Friday, April 14, 2006

Rumsfeld: Incompetent Patriot?

Well, we've got a half dozen retired generals calling for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's resignation. You can read more here.

And here's a fascinating opinion piece on the subject.

(Lest anyone conclude that I get all my news from the leftwing media, I read the Wall Street Journal every day, too, but you need a subscription to read their online content, so it's not very useful to forward the WSJ links).

I haven't done a scientific breakdown of the criticism, but it seems mostly to have to do with war planning, relations with the uniformed services, micromanagement... that kind of thing. Some highlights that seem representative to me:

General Swannack: "Rumsfeld does not really understand the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare... [he's] not the right person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."

Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton: "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically..."

Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, the former operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "the plan was flawed... intelligence distorted to justify a rationale for war... arrogant micromanagement that at times crippled the military's effectiveness..."

Retired Army Major Gen. John Riggs: "atmosphere of arrogance..."

So it struck me as odd that General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, felt compelled to issue this defense of Rumsfeld: "He does his homework. He works weekends, he works nights. People can question my judgment or his judgment, but they should never question the dedication, the patriotism and the work ethic of Secretary Rumsfeld."

I admit I haven't read the transcript of every general's call for Rumsfeld's resignation, but I've read quite a few articles at this point, and haven't come across any denunciations of, or even references to, Rumsfeld's work ethic, dedication, or patriotism. It's all about Rumsfeld's competence.

So why the off-key defense? Is it intended to suggest that criticism of Rumsfeld's competence is the same as an attack on his patriotism? Pace doe seem to recognize that the two are not the same; after all, he refers to Rumsfeld's "judgment" (and his own) as being fair game. Is Pace, in trying to find something positive to say about Rumsfeld on a separate topic, implicitly or unconsciously acknowledging that Rumsfeld is in fact substantively incompetent?

(I know some authors do this when blurbing books they don't think are any good: they try to find some aspect, unimportant as part of the whole, that they can praise so as to say something nice while maintaining a veneer of honesty. I don't approve of the practice, but that's a separate blog entry...).

Am I missing something? Any other interpretations? Anyone here who's served in the Pentagon and can shed some light on the situation?


Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm lacking the Pentagon credentials, but I have done a bit of homework.

And something else that seems interesting, in light of the criticism:

There are two things that stand out to me in reading all of this. One is the timing. People are gathering around the world to protest the war in Iraq. Which makes this a strategic time to raise questions about the defence secretary's competency.

The other thing that struck me was the nature of the complaints, which you quoted in your post and I need not repeat here.

Very little information of substance has been reported. I'm aware of how quotes can be misconstrued. As best as I can tell from what has been said, micromanagement seems to be the basis for the complaint.

The remaining statements are judgments without facts and substance to back them up, at least in these articles. The only way to establish that a plan was flawed or that something was handled with incompetence is to have an investigation. It is easy to say that a plan was flawed if it doesn't work, but a thorough assessment of the situation and all known data available in the decision-making process may demonstrate that the plan implemented was still the best possible course of action. It may be that, though a mission wasn't a "success", it would have been far worse if a different plan had been selected.

Micromanagement can be a real problem, but honestly, from what I've read it appears that Mr. Rumsfeld has been hands-on with his responsibilities. He has not neglected his duties through indifference. That's commendable.

I don't feel it is for me to say if he is incompetent or not. That is a conclusion which I believe should only be reached after a thorough examination of facts.

On the surface, the naturally suspicious part of me is considering the timing, the vague nature of the complaints, and wondering if there is a popular belief that the combined protests against the war and this attack on the defense secretary will force Bush to remove Rumsfeld and that doing so will represent a chink in the armour of this administration, which could ultimately lead to a shift in political opinion that sees the US withdraw from Iraq.

I must say, I'm also surprised at the encouragement of serving officers to question orders openly. Chain of command exists for a reason, and that is not to dismiss all responsibility. Massacres, torture, things that are blatantly wrong...

But what effect can a military have if every soldier questions their orders on a particular operation? This is the stuff of a separate discussion, but I find that fascinating. I'd love to hear from David and anyone with military experience on the subject.

And that's despite having already heard my husband rant on and on about it. From soldier to firefighter, chain of command is ingrained in the brain.

ZenPupDog said...

I blogged on Rumsfeld before - where I drew from this article - AP: Lolita C. Baldor: Troops Wait for Body Armor Reimbursements - I do think I wouldn't allow my kid to go to war with inadequate body armor.

I can see when war is an option. I don't think with the Bush Junta's II will for war that they made their case for it. Look - these Chickenhawks actively refused to listen to Colin Powell? You wonder why he called them "fucking crazies" to Jack Straw? - ZPD

Your "liberal" pal = ZPD

Anonymous said...

I find myself wondering whether the Bush administration is allowing Rumsfeld to be scapegoated in an attempt to divert attention from other stuff that's uncomfortable for them. It's been a time-honored tradition for several administrations. Or, Rumsfeld may have offered himself up to sort of take one for the team - the effect is the same. There's an orchestrated feel to all of this that makes me think Karl Rove may be pulling some strings somewhere.

I'm also wondering if there's been a time in the last 100 years or so when there was this kind of hue and cry from military types about an incumbent Secretary of Defense. I'm not particularly knowledgeable, but this feels pretty unusual to me. I'm especially curious about the Viet Nam war era - did McNamara or Clifford or Laird take this kind of heat?

And yeah, General Pace's defense of Rumsfeld struck me as odd and off-key. I heard part of an interview with one of the generals, Riggs I think, who said that while he was in the military, he followed the chain of command; that is, he voiced his opinions before the decision was made, then when the decision was made and orders came down, he did what soldiers are supposed to do - salute and execute. But, the general said, when it all became unpalatable for him, he took an early retirement. So, perhaps General Pace is simply sucking it up and following orders.

Strange days......

David Terrenoire said...

I'm going to ask my brother-in-law, a retired LTC with a bunch of Pentagon experience, what he thinks.

I'm not Pentagon. I could never get my boots to shine like that.

But I know the military, and I have suspicions about this administration based on writing I've done in the past couple of year for the government.

First, officers are loathe to say anything disrespectful of their superiors. There's the culture, which says you follow orders, even if you disagree with them, and then there's the practical matter of your career. The military does not like independence except in combat, and even then you'd better win the engagement or you're in deep shit.

What we're seeing here is highly unusual. These generals are all combat arms, they're all retired and they're all angry. During Vietnam, the dissension came from the grunts up. Now it seems to be from the top down.

One of the lessons we said we learned from Vietnam is to not let civilian leaders dictate the war's tactics. That's why you hear Bush repeat, over and over, he listens to the officers on the ground. But I don't believe it. As governor and as president, he's listened to a very small circle of advisors, none of whom have real military experience. Rumsfeld, of all of them, is the only one who's served in active duty and that was peacetime Air Force.

He came to his office with a mission and that was to transform the military from a large, cumbersome force, dependent on tanks, to a light, mobile force able to deploy quickly, without heavy armor. He saw Iraq as a chance to try out his theory, in spite of plans that the military had pulled together over a decade. Shinseki took the first hit when he dared suggest that taking Iraq and holding it would require "hundreds of thousands" more troops than Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, the guy who said this war would pay for itself, and Doug Feith, a man Tommy Franks called "the dumbest fucker on the planet," said they would need. Shinseki was retired early and Rumsfeld's plan was what we got, and we've seen what a success that was.

That these combat arms general officers are coming out in protest to the way this war is being waged is very serious, as close to mutiny as these men would ever dream of coming. We owe it to our country to listen to them.

For those not familiar with PNAC, I would suggest you Google it and read what the neocons had decided in the early nineties, well before 9/11.

As further homework, I'd suggest you look up April Glasby (Glaspy?) and how we got into this mess with Saddam in the first place.

Then look at the Shiite uprising that followed Desert Storm, how we allowed Saddam the use of his helicopters to put down that revolt, and where those mass graves Fox trots out every time the political scene gets dicey came from.

