Two days before he resigned as secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a rambling memo to the White House in which he acknowledged that the current U.S. strategy in Iraq was not working and offered several diverging scenarios for reversing course.
In the classified, three-page document, Rumsfeld offered several options for reducing troop presence in Iraq, including some that were similar to proposals by Democratic critics of the war in Iraq and that have been sharply opposed by the Bush administration.
And he suggested one potentially controversial plan of action that had been used in a different form by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein -- paying off “key political and religious leaders” so they would be more compliant with U.S. occupying forces in the war-torn country and its capital, Baghdad.
“In my view it is time for a major adjustment,” Rumsfeld wrote in the Nov. 6 memo. “Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough.”
Until his resignation, Rumsfeld frequently had said that the overall course of action in Iraq was working, even if it needed adjustments. And while he has said he bases his decisions on input from commanders, his memo is peppered with proposals that run counter to the advice of officers, most of whom have opposed redeployments or withdrawals.
Critics immediately seized on the memo as an admission of failure by one of the administration’s primary architects of the Iraq war and its aftermath.
“This is an unbelievable memo. It is an admission of failure. It is more frank than anything that any [administration] official has said publicly in the three years of the war,” said Joseph Cirincione, senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
In the memo, first reported Saturday by the New York Times on its website and titled “Illustrative New Courses of Action,” Rumsfeld describes a “range of options” for the White House to consider. Many of them involve sharply drawing down U.S. troop presence in Iraq by mid-2007.
“Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) -- go minimalist,” Rumsfeld suggested. For instance, he proposed an accelerated shuttering or consolidation of most U.S. military bases in Iraq.
“We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases,” he wrote. “Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007.”
Another option: withdrawing U.S. forces from vulnerable positions, such as cities and patrols, and moving them to a “Quick Reaction Force” status, in which they would operate from within Iraq and neighboring Kuwait.
Rumsfeld also proposed keeping high-end special operations forces in Iraq to target Al Qaeda, death squads and Iranians, but “drawing down all other Coalition forces,” except for key U.S. advisors.
He suggested a new approach in which U.S. forces would only provide security for those provinces or cities that openly request it -- “and that actively cooperate, with the stipulation being that unless they cooperate fully, U.S. forces would leave their province.”
In areas where there is continued violence, Rumsfeld proposed that U.S. forces stop helping Iraqis, particularly with reconstruction efforts.
“As the old saying goes, ‘If you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, penalize it,’ ” he wrote.
All told, such drawdown efforts would send a strong signal to Iraqis, Rumsfeld said. He described it as “ ‘taking our hand off the bicycle seat,’ so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”
Eric Ruff, the senior Pentagon spokesman, said the formulation of the memo evolved over a period of several weeks.
“There had been a lot of discussion over a period of several weeks; people were discussing different options and various approaches, and the secretary had some views on the matter, and the memo reflects those views,” Ruff said.
The White House said President Bush was reviewing Rumsfeld’s proposals, along with many others. “The president has said he’s been dissatisfied with the progress in Iraq. So the right thing to do is reevaluate our tactics,” said spokeswoman Eryn Witcher.
The memo was sent one day after Bush had interviewed Rumsfeld’s appointed successor, Robert M. Gates, the former CIA director and president of Texas A&M; University. But Pentagon and White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed that the timing was coincidental, and that the memo had nothing to do with Rumsfeld’s impending departure or any efforts on his behalf to keep his job.
In the memo, Rumsfeld offered alternatives to troop reductions. He proposed stepping up the public relations campaign in Iraq by announcing a set of benchmarks that would reassure the U.S. public and give the appearance “that progress can and is being made.”
Even so, Rumsfeld cautioned that the administration should take steps to lower expectations and keep its options open.
“Announce that whatever new approach the U.S. decides on, the U.S. is doing so on a trial basis,” he wrote. “This will give us the ability to readjust and move to another course, if necessary, and therefore not ‘lose.’ ”
Lawrence Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s press secretary from 2001 until May, said the memo shows how his former boss operates.
“He is always throwing things out there for people to consider. That is what good leaders do,” Di Rita said. “This is his way of recognizing that our policy is in need of adapting to the realities” in Iraq.
A senior administration official said the memo should not be seen as Rumsfeld abdicating his long-held beliefs about the administration’s strategy in Iraq. Instead, it shows how the defense secretary was trying to present the White House with all available options to consider when deciding how to go forward with the war in Iraq, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the memo had not been formally made public.
“This is vintage Rumsfeld,” the senior administration official said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
EXCERPTS FROM RUMSFELD MEMO
‘It is time for a major adjustment’
The situation in Iraq has been evolving, and U.S. forces have adjusted, over time, from major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence. In my view it is time for a major adjustment. Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough. Following is a range of options:
Above the Line (many of these options could and, in a number of cases, should be done in combination with others):
* Publicly announce a set of benchmarks agreed to by the Iraqi government and the U.S. -- political, economic and security goals -- to chart a path ahead for the Iraqi government and Iraqi people (to get them moving) and for the U.S. public (to reassure them that progress can and is being made).
* Significantly increase U.S. trainers and embeds, and transfer more U.S. equipment to Iraqi security forces (ISF), to further accelerate their capabilities by refocusing the assignment of some significant portion of the U.S. troops currently in Iraq.
* Conduct an accelerated draw-down of U.S. bases.
* Initiate an approach where U.S. forces provide security only for those provinces or cities that openly request U.S. help and that actively cooperate, with the stipulation being that unless they cooperate fully, U.S. forces would leave their province.
* Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Fallouja when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior. Put our reconstruction efforts in those parts of Iraq that are behaving, and invest and create havens of opportunity to reward them for their good behavior. As the old saying goes, “If you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, penalize it.” No more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence.
* Withdraw U.S. forces from vulnerable positions -- cities, patrolling, etc. -- and move U.S. forces to a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) status, operating from within Iraq and Kuwait, to be available when Iraqi security forces need assistance.
* Begin modest withdrawals of U.S. and coalition forces (start “taking our hand off the bicycle seat”), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.
* Provide money to key political and religious leaders (as Saddam Hussein did), to get them to help us get through this difficult period.
Below the Line (less attractive options):
* Continue on the current path.
* Move a large fraction of all U.S. forces into Baghdad to attempt to control it.
* Increase Brigade Combat Teams and U.S. forces in Iraq substantially.
* Set a firm withdrawal date to leave. Declare that with Saddam gone and Iraq a sovereign nation, the Iraqi people can govern themselves. Tell Iran and Syria to stay out.
* Assist in accelerating an aggressive federalism plan, moving toward three separate states -- Sunni, Shia, and Kurd.