April 16, 2006

Holbrooke on the Revolt of the Generals

Dick Holbrooke:

The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur, the commanding general in Korea and a towering World War II hero, publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different.

First, it is clear that the retired generals -- six so far, with more likely to come -- surely are speaking for many of their former colleagues, friends and subordinates who are still inside. In the tight world of senior active and retired generals, there is constant private dialogue. Recent retirees stay in close touch with old friends, who were often their subordinates; they help each other, they know what is going on and a conventional wisdom is formed. Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the planning period for the war in Iraq, made this clear in an extraordinary, at times emotional, article in Time magazine this past week when he said he was writing "with the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership." He went on to "challenge those still in uniform . . . to give voice to those who can't -- or don't have the opportunity to -- speak."

These generals are not newly minted doves or covert Democrats. (In fact, one of the main reasons this public explosion did not happen earlier was probably concern by the generals that they would seem to be taking sides in domestic politics.) They are career men, each with more than 30 years in service, who swore after Vietnam that, as Colin Powell wrote in his memoirs, "when our turn came to call the shots, we would not quietly acquiesce in half-hearted warfare for half-baked reasons." Yet, as Newbold admits, it happened again. In the public comments of the retired generals one can hear a faint sense of guilt that, having been taught as young officers that the Vietnam-era generals failed to stand up to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson, they did the same thing...

...In the end, the case for changing the secretary of defense seems to me to be overwhelming. I do not reach this conclusion simply because of past mistakes, simply because "someone must be held accountable." Many people besides Rumsfeld were deeply involved in the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan; many of them remain in power, and some are in uniform.

The major reason the nation needs a new defense secretary is far more urgent. Put simply, the failed strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be fixed as long as Rumsfeld remains at the epicenter of the chain of command. Rumsfeld's famous "long screwdriver," with which he sometimes micromanages policy, now thwarts the top-to-bottom reexamination of strategy that is absolutely essential in both war zones. Lyndon Johnson understood this in 1968 when he eased another micromanaging secretary of defense, McNamara, out of the Pentagon and replaced him with Clark M. Clifford. Within weeks, Clifford had revisited every aspect of policy and begun the long, painful process of unwinding the commitment. Today, those decisions are still the subject of intense dispute, and there are many differences between the two situations. But one thing was clear then and is clear today: Unless the secretary of defense is replaced, the policy will not and cannot change.

That first White House reaction will not be the end of the story. If more angry generals emerge -- and they will -- if some of them are on active duty, as seems probable; if the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan does not turn around (and there is little reason to think it will, alas), then this storm will continue until finally it consumes not only Donald Rumsfeld. The only question is: Will it come so late that there is no longer any hope of salvaging something in Iraq and Afghanistan?

More from David Brooks:

Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.

If you just looked at his résumé, you might think he was the best person to lead the Pentagon in time of war, but in reality he was the worst because his whole life had misprepared him for what was to come. He was prepared to fight organizations. He was not prepared to fight enemies.

Now the bureaucracy he assaulted is rising up against him. In other times their enmity would be a mark of accomplishment, but now it's a symptom of failure. He has become a past-tense man.

Meantime, Mike DeLong defends Rummy in today's NYT. Among other things, he says:

We also — collectively — made some decisions in the wake of the war that could have been better. We banned the entire Baath Party, which ended up slowing reconstruction (we should probably have banned only high-level officials); we dissolved the entire Iraqi Army (we probably should have retained a small cadre help to rebuild it more quickly). We relied too much on the supposed expertise of the Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi who assured us that once Saddam Hussein was gone, Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds would unite in harmony.

But that doesn't mean that a "What's next?" plan didn't exist. It did; it was known as Phase IV of the overall operation. General Franks drafted it and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the State Department, the Pentagon, the Treasury Department and all members of the Cabinet had input. It was thoroughly "war-gamed" by the Joint Chiefs.