We've got ourselves stuck to a tarbaby that Bush 41 was smart enough to avoid, and now these generals are speaking up, telling us that things are as bad as we suspected, and that we're in for a very long, very bad time.

Rmsfeld is just the top of a big box of incompetence.

But I could be wrong.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Not knowing nearly enough about these people making the criticisms...

Is it possible any of them could be considering a run for president in 2008? Could they sense political favour shifting and be using this to raise their profile?

I'm really asking not accusing, because I too find this very unusual, like David. I though rae's idea about the Bush administration using Rumsfeld as a scapegoat was interesting, but the one article I put a link to had Bush emphatically supporting Rumsfeld. If Rumsfeld is going to be the sacrificial lamb, we aren't there yet.

Anonymous said...

"So why the off-key defense?"

This is a typical strategy for this administration, and perhaps this is simply another example of it. What they do is try to shift the perception of what the argument even is away from the one that is actually being made to one that is easier to defend. They simultaneously try to stir up and tap into people's fear of terrorism and feelings of patriotism to help cover their tracks during the shift.

A good example is when the story broke about domestic NSA surveillance. The core issue with that story is whether the program is legal, and why didn't Bush follow existing protocols to allow speedy authorization of wiretapping while the warrant was still in the works? What the administration repeatedly addressed in its statements, however, was the concept of whether domestic spying is necessary to keep us safe from terrorists.

The effect was to shift the debate more toward that issue, and away from the legality of the program. It is much easier to get people to agree that spying is necessary to keep us safe. The Administration, of course, tossed in a lot of implications about patriotism and terrorism, etc. into their message. The effect was to divert the attention of the average American from the more divisive issue of *how* should such spying be conducted.

So I see Pace's comments in line with that strategy. It's a bait and switch. First there is some acknowledgement of the actual complaint to lull you into thinking that's what they're addressing. But then comes the switch to something much easier to defend--whether Rumsfeld is dedicated or not. I'm thinking as this story progresses, the administration will begin to subtly shift the argument more and more toward the dedication angle so folks forget to focus so much on the competency issues.

Anonymous said...

This is a typical strategy for this administration, and perhaps this is simply another example of it. What they do is try to shift the perception of what the argument even is away from the one that is actually being made to one that is easier to defend.

You've just described politicians since the dawn of time. It has nothing to do with this particular administration. It's a cardinal rule of media relations: answer the question you want to answer, not the one they ask.

John DuMond said...

While I have been a supporter of the war in Iraq (hell, I was in favor of of removing Saddam since Desert Storm), I have had my reservations about the way that the war has been run. The fact that there are generals who disagree with the current strategy is unsurprising to me.

That being said, there is another factor at work here that needs to be kept in mind. Rumsfeld has been pushing a major transformation in how the military is structured and how it is run. There are many flag officers (generals and admirals) who have a lot invested in the status quo. Some of these retired generals may have an ax to grind with Rummy. That doesn't mean that they're criticisms are off-base, but it is worth keeping in mind.

JD Rhoades said...

john d: So how's that transformation working in Iraq?

The old-schoolers, what the Bush Cult is sneeringly calling the "Clinton generals" (remember, when all else fails, blame Clinton) said before the war: "you're going to need more troops to maintain order." Seems to me that the post war looting, especially the looting of weapons caches, proved them right.

Just because Rummy's attempting to transform the military doesn't mean his transformations are good ones. The question is what happens in real time on the ground. And from what I can see, that's not going so well in Iraq.

One of the things Rummy wanted to do, as I understand it, was boost the role of Special Ops at the expense of more traditional troops.

Special Ops are a good thing. In Afghanistan, Special Forces performed brilliantly in their traditional role of working with indigenous forces to multiply their effectiveness.

The problem is, however, that once the big fight's over, and the evil government toppled, you've got to have traditional infantry and and yes, armor to secure the ground. You can't just have one and say "oh, we don't need so many of the other."

It occurs to me that Rummy may have committed one of the classic military mistakes: trying to use the strategies and tactics of the last war in the ecurrent one. Except in his case, the "last war" he was trying to fight in Iraq was Afghanistan. Just a thought.

John DuMond said...

First off, I only pointed out that Rummy was pushing a major transformation. I didn't endorse it. Some of the things he's pushing for are good (like improving the "tooth to tail" ratio), some not so good (like reducing the size of the military).

You don't need to sell me on the benefits of armor. I served in an armored division (1st AD) and a seperate armored brigade (177th AB). I know what the value of a tank is, especially in a desert environment. Unfortunately, armored divisions are expensive to operate, so they were the first to go when we started spending the "peace dividend" in the 90s. Ultimately, we're going to have to come to terms with the fact that you can't maintain a first rate military on the cheap. But that involves telling the public a truth that they don't want to hear.

Anonymous said...

"You've just described politicians since the dawn of time."

You deleted an important line from my paragraph: "They simultaneously try to stir up and tap into people's fear of terrorism and feelings of patriotism to help cover their tracks during the shift."

Ever since 9/11, the administration likes to tap into fear of terrorism and feelings of patriotism during these shifts. Barry's title for this entry is "Rumsfeld: Incompetent Patriot?" I was simply pointing out that I'm not suprised to see the "patriotism" card being played.

Any administration might leverage those cards, of course. However, I, for one, am tired of terrorists being used as some kind of boogeyman to scare people into compliance and complacancy. Not to mention the "if you question this, you aren't patriotic" angle.

If people stop asking questions and thinking, then what use is having a democracy?

JD Rhoades said...

Ultimately, we're going to have to come to terms with the fact that you can't maintain a first rate military on the cheap. But that involves telling the public a truth that they don't want to hear.

This seems to be one of the hallmarks of the Bush Adminsitration: we can do all these things: prescription drug benefits, strong military, etc etc etc, and while doing this we can still cut taxes, and cut, and cut, and cut again. And people do love them tax cuts.

Back on the original subject: it looks to me like, by not going head on at the questions of Rumsfeld's competence, he's tacitly endorsing them. "Yeah, you say the guy's that, just let me say, well, he sure works hard!"

Anonymous said...

If people stop asking questions and thinking, then what use is having a democracy?

Well, that's just the problem. People don't want to think, and they're too lazy to ask questions. They let Bill O'Reilly and his liberal counterparts, whoever they may be, do their thinking for them. It's too hard for the citizens of the Barcalounger States of America to look behind the slogans and epigrams that are being passed off as news and commentary; they just don't want to be bothered. They can't be bothered to vote (Clinton and Current Bush were elected to their first terms by something like 27% of eligible voters) and they won't be bothered to take action, probably, until it's too late. Now, start a conversation about whether or not Barry Bonds actually used steriods, and you'll get some passionate discourse. But the current state of our democracy? Uh-uh.

And that's where the Bush administration has done such a brilliant job of marketing themselves. I don't like 'em, but they're brilliant. They just keep saying "Don't worry kids, we're patriots, and we're guarding the fort for you against those nasty terrorists, and you don't have to question us, because we're patriots." Flippin' brilliant.

But I'm not bitter ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well Barry I will buy the books.The blog though is for not for me. It's a one sided political attack. Which is cool. Remember though some don't agree. I was hoping for better. There is nothing different here then what we are spoon fed daily from the "drive by press" Nice try! To bad, I expected better.

JA Konrath said...

That's a debating fallacy called argumentum ad populum, which basically says that something must be true if said or done by a patriot.

It's a one sided political attack.

Really? Seemed more like presenting a view of a situation and offering solutions. Did I miss some attacks somewhere?

Incidentally, attacking someone in a debate, rather than attacking the topic, is called agumentum ad hominem. I haven't seen that here from Mr. Eisler.

But I could go on like this ad nauseum...

Anonymous said...

