Resignation allows new Iraq approach

Rumsfeld Resigns

November 09, 2006|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's departure from the Pentagon will usher in a more open-minded and collaborative approach to U.S. military policy in Iraq, say military officers and policy experts. And that could help the president find the "fresh perspective" he promised as he announced Rumsfeld's resignation yesterday.

Rumsfeld, who dominated the planning and execution of the war and its aftermath, seemed resistant to the idea that the nature of the war changed drastically after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the experts said, and was reluctant to shift more troops into Iraq to provide security or to perform new missions such as training Iraqi security forces.

In the flush of apparent victory in April 2003, for example, Rumsfeld referred in a Pentagon briefing to the violence, looting and lawlessness spreading across Iraq as mere "untidiness," and added, "Freedom's untidy!"

And as late as June, he was still comparing the violence in Baghdad, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in sectarian violence, to "the numbers of homicides and rapes and armed robberies and shootings" in Detroit or Chicago.

"It was his inability to take bad news," said retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes, an expert on counter-insurgency who served as an adviser in Iraq and is author of the counter-insurgency classic, The Sling and The Stone.

Rumsfeld was also unable to share power - and often even tiny details of policy - outside a small inner circle at the Pentagon, creating skirmishing, tension and ill will at a time when his top commanders in Iraq were urging greater cooperation.

Gen. John P. Abizaid and Gen. George W. Casey have said recently that the solution to the Iraq war will require the concerted and coordinated efforts of the White House, the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Justice, the CIA and other agencies, as well as the uniformed services.

"Many bridges were burned, many bridges were blown," said a one-star general who served under Rumsfeld as a liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other agencies. "The qualities that made Rumsfeld a strong leader internal to the organization - he is decisive and unrelenting - did not necessarily translate to being an effective, collegial peer leader," said this officer, who asked not to be identified.

Pentagon officials described Rumsfeld's management style as "shallow micro-management."

This week, as every week, for example, an officer from the Joint Staff climbed the stairs to Rumsfeld's office carrying for his scrutiny and approval a binder with the name of every unit, large and small, slated to go to Iraq. That's the kind of detail, a staff officer said, that normally is handled well below Rumsfeld's level.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have long complained about Rumsfeld's stinginess with data - not just about Iraq but on a host of other defense issues.

"The pushing and shoving - yeah, things might ease up" with his departure, said a senior Senate Republican official who deals with military issues. "One can only hope the process will get better."

By contrast, Rumsfeld's designated replacement, Robert M. Gates, is a seasoned Washington insider who has made few enemies, a congressional official said. He is a career CIA officer, including a stint as the agency's director. And he worked at the White House National Security Council under the first President George Bush, where he was a colleague of Condoleezza Rice's. Rice is now the secretary of state.

Gates is a member of the Iraq Study Group led by longtime Bush family confidant James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, former Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The committee is expected to report to the White House and the nation within weeks on an alternative strategy for Iraq.

Bush has said he will welcome the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, a clear signal that the administration intends "to go back to a more centrist policy," said Ron Marks, a former CIA officer who worked under Gates.

"He will implement the plan that Baker puts forward," Marks said.

Even as some in Washington hailed Rumsfeld's departure - his resignation had been angrily demanded by dozens of retired military officers, members of Congress and the public - others recognized that he had managed the Pentagon through years of extreme challenge and turbulence with relentless energy and grace.

"I can think of a lot of men who wouldn't have done as well or withstood day after day of having the hell beat out of them," said a senior Senate staff official.

Rumsfeld, 74, who next month would have passed Robert McNamara's record as the longest-serving secretary of defense, referred to the showers of criticism he has endured at a White House ceremony yesterday, paraphrasing Winston Churchill as saying "something to the effect that I have benefited greatly from criticism and at no time have I suffered a lack thereof."

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