Bush Circles Wagons, But Cavalry Has Joined the
In the old Hollywood westerns, the white settlers circle the wagons
to defend themselves against attacks by the Indians until the U.S.
Cavalry can arrive to rescue them and chase off their assailants.
But in Washington over the last few days it seems that the Cavalry
has joined the Indians.
US President George W. Bush, backed by his vice president and national
security adviser, have been circling the wagons around Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld since the White House told reporters that the president
had given him a mild rebuke over the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.
But the embattled Pentagon chief may have made too many enemies
particularly within his armed forces to be saved.
While Bush praised Rumsfeld for "doing a superb job"
during a rare visit to the Pentagon Monday morning, his words were
somehow unable to overcome the distinct sounds of knives being sharpened
in the hallways just outside, as well as across town on Capitol
Hill and at the State Department, where Secretary of State (and
former army general) Colin Powell compared the possible impact on
U.S. foreign policy of the abuse photographs to the 1969 disclosure
of the infamous My Lai Massacre in Vietnam.
The big news of the day was that the Army Times, which,
along with the major dailies of the other armed services, is published
by a private company, called for both Rumsfeld and the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, to step down in light
of the scandal surrounding the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib
prison outside Baghdad.
"This was not just a failure of leadership at the local command
level," said the Army Times lead editorial, which also
appeared in the other service newspapers. "This was failure
that ran straight to the top. Accountability here is essential
even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of
war." It said Rumsfeld's moves from the outset of the "war
on terror" had delivered the message to the US troops that
The editorial came as new photos documenting abuses including
prison dogs attacking a naked Iraqi detainee were published
by newspapers across the country Monday morning, and reflected a
growing sense here that the scandal is far from playing out, if
only because many of Rumsfeld's and the Bush administration's
critics see the abuse crisis as symptomatic of all that has
gone wrong in Iraq and the "war on terrorism."
Foremost among these are the ex-military and even active-duty military
who have become increasingly outspoken about their unhappiness with
the way the war has been conducted.
A number of prominent retired officers, such as the former head
of the US Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni, and his counterpart
in the Southern Command, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, have warned for more
than a year that Rumsfeld, in his zeal to "transform"
the military into a "leaner, meaner" global force, was
dangerously overstretching the US army, particularly in Iraq.
Top army officers have also made little secret of their resentment
of the way Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
who, like other top Pentagon civilians in the Bush administration,
have never served in combat dismissed the former Army Chief
of Staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki.
Shinseki presciently warned before the war that at least 200,000
troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after an invasion. Wolfowitz
denounced that estimate as "wildly off the mark," while,
in a major break with tradition, neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz
attended Shinseki's farewell ceremony where he cautioned against
"a 12-division strategy for a 10-division army."
What began as the shouts of a few top retired officers when the
first Abu Ghraib photos were published ten days ago has now become
a veritable clamor. The Army Times editorial is just the
latest, if most striking, example.
"Rumsfeld is paying the price for the way he has run the Department
of Defense for more than three years, but the price is being paid
by George W. Bush," wrote Robert Novak, a Washington Post
columnist whose close ties to the military brass go back more than
"From the first month of the Bush administration, I have heard
complaints from old military hands some in uniform, some
not that the new secretary's arrogance and insularity were
creating a dysfunctional Pentagon," he wrote in a column that
also quoted the private intelligence group, Stratfor (Strategic
Forecasting), as concluding that Rumsfeld has "consistently
managed to get the strategic and organizational questions wrong."
Even more remarkable, perhaps, was the a front-page article Sunday
by the Post's veteran military correspondent, Tom Ricks,
titled, "Dissension Grows in Senior Ranks on War Strategy."
The article quoted army Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, commander of
the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, as insisting that U.S. forces
were winning the war in Iraq at the tactical level but, "strategically,
we are (losing it)."
The article also cited army Col. Paul Hughes, the first director
of strategic planning for the US occupation in Iraq, as comparing
the situation there with the US defeat in Vietnam: "Unless
we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically,"
he said, adding, "We don't understand the war we're in."
"It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this,"
said one unidentified "senior general" at the Pentagon
who pointed to Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz as responsible for the lack
of adequate planning before the invasion. "The American people
may not stand for it and they should not."
Ricks reported that a number of his interviewees had stressed that
Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides were the object of a "profound
anger (that) is building within the army."
That anger may well be responsible for the most significant defection
to date among Republican Party lawmakers from the White House line
that calls from members of the Democratic Party for Rumsfeld's resignation
are politically motivated.
On Sunday, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam
veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a TV
interview on the CBS network, "It's still in question whether
... Rumsfeld and, quite frankly, General Myers can command the respect
and the trust and the confidence of the military," given their
handling of the prison abuse scandal.
He was followed on the television program by another more conservative
Republican senator who also served in the military, Lindsey Graham.
He echoed Democratic arguments, saying he believed the scandal indicated
a "systemic failure" and that "we just don't want
a bunch of privates and sergeants to be the scapegoats here."
Their remarks came on the heels of the widely quoted statement
last week by a senior conservative Democrat and veteran of both
the Korean and Vietnam wars, congressman John Murtha, that the conflict
in Iraq was "unwinnable."
who is regarded as particularly close to the uniformed military
and who strongly supported the invasion, has traveled frequently
to Iraq since last July.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service