Memo floated options on Iraq

Rumsfeld proposed `major adjustment' two days before he resigned

December 03, 2006|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Two days before he resigned as defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld submitted a classified memo to the White House that acknowledged that the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq was not working and called for a major course correction.

"In my view it is time for a major adjustment," wrote Rumsfeld, who has been a symbol of a dogged stay-the-course policy. "Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

Nor did Rumsfeld seem confident that the administration would readily develop an effective alternative. To limit the political fallout from shifting course, he suggested that the administration consider a campaign to lower public expectations.

"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.'"

"Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) - go minimalist," he added. Rumsfeld's memo suggests frustration with the pace of turning over responsibility to the Iraqi authorities; in fact, the memo calls for examination of ideas that roughly parallel troop withdrawal proposals presented by some of the White House's sharpest Democratic critics.

The memo's discussion of possible troop reduction options offers a counterpoint to Rumsfeld's frequent public suggestions that discussions about force levels are driven by requests from U.S. military commanders. Instead, the memo puts on the table several ideas for troop redeployments or withdrawals that appear to conflict with recent public pronouncements from commanders in Iraq emphasizing the need to maintain troop levels.

The memorandum sometimes has a finger-wagging tone as Rumsfeld says that the Iraqis must "pull up their socks" and suggests reconstruction aid should be withheld in violent areas to avoid rewarding "bad behavior."

Other options called for shrinking the number of bases, establishing benchmarks that would mark the Iraqis' progress toward political, economic and security goals, and conducting a "reverse embeds" program to attach Iraqi soldiers with American squads.

The memo was finished one day after President Bush interviewed former CIA Director Robert M. Gates as a potential successor to Rumsfeld and one day before the midterm elections. By then it was clear that the Republicans appeared likely to suffer a setback at the polls and that the administration was poised to begin reconsidering its Iraq strategy.

The memo provides no indication that Rumsfeld intended to leave his Pentagon post. It is unclear whether he knew at that point that he was about to be replaced, though the White House has said that Bush and Rumsfeld had a number of conversations on the matter.

Told that The New York Times had obtained a copy of it, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed its authenticity. "As it became clear that people were considering options for the way forward, the secretary had some views on the subject, and this memo reflects those views," said the spokesman, Eric Ruff.

Unlike the lawyerly memo on Iraq policy submitted last month by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, Rumsfeld's listed more than a dozen "illustrative options" that the defense secretary did not specifically endorse but suggested merited serious consideration. "Many of these options could, and in a number of cases should, be done in combination with others," Rumsfeld advised.

With Rumsfeld's resignation, the options no longer have the same weight. In recent weeks, some have been discarded as the Bush administration tries to adjust its military and political strategy in Iraq. But others, like increasing the number of advisers attached to Iraqi forces, live on and have also been recommended by others.

Rumsfeld, who has presided over two wars and is one of the longest-serving Pentagon chiefs, is scheduled to leave when his designated successor, Gates, is confirmed by the Senate, which is expected to happen later this month.

Titled "Iraq - Illustrative New Courses of Action," the memo reflects mounting concern over a war that, as Rumsfeld put it, has evolved from "major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence."

The first section of the memo contains two pages of options that Rumsfeld describes as "above the line" ideas worthy of consideration. Some that Rumsfeld found intriguing appear to reflect his long-held view that the United States should use relatively modest force in intervening in foreign countries to avoid creating a dependency on American power. That approach, critics have charged, left the United States unprepared to deal with the chaos that followed the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

One option Rumsfeld offered calls for modest troop withdrawals "so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country."

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