What About the Generals <em>Above</em> the Revolt and Below Rumsfeld?


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.
DeLong writes:

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


13 comments on “What About the Generals <em>Above</em> the Revolt and Below Rumsfeld?

  1. JS says:

    Some superb points Steve. No one minded mentioning that General Myers is as tied to the Bush/Cheney establishment as Rumsfeld, with his daughter gaining employment within the government.
    The whole problem with the defense of Don Rumsfeld is that its coming from generals or personnel with direct ties to Rumsfeld or the Bush/Cheney team, and their current and future state of presence and power in the Pentagon relies on Rumsfeld. Also, the defense is full of half-truths and embellishments. It never discusses tactical errors, issues involving civilian intrusion into military tactics, political failures (where the state Dept. shouldnt have been cut at the knees). All it says, is Donny listens. But Donny does as Donny wants, and anyone who has opposed him or told him hes wrong as been cut down.


  2. sona says:

    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.


  3. R. Weber says:

    Since Rumsfeld has now hand picked all of the Joint Chiefs, isn’t rather apparent that there is a disconnect between the 4-star level that has been co-opted by the Sec Def and the subordinated flag officers? With the release of more details of LtGen Randall Schmidt’s investigation of Rumsfeld’s daily ovesight of Guantanamo interrogations, isn’t the main issue whether Rumsfeld should be indicted? Speaking as a retired military officer, I think anyone who values the code of honesty and integrity of the military profession should be calling for Rumsfeld’s immediate dismissal. Check out the powerful message at the website of USMA graduates http://www.westpointgradsagainstthewar.org/index.htm


  4. Jackmormon says:

    This isn’t a substantive comment, but it really is remarkable how Ret. Lt. Gen. DeLong echoes Rumsfeld’s signature syntax while defending him. (Has Rumsfeld singlehandedly saved the world? No. Is he a tireless worker in pursuit of administration goals? Without a doubt.)


  5. vachon says:

    Imho, the mutually assured destruction Bush and Rumsfeld have over each other will prevent either from abandoning the other.
    Also, if, and granted this is a big if, Bush has already decided to invade/bomb Iran before he leaves office, Rumsfeld is probably in the very close loop and agrees it should be done. Another, presumably sane, SecDef would probably freak out at the deal.


  6. wkmaier says:

    One reason that Bush may not fire Rumsfeld could be that he’s been told there are no good candidates that a) would take the job and b) receive Senate confirmation. Truly the Sec of Defense position right now is a poisoned chalice that would kill the career of anyone that comes within 10 miles of it. Particularly taking into account that you would only serve 2 years (probably) and Bush may have already commenced action against Iran, certainly not enough time to effect positive change.


  7. bakho says:

    This flap is the result of current policy not achieving the desired short term results in Iraq. The problem for the military is that Iraq is a political problem in need of a political solution. Iraq is not a problem that the military can solve. The best the military can do is to hold out until a political solution emerges. The demand for Rummy’s head is a demand for a policy change. The commanders on the ground are unhappy with the lack of political progress. They may feel that Rummy is not effectively communicating the military view of military stalemate up the line.
    It may be that Rummy is doing as well as expected given the long term goals of his boss. Bush is in Iraq for the long haul, 10-20 years. Bush believes his Iraq policy is correct, that it will have its ups and downs but that if pursued consistently for a decade or two, will succeed as planned. A military stalemate is entirely acceptable to Mr Bush as long as a political solution (that he and his corporate interest like) emerges.
    However, military stalemate is less than acceptable to those lower in the command structure who believe the prudent military decision is withdrawal over the next 24 months. A time frame of 120 to 240 months anticipates failures and long periods of less than satisfactory results, (a situation difficult for junior officers who want to win and go home) to accept. They may blame Rummy for their predicament. However, it may be that Rummy is protecting the military from far worse by acting as a buffer between the military and total incompetence at the top. Many officers may be more fondly remembering Mr Clinton as CIC.
    The domestic political problem for Mr Bush is that he sold Iraq to both Congress and the Public on the idea that it would be a quick strike with little cost. Mr Bush is now faced with a Congress and Public that have buyers remorse over a commitment that is far more costly and long term than they bargained. Based on their complaints, it seems that the junior officers may not have been aware of the long term nature of the commitment. This may seem to be a betrayal by the higher ups of a failure to inform. However, that is their prerogative.