But Rumsfeld won't even admit the tactical errors DeLong at least does in this half-hearted support of Rumsfeld (one he probably felt compelled to write at least partly given the alarming gulf that has burst into public view as between our civilian war 'leaders' and the uniformed military). As for the sufficiency of planning for Phase IV, let's just say we'll have much more on that here in coming days. But let me point readers to Chapter 8 of Cobra II. Below please find some key passages that put something of the lie to DeLong's mostly bogus spin that adequate planning had occurred for Phase IV, and trust me when I tell you they are by no means 'cherry-picked', but representative of the overall state of play re: Phase IV planning, at least per this rather judicious treatment.

Zinni had organized the war game Desert Crossing, intended to integrate the civilian agencies--from the Agency for International Development to the Treasury Department--that would help to govern [Iraq]. As there was little interest in forcing regime change in Iraq during the Clinton years, Desert Crossing did not get very far. Zinni's effort was preliminary and focused more on solving short-term humanitarian problems than on designing a new U.S.-led organization to run the country after the war and before the installation of a new Iraqi government. Franks had done little to pick up where his predecessor left off...When Zinni had later called Mike DeLong, Frank's Tampa-based deputy and fellow Marine, to ask if the command was trying to build on Desert Crossing, DeLong indicated that he had never heard of it...Unlike many of his subordinates, Franks had no experience in Bosnia or Kosovo and was inclined to think of nation-consolidating efforts as an afterthought...It was not until August...when the Joint Staff instructed CENTCOM that it would have to support the administration of [Iraq]. By then, the planners were consumed with planning the war and preparing Franks for his meetings with the president and top administration officials. CENTCOM's team had been told to get cracking on Phase IV, but at a difficult time. "The ability to focus on it was very difficult at the command perspective...you had a lot of energy focused on the tactical piece, again Phase I through III. There wasn't a whole lot of intellectual energy being focused on Phase IV". (Cobra II, p. 139-140)


After the Pentagon established its primacy in postwar Iraq [ed. note: meaning the bureaucratic battle to wrest control from the State Department before the war], the Phase IV planning effort slowed to a crawl. Rumsfeld did not seem anxious about the lack of momentum. His assumption was that he and his department would not be organizing a massive nation-building program, but facilitating Iraqi efforts to secure and reconstruct their own country using their oil exports to finance whatever was needed. Doug Feith...described Rumsfeld's approach as 'enabling'. It was intended to reduce the U.S. burden in postwar Iraq and facilitate the quick departure of the bulk of U.S. forces. At the White House, there was intuitive support for the 'enabling' strategy, which would allow the United States to dispose of its foe, quickly withdraw many, if not most, of its troops, and avoid the decade-long commitment Clinton had initiated in the Balkans...For the Joint Staff, however, the projected reliance on the Iraqis did not obviate the need to set up the U.S. organizations that were to oversee the occupation. Since mid-October, there had been no additional guidance or input from the civilians on Rumsfeld's staff on how to turn their plan into reality, prompting one senior officer on the Joint Staff to propose a new nickname for Rumsfeld's policy team: 'the black hole'. (Cobra II, p. 142)
[UPDATE: I was boarding a flight when I initially posted this, and have added some text and cleaned up nits now having touched down].

Rumsfeld's stewardship of Phase IV will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of American national security policy. No, blame cannot reside with him alone. A weak-kneed NSC infected by great skepticism about 'doing kindergartens' and such played a role, and there were many other factors too (Powell should have rung the alarm bells more loudly, probably). But, and with regard to the Pentagon's role, something of a perfect storm of hubris, insouciance, strategic and tactical blundering, total lack of understanding regarding nation-building, micro-management and stubborness all conspired to put us in the dire straits we find ourselves in today. Were it not for all the blood shed, it would be but an immense farce that Rumsfeld has not yet been fired. Instead it is a bona fide scandal, something evocative of a fraud being perpetrated on the American public, one that has, to boot, resulted in a not insignificant crisis in the history of civilian-military relations in the post-Vietnam era.