Ok konrath, try this. If his postings, including the title, were a John Rain book. I would never buy another. Why? Because there would be no suspense. I would know the ending before I ever saw the first chapter. Mystery solved.
There is no debate here either, other then us. Which is fine too. Maybe thats what Barry's trying to create. If so, it worked. My point, like the news media today, Barry has made is beliefs predictable in a solid three blogs. I expected more of him. So your post to is expected. Defend your man and your beliefs. I on the other hand have seen and beleive differently and hoped Barry would be in the center of debate.

Sandra Ruttan said...


The blog isn't a book, and not really a fair comparison. A person's blog isn't - and in my opinion shouldn't - be just about selling their product to the world. It is about the person, and each one has the right to determine the course of their blog.

I actually feel there has been interesting discussion here - particularly Mistakes Don't Matter, which was the first post I read. But I don't feel when I read this that there has been an attack or an accusation.
"Am I missing something? Any other interpretations? Anyone here who's served in the Pentagon and can shed some light on the situation?"

That does not sound like someone jumping to conclusions and stuffing an opinion down our throat. And it is the weekend - a time when many bloggers are not in the office. It's also a religious holiday, tax time in the US, and from what I've seen thus far, when Barry has a chance he comes on and comments on the posts made.

There have been interesting points made here, on many sides. I can't say I've come to any firm conclusions about this particular situation, but with the perspectives offered by David, rae, peregrine, JD, Satan, etc., I'm now very curious to see how this plays out. If Bush does cut bait and send Rumsfeld packing, then it could be that this was a set-up to create a scapegoat.

And if one of these generals decides to make a move to politics, it could be very interesting as well.

The only judgmental statements I feel I've seen on this blog so far have not come from Barry.

I'm also getting a sense here that Barry's a person more interested in issues and ideas than simply being the center of attention. He's bringing issues to the table and fostering an environment where we can discuss them, with some clear groundrules in place to keep us all civilized, and I appreciate that. I hope you'll stick around, read a few more posts and discussions next week and reconsider.

Barry Eisler said...

Hi all, thanks for all the good comments. Sandra, remember, the six generals who've gone public with their doubts are retired, so these aren't serving officers subject to a chain of command. There is an argument that soldiers should keep their doubts about their orders and superiors to themselves even after retirement, but I think lifelong omerta would lose a useful balance between chain of command for active duty and candor from retired.

Rae, good question on McNamara. I don't know, and it would be interesting to see what precedent there is for this. I know Colonel David Hackworth went public in 1971 on the TV show Issues and Answers with his doubts about the way the Vietnam was was being prosecuted while he was still active duty, but I don't know of others (Hackworth died last year. I think he was a huge asset to the country -- straight-talking, insightful, experienced. His autobiography About Face is a terrific book). As for a Rove orchestrated campaign... my sense is that this isn't something the administration wants. Complaints about Rumsfeld are too tied up with complaints about the war itself. But I could be wrong.

DT, did I come across to you as being on the political attack? That's not my intention, although it's possible that unconscious biases creep through in my writing and choice of subject matter. The title of this post was intended to reflect what I think General Pace was implicitly suggesting in his "defense" of Rumsfeld. But I confess that I do believe most of our troubles in Iraq can be traced to Rumsfeld's insistence on going in with fewer than half the number of boots then-Army Chief of Staff Shinseki testified to Congress we would need to secure the country. At the same time, I'm not a military expert, wasn't privy to the war planning, and certainly could be wrong -- which is why I hope people with different outlooks will test my opinions, and possibly persuade me to look at things differently, here at HOTM.

I understand your point about my not being at the center of debate. There are a couple reasons for my reticence. First, I'm not sure what the right balance is between being a moderator and being a participant, and I'm learning as I go. Second, it's purely a question of time; as much as I'd like to go deep on everything, if I did it I wouldn't get any of my day-job writing done. So again there's a balance, which I understand won't suit everyone.

If you do decide to stick around or at least pop in from time to time, and I hope you will, could I trouble you to address people like Joe by their first names or blog handles? Calling someone you don't know by his or her last name comes across as... well, as an attack, and although we might not see eye to eye on this point, I don't want attacks here. I want debate, and hopefully persuasion.



Sandra Ruttan said...


I know these gentlemen are retired and not subject to chain of command issues, but it said in one of the articles (I think one I put a link on to) that even serving officers are being encouraged to express disagreement, and the inference was that this went all the way down the ranks.

Which I just found surprising. That doesn't seem like something that would be encouraged in a military being micromanaged.

I have to stop calling Konrath Satan? Okay, okay. But some of us are in bad habits, knowing each other from off the blogs. M.G. is Mindy, Bardawill is Liz. I'm going to have to reprogram myself, but my apologies if I slip on occasion.


Bonnie S. Calhoun said...


If I may add an opinion. I think what dtodeen is trying to say is that the majority of your posts seem to be dissatisfaction with the present administration.

Which could be construed as Bush bashing, or anti-Republican sentiment.

It's a little tedious after a while, but this is your blog and your entitled to express your opinion....imho!

John DuMond said...

Another retired general weighs in:

David Terrenoire said...

I find dt's comment a bit baffling. In Barry's original post and in the comments, we've touched on military culture, administration control over message, war policy, media relations, the nature of politicians and even the purpose of this blog. If remarking on the news that six retired generals are calling for the SoD's resignation is Bush bashing, I don't see it.

This is big news, and in my memory, unprecedented. (We haven't even mentioned James Webb, a pretty damn good writer, Annapolic grad, combat Marine and former Sec of the Navy under Reagan who recently switched his party affiliation to Democrat.)

If dt has another POV, I'd like to hear it. But how can we discuss news like this without our criticism being labeled Bush bashing?

The GOP control all three branches of government, so when we criticize policy it will be, unavoidably, a criticism of this administration.

I certainly didn't hold back on my criticism of the Clinton administration. I'm sure there are people here who would be surprised to find out I didn't vote to re-elect Clinton to a second term.

But Clinton is not in office. Bush is, and this is Bush's war, for good or ill. A lot of people who are in a position to know think the execution of the war has been a disaster. That's news.

It's one thing to be loyal to a party, but when you don't engage in debate, or you dismiss any criticism of policy as being blindly partisan, I think you've done nothing more than put politics above principle and that's not what I think Barry intended with this courageous blog.

But, as always, I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...


Congrats on your wonderful blog. It's one of the few intelligent-discussion ones out there, and I hope you do gangbusters with it.

As for Rumsfeld, he's a disaster. Even if you grant the necessity of the Iraq war--which I do not--his prosecution of it boggles the mind.

Every single thing that's happened in Iraq since our takeover was predictable--the insurgents, the civil war, the looting, the destruction of the museum, the roadside bombings, all of it. Most, if not all, would have been avoided by Rumsfeld committing the correct number of troops to start with--the half million that almost every professional military officer said was necessary to avoid exactly what's happening now. (And, it turns out, the professionals were correct.) But he'd already made up his mind to pare the troop level to a ridiculous amount in order to "prove" his thesis that big armies are no longer needed. What you see on the news every day now is the result.

And to not have every single Humvee reinforced with armor two years--and hundreds of dead American troops--into the war is criminally negligent. Any CEO who ran his or her company in this manner would have already been fired. Most likely, brought up on charges.

The problem is that Rumsfeld has always been Father Knows Best, in his governmental and corporate positions over the years. (I used to follow his career as a business editor at the Chicago Sun-Times.) Don't like what he says? Tough. Don't agree with him? Hit the road. Think his decisions are a disaster? Get lost.

It's no wonder to me that Peter Pace extolls his virtues. What else is he going to say with his loyal-to-me-or-else boss standing right next to him? See what the general says after he retires.

That's my two cents.

Again, great blog, and great series you write. See you at ThrillerFest. I'm running the charity auction this year, and look forward to seeing you there.

Shane Gericke

Anonymous said...

David wrote: "But, as always, I could be wrong."

Not in my book -- I agree with what you just said. I don't like a lot of what is going on with policy in this country at the moment, but that would be just as true no matter what administration was responsible for that policy.

