnings, the basic plan that we executed in Iraq," Batiste said. "It goes back to decisions to disband the Iraqi military, which was a colossal mistake and was the bane of the existence of the divisions in combat for the entire time they were there. Hundreds of thousands of now unemployed, disenfranchised Iraqis, with their guns and ammunition, they left their installations -- which, by the way, were the best facilities in all of Iraq -- and the Iraqi people immediately took them apart, cinderblock by cinderblock. When we got there, there was only the concrete slabs left on the ground. So the work to reestablish this, to build a competent Iraqi security force, to garrison them, provide for their care, was an incredible effort; it didn't have to be that way."

Batiste said that his soldiers were asked to control an area of Iraq as large as West Virginia and never had enough manpower to do so. "We were forced over time to conduct a series of movements to contact where we only controlled the ground for a moment in time; that's not how you fight an insurgency," he said. Batiste said that he "always asked for more troops, within our chain of command." When those requests were denied, he said, "we saluted and executed; I had to keep my soldiers alive and focused on the mission at hand."

George W. Bush has always insisted that he has given commanders in Iraq whatever troop levels they've requested; Batiste's comments suggest either that Bush has been lying or that the military commanders between Bush and men at Batiste's level have failed to pass along the requests for more manpower, knowing that the answer would be no and saving Bush from having to give it.


At the White House Thursday, there was no sign that the criticism was sinking in. Reporters asked Scott McClellan repeatedly about the calls for Rumsfeld to resign, but he passed them off as complaints from those who are no longer involved in the war on Iraq. "The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history," McClellan said.

Tim Grieve

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

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