Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And They Think Rumsfeld's Tough?

In their criticism of Don Rumsfeld, those retired Army and Marine generals (call them the Sad Sack Six--apologies to the late George Baker) apparently have a couple of issues with the defense secretary. First of all, he's a tough, demanding boss--a man his critics describe as abrasive. Secondly, he supposedly won't tolerate dissent or alternative views within the ranks.

The suggestion that Rumsfeld doesn't accept other opinions has been refuted by several retired generals, including former CJCS Chairman, General Richard Meyers, and CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks. Both men note that Rumsfeld has met with senior generals (three and four star flag officers) hundreds of times during his tenure in office, and listed to all points of view. Retired Air Force Lt Gen Tom McInerney (who met with Rumsfeld today) has also observed that many of the critics were "too junior" to have worked for the SecDef directly. Additionally, this blog (among others) have pointed out that many of the Sad Sack Six have personal issues with Rumsfeld, putting their criticism in a slightly different light.

I also find it interesting that many of these retired generals have problems with Rumsfeld's supposedly prickly personality. That's a bit ironic, considering the number of arrogant, abrasive flag officers who have historically populated the senior ranks. Do a poll among those who have served under Generals Zinni, Newbold, Eaton, Batiste, etc., and you'll probably find a few officers and NCOs who would describe them in the same terms they reserve for Rumsfeld. Secretary Pot, meet General Kettle.

Actually, Rumsfeld is mild compared to some of the "old school" firebreathers who ran the military in years past. George Patton, who once ordered his command Chaplain to pray for good weather so his men could "kill more Germans" was no shrinking violet. Nor was the lengendary Marine Corps General "Chesty" Puller. In fact, American military history is filled with military leaders who tolerated no fools, and were as hard on their men as they were on themselves.

As they enjoy the comforts of retirement, Zinni and his fellow Sad Sackers should be thankful that they never worked for Admiral Ernest King, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet during World War II. Saying Admiral King had a bit of a temper is the equivalent of saying that Bill Clinton had an intern problem. King's daughter once described her father as "perfectly even-tempered--he was always in a rage."

As Chief of Naval Operations/CINC of the U.S. Fleet after Pearl Harbor, King cut a wide swath through the Navy and the Washington establishment, rubbing more than a few people the wrong way. Even General Dwight D. Eisenhower--famous for his ability to get along with just about everyone--had a strong dislike for Admiral King. From Eisenhower's WWII diary, here are some of his observations of King and his "management style." Hat tip: Spartacus.

--23rd February, 1942: Admiral King, commander in chief of United States fleet, and directly subordinate to the president, is an arbitrary, stubborn type, with not too much brains and a tendency toward bullying his juniors. But I think he wants to fight, which is vastly encouraging. In a war such as this, when high command invariably involves a president, a prime minister, six chiefs of staff, and a horde of lesser "planners," there has got to be a lot of patience-no one person can be a Napoleon or a Caesar.

--10th March, 1942: One thing that might help win this war is to get someone to shoot King. He's the antithesis of cooperation, a deliberately rude person, which means he's a mental bully. He became Commander in Chief of the fleet some time ago. Today he takes over, also, Stark's job as chief of naval operations. It's a good thing to get rid of the double head in the navy, and of course Stark was just a nice old lady, but this fellow is going to cause a blow-up sooner or later, I'll bet a cookie.

--14th March, 1942: Lest I look at this book sometime and find that I've expressed a distaste for some person, and have put down no reason for my aversion, I record this one story of Admiral King. One day this week General Arnold sent a very important note to King. Through inadvertence, the stenographer in Arnold's office addressed it, on the outside, to "Rear Admiral King." Twenty-four hours later the letter came back, unopened, with an arrow pointing to the "Rear," thus: (Here a long, heavy arrow has been drawn in a diagonal line underneath and pointing to the word "Rear.") And that's the size of man the navy has at its head. He ought to be a big help winning this war.

King also had frequent run-ins with General George C. Marshall (the Army Chief of Staff), and General Douglas MacArthur, among others. With so many high-level enemies, how did King survive? He got results, building the largest, most powerful Navy the world has ever seen. And because King delivered, FDR was more than willing to tolerate an SOB as CNO.

Compared to King, Rumsfeld is a genuine softie.


qoz said...

Perhaps only military officers are allowed to be tough--I daresay each of the six would pride themselves on being so--but not civilians. What's amused me is the whine about Rumsfeld not being a 'team player', as though it's a meeting of equals. It's not, and in the domain of civilian control of the military, can never be.

qoz said...

Enjoyable blog, btw...

Jamie said...

I just had this conversation with my dad (a retired USAF officer and - to my surprise - a post-retirement sudden Democrat). He said the revolting generals (as I like to call them) are just "speaking for the troops," since, after retirement, their first duty is no longer to the nation but to the troops. I tried to pin him down about how calling for Rumsfeld's retirement would benefit the troops, since (first of all) the very act of calling for it would ensure that it couldn't possibly happen without setting a most dangerous precedent, and (second of all) there'd be absolutely no guarantee that his replacement would be better by whatever standard the r.g.'s were using. I said nothing of the fact that critiquing planning in the immediate post-combat period in Iraq is a far cry from calling for the retirement of a SecDef. What I did say explicitly was that I certainly hoped those generals had exhausted every one of their private remedies before deciding that going to the press was the highest form of patriotism, since they've managed to undermine their active-duty comrades, the troops my dad says they're acting in support of, and the war effort generally. (So to speak.)

Grr. Frustrating.

qoz said...

jamie, interesting. Deteriorating civilian-military relations also erodes the trust between officers and soldiers. While officers, especially staff officers, may vent their frustrations at their civilian masters, soldiers frag. And complaints about civilians run the risk of being seen simply as excuses for poor performance by officers. A recent piece on Strategypage (lost the link, sorry) suggests that the anti-Rumsfeld 6 are being heavily criticised by soldiers on various online military sites, largely on the grounds that its the civilians who dismiss the military, not the other way around.