  8. chris from boca says:

    “…he was in the torture chain of command ….” =
    why hasn’t bush called for his resignation. same reason cheney is still around.
    too many massengales? of course this is true. why should the military and the joint chiefs be the only area of government in which the best people made the grade. suck ups and sycophants rule the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, the White House, and on and on. of course the Massengale careerist prevails: this is a natural state of affairs in the culture of greed and corruption. they’re ALL DOING A HECKUVA JOB.


  9. kim says:

    I’ve long believed that Bush refuses to get rid of Rummy for 2 reasons: 1) doing so would be an admission of failure; and 2) Bush prizes loyalty and a comfort level above all. He is a very insecure man in many ways and will stay with someone he is comfortable with, above all. His comfort comes in part from Rummy’s ability to work Bush very well, which involves alot of praising, bowing and scraping before him.


  10. RichF says:

    But the notion that the “Joint Chiefs might be in general agreement” doesn’t fit with what we “know.” And there may be a simpler, and therefore more likely, explanation.
    Three observations:
    1. Sy Hersh’s latest in the New Yorker describes a situation in which a fair portion of the Joint Chiefs are fit to be tied with Rumsfeld — and are considering resigning if the relationship is not repaired and their counsel not heeded.
    Granting that there are bound to be both Massendales and Damons — and both with a vested interest — Sy Hersh has very strong credibility. He’s been right before, and this time he says officers are considering resigning in protest. Of what, you ask?
    2. The Joint Chiefs may feel open opposition is equivalent to disobeying an order from up the chain-o’-command. Let those not at risk, and not under obligation, make the public case to start with. Insubordination is a last resort, especially when …
    3. It’s better to be there and ready to apply the brakes, when the time comes.
    Just as had been done with Nixon.
    Apply the brakes to what, you ask?
    Passages from Hersh, writing in the New Yorker:
    He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”
    The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”
    The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran.
    So when your source, Steve, says that:
    “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?”
    I strongly question his interpretation.
    The simplest explanation is that those in a position to stop the use of nuclear weapons may not resign to preserve the opportunity to take it off the table when the time comes. It wouldn’t be the first time. At one point, Nixon’s judgment had become so seriously impaired that the option was taken off the table by the military, according to a relatively recent, authoritative account.
    This is not about past mismanagement, or even a current poor relationship. Nor is it simply about the continuing abuse of power. It’s about preventing catastrophic decisions that can’t be undone.


  11. Alan says:

    My disappointment with both en Myers and Gen Pace is that they give “the party line”. I am all for internal discussions and then a smart salute and let’s get the job done. I am all for good discipline all the way to the top. But let us not forget that playing politics is part of what happens in the Pentagon. There has simply been too much happening and too little accountability for me to feel comfortable with whatever Rumsfeld or Pace say about Iraq.
    But if generals want to retain any credibility on Iraq, and if they have genuine concerns, then they should take a stand, back up their criticism and take the consequences. I thought that is what they taught at War College.


  12. paulw says:

    I think Marky’s point about Iran is very good and needs to be addressed by the press. It speaks both to why the 6 generals are raising these issues now — i.e., on the eve of yet another disastrous military excursion — and why Bush is so adamant in keeping him on — because it would be impossible to keep to a timetable on Iran if he were to be replaced now.


  13. Marky says:

    A couple of points:
    It was reported that retired generals got talking points from Rumsfeld himself on this issue. Is Delong speaking for himself, or for Rumsfeld?
    Second, there are a couple of obvious reasons Rumsfeld can’t be fired now. The main one, from my point of view, is that Rumsfeld was in the torture chain of command. I don’t think there’s any question that he implemented Bush’s torture policies, and reportedly he even personally approved torture in some cases.
    If he is replaced, will the new Sec Def agree to continue with Rumsfeld’s torture policies, and to thwart investigations into abuses that have occurred in the past? Furthermore, these questions will come up in the confirmation hearing. Can the Republican party maintain party unity to quash any questioning of the nominee on the torture question? That is a gamble today—one Bush may not wish to make.
    The other point is that according to many sources—more than Sy Hersh alone—Bush is already committed to attacking Iran. Indeed, there are reports that there is already a secret war in Iran. Clearly, in this instance, Rumsfeld cannot be replaced.
    I am interested to see if any high ranking generals will retire in protest. That is the next step.


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