April 08, 2006

Newbold Speaks Out

Former Lt. General Greg Newbold, writing in Time:

In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem Won't Get Fooled Again. To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us who were truly counterculture—who became career members of the military during those rough times—the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again. From 2000 until October 2002, I was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq—an unnecessary war. Inside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots' rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—al-Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I've been silent long enough.

I am driven to action now by the missteps and misjudgments of the White House and the Pentagon, and by my many painful visits to our military hospitals. In those places, I have been both inspired and shaken by the broken bodies but unbroken spirits of soldiers, Marines and corpsmen returning from this war. The cost of flawed leadership continues to be paid in blood. The willingness of our forces to shoulder such a load should make it a sacred obligation for civilian and military leaders to get our defense policy right. They must be absolutely sure that the commitment is for a cause as honorable as the sacrifice.

With the encouragement of some still in positions of military leadership, I offer a challenge to those still in uniform: a leader's responsibility is to give voice to those who can't—or don't have the opportunity to—speak. Enlisted members of the armed forces swear their oath to those appointed over them; an officer swears an oath not to a person but to the Constitution. The distinction is important.

Before the antiwar banners start to unfurl, however, let me make clear—I am not opposed to war. I would gladly have traded my general's stars for a captain's bars to lead our troops into Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And while I don't accept the stated rationale for invading Iraq, my view—at the moment—is that a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake. It would send a signal, heard around the world, that would reinforce the jihadists' message that America can be defeated, and thus increase the chances of future conflicts. If, however, the Iraqis prove unable to govern, and there is open civil war, then I am prepared to change my position.

I will admit my own prejudice: my deep affection and respect are for those who volunteer to serve our nation and therefore shoulder, in those thin ranks, the nation's most sacred obligation of citizenship. To those of you who don't know, our country has never been served by a more competent and professional military. For that reason, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that "we" made the "right strategic decisions" but made thousands of "tactical errors" is an outrage. It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting. The truth is, our forces are successful in spite of the strategic guidance they receive, not because of it.

What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures. Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results.

Flaws in our civilians are one thing; the failure of the Pentagon's military leaders is quite another. Those are men who know the hard consequences of war but, with few exceptions, acted timidly when their voices urgently needed to be heard. When they knew the plan was flawed, saw intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war, or witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness, many leaders who wore the uniform chose inaction. A few of the most senior officers actually supported the logic for war. Others were simply intimidated, while still others must have believed that the principle of obedience does not allow for respectful dissent. The consequence of the military's quiescence was that a fundamentally flawed plan was executed for an invented war, while pursuing the real enemy, al-Qaeda, became a secondary effort. There have been exceptions, albeit uncommon, to the rule of silence among military leaders. Former Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, when challenged to offer his professional opinion during prewar congressional testimony, suggested that more troops might be needed for the invasion's aftermath. The Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense castigated him in public and marginalized him in his remaining months in his post. Army General John Abizaid, head of Central Command, has been forceful in his views with appointed officials on strategy and micromanagement of the fight in Iraq—often with success. Marine Commandant General Mike Hagee steadfastly challenged plans to underfund, understaff and underequip his service as the Corps has struggled to sustain its fighting capability.

To be sure, the Bush Administration and senior military officials are not alone in their culpability. Members of Congress—from both parties—defaulted in fulfilling their constitutional responsibility for oversight. Many in the media saw the warning signs and heard cautionary tales before the invasion from wise observers like former Central Command chiefs Joe Hoar and Tony Zinni but gave insufficient weight to their views. These are the same news organizations that now downplay both the heroic and the constructive in Iraq.

So what is to be done? We need fresh ideas and fresh faces. That means, as a first step, replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach. The troops in the Middle East have performed their duty. Now we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them. It is time to send a signal to our nation, our forces and the world that we are uncompromising on our security but are prepared to rethink how we achieve it. It is time for senior military leaders to discard caution in expressing their views and ensure that the President hears them clearly. And that we won't be fooled again. [my emphasis throughout]

As you read this, recall this absurd little hubbub between Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld:

HENNEN: Dr. Condoleezza Rice, our Secretary of State, speaking figuratively suggested recently we've made thousands of tactical errors; also suggested the important test was making the right strategic decisions and that would be the test of history.

Do you agree with that? Have we made thousands of tactical errors? And does that concern you?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: I don't know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest. The reality in war is this. You fashion a war plan and then you proceed with it. And as the old saying goes, no war plan survives first contact with the enemy. Why? Because the enemy's got a brain; the enemy watches what you do and then adjusts to that, so you have to constantly adjust and change your tactics, your techniques, and your procedures.

If someone says well, that's a tactical mistake then I guess it's a lack of understanding, at least my understanding, of what warfare is about.

