Defense Chief Rumsfeld, Facing General Criticism

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor is co-author of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and the Occupation of Iraq. He talks with Scott Simon about Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's relations with military leaders.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scot Simon.

With a half dozen retired generals publicly calling for the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush interrupted a family holiday at Camp David to issue a statement of support. Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership, the President said, is exactly what is needed at this critical point. Mr. Rumsfeld himself entered the controversy in an interview on Al Arabia television.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Secretary of Defense): There are, I don't know, what, three, four, five, six thousand generals, active duty, retired, and there's thousands of them. And there are several who have, are not on active duty, who don't have, not current, who have made comments. And that doesn't surprise me at all.

SIMON: Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor is co-author with Michael Gordon of the New York Times of the new book, Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and the Occupation of Iraq. General Trainor joins us in our studios. General, thanks so much for being back with us.

Lt. Gen. BERNARD TRAINOR (Marine Corps, Retired): It's my pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: And your book relied extensively on sources within the military. How many of these high-ranking generals three years ago said, Mr. President or Secretary Rumsfeld, I think we're on the verge of making a big mistake, and there's still time to avoid it? And how many of them three years ago said nothing or just something like, are you sure you want to do that?

Gen. TRAINOR: Yeah, I think that that's, the latter is the case. You make your case and then you follow out your orders with a great deal of obedience and a can-do sort of attitude. But as Gen. Greg Newbold pointed out, you know, he said I didn't push back hard enough. And I think this is true with some of other generals. They could have pushed back harder than they did. For example...

SIMON: Let me, so when the Joint Chiefs Chairman, Peter Pace, says, We had then and have every opportunity now to speak our minds, that's true?

Gen. TRAINOR: Well, yes, theoretically it's true, but then there are a lot of impediments to speaking your mind.

SIMON: Well, well help us understand...

Gen. TRAINOR: Well, first of all there is the tendency to keep disputes in-house. Secondly, there is a sense of loyalty.

SIMON: Well, and civilian authority.

Gen. TRAINOR: True, to civilian authority. Then there's the concern, well, you know, if I speak out it's going to, not going to do any good. I probably can do more good inside the tent than outside the tent. And the other one, which shouldn't be neglected, is the fact that there's a feeling in the military, if there seems to be a broadcast of dissonance or disagreement, it's going to hurt morale and therefore operational capability. And that's a big one.

SIMON: If a military officer, particularly at the highest rank, feels that strongly that a policy is a mistake, he or she can resign?

Gen. TRAINOR: Absolutely.

SIMON: Do you expect any resignations?

Gen. TRAINOR: No, I don't think so.

SIMON: Why hasn't there been resignations before this?

Gen. TRAINOR: Nothing's new under the earth, and it's kind of useful to go down, back and look at what happened back during the Vietnam War because you had a certain parallel with McNamara and President Johnson kind of running roughshod over the military and disregarding, disregarding their advice.

H. R. McMaster, who is a very successful army colonel, wrote a book called, Dereliction of Duty. He found fault with the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not standing up more to McNamara and to the President. And he relates in that book, and I'm certain it's true because he certainly has documented everything, that the Joint Chiefs of Staff did think at one time that it might be worthwhile for them to resign en masse. They concluded that would do more damage than good in the long run. The damage that something that could do might be far greater than the problems of immediacy that it solved. It smacks of a rebellion against civilian leadership, has a dis-unifying effect upon the military. So in large measure I don't see anything as dramatic as a senior retirement or resignation coming.

SIMON: I'm interested when you use a phrase like running, the Secretary of Defense running roughshod over the military, because I, and I realize you might use the phrase casually because as I probably don't have to remind you, a former military officer, technically the Secretary of Defense can't run roughshod over the military because he's the Secretary of Defense. There's civilian control of the military in this country.

Gen. TRAINOR: Oh, that's true. But when I say running roughshod, it was a management technique which I think a lot of people in business use. Where they will have a department or a division chief come in to brief him on subject X and the fellow comes in with all his briefing notes and his slides and so forth, and no sooner starts the program and he's interrupted by the chief executive and he's asked questions and it's about we come to that (unintelligible) well, then he keeps drifting them off, and what happens is that the fellow who comes in to make his case never gets an opportunity to make his case.

