Rumsfeld Meets with Retired Officers

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr. talks to Steve Inskeep about a meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Scales was among about a dozen ex-officers invited to attend a meeting with Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And even as McClellan leaves the White House, the president is standing by another advisor.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job.

INSKEEP: President Bush supported his defense secretary yesterday, after hearing of retired generals who do not. Several former officers called Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. Yesterday, the secretary suggested that he is a target because of his unconventional decisions.

Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (United States Secretary of Defense): Imagine...

(Soundbite of pounding noise)

Secretary RUMSFELD: ...what a stunning thing to do! I look back on those decisions and I'm proud of them. They caused a lot of ruffles, let there be no doubt.

INSKEEP: The Secretary also met with about a dozen retired military officers, including retired General Robert Scales, who has given us his insights from time to time. General, good morning.

General ROBERT H. SCALES, JR. (Major General, U.S. Army, Retired): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was this meeting like?

General SCALES: It was very interesting. As you know, periodically, the Secretary has about a dozen of us into the Pentagon for an off-the-record, often classified, set of briefings. This one was different in the sense that the, sort of, the same dozen got together, and it was off-the-record, and, in fact, without giving any briefings at all, the secretary asked us to ask him questions, and he spent a lot of time listening to some of the dialogue between us and him. That was fairly unusual.

INSKEEP: Did you say it was on-the-record or off-the-record?

General SCALES: Well, when we'd drift into things that were classified, we'd put it off-the-record, but for the most part, it was a very engaged give-and-take between us and the secretary. And also, the Chairman, General Pace, was there as well, and in many cases, he asked us questions instead of us asking him questions.

Specifically, I guess the issue that we had for him was what's the next big thing in Iraq? What should the American people be looking forward to as a sign of progress? Is there a sign-post, or is there something along the way in the next few months that will tell the Americans, or give the American people confidence that this war is going in the right direction?

And the answer, curiously Steve, was that he responded, it was the formation of a government. You know, he made the point, which I think is probably valid, that this is much more political than it is military right now, and a lot of the confidence of the American people, and also the Iraqi people, rests on the ability of the Iraqi parliament to get its act together.

INSKEEP: Now, General Scales, we should mention, I suppose, that the reason that this dozen retired officers get to meet with Rumsfeld is because you're influential people. Many of you are analysts for media organizations and so forth. It's a way for him to talk to the public and respond to his critics.

The secretary himself got a chance to respond to his critics as we heard yesterday, and he seemed to suggest in that public briefing that people resist change in the military, and also that they just don't like his personnel decisions. Is that really all that the criticism is about, though?

General SCALES: Well, certainly, the Secretary's been an instrument of change. I don't think any of us doubt that. But, I'd also contend that the change in the Army began before he came on the scene. I mean, many of us who were involved in what's commonly referred to as transformation, began our efforts in the mid '90s after the first Gulf War, in an effort to do what Mr. Rumsfeld continued to do when he came into office, which was to build a streamlined Army--to build an Army built around brigades rather than divisions, to build an Army that was capable of projecting itself into distant, very remote places and various corners of the world. And this was something that we've all, those of us who wear a green uniform, have been engaged in for over a decade.

INSKEEP: Well, that would suggest that maybe it's not just people resisting change. Maybe they had more substantive concerns with Rumsfeld.

General SCALES: Well, I don't want to speculate on where their concerns are. I think the consensus among the group was as follows: this is not about Mr. Rumsfeld. This is not about disgruntled generals. It's really about what's in the national interest, and that's where our focus was, Steve.

I mean, the real question is to get on with the war, to look forward instead of backward, and to figure out where we're going, and to establish a secure Iraq that's defined by a free-market economy, representative government, and most of all, security. And, most of that discussion back-and-forth, between us, wasn't about his past record, but was questions from him about where we should be going in the future.

INSKEEP: General Scales, thanks very much.

General SCALES: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's retired Major General Robert Scales.

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