Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, facing calls for his resignation by three retired senior officers for his handling of the Iraq war, received a full-throated endorsement Tuesday from the U.S. military’s top general, who insisted that “this country is exceptionally well served” by Rumsfeld’s leadership.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disputed accusations from retired top officers that Rumsfeld had forced the uniformed military into an invasion plan they didn’t fully support.
“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,” Pace said at a Pentagon news conference. “The plan 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.”
Pace’s remarks, the most pointed on the Pentagon’s leadership since he assumed the chairman’s post in September, were prompted by a series of highly critical articles and interviews in recent weeks by former generals who were directly involved in the war or who served in top positions.
In the most recent criticism, Ret. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs until October 2002, castigated military leaders as acting “timidly” by not standing up to Bush administration “zealots.” In a Time magazine article, Newbold called for Rumsfeld to be replaced so that “fresh faces” could form a new plan to deal with the Iraq insurgency.
Pace said he did not know whether Newbold had privately raised major concerns while on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Pace said that because Newbold retired well before the invasion, he would have been unaware of debates inside the Pentagon in the run-up to war.
“It would be unfair for me to leave you with the idea that he never said anything critical,” Pace said. “As the director for operations on the Joint Staff, he certainly had the responsibility, as we all do as we sit around the table to discuss, and I’m sure during those discussions he did.”
Pace, who was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs during most of the war planning, said that the invasion plan put together by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, then head of the U.S. Central Command, was debated with the senior military leadership “50 or 60 times” before the war and that officers repeatedly raised their concerns during those discussions.
He added that at no time was Franks ordered by Rumsfeld or other administration officials to go to war with fewer troops than he desired, and that President Bush had asked the senior uniformed leadership whether it believed a “proper amount of resources had been allocated.”
The defense of Rumsfeld came at a time of intense criticism.
Ret. Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, former head of the U.S. Central Command, and Ret. Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces in 2003, also have called for Rumsfeld to step down.
Pace’s comments echoed a similarly high-profile defense of Rumsfeld by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, then-Joint Chiefs chairman, in the weeks after the U.S.-led invasion.
At that time, U.S. troops were hampered by irregular Iraqi forces attacking supply lines in the country’s south, and Rumsfeld was criticized as failing to heed warnings that larger forces were needed. Myers at the time called the criticisms “bogus,” angrily denouncing retired officers who were making the claims.
Mounting recriminations over the war come as Bush’s approval ratings are falling, prompting some Republicans to distance themselves from the administration.
The strains have occasionally shown within the administration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last month that the U.S. had committed thousands of “tactical mistakes” in Iraq, only to be rebuffed days later by Rumsfeld.
“I don’t know what she was talking about, to be perfectly honest,” he said in a radio interview.
Over the weekend, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told an audience in Chicago that the administration had “made some serious mistakes” after the fall of Baghdad.
“We didn’t have enough troops on the ground. We didn’t impose our will,” Powell said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “And as a result, an insurgency got started, and ... it got out of control.”