I've voted for both parties, because I look at the individual I'm voting for, rather than their political affiliation. Sometimes I'll favor voting for balance if I like both candidates. I.e. if there is a Democratic president and Congress has a Democratic majority, I'll vote for a Republican. I don't want either side to dominate, because each has its own strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives.

In fact, when both parties were getting so caught up in pissing contests in Minnesota that they weren't accomplishing anything, I voted for Jesse Ventura to get 'em back into line and working together. Figured if they had a common enemy, they might suddenly discover they *were* capable of compromise. Wasn't that I particularly liked Ventura as a candidate.

I felt that strategy worked, but wouldn't have voted for Ventura for a second term, because he proved a bit too volatile for my tastes. Now we're back to the same ridiculous gridlock, and I'd be willing to consider a third party for Governor to shake things up again.

My biggest concern, actually, is what Rae said above: "Well, that's just the problem. People don't want to think, and they're too lazy to ask questions."

Ultimately, our government is a reflection of us. I think we need to take a good, hard look at our own culture if we don't like the way any administration is handling things. After all, we're the ones who put them in office in the first place.

DTOdeen, I hope you stick around and contribute. If your perspective isn't represented here, there's one way to fix that. I've seen no indication that Barry will silence any opinion, provided it's presented without personal attack.

Sandra Ruttan said...

David, I can only guess some people see this through the "if you aren't for me, you're against me" thinking?

I can support a government in general, and still question some of their policies or decisions. Last election here I voted conservative, but I'd be mad if they revoked the gay marriage laws or reopened the debate on abortion.

If I lived in the US I'd likely vote democrat though. No way to be absolutely certain until you've lived in a country and really see the repercussions of policies though. I belong to no political party - I vote election to election based on what I believe is the best choice. I didn't vote conservative provincially.

This is something politicans and media do - try to reduce an administration to one policy. That's frustrating. People can be right 70% of the time, but that still means they're wrong 30%. None of us make the perfect decision each and every time we're faced with a choice.

But if politics are the topic of the day, it stands to reason you'll look at the present administration. Why debate the follies of the Clinton administration now? Most people aren't interested in hearing that - this isn't about political attack, it's about awareness of current issues, social conscience.

Anonymous said...

Barry (if I may call you that). I disagree with the using of the last name comment you made. As a member of the older generation, I feel I should invite you to use my first name. Until then, it is Mr. jh from toledo. I am insulted when some pup at the video store, on the phone, or a salesman calls me by my first name. They've lost any sale with me.

Anonymous said...

It is so easy to criticize when you know longer are responsible for something and you want to shift any blame away from your self for your failure to do the job. General Patton had no fears of voicing his opinion when he knew something was poorly planned or that he disagreed with.

JD Rhoades said...

Is dt reading the same blog as I am? Or is it just that some people try to avoid debate by dismissing any questioning of the Bush Administration, no matter how polite, as "bashing?"

(and by "polite" of course, I'm referring to Barry, not me. I'm rude).

Anonymous said...

Thought I went away, eh?

Okay, the Ruminator has pissed off a lot of people ... I'm not one of them. I continue to prefer the tough Secretary of Defense to the one who sometimes tries to appease his critics. Decision makers will forever be second guessed. Those who don't agree will call them incompetent (whether the tag is merited or not).

Dinosaurs like me just don't see the same disaster in Iraq most of America sees ... probably because I'm not looking to democratize Iraq ... or find WMD ... or steal oil ... more than likely, it's because I still adhere to my own theory on the war (that Hussein was waving a red flag at a recently gored bull and he got what he deserved). Now, before I hear the rants about the poor innocents of Iraq who didn't get what they deserve, let me put it back in context. As an American I was glad we took a shot at somebody in the middle east other than the Taliban. It proved two things to our adveraries (real, imagined and potential) ... 1) we're not afraid to fight ... and 2) we're not bound to the idiocy of taking first strikes in a nuclear age.

Rumsfeld is doing a job. Whether he did things wrong or was arrogant about it ... well, I'll argue that some of our most successful warmongers were a lot more arrogant (and often made mistakes) than Donald Rumsfeld.

Grant was a no-holds barred lunatic who refused to retreat (Cold Harbor) ... yet he was incredibly successful as a General for exactly the same reason. We don't need to get into Patton.

And I still prefer Tommy Franks version of Rumsfeld to the retirees (not that I'd know a damn thing about whose strategy was better or worse). But the man who took the fight to Saddam's army doesn't seem to have a problem with Rumself (or didn't).

Do I want him to run for President?

Actually, yeah ... but he's probably going to retire and read crime novels into the sunset.

Okay ... attack

David Terrenoire said...


I'm your huckleberry.

There's a world of difference between a man who gets the work done like Grant, who deeply regretted Cold Harbor by the way, to a man who stubbornly holds to decisions that have taken us into an ugly, long, and dangerous conflict. Is Rumsfeld the only one who proved incomptetent? No. But where I live, if I screw up something in a book, it's not my editor's fault, or my copy editor's fault, both who might share blame. It's my name on the book, just as this was Rumsfeld's name on this plan. Tommy Franks should resign, too, if you want my opinion, and the blame doesn't stop there, but it's Rumsfeld who takes credit and takes blame.

The truth is, disastrous mistakes were made in the execution of this war and yet no one is held accountable. This from a party that waves the banner of personal responsibility.

Let's list just a few of the examples. Not enough troops. The guy who warned them about this was drummed out. The war would pay for itself. Where's Wolfowitz now, hiding in shame? No. He was promoted to the World Bank. Greet us as liberators? It's tough to hold victory parades when the streets are lined with IEDs three years in. Has Cheney taken a hit for this? No. Paul Bremer failed in organizing the CPA and what's his name, the head of the CIA (it's late and I'm tired), who promised finding WMDs would be a slam dunk, did he pay a price for his incompetence? No. Both got the Medal of Freedom. Nice.

No one is fired, no matter how big they screw up. Rumsfeld is the not the guy who should resign. That's Bush. But we know he's not going to take the hit, because he never does, no matter how badly he fucks up. That leaves Rumsfeld.

Sure, I loved him on 9/11, out there with his sleeves rolled up while the CINC was cowering in a bunker in Nebraska. But his personality doesn't buy him a pass for making disastrous decisison.

Patton was a jerk, and his career suffered for it, but he won battles. Grant threw his men against entrenched defenders, and his conscience suffered for it, but he won battles.

In other words, they were successful. It wasn't their personalities that won them supporters, it was success. If Rumsfeld had pulled off the occupation of Iraq, no one would be bringing up troop levels, WMDs, the 300 billion dollars, or anything else. But he hasn't. He's failed as SoD and he should go.

Your scorched earth strategy is an emotional response, and I share it, but when we're gambling with young people's lives, we owe it to them to be logical, not emotional. Otherwise, we find ourselves in a place we can't escape and in this case, other families are paying the price. It's time someone was held accountable.

Barry Eisler said...

Bonnie, I guess dissatisfaction with the present administration could be construed as Bush-bashing. Or it could just be... dissatisfaction with the present administration. As for tedious, that's a subjective call. I found General Pace's oddly worded defense of Rumsfeld fascinating and worthy of discussion, but I recognize that others will be put to sleep by the subject.

Let me put it another way: do you think it's possible to criticize some aspect of the current administration without it being perceived as Bush-bashing? And can you tell me how you would do it, if you haven't found it here?

David, agreed on all points. And James Webb is a terrific novelist, too: I loved Fields of Fire and especially The Emperor's General.

Shane, welcome, good to have another writer here, and yes, looking forward to seeing you at Thrillerfest!

JH (if I may?), point well taken on uninvited use of first names. My larger point was, let's address each other in a way that's intended to be respectful. I think that, on a blog, if you intend the respect,most of the time the form of address you use will come across as respectful. Another rule of thumb to go by is, address others the way you'd like them to address you. Most people recognize that calling someone on a blog only by his last name is disrespectful. And here at HOTM, I'd like us all to act as though we respect each other (kumbayah...).

