Some U.S. lawmakers are criticizing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over recent comments concerning the military's ability to provide armored vehicles to soldiers serving in Iraq.
Frustration over the Defense Department's planning and execution of operations in Iraq has been simmering among both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for months, fueled by mounting U.S. casualties during an Iraqi insurgency.
Even some staunch Republicans who, until now, have backed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on most Iraq matters are speaking out.
Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld gave this response to a soldier who asked why servicemen had to improvise to find material for armoring vehicles to make them less vulnerable to attack.
"You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican ally of President Bush, voiced displeasure with Mr. Rumsfeld's answer.
"That soldier and those men and women [in uniform] deserved a far better answer from their secretary of defense than a flippant comment. I wonder what the parents of the men and women over there [in Iraq], sons and daughters who are fighting, I do not think that they appreciated that answer [from Mr. Rumsfeld]," said Mr. Hagel.
Senator Hagel said that, under Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership of the Pentagon, the United States failed to send enough troops to Iraq. He said the defense secretary had dismissed generals who argued that greater troop strength would be required to secure Iraq after Saddam Hussein's removal.
That message was echoed by New Jersey Democratic Senator John Corzine, who said America's problems in Iraq extend well beyond the existence of armor on military vehicles. Mr. Corzine spoke on Fox News Sunday.
"This is not an issue only of Humvees," said Mr. Corzine. "There has been miscalculation in interpretation of the intelligence before the war. There was a failure to secure all the weapons dumps [in Iraq], there have been problems in the administration of prisons, and no one has been held accountable. I think, at some point, someone for all the series of mistakes and miscalculations we have had."
U.S. officials say more than three-fourths of large Jeep-like vehicles, known as Humvees, in Iraq carry protective armor, but a far smaller proportion of transport vehicles used to ferry supplies are similarly reinforced.
A reporter embedded with U.S. troops has admitted to coaching the serviceman who asked Wednesday's now-famous question of Secretary Rumsfeld. In his response, the secretary reminded soldiers that even armored vehicles can be vulnerable to roadside bombs and other forms of attack.
For more than a year, some Democrats have been calling for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. Republican Senator Hagel was asked if he agreed with President Bush's decision to retain the defense secretary for a second term.
"The president's decision is his decision. He will live with that decision. He will have to defend that decision, and that is all I am going to say about it," said Mr. Hagel.
Lawmakers were unusually stark in their criticism of the defense secretary. In comments to the news media, legislators rarely withhold some form of praise when speaking about an official belonging to their own party.