Holbrooke is absolutely right. There will be no meaningful change in Iraq policy until Rumsfeld goes. And the current strategy is leading us towards failure. Thus the anger of our Generals. The cheap attempts to discredit said Generals are grotesque, especially attacks lobbed at those who actually led men into battle in Iraq, but of course woefully predictable. All we can do now is stand firm, share facts, and hope sanity prevails. But the President is now tottering, his Administration increasingly defunct and discredited, as his dependency on Rumsfeld and lack of strategic leadership is now being unmasked for all to see. And, incidentally, how dare Rumsfeld waste our time, and time away from salvaging the war effort, quibbling with Condeleeza Rice in public about whether mistakes were made in Iraq? Of course mistakes were made, many of them (both strategic and tactical), and he should be eating massive servings of humble pie instead of showboating on radio interviews so as to avoid even a smidgen of accountability. Not to mention serving up letters of resignation (yes, once again, and really meaning it this time) to POTUS. To quote a golden oldie, have you no shame Sir?

Posted by Gregory at April 16, 2006 04:28 PM | TrackBack (0)

No, he doesn't have any shame. Next question?

The next question should be, "Mr. Secretary, we have heard reports that US special forces are working with the MEK inside Iran. Can you comment on whether that is true and, if so, what they're doing there?"

Or how about: "Mr. Secretary, we have heard reports that US special forces are working with the MEK inside Iran. Can you explain why the US is working with an organization that the State Department classifies as a terrorist group"?

Posted by: CaseyL at April 16, 2006 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Why destroy the credibility of your arguments by quoting that facile spin meister David Brooks on any matter of substance, much less one having to do with military judgement and expertise. Yeeeck!!

And I agree that Rummy *should* resign, but I hope he doesn't and takes the republicans down with him in the midterm elections.

Posted by: chew2 at April 16, 2006 11:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I think you are 100% right.

This debate reminds me of a puzzle I have. When the occupation, from the very start, went completely different from what Rumseld and the neo-cons has predicted, was there some point at which Bush said to himself, "you know, I can't trust these people"? Or did he just rationalize it all, like telling himself that things were basically fine, even though not as predicted?

A bit off-topic, but I thought people might be interested in this piece on the problems of establishing democracy in Iraq. There is a connection, though, in that these problems were predicted by many, and might have been at least partly avoided if we had had a good occupation plan.


Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 16, 2006 11:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I think you're as sharp as a bowling ball, son. I think you don't know jack about planning, following orders, or executing operations and responding to challenges. So I'm sure you think someone else could do better than has been done to this point.

What genius do you recommend putting in charge and what other plan should be implemented that will ensure the defeat of Iraq's insurgency, and the improvement of the chances that Islamic terrorists will never bother me or you again?


Posted by: Subsunk at April 16, 2006 11:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Subsunk, I'll say to you what I have already said several times: the problem with Rumsfeld is he is the wrong man for the job at hand.

We are engaged in a military occupation, fighting an insurgency, promoting democracy, and engaged in nation building. Rumsfeld has made clear that he opposes military occupation and counter-insurgency warfare, and doesn't believe in democracy promotion or nation building. It is for this reason that Rumsfeld has made numerous seriously mistaken decisions, and will continue to do so as long as he is Secretary of Defense.

By the way, Subsunk, before the invasion, what was your prediction about how things would go after we defeated the Iraqi government? And what were your reasons, and who were you listening to? Did you agree with Rumsfeld that things would be peaceful, that there would be a quick transition to a democracy and as a consequence we could quickly withdraw our forces, and that Iraq would be able to pay for rebuilding out of its own oil income? Did you make the same mistaken predictions he made?

Or did you correctly predict how tough things would be, and if you did, how did you feel about Rumsfeld when he predicted wrong?

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 17, 2006 12:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Powell should have rung the alarm bells more loudly, probably

Are you kidding me? Could you have imagined the nuclear holocaust that would have resulted if Powell had loudly pointed out, from the State Dept., that Rummy had only a three stage plan?

