'Army Times' Calls for Rumsfeld to Quit

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The Military Times Media Group, which publishes the influential Army Times and other military periodicals, is calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign. In a coming editorial, the papers say active-duty military officers have misgivings about war planning in Iraq. Robert Hodierne, senior managing editor of Army Times, speaks with Debbie Elliott.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

There's a new call this weekend for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It comes from the editors of the Military Times newspapers, which are read mainly by service members and retired vets. In an editorial to be published Monday, the papers will say that given the troubles in Iraq, President Bush is making a mistake by keeping Secretary Rumsfeld in his cabinet.

The senior managing editor of Army Times, Robert Hodierne, joins me in the studio now.

After three and half years of war, why now call for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation?

Mr. ROBERT HODIERNE (Senior Managing Editor, Army Times): Well, it's actually the second time that we've done that. We did it in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal when we said that upper level members of the administration should be held accountable, including the secretary.

ELLIOTT: Your words are very strong in this editorial. I quote now - you're talking about Secretary Rumsfeld - you say: "His strategy has failed and his ability to lead is compromised."

Some our listeners and your readers, I'm sure, must be questioning your timing of this editorial here, coming out the day before the midterm election.

Mr. HODIERNE: Well, as a matter of fact, I mean we are the most studiously non-partisan publication there is in the country. We don't endorse political candidates and never have, never will. The timing of this was prompted by the president last week, saying that Secretary Rumsfeld was going to be here for the balance of his term. Nobody who's standing for election next Tuesday has any say whatsoever in whether the secretary gets to stay or go. The only person who can fire him is not on the ballot next Tuesday.

So the timing of this editorial has nothing whatsoever to do with the election. It has everything to do with what we sense is a building crescendo of voices within the military who have had it with the way this war is going and with the president's promise to keep the secretary around.

ELLIOTT: You feel that Secretary Rumsfeld is somehow losing credibility among military officers and even the troops. How do you know this? Are not military troops restricted in what they can say?

Mr. HODIERNE: Yes. And you won't find very many active duty people standing up and saying out loud that they think the secretary should go. There's a robust 200-year tradition in this country of military subordination to civil authority. But we spent a lot of time talking to these people. We have reporters regularly in Iraq. We have reporters who are constantly talking to people at all levels in the military. And our conclusion, based on hundreds of conversations, is that the secretary really no longer enjoys the support - the widespread support - of people in military. There certainly are some who think he's doing a fine job. It's not a monolith.

ELLIOTT: Why? What are their complaints?

Mr. HODIERNE: Well, their complaints go from the petty and personal to the galactic. But I think in terms of Iraq and Afghanistan policies, it comes right down to there never was a strategy for winning that the military thought was going to work. And that came down mostly to not enough boots on the ground. It was the follow-on that they hadn't planned for and that they stubbornly refused to acknowledge. To this day, the president and the secretary don't believe we're in a civil war in Iraq. I don't know what a civil war looks like if that's not a civil war.

ELLIOTT: The Department of Defense today did respond to your editorial. And I'm going to read you now from a statement by Mr. Brian Whitman, a spokesman with the Department of Defense. He says, The Department has always attempted to clearly and accurately describe the challenges our forces face in Iraq and Afghanistan. The secretary above all has always been very measured in describing the progress U.S. forces are making in what will undoubtedly be a long struggle in the war on terror. I would challenge those who say the secretary has ever painted a rosy picture to provide those quotes, as well as the full context of those remarks.

Mr. HODIERNE: Well, first of all, let me say that Brian Whitman is an honorable man, and I have enjoyed working with him over the years. But if you just go down two, three more paragraphs in his statement, he says, Iraqi security forces are making slow but measurable progress. They are increasingly taking the lead in operations. The disparagement of these forces is completely unfounded.

No independent observer who's spent any time whatsoever with Iraqi forces, including myself, would say that they are making slow but measurable progress. And the disparagement of these forces is totally founded. That's the kind of rosy statement that I'm talking about.

My experience covering wars goes back to the Vietnam era. And I think the lessons of the Tet 1968 Offensive are instructive. That was a terrible public relations disaster for the United States, because the military and the administration had convinced the American people that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were incapable of the kind of attack that they staged. The attack was defeated. Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers were killed. But it turned the public against the administration on the war, because they were flabbergasted that in the face of all the rosy pictures that had been painted that the North Vietnamese could do this.

The administration is making exactly that mistake in Iraq right now. It has not painted a realistic picture of what's going wrong in Iraq.

ELLIOTT: What do officers and troops interviewed by your paper say that they would like to see Donald Rumsfeld do? I mean, is it his fault that there is this sectarian strife in Iraq?

Mr. HODIERNE: It's his fault that there weren't enough troops there from the end of the invasion to provide the kind of security that could have convinced the bulk of the Iraqi people that this was a worthwhile proposition and that things were going to turn out all right.

When the Iraqi people - and the bulk of them are not involved in this fighting - when the Iraqi people realized that we were not going to be able to keep them safe, then that's when everything went bad.

ELLIOTT: Robert Hodierne is senior managing editor of the Army Times. Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. HODIERNE: Always my pleasure.

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