If you had a static situation and you made a mistake in how you addressed the static situation that would be one thing. What you have here is not a static situation, you have a dynamic situation with an enemy that thinks, uses their brain, constantly adjusts, and therefore our commanders have to constantly make tactical adjustments.

As General Newbold writes, major strategic errors were, at least arguably, committed. But Secretary Rumsfeld won't even admit to tactical errors! This breathtaking arrogance and failure to admit any missteps is an abject farce--were it not for the daily tragedies occurring in Iraq--that are the result not least of such tactical errors. Bush's inability to fire the Secretary of Defense is nothing short of an international embarrasment of the highest order. Despite my recent note to readers indicating I'd be moving on to other topics, I must repeat my plea here: Mr. President, fire Donald Rumsfeld without delay. Look, I understand the notions of loyalty the President feels from his time at Andover, and his Skull & Bones pass-through at Yale. But the President must realize that basic competence must trump residual feelings of loyalty, even having gone through the trauma of 9/11, and Afghanistan, and Iraq with his current Secretary of Defense. As Tony Zinni put it last week on Meet the Press:

I, I think the president of the United States ought to certainly say that there were mistakes made at each of those levels. In some cases, these were presented to him. It may not be necessarily the case that he was wrong. He was given bad information. Every president in history has held people accountable and moved on. Look at President Lincoln in the conduct of the war. He went through every general till he found Grant. Senator McCain mentioned Douglas MacArthur. Well, when he screwed up, the president relieved him. You know, you have to make tough choices. You know, integrity and getting on with the mission and doing it right is more important than loyalty. Both are great traits, but integrity, honesty and performance and competence have to outweigh, in this business, loyalty.

Integrity. Honesty. Performance. Competence. Do any but the most die-hard apologists associate these traits with our failed Secretary of Defense?


Posted by Gregory at April 8, 2006 04:08 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Lt. General Greg Newbold remained silent while he opposed the war in Iraq. Now that he has retired, he feels that he can no longer remain silent. Well, isn't that rather convenient for him? The time to raise his voice in opposition to the war in Iraq was when he was still serving in the military, and his abrupt resignation at the end of his career would have sent a clear sign about his oppostion to the war in Iraq. Now he wants to speak out forcefully. Too little, too late and too convenient.
The heart of the matter in the failure of the Iraq War is a clear lack of leadership both in the Bush administration and in the military profession. Everyone involved in this debacle went along to go along, even though many military professionals knew that the war in Iraq was unneccessary. Newbold stated that military officiers pledge their allegiance to the Constitution of the United States rather than to the current policies of the administration under which they serve. Now, he has come to his senses.
I am also a Vietnam veteran and served as a medical corpsman during the war. Each day I had to go into that hospital and see the real face of war. That year made a lasting impression on my consciousness. So I find General Newbold's criticism of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration a rather pathetic mea culpa from someone who should have known that the war in Iraq was a train wreck waiting to happen and should have spoken up much earlier than he finally did.
This blog is rather hawkish in support of the war, which is the right of this blog. But now the blog has finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel and is surprised to see that the light is another train barreling down the rail toward it. Again too little, too late.
The time to change the direction of the debacle is over, keyboard commandos, and now we are all stuck with a big burlap bag of merde. And it stinks to high heaven.
War separates the boys from the men. This war was planned by boys, who had no idea what they were giving birth to: the chaos of civil war in the Middle East. Now that the panic of failure has finally set in, the boys are scrambling for some realistic solution to the dilemma.
Firing Rummy will do little now to change the course of the war. America again has crossed a historical Rubicon in Iraq as it did in Vietnam.
As The Who sand in their song: "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."

Posted by: George Hoffman at April 9, 2006 05:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me throw out an observation about Presidents and Cabinet members, namely that historically the latter have been seen by the former as either immediately or eventually dispensable.

Cabinet members get fired or are pressed into resigning in every administration, sometimes because they are ineffective or have become political liabilities, occasionally because the policy direction they represent is one in which the President has lost interest. Rarely do their departures change significantly the character of any President's administration, for the very good reason that in most administrations a Cabinet member's influence is directly related to the quality of his relationship with the President. The Cabinet member's departure follows the decline of that relationship and the waning of his influence; it does not precede it. Because of this, other players in an administration have time to position themselves to fill the vacuum of authority that can result when a department head leaves.

There are a couple of reasons why Rumsfeld's case is different, but they come back to one salient fact, that being the extraordinary weakness of George W. Bush as President. First of all Bush has delegated virtually all war planning and management of the military to Rumsfeld; his own relationships with uniformed military officers or other Pentagon officials appear to be neither numerous nor deep compared to those of other wartime Presidents. Secondly he relies to an unusual -- really, an unprecedented -- degree on his Vice President to advise him on the political and diplomatic strategy behind the war. Vice President Cheney, a former Rumsfeld subordinate, has been the Defense Secretary's strongest backer.