Charlie, glad those spare keyboards are keeping you in business! You said, "Decision makers will forever be second guessed. Those who don't agree will call them incompetent (whether the tag is merited or not)." I partially agree, and would only add the clause, "if the decision makers' decisions turn out to produce bad results different from the ones the decision makers originally predicted." After all, if Iraq had gone the way the administration predicted, you wouldn't hear a word about incompetence or any other form of second guessing today.

I agree with you that Rumsfeld's arrogance or other stylistic issues are secondary at best. I prefer to focus on results. I know from being in business that, as long as you produce results, you'll be bulletproof. If you don't produce results, you'll get hammered on substance as well as style. Unfortunate, probably, but true.

As for the desirability of taking a shot at someone in the middle east, there are two economics issues that always need to be well thought through, and that in this case perhaps weren't. First, what are the opportunity costs? Tied up as we are in Iraq, do we have as free a hand as we'd like with regard to Iran and Syria? North Korea? What if China moves against Taiwan? Second, what are the transaction costs? That is, is there a way we might have achieved our stated goals at lower cost?

And no one's going to attack you for your views here! I know you're joking about that, but still... I very much want HOTM to be a place where we try to identify the basis for differing opinions. This is a hard thing to do and takes time, but it's worthwhile.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...


I do agree that General Pace's words were odd, more like bizarre, knowing their past relationship. It didn't put me to sleep but knowing Washington as I do, it leads me to question his motivation.

To answer your question..."Do you think it's possible to criticize some aspect of the current administration without it being perceived as Bush-bashing?"

I never thought about it, since, as an administration outsider, I have no real concept of the motivation behind any given decision.

All we have as a basis for an opinion or criticism, is the news media (which would never slant a journalistic prospective...LOL...can anyone say Dan Rather?)

I have had occasion to be privy to information and motivation that was not for public consumption. Without that information, the displayed event was unrecognizable.

It just sometimes feels like an exercise in futility, to criticize decisions, when we know that we don't have all the facts!

Anonymous said...


I'll say it again, I don't agree the war plan or what's going on in Iraq is a disaster. Many people compare it to Vietnam. I don't. At the rate of American deaths (and I'm not marginalizing--just stating facts), we would need to be there another 23 years to come near Vietnam.

You say it was misplanned ... many agree. I'm just not one of them.

I'm a Grant fan myself, but can you really begin to assume that Rumsfeld doesn't suffer the same kind of emotional pain over deaths and mistakes? Is he cold because (you say) he's incompetent?

And lets get into numbers (Grant/Patton vs. Iraq) ...

Nobody wants war ... but way too often it's necessary. Nothing goes according to plan (especially in war) (i.e., see Van Clausewitz) ... monday morning QBing would make anyone look incompetent (i.e., the Bay of Pigs). I don't think JFK was incomeptent ... maybe overzealous.

Patton called my Sicilian heritage the most disgusting people on the earth ("they eat off rocks") ... you know what, I don't want him teaching humanities to my kids but I'd want him leading my army every time. EVERY TIME.

And I continue to believe the war was right for the reasons I stated ... it was necessary to put up for a change. It might not be the politically correct choice (and thus all the fugazy justifications for it), but tough decisions aren't supposed to be popularity contests.

Anonymous said...

Addendum to what Barry had mentioned regarding cost/was there a better way?

I don't think the effects can be measured in dollars or without the benefit of time (and probably not then either). Had we not gone into Iraq, would there have been some change in Lebannon & Libya? We don't know ... it seems to me that dictators place a value on staying in power. Except for the psycho in Iran, I didn't see any, including North Korea (since that's always tossed in the mix), offering rewards for suicide bombers post the Iraq war.

As for Iran, the lunatic in power there (if he's still there when they're nuke capable) will solve the problem for everybody on his own. Once they're really nuclear capable, I'm sure Isreal (or us) will take out that capability with air strikes ... and rightly so. It won't take an invasion to keep Iran in line.

As for being thin in the event we need to go to war elsewhere ... well, a lot of young people would have to swallow a draft ...

We just don't know what the effects will be long term. Most of the roadside attacks in Iraq take place around in and close to Baghdad). The south doesn't seem to have the same problems with the changes to their country. Does that register any success or it doesn't count because it works?

I don't believe everything has gone to plan (whatever plans they were and however many times they've been adjusted to attempt to resolve the issues), but ... I don't for a second think what's going on in Iraq is half as bad as it's portrayed by the naysayers in the media.

And, no, I don't watch Fox ... it's as bad (and as prejudice) as Rather was on CBS.

Me, I prefer the Sopranos ... and trust me, Tony would've whacked Hussein, too.

That was a joke.

JD Rhoades said...

Charlie: Some of the people who are saying that things are going badly in Iraq are people who have actually served there, so I'm inclined to take them at their word.

And since you (quite righty) admire Patton as a commander, I have this to offer from him:

"Reports must be facts, not opinions; negative as well as positive.... Information is like eggs: the fresher the better."


"One does not plan and then try to make circumstance fit those plans fit the circumstances. I think the difference between success and failure in high command depends upon the ability, or lack of it, to do just that."

The folks in the highest levels of command who cherry-picked the WMD intel they wanted and disregarded or discredited the rest--"fixed the intelligence and the facts around the policy" in the words of the Downing Street Memo- would have been well-advised to have followed Patton's dicta.

JD Rhoades said...

Gaah...typed the quote wrong. It's "One does not plan and then try to make circumstance fit those plans. Rather, make the plans fit the circumstances. I think the difference between success and failure in high command depends upon the ability, or lack of it, to do just that."

War As I Knew It is one of my favorite memoirs, even if some of Patton's opinions on infantry tactics are a bit nuts.

Anonymous said...

JD: "Some of the people who are saying that things are going badly in Iraq are people who have actually served there, so I'm inclined to take them at their word."

That include Tommy Franks? I know I've seen tons of interviews with wounded American heroes who wish they could return to the same front they were wounded at. And I'm sure there are those who wish the invasion never took place.

I hear you. There have been some screwups (maybe too many to be comfortable with). I do wish we'd get out, but then again, I never wanted to democratize anybody ...

There is the south of Iraq, though, and there doesn't seem to be anywhere near the same problems as up north. It's just a tough call, but I do think we all shade our perspectives with how we feel about the administration (whether we like to admit it or not).

That said, I do have a dear friend who's son works at the Pentagon and he doesn't find any confidence in Rumsfeld or Bush ... and he (the guy at the Pentagon) is a lot smarter than I could ever hope to be. Still, I'm inclined to think there's a lot more over-reaction than genuine criticism.

I am curious as to why some of the Generals didn't speak their minds (if they were so concerned for their troops) while they continued to serve. I find that pretty dispicable (if they in fact thought they were carrying out a bad policy that endangered their men). They don't get to have it two ways (in my book). They should've walked back when instead of hopped on a bandwagon after the fact (if they felt so strongly about the bad planning).

Anonymous said...

Yes Patton was a great commander, but he was greatest when he was free to do what he wanted to do. Once the politicians, press, and the uninformed public start to put limitations on combat and to run the war from back here, that’s where it starts to bog down. This is the generation of the common man here in the US. We want our burgers ready before we get to the drive thru window, and our wars won in a week. We can handle hardship, but not inconvenience.

Anonymous said...

JH ... you're my hero!

Hey, Barry, I figure I'm worth an extra 10 comments (pissing people off)... it's all fun, though. Again, I applaud your blog.

JD Rhoades said...

Yes Patton was a great commander, but he was greatest when he was free to do what he wanted to do.

Would that have included invading Russia?

Patton rose exactly as high as he needed to: command of an Army, where his agressiveness and his genius for armored warfare could find its fullest expression, but under the command of people with a measure of good sense, restrint, and a sense of the larger picture. Like Ike.

And I believe Americans can handle hardship if they see progress being made. they're not seeing that now. And before we start hearing about how the media's only showing the negative stuff, let me share with you a comment I heard from a BBC reporter who was asked why they weren't showing , for example, schools opening. The answer was chilling. The people at the school had asked them not to show them, the reporter said, because if they did, the insurgents would come and kill them. This does not seem like a glowing picture of progress to me.

As for the south of Iraq: isn't that where the British are?

Finally, in regard to the comments about why these officers didn't complain while they were serving: We don't know that they didn't privately. Had they done so publicly, they would probably have been brought up on charges of insubordination. They have to retire before they can speak freely, and some are apparently taking early retirement to do so. Again, someone who's willing to make that sacrifice gets some credibility in my book.

Anonymous said...

Why do I get the feeling, JD, that whatever America does (the Brits are in the south alongside us--we're catching the brunt of it everywhere), it won't be good enough?

Brothers (and sisters) I sure hope Giuliani runs for President in 2008 ... of course back in NY, the left once labeled him a nazi ... but that's another blog for another day.

David Terrenoire said...


Why do I get the feeling that no matter how many ways this administration screws the pooch, financially and militarily, it won't be bad enough for you not to rush to their support?

And, please, let's not use the Fox News "some people say" or "the left once" said. Let's be specific, so we know what we're talking about.

For instance, it would be completely unfair of me to state that some people say that all liberals are traitors and a cowards. On the other hand, if I identify that person as Ann Coulter, then we all know how much credibility to give that statement.

Giuliani in '08, huh? Good luck getting the Christian right to go along with a philandering, pro-life, New Yorker.

Anonymous said...

I know the right won't go near my paison, Rudi ... but he too was and is considered one arrogant S.O.B. ... point is, sometimes you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.

I don't see them screwing the pooch, my man. I just think it's a lot easier to take potshots the day after than it is to make tough decisions. I firmly believe it was our lack of decision making prior to Bush's decision to respond that brought 9-11 here sooner rather than later.

We'll never know if that's true, but you'll never convince me that "talking about it ad naseum at the UN" would've changed things.

Omelettes, baby ...

David Terrenoire said...

No one is arguing about personalities here, Charlie. We're arguing about a distinct lack of success. Screwed the pooch is rather tame when you consider the 2000 deaths after Mission Accomplished and the 300 billion it's cost so far to fight a war we were told would pay for itself.

Now, I ain't no Nostradamus, but my predictions were a hell of a lot closer to reality than these guys.

Anonymous said...

Imagine the beefs over 19,000 killed over a 7 day period during WWII (my uncle was one of them--killed in the Ardennes because nobody saw Hitler's last desperate attempt coming) ... or the 50,000 casualties in 3 days at Gettysburg ... or, to bring the number closer to home ... the 3,000 killed at the Twin Towers over a few hour(s) period.

I didn't bother predicting what would happen in Iraq or Afghanistan ... just that there would be a cost to pay to turn away from the kinds of terrorism we all experienced on 9-11 ... I'll continue to argue (no matter who doesn't count Iraq as a terrorist nation or that they weren't responsible for 9-11) that going to war with Iraq made progress against potential threats we just can't measure. If I'm a sucker for believing that, then I'm a sucker (to be fair, I'm also a Bills fan, so...) because I do believe it made a difference.

For that reason alone, no matter what the cost so far, it was more than worth it.

That said, I'm willing to let Barry post a new one ... I'm exhausted.

John DuMond said...

"Screwed the pooch is rather tame when you consider the 2000 deaths after Mission Accomplished and the 300 billion it's cost so far to fight a war we were told would pay for itself."

Not to single out David, but I frequently hear numbers like this offered as proof of our failure in the war in Iraq. I'm curious, what numerical values would signify success? How long should the war have gone on? How many dead? How much money spent? What are the numerical limits we dare not cross, lest we find ourselves in "failure" territory?

JD Rhoades said...

This debacle is about more than body counts. It's about the continuing lack of security in Iraq. The continuing lack of infrastructure. The boost this war has given to terrorist recruiting, according to Bush's hand picked CIA director, Porter Goss, the Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Israeli Global Research in International Affairs Center, etc. etc.

It's about winning the battle for Baghdad, but setting back the War on Terror.

Anonymous said...

JD Rhoades said...

Would that have included invading Russia?

Are you suggesting that that was a bad idea?

I didn’t mean to suggest that the generals set the policy. That’s the president’s job. But once the objective is set, let the generals determine the tactics to reach that objective.

Randy McFab said...

Charlie Stella said the war is justified because we "made progress against potential threats we just can't measure." I would ask, if we can't measure the threats, how do we measure the progress? I know it's a big, scary world, but sleeping with the light on is probably a better solution than starting a war.
I would also add that every living human being is a potential threat to the U.S., and I don't hear anyone suggesting we commit mass suicide just to be safe.

JD Rhoades said...

Would that have included invading Russia?

Are you suggesting that that was a bad idea?

I'm not suggesting it, I'm saying it outright, on a purely military level. Take a look at where the armies ended up. Think of how far we'd have to fight the fanatical Red Army back across Germany and Eastern Europe before we even GOT to the vast expanse that is Russia. A lot of armies have been broken trying to attack Russia, and none of them slackers: Charles XII, Napoleon, and most recently, Hitler's formidable armored columns. And we still had the Japanese to deal with.

Kicking Stalin out would have been great, but with the situation the way it was, it was a pipe dream. And FDR and Ike knew it, even if Patton was still chomping at the bit.

David Terrenoire said...

john d.

Your singling out the numbers is evidence that you've missed my point. I take the blame for making myself unclear.

Let me try again.

What constitutes victory in this war? Please, I'm an old soldier and have no desire to do body counts again. So what is it? How do we know when we've won? In the case of Iraq, that's tough to answer because the reason for our invasion keeps shifting, making it difficult to define success.

I mentioned the 2000 dead after Mission Accomplished to illustrate the horror of just that point. Is that a huge number compared to the Somme or Antietam? Of course not. But our casualties in other wars, as Charlie would have it, is completely irrelevant to whether the mission was accomplished and whether it was a success.

I won't presume I'm the only vet here, but I will remind you that I volunteered to pick up a rifle during wartime, and the potential sacrifice to me was complete and total, making charlie's assertion that any sacrifice is acceptable ring a bit hollow. I'm sure he's sincere, but saying any sacrifice is acceptable, when it's not your sacrifice is easy. Hell, we're not even paying for this war. We're borrowing from our children to pay for this war.

So, I turn your question back on you. How many dead? How much money spent? When do we declare victory? And when do we look at leaders who have failed to lead, with strategies that have proved disastrously wrong, and say we need another way?

It's not about numbers. It's not about personality. It's about stating a well-defined strategy and then executing that strategy to victory. So far, all I've seen is failure.

These generals who have come out against Runsfeld are trying to tell us that our strategy isn't working, and our tactics are flawed. Unless we start looking for a new way to victory, a lot more young men and women will die, and maybe some day you and Charlie will decide that it's enough.

For me, no number is acceptable for a bad war, but for the right war, as an old man of 56, you can count on me to take the line again. I can't run, but I can still shoot.

I just need to know why I'm making the sacrifice.

So let's drop this numbers game, and the quaint metaphor of breaking eggs, and ask youself if you'd go to war in Iraq, and if so, what do you think would be a victory there. A pro-western democracy? Another friendly despot? An Islamic theocracy? A splintered Iraq? A tribal civil war? Because, if you can answer that, you're doing better than anyone in this administration.

Now, I really am ready for something new. My head is bloody from beating it against this wall.

John DuMond said...

"So let's drop this numbers game..."

I'm not the one who cited the numbers, you were. I'm not trying to bust your stones here, I was interested in your response to my question. The numbers get cited a lot, probably becuase their enormity have the capacity to evoke a powerful emotional response. But in the end, numbers are intended to be a quantitative measure. So far, everyone I've asked to justify a "the price is too high" argument has fallen back on the "this is an unjust war, so any price is too high" argument. Why not just open with the latter, rather than playing the "numbers game?"

John DuMond said...

BTW David, don't feel you need to beat your head against the wall. Judging from what I've seen in my journeys through the blogosphere, I don't think many minds are being changed on this subject. It is, however, interesting to hear other points of view, minus the invective endemic on other sites.

David Terrenoire said...

Again, let me try to clarify.

We had a guy say "Mission Accomplished" and then lost 2000+ more GIs. To me, that says Mission Unaccomplished. That's why that number is significant. not as a yardstick of success.

And the 300 billion dollars? We were told this war would cost us zero dollars. Now, I'm no accountant, but I've never been 300 billion dollars off, even in my days of straddling the Mexican border with a pack of Bambu, a pocketful of black beauties and a pint of Jose.

So, the numbers are not any indicator of success or failure of the war, but success or failure of the leaders.

I don't know how much clearer I can make this, jd. Really, I'm doing my best here and you guys seem to be missing this point.

David Terrenoire said...

OK, I'm a writer. Let me try an analogy.

You hire me to build your house. I give you an estimate. A few months go by and call you up, saying the house is done, come on out and see it.

You come out and the frame's barely up. I also give you the news that your boy was killed when the garage caved in. Then I give you the bill and it's 300 billion dollars over my estimate.

Wouldn't you fire me as your contracter? Of course you would.

That's all I'm saying.

Barry Eisler said...

Hmmm, I should have known where my questions about General Pace's odd defense of Rumsfeld would lead us... ;-)

I've been reading everyone's posts and trying to see where the root of our differences lies. Sometimes I'm able to do that; this time, I'm not sure I've managed.

One thread that does seem to emerge upon rereading is disagreement, even confusion, about the war's objectives. I do believe a great deal of the war's divisiveness can be traced to confusion about its objectives. So let me try to break things down.

To determine appropriate tactics, and then to measure success or failure, you have to first choose an objective.

Pause #1: Does the paragraph above make sense as a general principle, without reference to the specific topic at hand? I'm not asking this or the questions below rhetorically. I'm trying to find out where opinions diverge.

The original objective of the war, as stated by the administration, was to secure Hussein's WMDs. The WMDs were never found, meaning: (i) they never existed; (ii) they were destroyed sometime before the war; or (iii) they were moved out of the country before we went in. If (i) or (ii), either our intelligence was faulty or someone was lying, and the war was unnecessary according to the administration's stated objective. If (iii), and the weapons are now in, for example, Syria, then we failed to achieve the administration's stated objective.

Pause #2: Is the paragraph above correct as a matter of history and as a matter of logic?

To look at things from another angle: imagine that, after going into Iraq, our military had found vast quantities of U.N. sanctions-busting nerve gas and well-developed nuclear weapons and missile programs. If that had happened, I think the administration would have trumpeted the finds and we wouldn't have heard too much about other objectives.

Pause #3: Does the paragraph above make sense?

But we didn't find the WMD. At which point, I think the administration had two general options:

Option A: Acknowledge that the war was either unnecessary (if the weapons didn't exist) or a failure (if the weapons had been moved to Syria). But explain that we can't just turn around and leave because to do so would be to leave a failed state in our wake, which would be a breeding ground for terrorism, destabilize the middle east, etc. In other words, acknowledge that, if we could do the whole thing over again, we wouldn't go in, but the fact that we have gone in changes things, and necessitates that we stay to work through those changed circumstances.

Option B: Change the focus from WMD to something else, like ridding Iraq of tyranny and establishing a beachhead of democracy in the middle east.

Pause #4: Am I misstating the administration's options?

It seems to me the administration went with Option B. And that choice has led to much of the confusion that has characterized debate about Iraq ever since.

For the record, I believe the war's real objectives were always closer to Option B than they were to finding and securing WMDs. Since the first Gulf War, prominent neocons have argued that the road to middle east peace went not through Jerusalem, but through Bagdad. Also, I believe the administration wanted to pressure Syria and Iran, and possibly even Saudi Arabia, by positioning US military forces in a country bordering all three.

But, for a variety of reasons, the administration didn't feel it could articulate these objectives publicly, so it played up the WMD threat instead. If the WMDs had been found or the war had turned out to be as quick, easy, and cheap as its planners promised, there wouldn't be much controversy about objectives today. But things haven't gone according to plan, and so the administration finds itself in a "what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive" situation.

(Speaking of tangled webs, when I googled that quote just now to ensure I had it right, I found the following list of statements by the administration on WMD. I include the link now as a reminder of just how much prewar emphasis the administration gave to the WMD rationale for war.)

I think if the administration had mustered the courage to go with Option B above, there would be a lot more support for the war today. Just my opinion, and I could be wrong.

-- Barry

David Terrenoire said...


I agree with everything except this under Option A: In other words, acknowledge that, if we could do the whole thing over again, we wouldn't go in.

If they really believed in their mission, and I think they did believe it was to establish a democracy in Iraq, just as PNAC laid out, then they could have said, if we were to do the whole thing over again, we would do it in a different way, perhaps the way the DoD and State had worked on for ten years. That they didn't is the wellspring of our dissatisfaction.

Personally, your original question about Pace's spin was much more interesting, but I take a lot of the blame for devolving the discussion. My apologies.

Anonymous said...


I was being "quaint" for your sake, brother.

John D is right .. you brought up the numbers.

It's hollow to me when the guys running the show on the battlefield keep their yaps shut during the war (when people die) and then retire and shoot from the lip. That's hollow. And as someone else suggested, they needed to retire first ... well, that's worse than hollow. It's fugazy.

Some of you guys arguing from the left seem to enjoy taking verbal potshots, but don't like the return volleys. I'm gonna listen to a good friend of mine and wish you all the very best in all you do and wish for.

JD Rhoades said...

And as someone else suggested, they needed to retire first ... well, that's worse than hollow. It's fugazy.

Criticism of the President or the SecDef while under the jurisdiction of the UCMJ can be construed as a violation of Article 88:

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Certainly saying the SecDef ought to resign could be construed as contemptuous. So yeah, they had to resign in order to criticize or be in violation of military law.

Not fugazy. Fact.

Anonymous said...

So, your fact lets them get their men killed.

I guess they didn't have guts when it counted. Great. leftwing principals ... what a joke.

JD Rhoades said...

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie...I post facts, you respond with insults. What's up with that?

JD Rhoades said...

PS: This is the first time I've heard the UCMJ described as "left wing principles." I'll have to share that with my friend over in Fayetteville who does military law. He'll get a kick out of it.

Anonymous said...

Let me clarify it for you: You argue that higher ups (like Rumsfeld, the people in charge at Abu Grahb, etc.) should pay the price for bad decision making. Then we have a group of generals who prefer to protect their retirement or avoid going to jail at the expense of their men's lives (another issue raised--all the men killed in Iraq, the 2000+) ... yet the generals who found the policies so flawed aren't held accountable for their cowardice in not speaking their minds (i.e., they'd rather protect themselves from jail/retirement checks) than their men.

I find that to be a bad joke. If you don't, I guess we're worlds apart.

That's me being polite.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with charlie here. The right path is most likely the hardest path. It's like a quarterback on Monday blaming the game plan for all the interceptions he threw on Sunday.

Barry Eisler said...

David, no need to apologize; these threads won't always be linear. And I should have recognized that the underlying subject matter would probably eclipse Pace's comments.

JD and Charlie, are you trying to persuade each other, or to defend a position? (Okay, that was a rhetorical question, but one worth considering). JD, interesting point about Article 88, but I'm not sure it applies. Publicly but respectfully differing over a war plan isn't likely to be construed as contempuous. General Shinseki managed it without being imprisoned, although his career clearly suffered -- a lesson that I'm sure wasn't lost on his brethren.

Charlie, you raise a good point: if a commander believes a plan is fatally flawed and opposes it, he needs to consider resigning in protest (Secretary of State Cyrus Vance opposed the Desert One mission to rescue the embassy hostages in Iran; he submitted his resignation the day before but waited to go public so as not to compromise the mission). But put yourself in the position of someone who has to make this decision... is it as black and white as you suggest? How confident are you that the plan is flawed? How comfortable are you abandoning your men? How ingrained is your "can-do" attitude?

Also, I'm not sure that the basis for calls for Rumsfeld's resignation is entirely, "We knew better at the time and he didn't listen." It seems to be driven also by results.

I can see pros and cons to Rumsfeld's resignatinon. Pros: sends a belated signal that results matter and that people will be held accountable. Cons: the damage is done, and resignation today wouldn't repair past errors; it would only cause military disruptions during wartime. Granted, I'm proceeding from the belief that results have been bad (measured against administration predictions) and that damage has been done. If you don't agree with that, resignation will seem like a nonsequitur.

Part of what's happening over Rumsfeld is similar to what happened during Clinton's impeachment. Each side questions the other side's motives. Those perceived motives then drive the argument, and the substance of the argument is ignored.

Is it possible we're seeing a bit of that dynamic on this thread, too?

Sandra Ruttan said...

"The right path is most likely the hardest path."

Time to self-publish and stand on street corners to sell my book. Somehow, I'm not seeing that as the right thing...

If the debate is always going to end up being about whether the invasion of Iraq is right or wrong, I'm going to fly a white flag now guys. Nobody's going to "win" this argument - even the people who are right.

But I am watching closely to see if there are any developments with Rumsfeld. If he does resign soon and Bush changes his tune, then I think the scapegoat suggestion is likely on track. Which would also explain the off-key defense. Bait-and-switch/standard tactics aside, it seems quite possible it's a way of choosing your words carefully so you don't have to retract a ringing endorsement later.

Anonymous said...

Barry said: "is it as black and white as you suggest? How confident are you that the plan is flawed? How comfortable are you abandoning your men? How ingrained is your "can-do" attitude?"

My point exactly, Barry. If we listen to the arguments now posed by the six generals, it sure sounds as if THEY thought is was flawed. And arguments against the policies quote the general's statements like gospel (JD prefers to listen to the guys in the field, except, of course, Tommy Franks).

Sorry, you just don't get to have it both ways (arguing with the Generals) if you're not going to take into account they could've made another decision (to quit) when it mattered most.

I think we need to take what the six Generals have to say "NOW" with a grain of salt. It isn't much different (for me) to guys who make deals with the gov't in witness protection situations.

"Sure, John Gotti told me to do it. I was just following orders."

What a great way to claim immunity ... then of course, we find out (post Gotti's death) Sammy "the Rat" wasn't so upfront about the number of victims he claimed to have killed (at the behest of Gotti). He was recently indicted for #20. Trust me, it was more like 120.

Yeah, I know, apples and oranges.

Baloney. It's the same crap. I suspect the six generals have political motives for "coming out" now and if they were so sure of the flawed plans, they should've protected their men when they could have.

Drawning an anology to the mob and the military ... that should start the ball rolling all over again.

ZenPupDog said...

I've no problem with removing Saddam from power. I've problems with political hacks playing the part of "generals" and ignoring experienced and expert advice. I'd listen to the retired generals now.

And the Pentagon has engaged in mythbuilding up Zarqawi in a way that seems to be helping the bad guys recruit more terrorists. Ponder Mike Whitney's article Zarqawi; the Pentagon’s ongoing war of deception — “ ... Colonel Derek Harvey strengthened those suspicions last week when he admitted in a Washington Post article that the military intentionally “enlarged Zarqawi’s caricature” to create the impression that the ongoing struggle against occupation was really a fight against terrorism. ... We should not expect that the Zarqawi myth will disappear anytime soon. The Bush administration has demonstrated a stubborn determination to cling to their fantasies no matter how threadbare they become. Besides, as Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt noted, “The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date”. ...”

If we're playing with 'real names' here - I'm Alan. Most know me as Sparky though. - ZPD

PS - Aside to Barry: we have a baby girl born 02/07/06 at 0030. We've given up on sleep.

JD Rhoades said...

(JD prefers to listen to the guys in the field, except, of course, Tommy Franks).

One cheap shot after another, eh, Charlie? Sure I listen to Tommy Franks (even though, were he a liberal, I'm sure you'd be pointing out that Franks is out promoting a book now. But I'll let that go). But when it's Tommy Franks vs. 6 other generals, plus the growing # of people coming back from Iraq and running for office--all but one as Democrats--I begin to sense the tide fo information turning.

And no, Barry I'm not trying to persuade Charlie. I gave up on that several posts ago. There's no persuading someone who responds to citations of original sources by sneeringly referring to them as "liberal principles" and who responds to arguments with cheap shots and canned talking points. But there are others here who may listen. And frankly, Charlie may be doing more to persuade people to my side than he realizes.

Anonymous said...

JD ... Grow up.

Barry Eisler said...

Sandra, I agree, the more I think about it, the more I think Pace's "defense" was a deliberate hedge. I wonder if Rumsfeld was pleased with it? Or if he felt, come on, man, defend me on the substance!

Zenpup/Alan/Sparky, congratulations!

JD and Charlie... where's the respect, fellas? Come on, everyone, gather around, group hug here...


David Terrenoire said...


I love the Kum By Yah moment.

Now I'm all verklempt.

Anonymous said...

JD ... "And no, Barry I'm not trying to persuade Charlie. I gave up on that several posts ago. There's no persuading someone who responds to citations of original sources by sneeringly referring to them as "liberal principles" and who responds to arguments with cheap shots and canned talking points. But there are others here who may listen. And frankly, Charlie may be doing more to persuade people to my side than he realizes."

If you had managed to get one thing accurate in your above hysterical comment, it would've be an accomplishment (for you).

Cheap shot #1.

I could care less about persuading you, my friend. I was simply offering an opinion regarding the six generals who chose to "come out" now (rather than when they could've saved lives). I don't buy their argument (or the possible motives for them).

You rant with sarcasm in nearly every comment you make ... and then you throw hissy fits when someone fires back (you call them "cheap shots"; a hysterical woman comes to mind (but my wife won't be happy I used "woman").

Cheap shot #2.

If I'm doing "your side" good, then god bless you and your side, but I seriously doubt it. The majority of the commentators here are not Bush administration supporters. I accept that. Most people in the arts aren't. I accept that, too. The thing you don't seem to get is that each of us is bringing an opinion to the board. If you don't agree with it, you go on an irrational attack that dismisses or ignores what contradicts (or might contradict) your "facts".

As regards your "original sources" ... are you claiming to be Geraldo Rivera?

Cheap shot #3.

If you were referring to the statement from the UCMJ, without looking for a quote that permits officers from leading their men into certain death, I'll return to what I had argued in the first place (and you ignored) ... that if a general firmly believed a policy was flawed enough to be a "disaster", he shouldn't have followed it (no matter what the personal cost). Why that upsets you, I don't understand.

I saw your new post on the new topic and smiled ... a rant against the RSM ... reminds me of that "great vast right wing conspiracy."

Cheap shot #4.

I don't know what to tell you, JD. We don't agree. Why not leave it at that?

Anonymous said...

Randy: I know it's a big, scary world, but sleeping with the light on is probably a better solution than starting a war.

I think both Kuwait and Iran tried that before the first Gulf War, sleeping with a light on. In the end, I don't think it worked too well for either country.

David Terrenoire said...


Insightful and thoughtful post, and thanks for getting us back on track.

My contact at DoD, retired military and my go-to guy for information about DARPA and exotic weapons systems development tells me, and this is purely anecdotal, that all but the hard core Kool Aid drinkers are wondering among themselves just what the hell is going on. To a man the people he works with are former military, Majors and above, Republican conservatives to their very bones. When these men start whispering doubts about the direction of our foreign policy, we should pay attention.

I think your suggestion that this isn't about Iraq, but Iran, is interesting and worth considering.