In recent weeks, we've had more and more leading figures in the military call for Rumsfeld's removal or resignation. First, it was retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former head of U.S. Central Command, who started the ball rolling. Then a couple weeks ago, retired Army Major General Paul D. Eaton, the official in charge of training the Iraqi military in 2003-2004, did likewise. This weekend, retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the military's former top operations officer, called for Rumsfeld to get the boot, and now another one, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste is doing the same:
The retired commander of key forces in Iraq called yesterday for Donald H. Rumsfeld to step down, joining several other former top military commanders who have harshly criticized the defense secretary's authoritarian style for making the military's job more difficult.Clearly, the military brass wants Rumsfeld out. They want it badly enough that some of them are seeking early retirement just so they can get out and speak out. That says a lot, I think.
"I think we need a fresh start" at the top of the Pentagon, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004-2005, said in an interview. "We need leadership up there that respects the military as they expect the military to respect them. And that leadership needs to understand teamwork."
Batiste noted that many of his peers feel the same way. "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense," he said earlier yesterday on CNN.
Will the complaints be effective? You might think so, given that this administration and its backers have traditionally used the "support the troops" mantra as a way to beat back any form of criticism of their own conduct and misconduct in the war. Well, now it seems that the troops don't support Rumsfeld, so shouldn't he go?
Nope. The right is now busy attacking the motives of these generals, making it clear that supporting the president is a higher priority than supporting the troops. Classy.
Why are the Bush folks so committed to Rumsfeld when it's clear he's been a disaster and it's clear that his removal would do much to improve both public and military morale on the war? I think this excellent comment at the Belgravia Dispatch gets the answer exactly right:
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.I think the political concerns of the White House -- which, unless you've been in a coma for the last few years, you'll recognize are the only concerns of this White House -- are such that they realize Rumsfeld has to stay. His removal or resignation would reveal how big a role he's played in the Iraq mess and how little a role the "War President" has actually had. It would show Bush as weak and uninvolved on the only issue he has, and that would cripple him.
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.
.... 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 President's tenuous grasp both on what is happening in Iraq and what is happening in the military would be further exposed.
So Rumsfeld has to stay, in their mind, no matter how bad things get for our troops on the ground. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to get new bumperstickers printed up with a snappy "Support the SecDef" motto.
(Thanks to Carpetbagger Report and Balloon Juice for the links.)
Update: According to CNN, a fifth retired general has just come out with a call for Rumsfeld's resignation. At the rate we're going, it's only a matter of time before this is a daily event.