The unusual position this has allowed Rumsfeld to assume helps to explain key American policy moves throughout the Iraq war, and in other fields as well. The point I want to make here is that his departure now would not be like any other Cabinet Secretary's departure -- it would leave a huge hole in the middle of Bush's administration, a vacuum that could only be filled by someone Bush trusted enough to delegate approximately as much authority as that he has given to Rumsfeld. Apart from Cheney himself, there is no such person.

Now, does that mean I disagree with Greg that Rumsfeld should resign? Not really. Actually, I thought he ought to have been asked to leave when the Abu Ghraib abuses were first publicized, a time when the disruption caused by his departure would at least have brought with it some compensatory political benefits overseas. All I'm saying is that what the sudden departure of a man who has served as a kind of Deputy President for over four years would leave a situation in which many decisions now finally made in Rumsfeld's office could not be made, military leaders that have by and large allowed themselves to be run by Rumsfeld would be left to jockey amongst themselves for position and influence in his absence, and -- from Bush's point of view this factor must loom especially large -- the Presdent's tenuous grasp both on what is happening in Iraq and what is happening in the military would be further exposed. Then, too, Bush while a weak executive is a shrewd student of politics, and must know that past dismissals of Cabinet Secretaries under fire have rarely helped Presidents improve their public image. More often, Cabinet shakeups make Presidents look ineffectual.

To me this doesn't mean the step shouldn't be take; I don't really care whether this President is comfortable or not, and if massive delegation of authority to someone he does not know well seems like a leap of faith to him, well, he of all people should be asked to jump. But, this is why I think the step is unlikely to be taken.

Posted by: Zathras at April 9, 2006 08:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The time to raise his voice in opposition to the war in Iraq was when he was still serving in the military, and his abrupt resignation at the end of his career would have sent a clear sign about his oppostion to the war in Iraq.

Newbold says he did resign 4 months before the invasion.

He didn't speak out strongly back then. But then, maybe there wasn't much media coverage for generals who spoke out then. I dunno.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 9, 2006 09:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I say that if Bush's invasion of Iraq gets a functioning democracy with less than 2500 US soldier deaths, he should get an "A" for competence. What’s your criteria?

Greg, I love your passion, but: "Integrity. Honesty. Performance. Competence." -- Rummy has them; plus arrogance. "Humility" he does NOT have; but it's not on your list.

Show me where an invasion has been done MORE competently and you'll have a stronger case.

The 500 000 troops in Vietnam? um, nah.
The 1.5 million French troops in Algeria? uh uh.

The US in Afghanistan? I think Iraq is closer to a functioning democracy than Afghanistan, but that's an interesting debate.

There is no historical evidence that "more troops" would have led to the Iraqis taking more responsibility, sooner, for their own problems -- the reverse, I think. What successful model of invasion do you have in mind?


Good Rummy critique: "witnessed arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness "
I think most micromanagement was on rebuilding, and NOT attacking Fallujah in April, 2004. I think not attacking was the right thing, to allow more Iraqis to see the alternative -- a mini-Taliban terrorist Iraq alternative. Also I suspect more Bremer than Rumsfeld.

Newbold was incredibly strong here: "the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results." Strong, but arguably wrong on most points.

I discount the intelligence distortion -- the 300+ mass graves from Saddam's human rights violations makes me support it (and also US based regime change in Sudan, for slo-mo genocide).

Micromanagement - terrible; and the troops should have been given a lot more cash to spend on local reconstruction if they were going to do it. Wasn't that Bremer's fault, more than Rummy? (And wasn't it a mistake to name Gardner, and then Bremer within a couple of months?)

Retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military... quell civil disorder -- is mixed; at the time there was little chance to "keep" it, since the soldiers had left. BUT, it should not have been too hard to reconstitute parts of it as local, deputized police force adjuncts, paid by the Coalition, to stop thieves and terrorists. At least for some 3 - 6 months, so the physical young men have some immediate stability of income and "what to do". As the new police seem full of militia, why should the old, more loyal to Saddam army be assumed more honorable?

The assumption that more troops would quell civil disorder, when the strategy of Saddam's army was to pretend to be civilians and keep fighting and killing is just that, an assumption. Not clearly said here, not defended with historical precedent or other argument -- and one I don't believe is true; but admit might be true.


