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Retired U.S. Generals Speak Out


Six retired U.S. generals have now voiced strong criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's management of the Iraq War and are calling for his resignation. Private clashes between U.S. military and civilian leaders are not unusual.

Generals speaking their minds about their civilian bosses is nothing new, but it is unusual. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Joseph Nye, now a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, says Secretary Rumsfeld is going through the same critical fire that one of his predecessors, Robert McNamara, endured over the American war in Vietnam.

"Secretary Rumsfeld, like Secretary MacNamara before him, tended to be a micromanager. And he tended to get stuck in a war that turned out to be unpopular. And it's not too surprising that he's taking the heat," says Nye.

Unusual Criticism

What makes the current criticism even more unusual, defense analysts say, is that the criticism from retired senior officers is coming while the war is still going on. In an interview with VOA, one of the dissident voices -- retired Major General John Batiste -- says the Pentagon's civilian leaders ignored extensive war planning and detailed advice from senior commanders on Iraq.

General Batiste, who commanded the First Infantry Division in Iraq, says calls by senior commanders for more troops for the Iraq invasion were ignored, and there was no real planning to confront the postwar insurgency that emerged. "This current leadership of ours discounted professional military advice, ignored 12 years of really good planning done by very competent people, didn't look at the lessons learned from history and, it seems to me, they ignored the tribal, ethnic and religious complexities that have always defined Iraq. So we took down the regime, but we didn't have the resources there necessary to build the peace," says Batiste.

But President Bush has rejected the calls for Secretary Rumsfeld's ouster, saying he has complete faith in his defense chief. "I say I listen to all voices. But mine's the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job," says Mr. Bush.

General Batiste says his conscience does not allow him to remain silent and that he has nothing to gain personally from speaking out. "I don't have a book. I'm not running for office. I'm a longstanding Republican. My only motive is the great service men and women, and their families, who are doing such an incredible job. My God, it's unbelievable. And they deserve competent civilian leadership within the Department of Defense that doesn't have a track record of such poor strategic decisions to get us into the situation where we are now," says Batiste.

Civilian Control of the Military

In the United States, control of the armed forces rests with civilian leaders, with the president at the head of that chain as the commander-in-chief. But members of the U.S. military swear allegiance to defend the Constitution of the United States and the principles it enshrines, rather than any specific government or leader.

Appearing on ABC television, retired General Richard Myers, the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says it is inappropriate for ex-officers to question decisions of the civilian leadership. He says questioning the civilians means questioning decisions of the top commander himself, President Bush.

"There are professional standards that you have when you're in uniform that carry on when you retire. I said it's inappropriate. It's inappropriate because it's not the military that judges our civilian bosses. We'd be in a horrible state in this country, in my opinion, if the military was left to judge the civilian bosses because when you judge Secretary Rumsfeld, you're also judging the commander-in-chief because that's the chain of command," says Myers.

But Michelle Flournoy, who also served at a senior level in the Pentagon and is now an advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the generals are not challenging civilian control of the military. "I think that there is tension now because of the sense that major mistakes have been made in the way that the war has been managed and the way that the force is being managed. I think that our military is one that accepts on principle and at a very deep level the concept of civilian control. I don't think that they're questioning civilian control of the military. I think that they're questioning the performance of a very specific Secretary in his leadership position and his command position," says Flournoy.

General Batiste agrees. "Civilian control of the military is fundamental, absolutely fundamental. And I'd be the last person in the world to say differently. But we deserve competent leaders who don't lead by intimidation, that don't dismiss sound military advice out of hand -- leaders who understand that respect is a two-way street," says Batiste.

The Role of Military in Decision-making

General Batiste says once decisions are made, officers must accept them or resign. "Within the military, there is a very special culture. We are bound to that culture. We have open dialogue and debate with our senior commanders -- sometimes knockdown, drag out [arguments]. But at the point in time when a decision is taken, whether you like it or not, you have two choices. You can either execute it with a smart salute and it becomes the best idea you ever heard or you can choose to leave the army," says Batiste.

But Michelle Flournoy says the generals' current criticism raises new questions about why they did not speak up sooner. “I think it will also raise questions about the military's role in all this. Should there have been resignations? Should there have been this kind of debate earlier, if people really felt that bad decisions were being made? What's the military's responsibility in all of this as well? The ultimate accountability rests with the civilians. But there are many military officers who had a role either directly or indirectly by holding their peace when they should have spoken up," says Flournoy.

By all accounts, General Batiste was on his way to receiving a promotion to be a three-star lieutenant general and be second-in-command in Iraq before he resigned late last year.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

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