If you'll recall, the atmosphere at the time between DOD and State was pretty edgey to say the least.

It's obvious now that Powell took the life raft and his future will be marred, though perhaps slightly less so than the other players.

Posted by: Davebo at April 17, 2006 12:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think you don't know jack about planning, following orders, or executing operations and responding to challenges. So I'm sure you think someone else could do better than has been done to this point.

Fascinating argument, Subsunk.

If you had known in 2003 that nobody could have done any better, and it couldn't have gone any better than this, would you have supported the war?

Posted by: J Thomas at April 17, 2006 01:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Generals, smenerals. Bush tottering, not hardly. Let's follow the money. Foreign Central Banks including and especially the Chinese last week went on an orgy of Treasury paper and GSE paper buying. Admittedly they had been scaling back a bit of late but last week it was like pigs at the trough.

The equity and financial markets are doing quite well here. Worldwide equities are exploding. The liquidity machine which is America has set alight the entire world and never before has so much wealth been created so quickly. (I will admit that the measure of that wealth is perhaps problematical but litterally millons think they are millionares)

The money says everything is great, super, boffo. While prediction is impossible and one might say we are at some kind of top I wouldn't bet on it.

Bush, Iraq, Iran, they are but a side show. There are excess billions of people worldwide in any case. Since some of them are sitting on top of the oil money needs to say they are expendable is too kind.

Governance is an anchronism. Citizens with a capital 'C', a wooly ideal.

While many argue the past , we create the new reality, was the gist of the operative quote.

Posted by: rapier at April 17, 2006 03:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I love this line "The cheap attempts to discredit said Generals are grotesque" People who live in glass houses........
Greg due to your steadfastness ( A Rumsfeld trait) you have degraded from a rational discourse website into a rival to the daily Kos.
I predict we will see many expletives on this site.
You are a fool.

Posted by: Moose at April 17, 2006 03:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I love the left. They're nothing if not authoritative. Naturally, once they figure out successful public housing, child physical fitness, I’ll listen to them. Otherwise they're just impassioned and subtle. To be honest, there isn’t a problem that with time and money, they can't make worse.

Posted by: Paul at April 17, 2006 04:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To be honest, there isn’t a problem that with time and money, they can't make worse.

Absolutely !! You are talking about wingnuts and Iraq, right ?

Posted by: erg at April 17, 2006 04:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There's enough whistling by the graveyard in this comments section to start up a band for the dead.

Posted by: Doug H. at April 17, 2006 06:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What "whistling by the graveyard" ?

(I am inside the US, so my news is censored -- all the violent and gruesome stuff from Iraq is censored out -- so I may miss allusions having to do with Iraq, but in any case I am unfamliar entirely with this phrase.)

One thing i don't understand, is why an oil administration like the present one would want to bomb Iran? Ok, that should send oil through the roof, and perhaps increase short-term profits, but the mid-term results are terrifyingly bad for the US??

Posted by: davy jones at April 17, 2006 08:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

@davy jones:

It's not just money that drives the administration. It's also religion. Many of the key players in the administration are dyed-in-the-wool millennialists. They're keenly awaiting the rapture and not really concerned with what happens in the intermediate term as they're expecting to be taken up to heaven. Realize also that triggering a firestorm in the middle east is seen as one of the events which will bring about the rapture.

Posted by: anon at April 17, 2006 04:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush tottering, not hardly. Let's follow the money. Foreign Central Banks including and especially the Chinese last week went on an orgy of Treasury paper and GSE paper buying.

"Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake." Napoleon Bonaparte

Does the chinese government think of us as an enemy? If so, it makes sense for them to keep letting us dig ourselves deeper until we stop for some other reason. Then they can fill the hole in on top of us....

Posted by: J Thomas at April 17, 2006 08:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

re: the Chinese

Unfortunately the US position vis-a-vis the Chinese seems to be mutually assured nuclear devastation, but somewhat uneven economic vulnerability -- the Chinese are vulnerable in that they need our markets, but we're more vulnerable in that they could probably bring about a US banking collapse by selling heavily in US treasury papers and all dollar-denominated instruments. I'm not sure how likely it is that they'd choose to destroy our banking system though.

