Monday, April 17, 2006

Rumsfeld Under Siege

In an unprecedented show of discontent, a half-dozen retired generals have openly called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. More significantly, some of the generals in this list participated in the pre-war planning for the invasion of Iraq and voice numerous complaints that the Pentagon was ignoring the advice of military commanders. (CNN: Pentagon fights back over Rumsfeld).

With the war now in its third year, there is growing discontent at home over the state of affairs in Iraq amid prospects for civil war and the implementation of a fundamentalist regime hostile to American interests. Rumsfeld is certainly the primary target for criticism since he is perceived as the architect of the pre-war plans.

There are two points that I hope are indisputable. First is that the military phase of the Iraq war was flawless. To overthrow Hussein's regime in the short time it actually took while completely dismantling the Iraqi military in the process is nothing short of phenomenal. By all accounts, the phase of the war far exceeded anyone's expectations.

Second, the post-military phase of rebuilding a new Iraqi government and stabilizing the economic and political environment in Iraq has been deplorable. Enthusiastic and Idealistic pre-war estimates that assumed the war would pay for itself using Iraqi oil and that the people would overwhelmingly embrace the US, not as occupiers but rather as liberators, have fallen so far short of expectations as to be comical. As successful as the military phase was, the post-war phase has been a travesty.

The question on the table, though, is should Rumsfeld resign? Sadly, I must answer yes to that question, but not for the reasons one might expect. I certainly do want to see those responsible for the post-war phase held accountable for that overwhelming miscalculation, but I don't think that someone is Rumsfeld. Rather, I'm concerned that the military has lost confidence in their Defense Secretary. When that happens, it's time to put a new man in charge. Support for Rumsfeld among active military personnel has been uncomfortably quiet, and this is a case where silence implies opposition.

Civilian control of the military is one of the fundamental pillars that support our freedom. For that to work effectively, however, the military must have confidence in those civilian leaders. That confidence has been eroded over the last three years. What is unfortunate is that the erosion is due, not to any military failures - there have not been any - but rather in our use of our armed forces for non-military purposes. Rebuilding nations after a war has never been our strong suit. Our military is designed to win wars, and it does that extremely well. The aftermath, however, is more problematic.

The constraints placed on the military in post-war reconstruction almost doom it to failure from the onset. What is needed in this phase is absolute martial control of the region. Instead, we're putting the military in the position of enforcing the peace while attempting to show a kinder, gentler side. It doesn't work. In fact, it's perceived as a weakness by our enemies and it's being exploited by the insurgency. It is only with an iron grip that stability will be restored in Iraq, and that is not something our leadership is willing to exercise.

So yes, Rumsfeld does need to take one for the team. He needs to set stubbornness aside and step down. It will not change anything in Iraq, however it will allow a new Defense Secretary to start with a clean slate. That may well be necessary to restore the military's confidence in their leadership.


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