The secret Iraq policy memo written by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in early November and made public on Sunday has created a political stir in Washington. The New York Times and the Washington Post published the contents of the memo, indicating for the first time that the secretary has doubts about the current policy, just two days before Senate testimony by his nominated successor and three days before the eagerly awaited report on Iraq policy by a panel of respected experts and former senior officials. VOA's Al Pessin reports on the memo from the Pentagon.
Secretary Rumsfeld has been a staunch supporter of the overall U.S. policy in Iraq, the wisdom of the invasion in 2003 and the need to keep U.S. forces there until the Iraqi government and security forces can function on their own. But he has also frequently spoken of ongoing tactical changes that U.S. military commanders have made, and the need to constantly adapt as Iraqi insurgents and sectarian militias change their tactics.
On Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Eric Ruff said the secret memo was just part of that process.
"This memo evolved over time," he said. "It was something that the secretary had been thinking about and working on for several weeks."
According to the full text of the document, published by the New York Times, Secretary Rumsfeld lists 15 possible policy changes that he says might work, including agreeing on and announcing a set of progress benchmarks with the Iraqi government, consolidating U.S. forces in five bases by the middle of next year, increasing the number of trainers in Iraqi military units and civilian ministries, and publicly recasting the U.S. goals in Iraq to reduce expectations.
The secretary also lists six options he does not think will work - staying on the current path, sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, increasing the U.S. troops presence in Baghdad, setting a firm withdrawal date, promoting partition of the country and holding a conference to try to reach an accord among the various Iraqi faction leaders. The memo provides no analysis or reasons the secretary likes some options and not others, and he does not specifically endorse any of the possible policy changes.
His press secretary says it is not unusual for Secretary Rumsfeld to send out such a memo.
"This is how he approaches a number of substantial issues, how he has done things in the past," he said. "This is vintage Rumsfeld."
Secretary Rumsfeld's memo is dated November 6, the day before the elections in which President Bush's Republican Party lost control of both houses of the Congress, a defeat blamed largely on the president's Iraq policy. The day after the election, President Bush announced Rumsfeld would be leaving his post, and the following day the secretary said this during an appearance in Kansas.
"It is very clear that the major combat operations were an enormous success," he said. "It is clear that in phase two of this, it has not been going well enough or fast enough."
That phrase about not going "well enough or fast enough" appears in the memo he had sent a few days earlier, that was made public on Sunday.
At that same appearance, Rumsfeld was asked what he thinks his successor can possibly do to improve the situation in Iraq.
"I don't have any doubt but that the president working with the commanders and the new secretary will continue to make adjustments," he said.
But in his public comments, Secretary Rumsfeld has spoken only about tactical changes, not strategic changes.
Three weeks before the election, VOA had asked Secretary Rumsfeld specifically whether he thought "any policy or strategy changes" were needed to speed the transition of security responsibility to the Iraqi government. He did not answer directly.
On Monday, Republican Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Armed Services Committee, expressed dismay that the secretary had concerns and ideas he had not shared with the congress or the public.
"I found the memo to be inconsistent with very recent testimony and statements by the secretary of defense, and I wish very much that he had shared those findings and recommendations with Congress many months ago," she said.
Military affairs analyst and senior Pentagon official during the Clinton administration, Michele Flournoy, had this reaction to the Rumsfeld memo.
"My main reaction was 'too little too late,'" she said. "This is the kind of thinking that we needed to see from the secretary of defense and others in the president's cabinet a year or two ago."
Flournoy, who is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says it has been clear for some time that major changes were needed in U.S. Iraq policy, and she says that on the eve of his departure from office Rumsfeld may have wanted to make clear that he understood that.
"I must say that the skeptic in me also wondered if Mr. Rumsfeld was writing with an eye to his place in history, to assure that he was noted as having understood some of the challenges in Iraq that have been so difficult," she said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow disagrees. He told reporters Monday the memo was just part of the normal dialogue within the administration.
"If you take a look at the Rumsfeld memo that was printed in the New York Times, what you end up having is what the president, I think, has made it clear that he wants, which are people thinking creatively and exhaustively about ways of getting better results in Iraq," he said.
Several officials and analysts have noted that the Rumsfeld memo only lists options and puts them in two broad categories of good ideas and bad ideas, without endorsing any of them specifically.
The senior-level Iraq Study Group is scheduled to publish its recommendations on Wednesday, a move many hope will result in some policy changes. But some experts are concerned that recent statements by administration officials indicate they are not yet convinced that significant changes like those outlined in the Rumsfeld memo and expected from the Iraq Study Group are warranted.