Memo challenges Rumsfeld foes

E-mail from Pentagon goes out to former military commanders and civilian analysts

April 16, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department has issued a memorandum to a group of former military commanders and civilian analysts that offers a direct challenge to the criticisms made by retired generals about Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The one-page memorandum was sent by e-mail Friday to the group, which includes several retired generals who appear regularly on television, and came as the Bush administration stepped up its defense of Rumsfeld. On the political front, Republican strategists voiced rising anxiety yesterday that without a major change in the course of the Iraq war, Republican candidates would suffer in the November elections.

The memorandum begins by stating "U.S. senior military leaders are involved to an unprecedented degree in every decision-making process in the Department of Defense." It says Rumsfeld has held 139 meetings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the beginning of 2005, and 208 meetings with the senior field commanders.

And, seeking to put the criticism of the relatively small number of retired generals into context, the e-mail message notes that there are more than 8,000 active-duty and retired general officers alive today.

The memorandum was released Friday by the Pentagon's office of the Directorate for Programs and Community Relations and Public Liaison, but it was unclear who drafted it.

It is not uncommon for the Pentagon to send such memorandums to this group of retired officers, whom they consider to be influential in shaping public opinion. But it is unusual for the Pentagon to issue specific guidelines that can be used by retired generals to refute the arguments of other retired generals.

The memorandum quickly followed President Bush's statement Friday in which he gave a strong endorsement of Rumsfeld. Hours after the president released his statement Friday, two prominent retired generals, Richard B. Myers and Tommy Franks, took to the airwaves to defend Rumsfeld. Myers also criticized the former commanders who had called for his ouster. But the men are not part of the group of retired officers who were the main recipients of the memorandum.

The memorandum spoke directly to the thrust of the retired generals' complaints that Rumsfeld is a "micromanager" who often ignores the advice of commanders.

The group that received the memorandum is made up of staunch Bush administration supporters and some who are critical of administration policies. They are brought in periodically to consult with Pentagon officials, and were notified on Friday that Rumsfeld wanted to meet with them on Tuesday.

One retired general who regularly attends those Pentagon meetings said yesterday that he considered it unusual for the Pentagon to send out such a memorandum in the middle of a heated debate because it was almost certain to appear politically motivated. "I think it's part of the charm offensive," said the general, who was allowed to speak anonymously because he said otherwise he was afraid he would not be invited to future Pentagon sessions.

But a Defense Department spokesman, Eric Ruff, called the memorandum a "fact sheet" that was developed to provide detailed information to an influential group of analysts. In no way was it meant to enlist retired officers to speak out on behalf of Rumsfeld, Ruff said.

"The fact sheet was sent out to provide people with the facts," he said.

For a president who has dismissed Iraq war critics by saying that he takes his cue from commanders in the field, not politicians in Washington, the past week has put the White House in a particularly uncomfortable position. Administration officials acknowledged that unlike past criticisms from lawmakers, the comments by generals - who say they have only the lives of American troops in mind - had the potential to carry extra weight.

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