And that is what the technique that Mr. Rumsfeld used, and he did it both orally and he did it with what was known as snowflakes. He sent out these just blizzards of little white memos asking questions across a high variety of subjects and the central command for part of the planning process found themselves chasing their tails trying to respond to this. So it was a technique to get across not only my authority as Secretary of Defense, but also to shape your thinking to conform to my belief and my thinking. That's what I mean by roughshod.

SIMON: In your career as a military man, have you ever seen this many retired high-ranking generals stepping away, stepping out in public on something like this before?

Gen. TRAINOR: No. No. I spent 40 years in the military and not all of them as a general, started off as a private. But this I think is sui-generous, but I do think it's simply a blip. But you know, it's a symptom of something that has to be addressed, and Administration and Capitol Hill has to address these issues. And when I say the Administration, the current one and any democratic administration that may come in.

SIMON: General Trainor, thanks very much.

Gen. TRAINOR: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: Retired Marine General, Bernard Trainor. He's co-author with Michael Gordon of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.

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Bush Rejects Suggestions Rumsfeld Should Go

(AP) — At least twice during the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered President Bush his resignation. On Friday, amid growing criticism of his stewardship of the war from retired generals who waged it, the issue never came up.

In a private phone call, Bush offered Rumsfeld his full support. And at no time did Rumsfeld offer to step down, according to a senior defense official familiar with the call.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the call was private, said the idea of a resignation "wasn't even in the same stadium as the discussion they were having. That's not where anybody's head is."

Instead, Bush said, Rumsfeld's stewardship at the Pentagon was crucial for the United States.

"Earlier today, I spoke with Don Rumsfeld about ongoing military operations in the global war on terror," the president said. "I reiterated my strong support for his leadership during this historic and challenging time for our nation."

Bush's strong endorsement, conveyed in a statement released by the White House while Bush was at Camp David, Md., for the weekend, appeared designed to blunt a clamor from within the ranks of retired commanders for Rumsfeld's ouster.

Six retired generals have called for Rumsfeld to resign, accusing him of mishandling the Iraq war, ignoring advice of field commanders and having an arrogant management style.

In an interview aired Friday on Al-Arabiya television, Rumsfeld said he planned to stay on the job.

"The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views," he said. "But obviously if, out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

A senior administration official said Bush issued a formal statement because of the "type of voices" engaged in the latest criticism of Rumsfeld. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to more freely elaborate on White House thinking.

Similar statements of support are unlikely for other officials whose time on the job may be limited, such as Treasury Secretary John Snow, the official said.

Joshua Bolten took over from retiring Andy Card on Friday as White House chief of staff, and several administration personnel changes were widely anticipated, perhaps as early as next week.

The timing of Bush's statement on Rumsfeld seemed designed to tamp down speculation, particularly in Sunday newspapers and on weekend television news shows, that Rumsfeld might be on his way out.

Bush's statement also contradicted some of the retired generals who said Rumsfeld ignored military recommendations from his commanders on missions in Iraq and in the broader war on terrorism.

"I have seen firsthand how Don relies upon our military commanders in the field and at the Pentagon to make decisions about how to best complete these missions," Bush said. "Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this period.

"He has my full support and deepest appreciation."

Earlier Friday, retired Gen. John Batiste, who called for Rumsfeld's resignation, said the recent criticism is "absolutely coincidental" and said he did not know of any coordinated effort to discredit the defense secretary.

"I have not talked to the other generals," Batiste said on NBC's "Today" show. But, he said, the demands for Rumsfeld to step down are "happening for a reason."

Rumsfeld supporters in the Pentagon said they expect the criticism to continue, and expressed concern that it could have a damaging effect on officers who deal with Rumsfeld on a daily basis.

The senior defense official said the criticism from the generals makes it look as if general officers play no role in decision-making and don't offer any advice to the civilian leaders. "It makes them look like bystanders and they're not bystanders."

Also calling for Rumsfeld to resign were retired Army Maj. Gen. John Riggs, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton and retired Marine Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold.

Associated Press Writers Tom Raum and Jennifer Loven contributed to this report.

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