Denial about insurgency -- arrogance & disbelief & poor planning /
naive optimistic hope? seem correct critiques here, yet not so strong.
I think the MSM calling quagmire a week before Baghdad fell made me think the war critics were so wrong; but the MSM kept up bad news throughout. Just what statements, when, is this denial? Really, I'm not so sure (perhaps my anti-media anger gave me too much pro Bush bias at the time.)

Alienation of allies -- ? C'mon, no mention of the Oil for food scandal/ corruption of the UN, French & Russians? Where was Clinton on getting allies for Somalia? Or even to get the UN to go after Milosovic? I think Bush has been too wimpy in describing Saddam, and how opposition to the war means supporting Saddam -- but none of these unreal "allies" seem willing to stop the genocide in Darfur, either.

Continuing failure of other agencies -- um, what does he mean, really? Not enough State people in Iraq? He wants higher gas taxes
so the voters are sacrificing, too? Faster development of other energy? I don't know.

Casualness and swagger -- Isn't this the real issue? He hates the way Bush talks, and walks, and smirks; just like Jonathan Chait, an admitted Bush-hater. Or is he saying Rumsfeld is too casual and swaggers too much? Even Bush haters might have good critiques of Bush, but the one above is not it.

It is not clearly said enough for me to agree on any of the specific points.

Your two big issues, not enough troops and Rumsfeld must go, are quite deficient for today. Maybe we made a mistake in the number of troops, but it's too late to change -- so talk of not enough troops is NOT constructive. Firing Rummy is not going to happen with Bush.

"we need people in Washington who can construct a unified strategy worthy of them." -- A "unified" strategy must start with a) where we are now, and move forward; and b) no personnel changes.

Arguing for firing Rummy violates the spirit of a unified strategy, so following this advice would negate following most of the advice.

But we don't need a unified strategy; we need an honest look at our options and their likely results. Including proponents of immediate withdrawal (which I agree, and the Gen. agrees, would be a disaster) -- but such debate violates the unity idea, too.

Finally, "an unnecessary war" -- a point of view that claims leaving Saddam ruling Iraq would have been better for the USA, and/or the Iraqi people, but is not quite honest enough to be clear on this.

Biggest strategic mistake, starting with Reagan thru Bush I and Clinton -- too few Arabic speakers in State and Defense. Still a mistake. Too few speak Farsi, too.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at April 10, 2006 04:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom, are you keeping an eye on what is actually going on in Iraq?
Heck, just page back through this blog. Start with the previous post.

Posted by: Barry at April 10, 2006 06:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Tom Grey, you don't seem to see the implications of your arguments.

Show me where an invasion has been done MORE competently and you'll have a stronger case.

This is a strong argument for not occupying anybody.

There is no historical evidence that "more troops" would have led to the Iraqis taking more responsibility, sooner, for their own problems -- the reverse, I think. What successful model of invasion do you have in mind?

Panama doesn't really fit, they're far more used to being invaded by the USA, they know a lot more about how to be invaded and occupied.

But when you imply that we lack a successful model for invasion, you argue convincingly for not invading anybody....

As the new police seem full of militia, why should the old, more loyal to Saddam army be assumed more honorable?

Yes, I agree. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. There's no particular reason to think we'd have gotten a better result that way. It just wasn't going to work.

There are people who say "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" as if that justifies not having any plan for the occupation and reconstruction. I've never heard of a courtmartialed officer who admitted he didn't have a battle plan and claimed it wasn't worth having one because it wouldn't have survived contact with the enemy....

Firing Rummy is not going to happen with Bush.

You're dead right there. This is a strong argument for firing Bush.

Finally, "an unnecessary war" -- a point of view that claims leaving Saddam ruling Iraq would have been better for the USA, and/or the Iraqi people, but is not quite honest enough to be clear on this.

Those are emphatically not the only two choices. So many people talk like the only alternative to a mistake is the opposite mistake. Like if it was bad to leave Saddam running iraq unopposed, then that makes the current mess all OK. Or if it's bad for iran to get nukes, that means it's OK to nuke them to delay them getting nukes. It's crazy thinking.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 10, 2006 09:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is one veteran who can't even stand the sight of Rumsfeld anymore. More here.

-The Cranky Insomniac

Posted by: The Cranky Insomniac at April 12, 2006 12:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Uniformed professionals that dislike the meddling of civilians. How droll. Wasn't that the reason for the convention, you freaking geniuses.

BTW: Nicely done, Mr. Grey, glad to see you still have the stomach for this blogger.

Mr Thomas, you and Greg's wild protestations have finally reminded me what I've been meaning to ask you;

"Try one of these Jamaican cigars, ambassador, they're pretty good"

But then you say...

Posted by: Tommy G at April 12, 2006 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Posted by: mortgage telemarketing at April 28, 2006 02:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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