However, this position of weakness vis-a-vis China doesn't seem to me to portend well for the US in what I expect will be a competition for both Iranian and Caspian oil, and neither does our current attempt to demonize Iran, I fear.

Posted by: darth_vader at April 18, 2006 01:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Darth, why do the chinese need our markets?

They sell to us, and they get far more dollars than they need. Some of them they sit on and some they invest in US T-bonds etc.

They give us stuff their people make. We give them blips in computer databases that represent pieces of paper. Why do they need what we have to offer?

People say they need our markets. The idea is, if their own people can't get jobs those people might revolt or something. Of course, the chinese government has a clear idea how to handle revolts that don't include the army. But look at it a little deeper. I just did a quick search for stuff made in china. I opened up a computer. The case, the video board, one muffin fan and the power strip were made in china. I checked my silverware. The good stainless ones were from japan but the cheap ones were from china. A plastic flyswatter. A plastic laundry basket. A plastic sandbox pail. A telephone. These were all cheaper for me than they would otherwise be because china has been supporting the dollar. And american plywood and rebars and such are more expensive for chinese for the same reasons. The theory is that chinese people want to work hard for low pay. If they had the chance to work hard and buy their own computer parts and silverware and flyswatters and such cheaper, they'd revolt. They insist on working hard for low pay.

I think china doesn't need US markets at all. They are paying us to let them make things for us. They want us to be dependent on them, and they want it enough to deprive their own people while they pamper ours. We get cheap stuff but it's hard to find jobs to pay for it. They get to work hard for low pay and not have much to buy with their money. If there's a sudden change, and suddenly they aren't subsidising us, which side will be better off? The ones who have factories to make everything they need and skilled workers in the factories, or us?

Posted by: J Thomas at April 18, 2006 05:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J. Thomas, it appears to me that you have answered your own question?

The Chinese sell many goods to the US. Therefore, I deduce -- or "assume" might be more appropriate -- that the economic health of the Chinese capitalist companies (in ShenZen and wherever their economic development regions are nowadays) are dependant on selling goods to us for their revenue.

You just made the argument that they sell much to the US. I suggest that their revenue is therefore dependent on selling much to the US.

Note: I'm not talking about China as a country, but about the individual companies as companies. Now, it may be that China is not as beholden to the interests of individual companies as, say, the US, but still, I'd guess that they have incentive to keep their freemarket growth going.

Posted by: darth_vader at April 18, 2006 05:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Darth, try a little thought experiment.

Suppose that the chinese government paid all the companies that export to the USA, and collected the stuff they made, and dumped it into the Gobi desert. How would they be worse off than they are now?

Well, first off they do import some stuff from us. OK, let's make it just the excess production they dump, instead of all of it. Say they cut back exports to match their imports.

Then everything would be the same for them, except they wouldn't have as many dollars.

What good does it do china to sell to the USA at low prices, when all they get for it is dollars that they have to prop up to keep them from depreciating?

They're paying us to buy their consumer junk, and americans figure it's to keep their own people happy? What if they subsidised their own people to buy the consumer junk? It just doesn't make sense.

But it makes sense if they're mercantilists. If they're willing to give us stuff in exchange for worthless pieces of paper, on the face of it that's stupid. But if it has the result that we lose our industries, while theirs grow big and strong, they've won something. They pay us to dismantle our industries -- and it would cost a whole lot more to bomb those industries....

This explanation makes a lot more sense to me than the one that says they're scared of their industrialists. These government leaders are communists. They aren't scared of businessmen. They remember the days they shot people who made a profit.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 18, 2006 05:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

More About the Author
Email the Author

Recent Entries

The News
The Blogs
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Law & Finance
Think Tanks
The City
Epicurean Corner
Syndicate this site:

Belgravia Dispatch Maintained by:

Powered by