WASHINGTON—Recently retired military officers who served in Iraq blamed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday for the morass there, said he should resign and urged senators to subpoena active generals to testify about their own similar concerns.
In extraordinary testimony from former senior military men during wartime, retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton said Rumsfeld "continues to fight this war on the cheap" and denounced him as "incompetent." Retired Army Major Gen. John Batiste called the United States "arguably less safe now than it was on Sept. 11, 2001." And retired Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes compared the shifting of insufficient U.S. troops from one Iraq hot spot to the next to a game of "Whac-A-Mole."
The three headlined the first of what Senate Democrats say will be a series of oversight hearings they're holding on the Iraq war. They say Republicans haven't exercised enough oversight since the March 2003 invasion.
But Democrats also are trying to focus public attention back on Iraq because polls show Republicans are vulnerable on it and congressional elections will be held in six weeks. Republicans prefer to emphasize the broader war on terrorism and national security, issues where polls show they command more support.
Democrats said they'd invited Republicans to attend, but only one, Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, showed up. His district includes Camp Lejeune Marine base. He's called for a phased withdrawal of troops.
"I do not want history to show that I did not do my job as a congressman in helping people know the truth," Jones said.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced the two-hour hearing, packed with anti-war activists and reporters, as "simply another partisan media event. And while it may rile up their liberal base, it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack."
Democrats repeatedly cited Sunday's New York Times disclosure that a six-month old National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the Iraq war has worsened the threat of global terrorism and inflamed jihadi sentiment throughout the Muslim world. That was the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Democrats called for the report to be declassified.
For the most part, the retired officials' testimony played to the Democrats' strategy of emphasizing disarray in Iraq and the Bush administration's responsibility for it.
Batiste, for example, said Rumsfeld had surrounded himself with "like-minded and compliant subordinates," underestimated the need for ground troops despite arguments to the contrary and was so insistent that there wouldn't be an insurgency that "he threatened to fire the next person who talked about the need for a postwar plan."
Eaton said planning for postwar Iraq had been "amateurish at best."
But Hammes faulted Senate Democrats, too, saying they'd failed to raise important questions before the Iraq invasion because they'd feared being tarred as weak in 2002 elections.
Increasingly, Democrats tend to favor a vague call for an indefinite phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, while Republicans decry such calls as "cut-and-run" weakness. In that context, the retired generals' testimony sounded some cautionary notes.
Eaton said more troops are needed on the ground, not less—another 60,000 troops, he estimated, "conservatively."
Hammes predicted that the U.S. military will need to stay in Iraq "at least a decade" to stabilize the nation and its region.
And in response to a question from Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., all three said there would be disastrous consequences if U.S. troops withdrew prematurely. Hammes predicted chaos in oil markets and new sanctuaries for terrorists. Said Batiste: "The result will be a civil war of some magnitude, which will turn into a regional mess."
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. At stake are 33 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans currently run both chambers. Democrats must gain six Senate seats or 15 House seats to regain control.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.