Foes of the Bush administration described the recent calls by six retired generals for Donald Rumsfeld to resign or be fired as "growing military pressure" for him to do so. These retired generals claim he should go for, among other things, ignoring the advice of senior military leaders and bungling the global war on terror in Iraq with poorly planned war-fighting strategies and post-Saddam planning efforts. We strongly disagree.
Like former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, we do not believe that it is appropriate for active duty, or retired, senior military officers to publicly criticize U.S. civilian leadership during war. Calling for the secretary's resignation during wartime may undercut the U.S. mission and incites individual challenge to the good order and discipline of our military culture. At best, such comments may send a confusing message to our troops deployed on dangerous missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. At worst, they can also inspire and motivate the evil forces we seek to defeat.
Since our nation's founding, the principle of civilian control over the military has been a centerpiece of our system of government. Under our constitutional system, it places elected and appointed government leaders in charge. American soldiers are bound by this tradition to subordinate themselves to civilian authority. We give advice but it is ultimately up to civilian leaders to make key strategic and policy decisions. Unlike many other democracies, this is one important reason why we have never been ruled by the military, and have been the most successful country the world has ever seen.
Some critics suggest that the calls by the six retired generals signify widespread discontent in the military with Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership. It is preposterous for them to suggest that this small group represents the views of the 1.4 million men and women serving on active duty or the 7,000 retired generals and flag officers who respect, understand and appreciate the established American tradition of the military being subordinate to civilian control and direction.
Moreover, despite the frustration of the current situation in Iraq, military morale remains high, as evidenced by the high re-enlistment rate of active-duty forces. This fact belies the contention that there is rising military discontent.
The notion that Secretary Rumsfeld doesn't meet with, or ignores the advice of, senior military leaders is not founded in fact. During his tenure, senior military leaders have been involved to an unprecedented degree in every decision-making process. In addition to the Senior Level Review Group, Defense Senior Leadership Conference, and Quadrennial Defense Review, in 2005 Secretary Rumsfeld also participated in meetings involving service chiefs 110 times and combatant commanders 163 times. Gen. Myers correctly describes these meetings as "very collaborative" with a free flow of information and discussion. Gen. Tommy Franks, U.S. Central Command Commander during the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq, echoes Gen. Myers's comments and supports Secretary Rumsfeld as collaborative in the decision-making process. Gen. Franks has stated recently that he is a tough collaborator and demands sound thinking and recommendations from the senior military leadership and staff.
Much of the acrimony expressed by Secretary Rumsfeld's military critics appears to stem from his efforts to "transform" the military by moving to a joint expeditionary force that is lighter and more mobile in nature to meet the nation's current and future threats. Many senior officers and bureaucrats did not support his transformation goals -- preferring conventional weapons of the past like the Crusader artillery piece and World War II war-fighting strategies, which prove practically useless against lawless and uncivilized enemies engaged in asymmetric warfare. It unfortunately appears that two of the retired generals (Messrs. Zinni and Newbold) do not understand the true nature of this radical ideology, Islamic extremism, and why we fight in Iraq. We suggest they listen to the tapes of United 93.
Despite criticisms, Mr. Rumsfeld is arguably one of the most effective secretaries of defense our nation has ever had. Under his watch, the U.S. military has been transforming; it brilliantly deposed Mullah Omar's barbaric Taliban regime (Osama bin Laden's sanctuary) and Saddam Hussein's ruthless Baathist regime, freeing 50 million people from oppression and placing the countries on democratic paths. With these actions, terrorists have been denied secure home bases. These are a few key factors why terrorists have been unable to attack the American homeland again. The policy and forward strategy implemented by Secretary Rumsfeld has taken the fight to the enemy as did the nation in World War II and the Cold War.
Some, like Generals Zinni, Newbold, Eaton, Batiste, Swannack, Riggs and others, may not like Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership style. They certainly have the right as private citizens now to speak their minds. Some may feel that he's been unfair, arrogant and autocratic to some senior officers. But those sentiments and feelings are irrelevant. In the end he's the man in charge and the buck stops with him. As long as he retains the confidence of the commander in chief he will make the important calls at the top of the department of defense. That's the way America works. So let's all breathe into a bag and get on with winning the global war against radical Islam. In time the electorate, and history, will grade their decisions.
Lt. Gen. Crosby (ret.) is former deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Lt. Gen. McInerney (ret.) is former assistant vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force. Maj. Gen. Moore (ret.), U.S. Air Force, was director of Central Command during Operation Desert Storm. Maj. Gen. Vallely (ret.) is former deputy commander of the U.S. Army, Pacific.
It doesn't really matter why the six retired generals are now speaking up in near unison, or what their motives are. Let me repeat the money phrase:
In the end he's the man in charge and the buck stops with him. As long as he [Rumsfeld] retains the confidence of the commander in chief he will make the important calls at the top of the department of defense. That's the way America works. So let's all breathe into a bag and get on with winning the global war against radical Islam. In time the electorate, and history, will grade their decisions.
No war has ever been fought with perfect forsight and planning. Even so, with all the misteps thus, the last six years the US military had seen unprecendented success on the battlefield.