“Shock and Awe” Strategist Harlan Ullman Says Buck Bush, Not Rumsfeld


Defense strategist Harlan Ullman writes a regular “Owls and Eagles” column for the Washington Times, and I frequently learn a great deal from it.
I have come by an early draft of what will appear in his column tomorrow — titled tentatively “It is Bush’s War, Not Rumsfeld’s”.
I won’t print the whole article, but I will post some of it and add the link to the Washington Times when it is up tomorrow.
Ullman makes a compelling case that the zealotry to unseat Rumsfeld should be focused on the President and the many other institutions and players who had a hand in the reckless way this war was pursued. Ullman is interesting because he is the person credited with coining the “shock and awe” strategy for military invasions, but he has been a strong and consistent critic of the Bush White House and the Pentagon for the manner in which “shock and awe” was applied.
Just to be clear about my own views, I disagree with Harlan Ullman and think that Rumsfeld is a titan in these matters and that responsibility for many of the errors and misdeeds of this war needs to be fixed, to a significant degree, on him. One must begin somewhere, and it’s not enough to argue a defense of Rumsfeld that others should be held accountable as well.
Nonetheless, Ullman makes several points that should be considered — – particularly that that this was a Bush/Cheney war:

Last week’s political sandstorm in Washington swirled around Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s future. A handful of retired general officers, though no admirals yet, called for the secretary to go on the grounds of mishandling the war in Iraq. President Bush predictably offered strong support for Mr. Rumsfeld as did a handful of other retired flag officers.
In this brouhaha, three important ingredients are so far missing in action. First is recognizing that the war in Iraq is Mr. Bush’s, not Mr. Rumsfeld’s. Second, accountability for the errors, misjudgments and mistakes in conducting that war and its aftermath cannot responsibly be laid at the feet of only one person. Third, we continue to ignore what lies ahead in Iraq, an ignorance that could prove fatal to the entire endeavor.
A disclosure is in order. Recall that as the summer of 2001 passed into autumn, the drumbeat for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation was building. Sometime after September 11th, in opposition to this clamor, this column called for the secretary to “press on” in his quest to transform the department of defense. He did.
Now, nearly five years later, the nation must appreciate that American policy and actions in Iraq and the Middle East have been defined, approved and authorized by the president. While Rumsfeld was a principal architect, the responsibility for the war rests above the secretary’s pay grade. The buck does stop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Second, a good number of other people were intimately involved in the take-off that led to the invasion of Iraq. If Rumsfeld should go, what about the vice president or the current secretary of state, national security advisor and the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff? As key members of the team closest to the president, have they no responsibility or accountability here? And what about other members of the cabinet? If the nation is at war, why is the defense department the only agency acting that way? Why should other cabinet secretaries not be held accountable for demanding similar levels of commitment from their departments?
There is also the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. If Rumsfeld becomes the lightning rod for failed policy, surely Congress cannot be absolved of responsibility. By decisive majorities, both parties authorized the war as well the nearly half a trillion dollars of funding so far spent on Iraq. And what about holding really substantive hearings? So shouldn’t the Speaker, majority and minority leaders of both houses and committee chairmen and ranking members have their feet metaphorically held closely to the accountability fires?

Ullman is absolutely correct that there is a long list of co-conspirators and collaborators who bear responsibility for America’s crappy plight — many of them Democrats in fact.
However, an important point that I think my friend Harlan Ullman glosses over is that the military is seriously fractured right now. There are few times in history where the officer corps has been so divided between what course the nation should go — and regarding what shape the military itself is in.
I do hold Donald Rumsfeld responsible for much of our current mess, but whether others agree or not with that view, few can argue that there is a crisis in confidence in Pentagon management.
When that happens — no matter who is right and who is wrong — management needs to be shaken up. Confidence and stability can be re-established with a new team at the helm.
While Democrats would do better electorally with a continuation of the the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, the nation itself will suffer significantly with two and a half more years of what we are seeing unfold today.
While the buck should stop with the President, Bush and Cheney are likely to keep their positions until the end of their terms, but Rumsfeld is not only expendable — he should be jettisoned, yesterday.
— Steve Clemons


