Friday, April 14, 2006

The Generals' Revolt

Retired Army Major General John Batiste says there is "no coordinated effort" to get Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fired. Batiste is one of at least six retired flag officers who have spoken out against Rumsfeld in recent days, but he calls those statements "absolutely coincidental." Yeah, right. In military terms, we'd refer to that statement as "disinformation," or an effort at denial and deception.

Let's see...half-a-dozen retired generals are all over the media for the past month or so, stating that Rummy must go, and it's a mere coincidence? Sorry, General Batiste, I'm not buying it, and you can skip the sales pitch for that bridge in Brooklyn and those ocean-front lots in Arizona. The MSM may be willing to buy your story (since it advances their anti-war message), but many of us can see through your little charade.

First of all, the flag officer community in a particular branch of the armed services is a very tight-knit, insular bunch. Many generals have known each other since they were captains or lieutenants; they've served in field units together, worked in the Pentagon together, and risen through the ranks together, often providing support and cover for members of their particular clique. In many respects, advancing to the flag level in the U.S. military is a bit like climbing the ladder in the PRC Politburo; promising candidates are identified and screened years in advance, then their careers are carefully managed so they can rise to the top.

That sounds a bit sinister (and on occasion, it is), but the system generally works. As a general rule (no pun intended) , only the best and brightest wind up with stars on their shoulders, and that's the way it should be. I am not doubting the loyalty (or professional competency) of any of the officers who have criticized Rumsfeld. But describing their sudden flurry of criticism as "coincidental" is pure bunk. Retired flag officers are a prototypical "good old boy" (and girl) network; they communicate frequently, share ideas, and they certainly know how the game in Washington is played, right down to a well-timed media offensive.

I'm sure that these officers are justifiably concerned about the situation in Iraq. But that does not mean that the retired generals were motivated only by "professional" concerns. Do a little digging, and you'll find most have some sort of personal beef with both Secretary Rumsfeld and/or the Bush Administration. In the regard, criticism of the war effort (and its leadership) provides an opportunity to settle old scores, with the assistance of a willing press.

Consider the example of retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni. General Zinni, the former commander of U.S. Central Command, has been a long-time critic of Bush Administration policies in the Middle East and the war effort. During the early years of the Bush Administration, General Zinni was a special U.S. envoy to the Middle East, charged with mediating talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But Zinni proved to be an ineffective negotiator, and displayed a slightly lopsided approach in dealing with the two sides. On his first trip to the region as an envoy, Zinni criticized Israel for building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, while demanding to know that the Sharon government was "prepared to do" if the Palestinians offered a cease fire. Needless to say, Zinni's tone didn't exactly endear him--or his efforts--to the Israelis.

After leaving the administration, General Zinni elevated his rhetoric, telling CBS's 60 Minutes that the U.S. went to war in Iraq to strengthen Israel. He also attributed failures in Iraq to the policies developed by administration neo-cons--many of whom are Jewish. Israeli Insider magazine labeled Zinni's remarks as anti-Semitic--a charge that the former general rejects. I'm not prepared to label General Zinni as an anti-Semite, but his assertion about the alleged influence of Jewish influences and officials is disturbing, and unworthy of a former Middle East envoy.

A more recent Rumsfeld critic is another retired Marine officer, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, former Operations Director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Newbold now says he opposed the war, despite his position as J-3 for the JCS--a job that gave him great influence over U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Newbold says his opposition to the Iraq invasion--and plans for the operation--were "well known" within the Pentagon. But apparently, his opposition was not enough for General Newbold to resign over principle. In fact, one Donald Rumsfeld attended Newbold's retirement dinner in 2004.

At that dinner, Pentagon insiders report, a tape was played from a 2001 press conference conducted by Newbold. During that session, held shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, Newbold announced that the Taliban had been crushed--or something to that effect. Problem was, major combat operations were still underway, so the Pentagon (and the White House) had to backtrack and cover Newbold's gaffe. By 2004, it was a running joke, but in the early days of the Afghan War, it was a serious mistake. I'm guessing that Newbold's mistake earned the ire of Mr. Rumsfeld, and soured relations between the two men. And not surprisingly, Newbold never earned his fourth star.

Another Rumsfeld critic is retired Army General Major General Paul Eaton, who has described the defense secretary as "incompetent." But General Eaton also has some spots on his resume, notably his 2003-2004 tour as chief of the U.S. training mission in Iraq. Admittedly, General Eaton faced a tough assignment, but as Big Lizards reminds us, his tenure was characterized by uneven training efforts and some embarassing moments--notably, Iraqi units breaking under fire. Eaton was eventually replaced by Lieutenant General David Paetraeus, who turned the program around, and oversaw the training of more than 80 Iraqi battalions during his tenure.

Retired Army Major General John Riggs has his own issues with Rumsfeld. In 2004, Riggs was accused of contracting improprieties, and given 24 hours to retire from the Army. We wrote a column sympathetic to General Riggs, noting that he had been vocal in his concerns about Army units being "over-stressed" by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suggesting that his criticism may have been an underlying cause for his dismissal. It is also worth noting that General Rigg's abrupt retirement came with a reduction in grade from Lieutenant General (three stars) to Major General (two stars) with a substantial reduction in retirement pay. General Riggs's forced retirement still requires clarification (in our opinion), but there's no doubt that Mr. Rumsfeld was instrumental in that event, and it did nothing to foster friendly relations between the two men.

Riggs was also a protege of former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, who retired early after announcing that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand troops." Opponents of the war claim that events in Iraq prove that Shinseki, Riggs, and other uniformed critics were right--but they ignore an equally salient fact: virtually all of these officers were in senior positions in the mid-to-late 1990s, when the Clinton Administration cut four divisions from the active Army. Did any of these generals oppose that move, realizing that it would mean "fewer boots on the ground" in a future conflict? Ironically, some of these generals--including Shinseki and Riggs--seemed willing to trade troops for the next generation of super weapons, like the Comanche helicopter and Crusader self-propelled gun--both cancelled by Rumsfeld as being too expensive. Now in retirement, these former flag officers are eager to claim that the military is "stretched thin" in Iraq, but none have acknowledged their role in creating today's "undersized" force structure.

Finally, officers like Shinseki, Riggs, Eaton (and others) are, in Rumsfeld's view, symbolic of an ossified Army leadership corps, that he has been fighting for the past five years. When Rumsfeld returned to the Pentagon, he discovered that the Army was well behind the other services in "transforming" itself for the 21st century. He also found Army leadership was reluctant to accept change--so much so, that when he was looking for a new Army Chief of Staff, he recalled an officer (General Peter Schoomaker) from retirement for the job. Rumsfeld's selection was viewed as a slap at the current generation of Army three and four-star generals. Now, three years after the invasion of Iraq, some of those generals are having their revenge, using criticism of the war as convenient cover.

No comments: