Retired Generals Speak out to Oppose Rumsfeld ; They Say He Quashed Dissent and Bungled Iraq's Occupation. Joint Chiefs' Chair Disagrees

Article excerpt

A growing number of retired generals are publicly opposing US conduct of the war in Iraq, breaking a decades-old tradition of not criticizing ongoing military operations.

The focus of their ire: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Four generals have called for his resignation, saying he ignored military advice and made key strategic mistakes.

The Pentagon needs a fresh start, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste said in several interviews Thursday. "We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation," he told CNN.

General Batiste, who led the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq until he retired last year, is the latest high-ranking officer to speak out.

The criticism has reached such a pitch that Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday publicly refuted the criticisms - particularly the notion that generals and admirals at the Pentagon are somehow cowed by the strong-minded secretary of Defense.

"We had then and have now every opportunity to speak our minds, and if we do not, shame on us because the opportunity is there," General Pace declared (without being asked). "We're expected to [speak out]. And the plan [for invading Iraq] that was executed was developed by military officers, presented by military officers, questioned by civilians as they should, revamped by military officers, and blessed by the senior military leadership."

With Rumsfeld at his side, Pace added, "this country is exceptionally well-served by the man standing on my left."

Still, the criticisms keep coming.

Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, former commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, blames Rumsfeld for a "series of disastrous mistakes."

Writing in the New York Times, Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton accused the Defense secretary of "ignoring the advice of seasoned officers and denying subordinates any chance for input.... I have seen a climate of groupthink become dominant and a growing reluctance by experienced military men and civilians to challenge the notions of the senior leadership." General Eaton was in charge of training Iraqi forces from 2003 to 2004.

In a Time magazine essay this week, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, former operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says US military policy in Iraq has been marked by "successive policy failures." Among these: "distortion of intelligence ... micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources ... failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military."

Other former military officers have criticized the war strategy without directly attacking Rumsfeld.

"Serious mistakes [were made] in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad," Colin Powell, former secretary of state and Joint Chiefs chairman, said in a speech last week. …

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