18 comments on ““Shock and Awe” Strategist Harlan Ullman Says Buck Bush, Not Rumsfeld

  1. sona says:

    I posted the comment below on the wrong thread but it really pertains to this particular post. I apologise for being a nuisance – I was reading through the other stuff while thinking about it …. duh, my bad but here goes:
    Replacing Rumsfeld…. who with? Who in the hell is likely to chart a path of withdrawal from Iraq thus implicitly acknowledging defeat and widen the other not so secret Iran front? Why replace him anyhow? Its just getting to a point where Rumsfeld can be directly to linked to toture (I deliberately avoid the Orwellian obfuscation as to what constitutes torture) and you want to see him replaced?
    Pentagon operators and field commanders aside, how many times has this administration and its most vocal but intellectually absurd supporters have exhorted the citizenry to do its patriotic duty to support the Commander in Chief (not the president as he always was to non combatant citizens) and tear up the Constitution?
    Nope. Rumsfeld stays. He may get nailed yet. Besides, the buck stops at the head – the elected lot, not the selected pawns. Bush-Cheney cannot hide behind their selected officials to abrogate their ultimate responsibility for strategic policy decisions. Condi Rice had a good go at that by referring to ‘thousands of tactical errors’ hoping to pass the buck onto the US military when she sat in on at least one discussion on how to manufacture evidence for an unjustifiable war. Funny thing, Rumsfeld didn’t buy that despite no WMDs north or south or east or west of Baghdad. At least he credited the ‘enemy’ with the ability to think – a trait he doesn’t deem the US citizenry possesses.


  2. hit_escape says:

    Rummy’s gotta go, but full responsibility has to be on Bush. You can’t sit there for 6 years, refuse Rummy’s resignation twice and escape responsibility.


  3. Pissed Off American says:

    Rumsfeld and Cheney could sell Bush an Edsel if they ganged up on him.
    And they did.


  4. TSop says:

    They all gotta go.


  5. lalla says:

    Perhaps it would comfort Mr Ullman to think of the Generals’ salvo as a first strike run of thermobaric bomblettes.
    Persistance wil Furthur


  6. dm says:

    Steve: I like your work, but sometimes you have too much of an insider attitude for me. You want to think responsibly, because you see yourself as working within a system that has rules and usually things work out not so badly. Maybe that has been the case in the past, but right now there should be only one objective: the bush administration must be stopped completely. (See Bernstein’s piece on VF.com, that I have only started reading).
    I don’t know if I am making sense, and I am not trying to attack you, but you are too “reasonable” at a time when reason does not guide or explain the actions of the Bush administration. Keep your eye on Iran. Read Billmon and Digby. Go back and talk to Wilkerson some more. Was he simply being metaphorical with his talk of a “cabal”? Is that how you took it? If not, then you need to think seriously about what that means. Are we already at war in Iran? Could that be why Bush can’t replace Rumsfeld?
    I don’t know what Ullman’s motivations are, but he is right that the ultimate blame rests with bush.


  7. Mimikatz says:

    On replacing Garner with Bremer see Greg Palast, who interviewed Garner, here. There is blame aplenty, but the real driver here is Cheney. And the buck stops with Bush. All three are responsible and nothing diffrent will happen as long as the three of them are there, unless a Democratic Congress cuts off their money.


  8. tucker's bow tie says:

    Surgical strike..
    Tactical nuke..
    Nuclear Fallout: The Human Cost


  9. Owen says:

    Our soldiers deserve better than Rumsfeld.
    Ullman seems to be saying that if we can’t give them everything, we should give them nothing. By that logic, if we can’t supply the to best armor to all of the troops, we shouldn’t even send them with food.


