Rumsfeld and the Retired
Author: Samuel Metz
When Donald Rumsfeld entered
the office of Secretary of Defense, he had a clear agenda.
He envisioned an extremely mobile military capable of
defeating enemy forces with high efficiency. He proposed
that our most valuable asset was technology on the
battlefield, which would spare lives, time, and cost. He
wanted an Army capable of cleanly defeating any enemy at
any time. And he worked hard, frequently against
entrenched military resistance, to make this vision a
reality. Clearly in doing so, he generated considerable
opposition amongst his generals. Now the generals are
Is this good for the United
The question is complicated.
First, none of the retired generals speaking out discuss
Mr. Rumsfeld’s long-standing attempt to coax military
strategists from what the Army calls "Tipfid." This
acronym TPPFDD stands for "Time-phased Force and
Deployment Data." Translated from military jargon, this
represents a strategy of methodical, careful, and sure
preparation before engagement. What this means to Rumsfeld
is delay, stall, and loss of initiative.
Instead, the generals address
the specific processes of how Mr. Rumsfeld entered the war
in Iraq and how he conducted it after a military victory
was declared. Even if we attribute to the generals
subliminal resentment at Mr. Rumsfeld’s strategic
revisions which long predate the Iraq war, their
objections are valid on their own terms.
Second, it is difficult to
weigh the spoken opinions of six retired generals versus
the unspoken opinions of several thousand other retired
generals. In statistical terms, we lack a denominator. If
these six are the only ones who find Rumsfeld’s conduct
objectionable while thousands of others do not, the impact
of these objections is reduced. And what do the active
generals, currently running the war in Iraq, think of our
It is notable that while
several high-ranking generals have questioned the
appropriateness of generals criticizing civilians, General
Peter Pace, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remains
the only active General to dispute the content of the
objections. No active duty general has supported the
objections, but we would be surprised if that happened.
Criticizing one’s superiors publicly is tantamount to
insubordination for active officers. Their silence should
not be over-interpreted.
Among other retired generals,
only Gen. Michael DeLong, deputy to Gen. Tommy Franks
during the invasion, came to the defense of Mr. Rumsfeld.
Of note, he did not dispute that Mr. Rumsfeld made
decisions contrary to the recommendations of high-ranking
Army officers; he made the point that Mr. Rumsfeld at
least listened to the officers first.
Given the professional
constraints among our military against public criticism,
we ought to give considerable credibility to the
objections of these retired generals who dared to speak
Third, is it at all
appropriate for military leaders to go public with
criticism of civilian leaders? The issue has powerful
implications. Is there a difference between retired
generals publicly criticizing the Secretary of Defense for
the conduct of war and active generals criticizing the
President for the conduct of domestic policies? If not,
then we open our country to the possibility that our
military will become a domestic political force, much like
our major political parties. The difference is that our
major political parties do not have millions of armed
service people trained to obey orders without question
stationed at bases across the entire country. A military
coup d’etat has never happened in this country. But
crossing this line brings us one step closer.
But there is a difference
between retired military personnel and active personnel.
Retired generals do not command troops or hold positions
of official influence nor do they speak for anyone else
within the active Army. Their opinions, like any those of
any citizen, are their own. What sets their opinions apart
from the average civilian speaking out on the conduct of
war is that retired military may have first hand
experience, experience not available to civilians.
Additionally, it is
inappropriate to insist on a cult of infallibility among
our military leaders. Like anyone making life and death
decisions, our leaders, both military and civilian make
errors. It is the responsibility of the organization to
detect, analyze, and correct errors, be they personal
errors or flaws in the system. If critical errors go
unaddressed, especially those endangering lives, it is
essential that someone point that out.
And it is appropriate that
active duty military leaders let retired leaders assume
that unpleasant task. These retired generals perform a
thankless but critical function. It is also essential that
they restrict their comments to matters of specific
military import, which they have done so far. While it is
tempting to interpret any criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld
as a non-specific attack on the entire beleaguered Bush
administration, the generals have, apparently with great
care, kept their comments to specific aspects of Mr.
Rumsfeld’s management of the war. For this they deserve
Taking all the issues
together, we can make some conclusions.
1. The objections of the six
retired generals should be given considerable weight. We
do not know how many other retired general agree with
them, but their comments have value even without outside
2. It is appropriate that
retired rather than active generals speak on issues that
concern the leadership of our military. It is also
appropriate that civilian listeners independently
determine the validity of their objections, just as we
should with anyone denouncing our civilian leaders.
3. The fact that no active
duty general has voiced public support should be taken as
respect for the chain of command from civilian directors,
not as tacit agreement or objection. We expect our
military to carry out the orders of our civilian leaders,
whether they agree or not, and then voice any objections
4. And Mr. Rumsfeld should
absolutely not resign, nor should President Bush ask for
it. We come too close to reversing our traditional
civilian control over military to allow generals, even if
retired, to dictate which civilians run our Defense
Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld
and President should pay close attention to absolutely
every comment from these generals, and others. If we are
to correct the errors that led us into Iraq and keep us
there long after an apparent military victory, we must
weigh opinions from all directions.
Especially from the generals
who have been there.