Retired Marine Lt. General Michael DeLong published a significant retort to the growing league of generals calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign. The piece titled “A General Misunderstanding” ran in the New York Times over the weekend as well as the International Herald Tribune today.
As the No. 2 at U.S. Central Command from the Sept. 11 attacks through the Iraq war, I was the daily “answer man” to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I briefed him twice a day; few people had as much interaction with him as I did during those two years. In light of the recent calls for his resignation by several retired generals, I would like to set the record straight on what he was really like to work with.
When I was at Centcom, the people who needed to have access to Rumsfeld got it, and he carefully listened to our arguments. That is not to say that he is not tough in terms of his convictions (he is) or that he will make it easy on you (he will not). If you approach him unprepared, or if you don’t have the full courage of your convictions, he will not give you the time of day.
Rumsfeld does not give in easily in disagreements, either, and he will always force you to argue your point thoroughly. This can be tough for some people to deal with. I witnessed many heated but professional conversations between my immediate commander, General Tommy Franks, and Rumsfeld — but the secretary always deferred to the general on war-fighting issues.
Ultimately, I believe that a tough defense secretary makes commanders tougher in their convictions. Was Donald Rumsfeld a micromanager? Yes. Did he want to be involved in all of the decisions? Yes. But Rumsfeld never told people in the field what to do. It all went through Franks.
Many progressive pundits are jumping behind General Zinni and others to try and compel Rumsfeld to resign. I have to admit that I’ve been hoping and writing that Rumsfeld would step down or be fired for some time.
When America is out attempting to promote the kind of democracy in which accountability of government officials and securing the rights of political minorities are vital, Rumsfeld’s employment as Defense Secretary seemed to say to the world the exact opposite. He has never been held accountable for either poor decisions in this war or the moral as well as logistical collapse of America’s military forces.
Despite this, there are two interesting, less obvious, dimensions in this debate that have surfaced.
First, the President is clinging tenaciously to Rumsfeld. Why? What does this mean? When Rumsfeld and his management structure have produced failure in Iraq and moral collapse evident for the entire world to see in the photos that came from Abu Ghraib, what possible benefit could there be in Bush clinging to Rumsfeld? Ironically, Rumsfeld staying where he is aggravates many around the country and helps Democrats in their 2006 election efforts. Why is the President so stuck on Rumsfeld?
I really don’t know, but this really needs further exploration.
Secondly, General DeLong — who did report directly to Rumsfeld — in his defense of the Defense Secretary raised the question of chain of command via Tommy Franks.
A retired General whom I cannot name — but suffice it to say it is one of the “famous” former generals who served this country well — wrote this interesting response in an email to Michael DeLong’s op-ed:
The response from LtGen DeLong underscores what is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole “revolt of the generals” — the schism it reveals in the mililtary chain of command.
Not one of the six who’ve spoken out reported directly to Secretary Rumsfeld. General Zinni retired in 2000, a year and a half before Rumsfeld became SecDef.
LtGen Newbold was the J-3 on the Joint Staff, which by law is managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the Joint Staff. Riggs commanded 1st Army for the first few months of Rumsfeld’s term, and thereafter was the Director of the Army’s Objective Force Task Force until his retirement.
MG Eaton commanded the Military Assistance Training Team in Baghdad for a year, with at least one commander in the chain between him and Rumsfeld (Abizaid), and was in TRADOC for the rest of his overlap with Rumsfeld’s tenure. And MGs Batiste and Swannack were division commanders in Iraq, with a corps commander (Sanchez, Metz, Vines, Chiarelli), the MNF-I commander (Casey), and the combatant commander (Abizaid) between them and Rumsfeld, not to mention the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Myers, Pace) who by law “serves as the spokesman for the commanders of the combatant commands, especially on the operational requirements of their commands.”
Those who have come to the defense of Rumsfeld — Pace, Myers, Franks, and now DeLong — all sat or still sit much closer in the chain to Rumsfeld than those who have cited his leadership style, disdain for military advice, and meddling in military affairs as reasons he should be fired.
Given where each sat in the chain of command, their complaints about the Secretary of Defense amount to an indictment of every officer serving above them, and especially those now defending him. A piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate Magazine, “The Revolt Against Rumsfeld,” includes the following passage:
Gen. Zinni referred to another book, a favorite of officers for nearly four decades now-Anton Myrer’s 1968 novel, Once an Eagle. It’s about two Army officers, friends from childhood, and their rise through the ranks — Sam Damon, a straight-arrow field commander, and Courtney Massengale, a scheming Pentagon careerist.
Gen. Zinni said the two characters are widely seen in his profession as symbols for the two types of military officer — and the two paths of military promotion. He stopped short of saying so explicitly, but he suggested that the Pentagon’s upper ranks contain too many Courtney Massengales and not enough Sam Damons.
To have retired generals from down the chain call for the firing of the civilian at the top seems to suggest that they have lost confidence in those in between, a sentiment that has surfaced in Loop discussions on this topic, to wit:
Has anyone considered the possibility that the Joint Chiefs might be in general agreement with the SECDEF and feel there is nothing to resign over?
Forcing strategic policy changes on political leadership is, in my opinion, better left to the Chairman and Service Chiefs. There would be a horrific effect should one of these resign over policy. But isn’t this exactly what our “six” are trying to do?
Uniformed officers can retire or resign in protest or whatever if they can no longer in good conscience, follow the orders of the officers and civilians appointed over them.
It saddens me to see the acrimony among the officers’ corps. It clearly damages our esprit. The alternative, to sit silent while the nation goes down the wrong path, is worse.
Not only is it not wrong for a retired officer to publicly discuss the war, I think it is a moral obligation.
The Secretary ensures there is no open dialogue about important issues through those he places in key positions, especially JFCOM.
Since those who have spoken out were either never in the Rumsfeld chain like Zinni (and arguably Riggs) or several levels down the chain, what does their going public say about their confidence in the military commanders above them in the chain?
As the retired dissenters make the rounds of talk shows and submit to print interviews, I hope someone will take the trouble to figure out what each one’s position was in the chain of command, then ask if they discussed their misgivings with those above them and what kind of feedback they received.
Secretaries of Defense have been fired before, but if there is a feeling among the two- and three-stars that those above them are all Courtney Massengales, we are seeing a real crisis in command.
The general purpose of the above email message from another of the nation’s top retired general was to indicate some qualified support for Secretary Rumsfeld.
However, it is a thoughtful and respectful treatment of the right of retired generals to speak their mind — but it’s calling for the fuller story. What about the generals between them and the Secretary?
Did they speak out at the time? Did they challenge their superior officers and receive responses to their skepticism about decisions emanating from the SecDef’s office?
No matter what one’s views on whether Rumsfeld should stay in his post or be retired, this question about what happened in the chain of command is worth looking into.
— Steve Clemons