  10. Ryan Oddey says:

    I can not wait to read this article in full but for now I want to say that the memo from the Pentagon yesterday defending Rumsfeld was total garbage. The memo stated that Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff 139 times and the combatant commanders 208 times since the beginning of 2005.
    As I stated at my website earlier, I do not care if Rumsfeld moved in with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the results of all of those meetings equal failure in Iraq, and that alone is enough of a reason for Rumsfeld to go, never mind the other deserved criticism he is receiving. I am not a huge fan of Machiavellian school of thought, but when the situation we have in Iraq is the “end to the means” then change has to be made.
    Rumsfeld should not be someone who is skipped over as people try and topple the White House, he should simply be one of the first dominoes to fall.


  11. Marica says:

    If the Bush-Cheney duo keep their positions another two and a half years what condition will the country be in?
    It may give time for South America to consolidate its position while the military is bogged down in Iraq but what condition will the army be in when finally brought home? If the executive finds itself against the wall who knows what they might do,it is evident that as long as they possess a parcel of power they will use it as they see fit.
    Will the Republican Congress continue putting its head in the noose? Will it beat the drums for Iran? Will the Democrats tag along for another ride?
    We look and act, politically and economically, a bit like a Banana Republic.


  12. Carroll says:

    It should be obvious that Rummy would not still be at the pentagon if he wasn’t carrying out Bush’s wishes. All the others in this adm that have uttered a peep against any of his policies have been retired/fired.
    But all the concentration on Bush is just more bullshit by the pundits and the politicans.
    Everyone with an I.Q. above 50 knows that it is the Entire System of governing that we have now that is responsible for our current state of affairs.
    There is not one single voice in this goverment that represents the good of the country. Everything and I mean e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g done is according to how benefical it is to one Political Party or another, foreign and exile interest like AIPAC and CANF,special interest reps like AEI and other assorted “Think Tanks” Oil companies, Multinationals, Corporations, Wall Street,…..ad nausum.
    I am waiting to see what we Americans will do if Bush does another “premptive” attack on Iran. If he does, and Americans don’t assail Washington with nooses and torches then you will know America is over with and done.
    There is only one thing that could turn democracy right side out again and that is campaign reform…and it’s not in the politicans “own” interest to do that so it’s not going to happen…so what are we going to do? Nothing? Keep putting the same incest decendents back into the same corrupt system they created year after year?


  13. bakho says:

    I agree with Ullman. Rumsfeld is prosecuting the Bush/Cheney war policy. If Rummy were not doing as he was told, he would be out of there. If Rummy were disagreeing with Bush, he would be gone faster than you can say Paul O’Neill.
    Does anyone think Rummy was responsible for the decision to replace Garner with Bremmer?
    Bush will only replace Rumsfeld if Bush wants a change in policy that Rummy refuses to deliver. Bush is in Iraq for the LONG term (decades). Short-term set backs will not influence Bush long-term decisions.
    Again, the major problem in Iraq is political, not military. There is little that Rummy or the military can do to change the facts on the ground. Those facts change only with POLITICAL change in Iraq. Bush is committed to “stay the course”. This means that the US will continue to lose about the same number of troops and billions of dollars every month, but it is a price that Mr Bush is willing to pay.
    The Generals criticizing Rummy think he is not doing enough to change the mind of Mr Bush. Nothing will change Bush’s mind. If Rummy tried to change his mind, he would then be fired.


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    Spread the word.


  15. chet says:

    Ullman is kind.
    When the military went after the low-ranking perpetrators of war crimes caught on camera, was he equally committed to placing responsibility higher up?
    Rumsfeld can’t take sole responsibility for the disastrous conception and execution of the war and occupation, but he should bear responsibility commensurate with his position and his willingness to participate in killing. There should be consequences for fatal mistakes.
    Rumsfeld has been fond of assuring everyone that he knows what he’s doing. We should take him at his word. When he could have walked away before the first bomb was dropped, he chose to stay and to crow over his successes while insulting anyone who questioned his judgment or truthfulness.
    He may not be as responsible as Cheney or Bush, but neither of them could match his bloodthirsty enthusiasm.
    Justice must have a place for him.


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